Methodist Church

The Canon and the Apocrypha

BOTH JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN GROUPS have biblical books considered to be authoritative as Scripture. These books are said to be part of the “canon”. However, the canon differs from one religious community to another.

The Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, included books that were not included in the original Old Testament. The word “Septuagint” means “seventy” in Latin and derives from a tradition that 70 Jewish scholars translated part of the Hebrew Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek some 250 years before Christ.

Eastern Orthodox churches use all of these books from the Septuagint in their canon. Roman Catholics include some of these books. However, United Methodist and most Protestant groups follow the Jewish canon.

Protestants consider Old Testament books that were in the Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Bible to be Deutterocanonical (secondary canon texts).
Some Bibles place these texts in a separate section called the Apocrypha. In Greek, the word “apocrypha” means “hidden things”.

There is a second category of apocryphal books. These are books that are biblical in nature, but were never part of any canon.

The New Testament Apocrypha includes books similar to those in the New Testament but books that have been rejected by nearly all Christian groups.

A well-known Gnostic apocryphal book is the Gospel of Thomas, an ancient manuscript found in Egypt in 1945. The Gospel of Judas received media attention when it was reconstructed in 2006.

The Gospel of Mary is believed to have been written in the second century and was among the sources that author Dan Brown used in writing The Da Vinci Code. – Interpreter Magazine, a publication of United Methodist Communications.

The Rev Richard J. Peck is a retired member of the New York Conference and Communications Director, General Commission on United Methodist Men, Nashville, Tennessee.