Apocrypha is the name commonly given to a series of Jewish writings composed 200 B.C.-A.D. 100, not included by either the Jews or the Protestants in the canonical (divinely inspired and authoritative) Scriptures of the Old Testament, though considered canonical by the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches and usually by them printed with and scattered through the Old Testament. In Protestant Bibles the Apocrypha was printed as a separate collection between the Old and New Testaments, appearing in all English Bibles up to 1827 and commonly printed in the Luther Bible (German) until recent times. The fourteen books of the Apocrypha are: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The Rest of Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (often called "Sirach"), Baruch with the Epistle of Jeremiah, The Song of the Three Holy Children, The History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees. The term New Testament Apocrypha is sometimes used to refer to early Christian literature produced in imitation of the Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation, although no exactly defined collection of writings is so recognized by the church.
The Anabaptists, and following them the Mennonites, of all countries in general followed the Reformers and the Protestant churches in denying divine inspiration and authoritative character to the Old Testament Apocrypha. Certain books, particularly Sirach, Tobit and the Wisdom of Solomon, were highly esteemed however, and Neff claims that Hans Denck cites them, particularly Sirach, as equal in authority with the Old Testament books.
Among the Anabaptist martyrs and the leaders like Menno Simons and Dirk Philips we find the apocryphal books of the Old Testament frequently cited, especially The Wisdom of Solomon and Jesus Sirach. Vos said that Menno ascribes to the Apocrypha the same authority as to the canonical Scriptures. This is not correct, and is especially not true of Dirk Philips. The attitude of the early Mennonites to the Apocrypha and its relation to the canon can be clearly seen in the conversation of the martyr Jacques d'Auchy with the inquisitor Lindanus. Lindanus is trying to prove the Catholic doctrine of purgatory and the Mass for the dead, and to do so refers to 1 Maccabees. 12:43. Jacques, who to be sure cites the books of the Apocrypha as edifying literature, refuses to ascribe to them any authority for Christian teaching, saying, "The early Christians used this name [Apocrypha] to designate that they are not authentic books from which a rule or ordinance might be taken." Further he says, "I do not find that Christ and His apostles accepted them [the Apocryphal books] or drew any testimony from them." The opinion of Dr. J. H. Wessel seems correct: "It seems to me that we shall not find among the Anabaptists that they put the Apocrypha on a par with the canonical books."
It is interesting to note that the Old Order Amish in the United States traditionally use the book of Tobit as the basis for the wedding sermon. A manuscript Amish Ministers Manual directs the use of Tobit in the wedding service in the following words: "So one turns to the book of Tobit. Although it is an apocryphal book and is not counted among the books of Holy Scripture, it nevertheless gives a beautiful teaching, strengthens the pious and God-fearing ones in the faith, especially in regard to marriage, and leads through all trial and tribulation to the hope that God finally will bring things to a conclusion with joy. So one begins in the book of Tobit . . ." A summary of the part of Tobit used in the Amish wedding sermon is printed in Joh. D. Hochstetler's reproduction of an Amish document of 1781, Ein alter Brief.
Through the influence of the Pennsylvania Germans some conservative Mennonites, particularly the Old Order Amish, have become quite fond of the strange New Testament apocryphal book known as the Gospel of Nicodemus (Evangelium Nicodemi) which went through several German editions in Pennsylvania in the nineteenth century.
"An Amish Minister’s Manual, edited from the Original Manuscript by John Umble." Mennonite Quarterly Review 15 (1941): 101.
Dit Boec wort genoemt: Het Offer des Herren, om het inhout van sommighe opgheofferde kinderen Godts . . . N.p., 1570: 302.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 77.
Hoop Scheffer, Jacob Gijsbert de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam: Uitgegeven en ten geschenke aangeboden door den Kerkeraad dier Gemeente, 1883-1884: v. I, No. 757.
Wessel, Jan Hendrik. De leerstellige strijd tusschen Nederlandsche Gereformeerden en Doopsgezinden in de zestiende eeuw. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1945: 109.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 136. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
©1996-2013 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
MLA style: Bender, Harold S. and Nanne van der Zijpp. "Apocrypha." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A65.html.
APA style: Bender, Harold S. and Nanne van der Zijpp. (1953). Apocrypha. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A65.html.