During the period between the completion of the Old Testament and the first writings included in the New Testament (i.e. the period between 450 BC and 50 AD), many essays, psalms and historical accounts circulated throughout the synagogues and early churches. Some of these documents gradually came to be regarded by certain of the believers as actually inspired and deserving of a place in the canon.
We usually date the first definite listing of the accepted books of the Bible as occurring around 367 AD. However, a second set of booklets had been assembled through the years, and these were given the name Apocrypha (meaning “hidden”). Though they are all from the time before the birth of Christ, they were never included in the Hebrew Bible. However, many Christians regarded them as valuable for reading and edification, and in some editions of the Bible they were interspersed among the Old Testament books.
Then Martin Luther, in his Bible translation of 1534, extracted the apocryphal books from their usual places in the Old Testament, and had them printed at the end of the Old Testament. He stated that they “are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading.” After that, many Protestant Bibles omitted them completely. However, in 1546 the Roman Catholic Council of Trent specifically listed the apocryphal books approved by the Roman Catholic Church as inspired and they are always included in Roman Catholic Bibles and are usually interspersed among the books of the Old Testament.
The Apocrypha generally consists of 14 booklets of which 1 and 2 Maccabees and 1 Esdras are the main documents and form the bulk of the apocryphal writings. First Maccabees is an historical account of the struggle of the Maccabee family and their followers for Jewish independence from 167 to 134 BC. Second Maccabees covers the same ground but dramatizes the accounts and makes moral and doctrinal observations. Other books are Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, and The Wisdom of Solomon.
Since neither Jesus nor the apostles make any reference to the apocryphal books, most Christians have regarded their authority as secondary to that of the 39 books of the Old Testament. Yet within these apocryphal books are passages of great piety and historical information. We should therefore approach the Apocrypha with a discerning mind and heart, and carefully discriminate between that which is in harmony with the essentials of the Christian faith and that which deviates from what is taught in the 66 books of the canon. We have the Lord’s promise that he will lead us into the truth, and we live by that promise in everything we read.