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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Apoc´rypha (hidden, secreted, mysterious), a term in theology, applied in various senses to denote certain books claiming a sacred character.

In the Bibliothèque Sarrée, by the Rev. Dominican Fathers Richard and Giraud (Paris, 1822), the term is defined to signify—(1) anonymous or pseudepigraphal books; (2) those which are not publicly read, although they may be read with edification in private; (3) those which do not pass for authentic and of divine authority, although they pass for being composed by a sacred author or an apostle, as the Epistle of Barnabas; and (4) dangerous books composed by ancient heretics to favor their opinions. They also apply the name 'to books which after having been contested, are put into the canon by consent of the churches, as Tobit,' etc. And Jahn applies it in its most strict sense, and that which it has borne since the fourth century, to books which, from their inscription or the author's name, or the subject, might easily be taken for inspired books, but are not so in reality.

The apocryphal books, such as III Esdras and IV Esdras, the Book of Enoch, etc. which were all known to the ancient Fathers, have descended to our times; and, although incontestably spurious, are of considerable value from their antiquity, as throwing light upon the religious and theological opinions of the first centuries. The most curious are III Esdras and IV Esdras, and the Book of Enoch, which has been but recently discovered, and has acquired peculiar interest from its containing the passage cited by the apostle Jude [ENOCH]. Nor are the apocryphal books of the New Testament destitute of interest. Although the spurious Acts extant have no longer any defenders of their genuineness, they are not without their value to the Biblical student, and have been applied with success to illustrate the style and language of the genuine books, to which they bear a close analogy. Some of the apocryphal books have not been without their defenders in modern times. They are, however, regarded by most as originally not of an earlier date than the second century, and as containing interpolations which betray the fourth or fifth: they can, therefore, only be considered as evidence of the practice of the Church at the period when they were written.

Most of the apocryphal Gospels and Acts noticed by the fathers, and which are generally thought to have been the fictions of heretics in the second century, have long since fallen into oblivion. Of those which remain, although some have been considered by learned men as genuine works of the apostolic age, yet the greater part are universally rejected as spurious, and as written in the second and third centuries. Whatever authority is to be ascribed to these documents, it cannot be denied that the early Church evinced a high degree of discrimination in the difficult task of distinguishing the genuine from the spurious books. 'It is not so easy a matter,' says Jones, 'as is commonly imagined, rightly to settle the canon of the New Testament. For my own part, I declare, with many learned men, that in the whole compass of learning I know no question involved with more intricacies and perplexing difficulties than this' (New and Full Method, i. 15). This writer conceives that testimony and tradition are the principal means of ascertaining whether a book is canonical or apocryphal. Inquiries of this kind, however, must of necessity be confined to the few. The mass of Christians, who have neither time nor other means of satisfying themselves, must confide, in questions of this kind, either in the judgment of the learned, or the testimony at least, if not the authority, of the Church; and it ought to be a matter of much thankfulness to the private Christian, that the researches of the most learned and diligent inquirers have conspired, in respect to the chief books of Scripture, in adding the weight of their evidence to the testimony of the Church Universal.





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Apocrypha'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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