The Apocrypha were a subset of a larger group of popular religious writings that the Jews of the first century called “outside books.” They were written between 200 BC and 100 AD, and while not canonical, they were widely read and considered writings “that do not defile the hands.”
Because the Jews never accepted these “outside books” as canonical, they aren’t in the Hebrew Bible. Many of them were apocalyptic works that encouraged the revolutionary spirit that led up to the disastrous Jewish-Roman War of 70 AD, so Jewish leadership that survived that war repudiated them.
Although not in the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, included a number of these “outside books” as an addendum. The Septuagint was the Old Testament used by the early church. First-generation Jewish converts to Christianity would already have been familiar with the apocryphal books, and later generations of Christians often read them and quoted them. This doesn’t mean that they were viewed as highly as the New Testament Scriptures or the older portions of the Old Testament. Many important church leaders, including Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, and John Chrysostom didn’t include them in their lists of canonical Scripture. Even Jerome, the renowned translator of the Latin Bible, opposed its inclusion in the canon of Scripture, although he yielded to popular pressure to include it in the Vulgate. Augustine of Hippo, who couldn’t read Hebrew and therefore lacked sensitivity to Jerome’s reasons for excluding it, backed the decision by the North African council of Carthage (397 AD) that it be included in the Scripture suitable for reading in the churches. However, Augustine later acknowledged that the Apocrypha shouldn’t be viewed as equal in authority to the books in the Hebrew canon.
With the passing of more than a thousand years and the rise of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the question of which Scriptures are truly inspired became a crucial issue. The Protestant Reformation viewed them as valuable but noncanonical. The Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1548 AD) officially declared that the Apocrypha is as sacred and canonical as the rest of Scripture, and anathematized anyone who disagreed.
Today, scholars especially value the Apocrypha as historical and religious sources of information about the intertestamental period. The names and order of the books of the Apocrypha are as follows:
I Esdras Baruch, with the Epistle of Jeremiah
II Esdras The Song of the Three Holy Children
Tobit The History of Susanna
Judith Bel and the Dragon
The Rest of Esther The Prayer of Mannasse
The Wisdom of Solomon I Maccabees
Ecclesiasticus II Maccabees
The Apocrypha contain popular narrative, religious history and philosophy, morality stories, poetic and didactic lyrics, wisdom and apocalyptic literature.