In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Christian Apocrypha

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Defining “Christian Apocrypha”
  • Bibliographies
  • Scholarly Societies
  • Documentaries
  • Christian Apocrypha in Popular Culture
  • Modern Apocrypha
  • Christian Apocrypha and its Critics

Biblical Studies Christian Apocrypha
Tony Burke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0205


“Christian Apocrypha” designates non-biblical Christian literature that features tales of Jesus, his family, and his immediate followers. They are similar in content and genre to texts included in the New Testament—i.e., there exist apocryphal gospels, acts, letters, and apocalypses. They are not included in most modern Bibles, either because those who decided on the Bible’s contents did not approve of them, or they were composed after the time of this selection process. The term “apocrypha,” or the singular “apocryphos/apocryphon,” is a Greek word meaning secret, hidden, or mysterious. Some apocryphal texts use this term in their titles (e.g., the Apocryphon of John and the Apocryphon of James), but since the time of Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons (writing around 180 CE), the term largely has been used pejoratively for writings considered false or forged. Many scholars avoid the term, preferring to categorize Christian texts as either canonical (for those in the Bible) or non-canonical (those that are not). Awareness of the Christian Apocrypha has increased in recent years because of the success of Dan Brown’s 2003 novel Brown 2003 (cited under Christian Apocrypha in Popular Culture), which includes references to several apocryphal gospels as evidence that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and the publication of two significant texts: the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Brown based his novel on the work of a vocal group of scholars in North America who argue that Christianity began with a chaotic plurality of theological viewpoints and that the Christian community that established the New Testament has no greater claim to be the “true” form of Christianity than has its rivals. Discussions of the Christian Apocrypha, both in scholarship and popular discourse, reflect the debate over this reimagining of Christian origins, with some scholars arguing that certain apocryphal texts contain very early traditions of Jesus. Though excluded from the New Testament, the Christian Apocrypha nevertheless have contributed to Christian doctrine and iconography and have been a source for the creative arts, such as art, fiction, music, theater, and film. The field of Christian Apocrypha, and the number of ancient, medieval, and modern texts that are studied with in it, is too large in scope to be covered in one bibliography. The Apocryphal Gospels (such as the Protevangelium of James, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Peter) are surveyed in J. Keith Elliott’s Oxford Bibliographies article “Apocryphal Gospels” and the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (which include stories of the preaching journeys of Paul, Peter, John, Thomas, and others) in Tony Burke’s Oxford Bibliographies article “Apocryphal Acts”. The current bibliography provides resources for the wider field of Christian Apocrypha and specific reference works for individual texts not covered in the other two bibliographies.

General Overviews

Surveys of Christian Apocrypha are increasingly common, though most of the attention in these overviews is focused on apocryphal gospels, particularly as sources for alternative depictions of Jesus. Burke 2013, though brief, surveys all genres of the literature and introduces readers to discussions in the field on such topics as canon formation and controversies over dating the texts. Klauck 2003 and Klauck 2008 offer up-to-date overviews of scholarship on gospels and acts, while the essays Charlesworth 1998 and Gero 1988 bring attention to a number of little-known and rarely examined texts. Ehrman 2003 discusses apocryphal texts in association with particular early Christian groups; Lapham 2003 is an idiosyncratic volume connecting texts to certain geographical locations on the basis of their associations with particular apostles. For overviews of apocryphal gospels alone, see J. Keith Elliott’s Oxford Bibliographies article “Apocryphal Gospels”; for apocryphal acts see Tony Burke’s Oxford Bibliographies article “Apocryphal Acts”.

  • Burke, Tony. Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha. London: SPCK, 2013.

    Surveys a broad assortment of texts, with introductory chapters on manuscript research, canon formation, heresy and orthodoxy, Christian Apocrypha in popular cultures, and other matters. A final chapter looks at “Myths, Misconceptions and Misinformation about the Christian Apocrypha.”

  • Charlesworth, James H. Authentic Apocrypha: False and Genuine Christian Apocrypha. Dead Sea Scrolls & Christian Origins Library. North Richland Hills, TX: BIBAL Press, 1998.

    Includes an overview of Christian Apocrypha research, a discussion of modern forgeries (i.e., apocrypha created in the 19th and 20th centuries), and an extensive bibliography, and additions to the original publication. First published as “Research on the New Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.” In Vol. 25.5. Principat, Part II of Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Edited by Hildegarde Temporini and Wolfgang Haase, 3919–3968. New York: De Gruyter, 1988.

  • Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    A companion to Ehrman’s collection of texts, Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It into the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). The author discusses the texts in a series of essays on such topics as forgeries, Gnosticism, Marcionism, the origins of orthodoxy, and the creation of the canon.

  • Gero, Stephen. “Apocryphal Gospels: A Survey of Textual and Literary Problems.” In Vol. 25. Principat, Part II of Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Edited by Hildegarde Temporini and Wolfgang Haase, 3969–3991. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1988.

    Gero discusses texts rarely included in overviews of Christian Apocrypha, such as On the Priesthood of Jesus and the Legend of Aphroditianus.

  • Klauck, Hans-Josef. Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction. Translated by Brian J. MacNeil. London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003.

    An English translation of Apokryphe evangelien: Eine Einführung (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 2002). Contains introductions to (primarily) early apocryphal gospels, along with a chapter on legends about the Death of Mary and another on the Jewish “anti-gospel,” the Toledot Yeshu.

  • Klauck, Hans-Josef. The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction. Translated by Brian J. MacNeil. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008.

    An English translation of Apokryphe apostelakten. Eine Einführung (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 2005). This is an indispensable and comprehensive study for new readers and veteran scholars of both early and later texts, with summaries of each work and bibliographic entries for further study.

  • Lapham, Fred. An Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha. London and New York: T & T International, 2003.

    Lapham divides the texts and discusses them in relation to several geographical locations: Judea, Samaria, Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia, and Egypt.

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