Apocryphal Books and the Biblical Canon

Although there were many texts written about Jesus and the early church in the first two centuries, not all ancient Judeo-Christian texts made it into the Christian Bible. These ancient texts are called "outside books," "extrabiblical books," or "noncanonical books."

What is a Canon?
The word "canon" comes from the Greek word kanon (a rod used to measure). A biblical canon is a list of books considered authoritative as Scripture by a particular religious community. Christian canons emerged through a complex process in which some books were "chosen" and others were left out. A tradition of use, authority within the communities, antiquity or apostolicity, and orthodoxy were factors in deciding which books were "in" and which were "out." "Inside books" are those included in a biblical canon. Sometimes which book is inside or outside depends upon whom you are talking with. For example the Roman Catholic Old Testament has more books than the Protestant one.

How was the Biblical Canon chosen?
The canon of the Bible was not chosen overnight. Decisions about which books were "in" and which books were "out" in relation to today's Bible usually were not made by a single group of people at a single point of history. Canonization (selection of which books were put in the Bible) was a process that went through several stages and took many centuries. These stages were not separate but sometimes overlapped:

Composition - manuscripts were written either as a recording of oral stories and teachings or as original documents
Community - manuscripts were read, circulated, and revised within the religious communities
Criteria - certain manuscripts became accepted as authoritative scripture within the religious communities--different groups accepted different scriptures
Collection - scriptures were gathered together in single scrolls, codices, and later in books-- the physical manner of collecting scriptures also had an influence on canonical decisions
Canon - a defined group of scriptures in a single collection became accepted by a certain religious community as The Bible-- different groups chose different canons

What are Apocryphal Books?
Many ancient texts were not included in the Bible. Perhaps, the most famous of these are the Dead Sea Scrolls. We may also have heard of the Church Fathers, Other "outside books" are the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the Pseudepigrapha, and the Apocrypha. For more information on these "outside books," please visit Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Manuscripts. To view some notable "outside" Christian manuscripts such as the Apocryphon of James, Dialogue of the Savior, the Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Truth, and many more, please visit The Nag Hammadi Library Index.

For an even greater list of 16 Gospels, 27 New Testament Acts books, 17 Apocryphal Apocalypses, 86 Church Fathers books, 19 Old Testament Apocrypha, 21 Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, and 20 other christian writings, visit the Wesley Center Noncanonical Homepage. If you are interested in history of the Early Church, then this site is the place to be.

Timelines:

- Church History Timeline from Jesus To Constatine: 30-313 AD
- Biblical and World Events BEFORE Christ's Birth
- Biblical and World Events AFTER Christ's Birth

Return to the Home Page
1