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The New Testament apocrypha are a number of writings by early Christians that give accounts of Jesus and his teachings, the nature of God, or the teachings of his apostles and of their lives. These writings often have links with those books which are regarded as "canonical". Not every branch of the Christian church is in agreement as to which writings are to be regarded as "canonical" and which are "apocryphal" (See the Gospel according to the Hebrews).



The word "apocrypha" means "hidden writings" and comes from the Greek through Latin. The general term is usually applied to the books that were considered by the church as useful, but not divinely inspired. As such, to refer to Gnostic writings as "apocryphal" is misleading since they would not be classified in the same category by orthodox believers.[citation needed]


That some works are categorized as New Testament Apocrypha is indicative of the wide range of responses that were engendered in the interpretation of the message of Jesus of Nazareth. According to Eusebius the first such gospel was the Gospel according to the Hebrews. During the first several centuries of the transmission of that message, considerable debate turned on safeguarding its authenticity. Three key methods of addressing this survive to the present day: ordination, where groups authorize individuals as reliable teachers of the message; creeds, where groups define the boundaries of interpretation of the message; and canons, which list the primary documents certain groups believe contain the message originally taught by Jesus (in other words, the Bible). Many early books about Jesus were not included in the canons, and are now termed apocryphal. Some of them were vigorously suppressed and survive only as fragments. The earliest lists of authentic works of the New Testament were not quite the same as modern lists; for example, the Book of Revelation was long regarded as inauthentic (see Antilegomena), while Shepherd of Hermas was considered genuine by some Christians, and appears in the Codex Sinaiticus, see Development of the New Testament canon for details.

The works that presented themselves as "authentic" but that did not obtain general acceptance from within the churches are called "New Testament Apocrypha". These are not accepted as canonical by most mainstream Christian denominations; only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church recognizes the Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, Acts of Paul, and several Old Testament books that most other denominations reject, but it should be noted that this church does not adhere to an explicit canon.[citation needed] The Syriac Peshitta, used by all the various Syrian Churches, originally did not include 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation (and this canon of 22 books is the one cited by John Chrysostom (~347-407) and Theodoret (393-466) from the School of Antioch [1]). Western Syrians have added the remaining five books to their New Testament canons in modern times [2](such as the Lee Peshitta of 1823). Today, the official lectionaries followed by the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, with headquarters at Kottayam (India), and the Chaldean Syrian Church, also known as the Church of the East (Nestorian), with headquarters at Trichur (India), still only present lessons from the 22 books of the original Peshitta. [3] The Armenian Apostolic church at times has included the Third Epistle to the Corinthians, but does not always list it with the other 27 canonical New Testament books. This Church did not accept the Revelation into its Bible until 1200 CE.[4] The New Testament of the Coptic Bible, adopted by the Egyptian Church, includes the two Epistles of Clement.

Books that are known objectively not to have existed in antiquity are usually not considered part of the New Testament Apocrypha. Among these are the Libellus de Nativitate Sanctae Mariae (also called the "Nativity of Mary") and the Latin Infancy Gospel. The latter two did not exist in antiquity, and they seem to be based on the earlier Infancy Gospels.[citation needed]



Canonical Gospels

Of the many gospels written in antiquity, only four gospels came to be accepted as part of the New Testament, or canonical.

Infancy Gospels

The rarity of information about the childhood of Jesus in the canonical Gospels led to a hunger of early Christians for more detail about the early life of Jesus. This was supplied by a number of 2nd century and later texts, known as infancy gospels, none of which was accepted into the biblical canon, but the very number of their surviving manuscripts attests to their continued popularity.

Most of these were based on the earliest infancy gospels, namely the Infancy Gospel of James (also called the Protoevangelium of James) and Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and on their later combination into the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (also called the Infancy Gospel of Matthew or Birth of Mary and Infancy of the Saviour).

The other significant early Infancy Gospels are:

Jewish Christian Gospels

Jewish Christian sects within Early Christianity that retained a strong allegiance to Judaism, upholding Mosaic Law, used these Gospels as specific to themselves:

Since these mostly survive as quotes scattered amongst critical commentaries by Pauline Christianity, some modern theories suggest that these may be variations on one another, although the quotations from the Gospel of the Ebionites appear more distinct than the others. It has also been suggested that the Gospel of the Hebrews may have been an earlier version of the Greek Gospel of Matthew.

Rival versions of canonical Gospels

Many alternate edited versions of other gospels existed during the period of early Christianity. Sometimes, those attributed to the text state elsewhere that their text is the earlier version, or that their text excises all the additions and distortions made by their opponents to the more recognised version of the text. The church fathers insist that these people are incorrect (and indeed heretical) in their assertions, but some modern scholars do not. It remains to be seen whether any are earlier and more accurate versions of the canonical texts. Details of their contents only survive in the attacks on them by their opponents, and so for the most part it is uncertain as to how extensively different they are, and whether any constitute entirely different works. These texts include:

Sayings Gospels

One or two texts take the form of brief logia—sayings and parables of Jesus—which are not embedded in a connected narrative:

A minority of scholars regard the Gospel of Thomas as part of the tradition from which the canonical gospels eventually emerged; in any case both of these documents are important as showing us what the theoretical Q document might have looked like.

Passion Gospels

A number of Gospels are concerned specifically with the "Passion" (arrest, execution and resurrection) of Jesus:

Although there are three texts which take Bartholomew's name, it may be the case that one of the Questions of Bartholomew or the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is in fact the unknown Gospel of Bartholomew.

Harmonic Gospels

A number of texts aim to provide a single harmonization of the canonical gospels, that eliminates discordances among them by presenting a unified text derived from them to some degree. The most widely-read of these was the Diatessaron. Of all the extant texts, the majority appear to be variations on the suppressed Diatessaron.

Gnostic texts

In the modern era, many Gnostic texts have been uncovered, especially from the Nag Hammadi library. Some texts take the form of an expounding of the esoteric cosmology and ethics held by the Gnostics. Often this was in the form of dialogue in which Jesus expounds esoteric knowledge while his disciples raise questions concerning it. There is also a text, known as the Epistula Apostolorum, which is a polemic against Gnostic esoterica, but written in a similar style as the Gnostic texts.

Dialogues with Jesus

General texts concerning Jesus

Sethian texts concerning Jesus

The Sethians were a gnostic group who originally worshipped the biblical Seth as a messianic figure, later treating Jesus as a re-incarnation of Seth. They produced numerous texts expounding their esoteric cosmology, usually in the form of visions:

Ritual diagrams

Some of the Gnostic texts appear to consist of diagrams and instructions for use in religious rituals:


Several texts concern themselves with the subsequent lives of the apostles, usually with highly supernatural events. Almost half of these are said to have been written by Leucius Charinus (known as the Leucian Acts), a companion of John the apostle. The Acts of Thomas and the Acts of Peter and the Twelve are often considered Gnostic texts. While most of the texts are believed to have been written in the 2nd century, at least two, the Acts of Barnabas and the Acts of Peter and Paul are believed to have been written as late as the 400s.


There are also non-canonical epistles (or "letters") between individuals or to Christians in general. Some of them were regarded very highly by the early church:


Several works frame themselves as visions, often discussing the future, afterlife, or both:

Fate of Mary

Several texts (over 50) consist of descriptions of the events surrounding the varied fate of Mary (the mother of Jesus):

  • The Home Going of Mary
  • The Falling asleep of the Mother of God
  • The Descent of Mary


These texts, due to their content or form, do not fit into the other categories:


In addition to the known Apocryphal works, there are also small fragments of texts, parts of unknown (or uncertain) works. Some of the more significant fragments are:

Lost works

There are several texts which would be considered part of the apocrypha, which are mentioned in many ancient sources, but for which no known text has survived:

A note about orthodoxy

While many of the books listed here were considered heretical (especially those belonging to the gnostic tradition—as this sect was considered heretical by Proto-orthodox Christianity of the early centuries), others were not considered particularly heretical in content, but in fact were well accepted as significant spiritual works. They are however not considered canonical, as they belong to the category of works of the church fathers or Apostolic Fathers.


Johannes Quasten, a scholar of early Christian literature, asked to summarize his view on the Apocryphal literature of early Christianity, quotes M.R. James:

People may still be heard to say, 'After all, these Apocryphal Gospels and Acts, as you call them, are just as interesting as the old ones. It was only by accident or caprice that they were not put into the New Testament'. The best answer (...) has always been, and is now, to produce the writings and let them tell their own story. It will very quickly be seen that there is no question of anyone's having excluded them from the New Testament: they have done that for themselves.

However, among historians of early Christianity the books are considered invaluable, especially those which almost made it into the final canon such as Shepherd of Hermas. Bart Ehrman, for example, said:

The victors in the struggles to establish Christian Orthodoxy not only won their theological battles, they also rewrote the history of the conflict; later readers then naturally assumed that the victorious views had been embraced by the vast majority of Christians from the very beginning ... The practice of Christian forgery has a long and distinguished history ... the debate lasted three hundred years ... even within "orthodox" circles there was considerable debate concerning which books to include.[1]

See also


  1. ^ Barth Ehrman, Lost Christianities

External links

Some of the most complete collections and resources on New Testament Apocrypha can be found at:

Canonical is an adjective derived from canon. Canon comes from the Greek word kanon, "rule" (perhaps originally from kanna "reed", cognate to cane), and is used in various meanings.

Basic, canonic, canonical: reduced to the simplest and most significant form possible without loss of generality, e.g., "a basic story line"; "a canonical syllable pattern."



This word is used by theologians and canon lawyers to refer to the canons of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Churches adopted by ecumenical councils. It also refers to later law developed by local churches and dioceses of these churches. The function of this collection is somewhat analogous to the precedents established in common law by case law.

In the 20th century, the Roman Catholic Church revised its canon law in 1917 and then again in 1983, into the modern Code of Canon Law. This code is no longer merely a compilation of papal decrees and conciliar legislation, but a more completely developed body of international church law. It is analogous to the English system of statute law.

Canonical can also mean "part of the canon", i.e., one of the books comprising a biblical canon, (e.g. the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Mark) as opposed to apocryphal books (e.g. the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

The term is also applied by Westerners to other religions, but in inconsistent ways: for example, in the case of Buddhism one authority[1] refers to "scriptures and other canonical texts", while another[2] says that scriptures can be categorized into canonical, commentarial and pseudo-canonical.

Canonization is the process by which a person becomes recognized as a saint.

Literature and art

The word is also often used when describing bodies of literature or art: those books that all educated people have supposedly read, or are advised to read, make up the "canon", for example the Western canon. (See also canon (fiction)).


Mathematicians have for perhaps a century or more used the word canonical to refer to concepts that have a kind of uniqueness or naturalness. Examples include the canonical prime factorization of positive integers, the Jordan canonical form of matrices (which is built out of the irreducible factors of the characteristic polynomial of the matrix), and the canonical decomposition of a permutation into a product of disjoint cycles. Various functions in mathematics are also canonical, like the canonical homomorphism of a group onto any of its quotient groups, or the canonical isomorphism between a finite-dimensional vector space and its double dual. Although a finite-dimensional vector space and its dual space are isomorphic, there is no canonical isomorphism. This lack of a canonical isomorphism can be made precise in terms of category theory; see natural transformation. But at a simpler level one could say that "any isomorphism you can think of here depends on choosing a basis." As stated by Goguen, "To any canonical construction from one species of structure to another corresponds an adjunction between the corresponding categories."[3]

Being canonical in mathematics is stronger than being a conventional choice. For instance, the vector space Rn has a standard basis which is canonical in the sense that it is not just a choice which makes certain calculations easy; in fact most linear operators on Euclidean space take on a simpler form when written as a matrix relative to some basis other than the standard one (see Jordan form). In contrast, an abstract n-dimensional real vector space V would not have a canonical basis; it is isomorphic to Rn of course, but the choice of isomorphism is not canonical.

The word canonical is also used for a preferred way of writing something, see the main article canonical form.

In set theory, the term "canonical" identifies an element as representative of a set. If a set is partitioned into equivalence classes, then one member can be chosen from each equivalence class to represent that class. That representative member is the canonical member. If you have a canonicalizing function, f(x), that maps x to the canonical member of the equivalence class which contains it, then testing whether two items, a and b, are equivalent is the same as testing whether f(a) is identical to f(b).

Computer science

Some circles in the field of computer science have borrowed this usage from mathematicians. It has come to mean "the usual or standard state or manner of something"; for example, "the canonical way to organize a file system is as a hierarchy, with extensions to make it a directed graph".[4] XML Signature defines canonicalization as the process of converting XML content to a canonical form, to take into account changes that can invalidate a signature over that data (from JWSDP 1.6).

In enterprise application integration, the Canonical Model is a design pattern used to communicate between different data formats. It introduces an additional format, called the "canonical format", "canonical document type" or "canonical data model". Instead of writing translators between each and every format (with potential for a combinatorial explosion), it is sufficient just to write a translator between each format and the canonical format. OASIS (organization) (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) is an example of an integration architecture that is based on a canonical data model.

Some people have been known to use the noun canonicality; others use canonicity. In fields other than computer science, canonicity is this word's canonical form.

In computer science, a canonical name record (or CNAME record) is a type of DNS record.

In computer science, a canonical number is the old designation for a MAC address on routers and servers.


In theoretical physics, the concept of canonical (or conjugate, or canonically conjugate) variables is of major importance. They always occur in complementary pairs, such as spatial location x and linear momentum p, angle φ and angular momentum L, and energy E and time t. They can be defined as any coordinates whose Poisson brackets give a Kronecker delta (or a Dirac delta in the case of continuous variables). The existence of such coordinates is guaranteed under broad circumstances as a consequence of Darboux's theorem. Canonical variables are essential in the Hamiltonian formulation of physics, which is particularly important in quantum mechanics. For instance, the Schrödinger equation and the Heisenberg uncertainty relation always incorporate canonical variables. Canonical variables in physics are based on the aforementioned mathematical structure and therefore bear a deeper meaning than being just convenient variables. One facet of this underlying structure is expressed by Noether's theorem, which states that a (continuous) symmetry in a variable implies an invariance of the conjugate variable, and vice versa; for instance symmetry under spatial displacement leads to conservation of momentum, and time-independence implies energy conservation.

In statistical mechanics, the grand canonical ensemble, canonical ensemble, and the microcanonical ensemble are archetypal probability distributions for the (unknown) microscopic state of a thermal system, applying respectively in the physical cases of: (1) an open system at fixed temperature (able to exchange both energy and particles with the environment); (2) a closed system at fixed temperature (able to exchange energy with its environment); and (3) a closed thermally isolated system (able to exchange neither). These probability distributions can be applied directly to practical problems in thermodynamics.

See also


  1. ^ Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Volume One), page 142
  2. ^ Bechert & Gombrich, World of Buddhism, Thames & Hudson, London, 1984, page 79
  3. ^ Goguen J. "A categorical manifesto". Math. Struct. Comp. Sci., 1(1):49--67, 1991
  4. ^ canonical from the Jargon File


Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to canonical article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:





canon +‎ -ical


canonical (comparative more canonical, superlative most canonical)


more canonical

most canonical

  1. (theology) Present in a canon of Scripture.
    The Gospel of Luke is a canonical New Testament book.
  2. In conformity with canon law.
  3. According to recognised or orthodox rules.
    The men played golf in the most canonical way, with no local rules.
  4. Stated or used in the most basic and straightforwardly applicable manner.
    This definition would be more useful if it were canonical.
  5. (music) In the form of a canon.
  6. Of or pertaining to an ecclesiastical chapter
  7. (mathematics, computing) In canonical form.





canonical (plural canonicals)

  1. (Roman Catholicism) The formal robes of a priest
    • 1857, Various, The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 1, Issue 2, December, 1857[1]:
      He, good man, could make but little of his solitary friend, and must many a time have been startled out of his canonicals by the strange, alien speeches which he heard.
    • 1915, H. G. Wells, The Research Magnificent[2]:
      When I was a boy I was a passionate atheist, I defied God, and so far as God is the mere sanction of social traditions and pressures, a mere dressing up of the crowd's will in canonicals, I do still deny him and repudiate him.
    • 1891, Emily Sarah Holt, The White Lady of Hazelwood[3]:
      Mr Altham rose, as in duty bound, in honour to a priest, and a priest who, as he dimly discerned by his canonicals, was not altogether a common one.


Canonical was the winning word at the 15th Scripps National Spelling Bee. [4]


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