PM3117: In defence of 2 Maccabees

In this essay I seek to refute some common Protestant arguments for the rejection of the book 2 Maccabees as a proper part of the Bible; it is accepted as such by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. In particular, I will refute Evangelical Outreach's 2 Maccabees, an Apocryphal and Non-canonical Book.


2 Maccabees, an Apocryphal and Non-canonical book

My response

Written and Posted in Christian Love

2 Maccabees, an Apocryphal and Non-canonical Book


[Permission is granted to duplicate this article in its entirety, but only without additions, alterations or omissions of any kind, including the author, ministry name and address at the end. Nothing may be removed from this page including links to other pages.]

(This is their permission statement; I believe that reproducing their text for the purpose of this side-by-side commentary meets those conditions, since I am not adding anything to or omitting anything from their text, my own responses being clearly marked as separate.)

Contained in the Catholic Bible, but omitted in the Protestant Bibles, is a set of books called the Apocrypha. One of those books is 2 Maccabees. This particular Apocryphal book is very important and often cited to justify the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory — praying for the dead. According to a Catholic source, 2 Maccabees was written in Egypt.

"Its primary source and first author was Jason of Cyrene, a man steeped in orthodox Judaism and skilled in the Hellenistic art of rhetorical narration."[1]
Its intent is to "instruct and to edify. It is perhaps less political than 1 Mc and places more emphasis upon the importance of the Temple and religious themes ... The book tends also to propagate the doctrines dear to the Pharisaic heart — e.g., the resurrection of the just (7:9; 14:46); how consciously the author pursues this aim it is difficult to say."[2]

The Catholic Church traditionally uses 2 Maccabees to defend the doctrine of Purgatory. However, we must remember that that doctrine is only one possible interpretation of the book. We should not confuse the book itself with the Catholic interpretation of it. There are other possible interpretations of the same passages.

The Eastern Churches also accept 2 Maccabees; but while they share with Catholics the basic belief in an temporary, intermediate, state after death (neither Heaven nor Hell), they reject many elements of the Catholic idea of purgatory, such as indulgences. They do believe in the efficacy of prayer for the dead, but do not believe, as Catholics have sometimes taught, that a certain number of prayers can be equated numerically with a certain duration of time in that intermediate state.

Another possible interpretation of the book, separate from the Catholic one, is that post-death repentance may be possible, and that our prayers may be effacious in bringing about such repentance. Such a belief does not require any third place other than heaven and hell; but it involves the idea that souls in hell may repent, and be released from hell, and our prayers for them may encourage their repentance.

Why does the Roman Catholic Church consider the Apocryphal books canonical?

"The Roman Church places these works in her canon of the Scriptures, pointing to an ancient tradition as she does so. First to cite them in antiquity is Clement of Alexandria. He is followed by Hippolytus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, Aphraates, Jerome, Augustine and Theodoret. The provincial councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397 and 419) recognized the sacred character of 1-2 Mc, and the general councils of Florence (1441), Trent (1546), and Vatican I (1870) declared them to be inspired by God."[3]

Can we not ask the same question of the Protestant churches? Why do they consider the books canonical which they do? Why do they consider Hebrews or Revelation canonical?

And, the Catholic Church has very good reason for accepting 2 Maccabees. From the founding of the Church up until the time of the Protestant Reformation, the majority opinion in the Church, both East and West, accepted 2 Maccabees as part of the Bible. There were from time to time voices which questioned it; but the same is true of other books of the Bible, such as Hebrews or Revelation.

What do non-Catholic sources say about the book of 2 Maccabees and the Apocrypha? 2 Maccabees was written at the same time as 1 Maccabees, first century, B.C. Also:

It "is not a sequel to 1 Maccabees, but a parallel account, treating only the victories of Judas Maccabaeus. It is generally thought to be more legendary than 1 Maccabees."[4]

They have found an author who calls 2 Maccabees legendary; but, the same is true for every other book of the Bible. There are many authors who will call the Gospels legendary, who will call the Pentateuch legendary, etc. I wonder, would this author use the same word to describe a book whose canonicity he did accept?

The Apocryphal "writings were not officially declared to be divinely inspired, and included in the Catholic canon of Scripture as such, until 1546 at the Council of Trent. Previous to that time, these book [typographical error] were included in the Latin Vulgate and in the Greek version of the Old Testament, which is known as the Septuagint, but not officially decreed to be divinely inspired writings."[5]

This passage is misleading, because it suggests the other books of the Bible were officially declared to be part of Scripture, just not the Deuterocanon. In fact, prior to the Council of Trent, no general council of the Church had issued any decisions on the contents of the Biblical canon. If, prior to Trent, 2 Maccabees was not officially declared to be inspired, then the same is true of the Gospel of John or the Book of Genesis. However, it must be remembered, that ecumenical councils of the Church were usually called to resolve disputes in doctrine or practice, in particular those disputes which had reached a large enough scale to be a matter of serious concern for the entire Church. The fact that an ecumenical council has not declared a particular doctrine does not make it somehow invalid — if the doctrine was never a focus of great dispute, nor closely related to another one that was, it is unsurprising that the ecumenical councils were silent on it. Prior to Trent, the canon of Scripture had never been a major cause of dispute in the Church, hence no ecumenical council had felt the need to address it definitively. That does not mean there was no official church position on the topic prior to Trent.

Why do non-Catholic authorities reject the Apocrypha as being Canon? Four reasons are:

  1. "They abound in historical and geographical inaccuracies and anachronisms."
  2. "They teach doctrines which are false and foster practices which are at variance with inspired Scripture."
  3. "They resort to literary types and display an artificiality of subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture."
  4. "They lack the distinctive elements which give genuine Scripture their divine character, such as prophetic power and poetic and religious feeling."[6]

They abound in historical and geographical inaccuracies and anachronisms.: and books accepted by Protestants have been accused of the same thing. The reality is, if you accept a book as inspired, you will find a solution to potential difficulties; if you reject a book as inspired, you will use those same difficulties to condemn it.

They teach doctrines which are false and foster practices which are at variance with inspired Scripture.: this claim is fundamentally circular. You reject a book as inspired, because it contradicts other inspired scripture. Yet, how do you know those other scriptures are inspired? Scriptures accepted by Protestants contain many apparent contradictions, yet Protestants will propose solutions to these contradictions. Examples abound: differing genealogies of Jesus in Matthew vs. Luke, Paul's emphasis on salvation by faith vs. James 2:17 (faith without works is dead). So, if 2 Maccabees, or other deuterocanonical scriptures, conflict with other scriptures, is the right answer to reject them, or seek solutions to those contradictions? If the right answer is to reject them, why not use the same answer with other contradictory books which Protestant's accept?

They resort to literary types and display an artificiality of subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture.: an extremely vague allegation, and hence impossible to actually test. The Bible contains a diverse variety of literary styles; should we reject a part of the Bible as biblical, just because part of it is in a different style from the rest? If we applied that test, we may find several books accepted by Protestants rejected also. In fact, almost every book of the Bible has some uniqueness of style or subject matter, so applied consistently this criteria would demolish the entire Bible and leave nothing left.

They lack the distinctive elements which give genuine Scripture their divine character, such as prophetic power and poetic and religious feeling.: again, an extremely vague allegation, impossible to test. You will find many people who have read the deuterocanonical books, who have indeed felt prophetic power, and poetic and religious feeling. This proposed criteria is so subjective as to be absolutely useless.

Some other reasons why we must reject the Apocrypha as being part of canon are:

  1. It is not included in the Hebrew canon of Scripture.
  2. The Apocryphal writers sometimes disclaim divine inspiration. For example, in 2 Maccabees 15:38,39 CT, we read, "So these things being done with relation to Nicanor and from that time the city being possessed by the Hebrews, I also will here make an end of my narration. Which if I have done well and as it becometh the history, it is what I desired: but if not so perfectly, it must be pardoned me."
  3. "In all of the New Testament there is not even one single reference or quotation, made by Christ or any of the Apostles, that would confirm all or any part of the Apocrypha as being divinely inspired."[7]

It is not included in the Hebrew canon of Scripture. So? It is included in the Greek Septuagint. And, many of the deuterocanonical books in the Septuagint are translations from Hebrew originals, some of which have survived. For example, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) was originally writen in Hebrew, and around two-thirds of the Hebrew text survive. In any case, if being written in Greek is evidence against the inspiration of a book, then none of the New Testament should be accepted as inspired, since it was all written in Greek.

We should remember that in Jesus' time and earlier, there was much greater variety in Judaism than in later periods. The Pharisees later came to dominate the Jewish religion, and alternative Judaisms died out; largely due to a series of wars with the Roman Empire (beginning with the war of 66-73 CE, and ending in the defeat of the Simon bar Kochba revolt's in 135 CE), and widespread conversion from Judaism to Christianity. It was the Pharisees, and their successors in Rabbinical Judaism, who established the current Jewish canon; one of their criteria was a rejection of books written in languages other than Hebrew. It should be noted they were not entirely consistent in their application of that criterion, since they accepted books which were part written in Aramaic (primarily Daniel and Ezra). It is often claimed they made this decision at a supposed Council of Jamnia in the late first century, although more recent scholarship doubts such a "Council" ever took place.

The question has to be asked, given Jesus' repeated denunciations of the Pharisees in the New Testament, why should Christians look to the Pharisees for the decision about what books should be accepted in the Old Testament? Especially when, if the Pharisees criteria were applied (e.g. all inspired books must be written in Hebrew, must have been written prior to Ezra, etc.), the entire New Testament must be rejected. And, if Christians are to let the Pharisees decide their biblical canon, why not follow them further and accept the Mishnah also?

It seems strange, that many Greek-speaking Jews, who accepted the additional books of the Septuagint as scripture, and who became Christians, are to have their opinion on what constitutes the Old Testament disregarded; while the Pharisees, who are condemned by name by Jesus in the Gospels, and who rejected Jesus, are to be followed in deciding the boundaries of the Old Testament for Christians!

The Apocryphal writers sometimes disclaim divine inspiration. In support of this assertion, a single book is quoted, 2 Maccabees; even if it is granted that this is evidence against 2 Maccabees, it is no evidence against any of the other deuterocanonical works. And, the passage does not say what they claim it says. The author says, Which if I have done well, and as it becometh the history, it is what I desired: but if not so perfectly, it must be pardoned me. This is not a disclaimer of inspiration. It is not a requirement to be divinely inspired that a work be perfect in style; the language of the Bible is not always the utmost height of style. So, the authors statement, that if his work has stylistic flaws, may he be pardoned, is not a disclaimer of inspiration. Furthermore, it is not necessary, for a work to be inspired, that its inspiration be immediately apparent to the author at the time of writing; this passage, is not an admission of any errors in the text, but simply a humble acknowledgement that the author is not a fair judge of his own work, and he must wait to see how it is received to know its true value. Given the fact that his text was accepted as part of the Bible, by both Jews and Christians, his work has received a great honour; but he is too humble to assumed beforehand that would be the case. His words here are an inspiring example of humility to us all, and are fitting as part of the Bible.

In all of the New Testament there is not even one single reference or quotation, made by Christ or any of the Apostles, that would confirm all or any part of the Apocrypha as being divinely inspired. First, we must observe that reference or quotation is a vague criteria, capable of broader or narrower interpretation. At the narrowest, it demands a clear direct quote; at the broadest, it permits uncertain allusions or similarities of ideas or phrasing. At the narrowest, this criteria excludes not only the Deuterocanon, but many books of the Protocanon as well — it is not true that every book in the Old Testament has a clear, direct quote in the New. However, if we follow the broader interpretation, then not only will we find that the protocanonical Old Testament meets the criterion, but so do the deuterocanonical books, and also several other books that neither Catholics nor Protestants currently accept. For example, Jude appears to quote, and certainly alludes to, the Book of Enoch and the Assumption of Moses. We should also add, that this criterion is obviously useless in deciding the canon of the New Testament; but if it cannot be followed with respect to the New, why insist upon following it with respect to the Old?

In 2 Machabees (another spelling) 12:43-46, we have the reference cited by the Catholic Church to support Purgatory. If one would read verses 40 through 46, he would learn that God killed these people because of idolatry. According to Catholicism, if you die in the state of mortal sin, which idolatry is, you'll go straight to Hell when you die! Therefore, according to Catholic doctrine, Judas Machabeus was WRONG in suggesting that the people should "pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins" (verse 46)!

This is actually a misrepresentation of the Catholic doctrine. In Catholic theology, for a sin to be mortal, it must be serious in nature, be committed with full knowledge of its sinfulness and the gravity thereof, and with deliberate and total consent. Idolatry certainly meets the graveness criterion, but idolatry is only a mortal sin if one is fully aware of its sinfulness, of the gravity of its sinfulness, and has deliberate and complete consent. Thus, Judas Maccabeus' men may not have committed the mortal sin of idolatry, only the venial sin of it. Since the other two necessary crtieria (awareness of sinfulness and gravity, and internal and complete consent) are to do with the state of mind of the sinner rather than the sinful act itself, it is impossible for us to know whether their sin was mortal or venial. Indeed, it would have been impossible for Judas Maccabeus to know with any certainty either. It seems wise, if one cannot know whether a person died in a state of mortal sin, to still pray for their soul, in the hope that their sin may have been merely venial.

Secondly, it is a mistake to identify 2 Maccabees too much with the particular teachings of the Catholic Church. Judas Maccabeus was obviously not a Catholic; he was a Jew. It is not only Catholics who accept 2 Maccabees, the Eastern churches (Eastern Orthodox, Miaphysite, Nestorian) accept 2 Maccabees too. Although they have some similarities with Catholicism in doctrine and practice, they differ in many details. It is possible to accept 2 Maccabees as canonical without necessarily accepting the Catholic Church's interpretation of it, or other Catholic doctrines (such as the distinction between mortal and venial sin) which are relevant to that interpretation.

For a person to believe in the doctrine of Purgatory, he/she would have to be totally misinformed about the Biblical doctrines of the Atonement, Redemption and even Salvation. Purgatory infers works for salvation, a soul-damning and devilish teaching. Augustine said, "there are some who have departed this life, not so bad as to be deemed unworthy of mercy, nor so good as to be entitled to immediate happiness."[8] This statement infers works for salvation which is refuted by Eph. 2:8,9; Titus 3:5; Rom. 4:4-6 and 2 Tim. 1:9. Consequently, one can therefore conclude that Augustine was NOT a Christian but instead a minister and servant of Satan, 2 Cor. 11:13-15!

Again, it is a mistake to identify 2 Maccabees too closely with Catholic doctrine on Purgatory. Although the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory relies on 2 Maccabees for some of its support, that doctrine goes far beyond what 2 Maccabees itself teaches, and it is possible to accept 2 Maccabees as biblical yet adopt a different interpretation of it from the Catholic one.

The statement purgatory infers works for salvation completely misunderstands the teaching of Purgatory. The souls in Purgatory are saved, not damned; their eternal salvation and eternal life in Heaven are assured. The doctrine of Purgatory says that those who sin in this life, and are not fully absolved in this life of those sins, undergo a limited duration of purification in the next. However, this is not salvation by works, since these sins, even though they result in Purgatory, do not impair the individual's eternal salvation.

The relationship between faith and works in the Bible is a complex one, and it is open to question whether the simplistic formulas of the Protestant tradition, such as "salvation by faith not works", adequately reflect the actual Biblical teaching. Protestant thought puts priority on certain passages in Paul, priority above passages in other parts of the Bible, such as the Epistle of James. Whether the traditional Protestant understanding of Paul is actually correct is an open question — both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians interpret him differently, and much of contemporary scholarship (especially the New Perspective on Paul) sees the traditional Protestant exegesis of Paul (originating in Luther, et al) as fundamentally mistaken, misreading 16th century concerns into a 1st century text whose concerns were very different.

It is a common mistake that Protestants make, to blindly assume that the received Protestant traditions of biblical interpretation actually match what the Bible in fact says. They adhere to their traditions, despite their criticism of Catholics and Eastern Christians for doing the same thing, and despite claiming to follow Jesus words in the Gospels warning against traditions of human origin. So, someone who accepts 2 Maccabees, or even the doctrine of Purgatory, is not totally misinformed about the Biblical doctrines of the Atonement, Redemption and even Salvation, but rather just interprets the Biblical text differently from how they do. Those who claim the correct interpretation of the Bible is "obvious" are usually the least educated as to the variety of different Bible interpretations, and the differing reasons put forward for each of them.

In summary, the Apocryphal books, which include 2 Maccabees, are NOT from God, NOT inspired and MUST NOT be placed on the same level of authority as Holy Writ. For the Catholic Church to do just the opposite shows:

  1. They are misleading people by filling them with FALSE hopes about a non-existent place (Purgatory). This in turn causes people not to make a real heart-felt commitment to Jesus Christ, a thing Catholics NEVER hear about anyway in their doctrines. The Gospel, according to the Catholic Church, is: baptism, communion, penance, good works, church membership and Mary. This, of course, places all who teach such (priests, nuns, monks, etc.) under the divine curse of Gal. 1:8,9. (By the Catholic Church's false directions to heaven, we therefore can identify it as NON-Christian and just as deadly as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism and any other cult.)
  2. Those in authoritative positions in the Catholic Church, past or present, who hold to the Apocryphal books as being inspired are not led by the Holy Spirit, for He will guide into all truth (Jn. 16:13). Also, the same people can't be "of the truth" (Jn. 18:37), because they don't hear Jesus' voice.
  3. To believe the Apocryphal books are inspired means either ignorance or dishonesty to hermeneutical principles and processes.
  4. For a Catholic Council like Trent or Vatican I to declare inspiration for these books shows that God is not controlling these councils.

In summary, the authors have completely failed to prove their case, and have shown no convincing evidence that 2 Maccabees is not from God, is not inspired, and is not on the same level of authority as other scriptures. Many of their arguments against 2 Maccabees work equally well against books they accept, so if they were consistent they would either accept 2 Maccabees or reject many other books as biblical, and have far less than 66 books left in their Bible.

Their justification for rejecting 2 Maccabees is ultimately their adherence to the received traditions of Protestantism. That Protestants cleave so tightly to their own traditions, yet condemn Catholics and Eastern Orthodox for following their traditions, demonstrates the fundamental inconsistency of their position. They manage to do this, because so many of them lack the insight to acknowledge the existence of the very traditions they follow and pass on. The Protestant rejection of 2 Maccabees is a tradition of men—which Jesus condemned—originating in the arbitrary decisions of Martin Luther (who, wanted to remove from the Bible all the books which contradicted his own teachings — not only the deuterocanonical books, but also New Testament books such as the Epistle of James), and in the traditions of the Pharisees (which Jesus condemns very explicitly in the Gospels).

They are misleading people by filling them with FALSE hopes about a non-existent place (Purgatory) As mentioned, the authors do not provide any convincing demonstration that the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is false, and also fail to realise that 2 Maccabees is not dependent on the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, since it admits interpretations other than the traditional Catholic one.

This in turn causes people not to make a real heart-felt commitment to Jesus Christ, a thing Catholics NEVER hear about anyway in their doctrines. Any Catholic would find this statement absolutely laughable. The idea of making a real heart-felt commitment to Jesus Christ runs through a great bulk of Catholic devotional and spiritual writings and practices. It seems likely that whoever wrote this had no actual experience of Catholicism, beyond distortions published in Protestant controversial literature, since if they had, they would have surely realized how laughable this sentence is.

The Gospel, according to the Catholic Church, is: baptism, communion, penance, good works, church membership and Mary A caricature. According to Catholicism, these are all parts of the Gospel, but there is much more to the Gospel than that; it is fair to say, that these aren't even the most important parts of the Gospel. The most important part of the Gospel, according to Catholicism, is without doubt Jesus' death and resurrection.

This, of course, places all who teach such (priests, nuns, monks, etc.) under the divine curse of Gal. 1:8,9. The authors have no evidence that the Catholic church teaches "another Gospel". If anything, it must be said that it is they who teach another Gospel, in their quickness to condemn those who have differing opinions to their own; in their cleaving to their traditions of human origin; in their rejection of part of the Word of God (2 Maccabees).

(By the Catholic Church's false directions to heaven, we therefore can identify it as NON-Christian and just as deadly as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism and any other cult.) Again, they have no evidence for their claim that the Catholic Church gives "false directions to heaven", or their claim that it is "NON-Christian" or "deadly". (As to whether Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormonism are Christian, those are largely unrelated issues, so it is best not to address them here.)

Those in authoritative positions in the Catholic Church, past or present, who hold to the Apocryphal books as being inspired are not led by the Holy Spirit Again, a claim for which they have absolutely no good evidence. And they have the audacity to claim to know who is being led by the Holy Spirit, and who is not? Likewise, the claim that they don't hear Jesus' voice is one for which absolutely no good evidence has been presented, and it is a very presumptuous claim of theirs to make.

To believe the Apocryphal books are inspired means either ignorance or dishonesty to hermeneutical principles and processes If anyone is being ignorant or dishonest, it is those who reject the deuterocanonical books. They have no good reasons to do so, other than clining to the questionable traditions of Protestantism.

For a Catholic Council like Trent or Vatican I to declare inspiration for these books shows that God is not controlling these councils And someone else could respond that for them to reject inspiration for these books shows that God is not controlling them.

Considering all the adverse effects of tradition, of which the Apocrypha is a result, one can see why Jesus refuted tradition and error as He did, Mt. 15:1-14; Mk. 7:6-13; Lk. 11:37-52; Mt. 16:6,12! Christians who desire to please God first and not man should unhesitatingly give logical reasons why the Apocrypha is not inspired as they "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) and "contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3).

Considering all the adverse effects of tradition, of which their rejection of the Deuterocanon is a result, one can see why Jesus refuted tradition and error as He did. Their rejection of the Deuterocanon, is a tradition deriving from the Protestant Reformation (e.g. Martin Luther), but a tradition which actually dates back to the Pharisees — one of the main arguments the Protestant Reformers used for rejecting the Deuterocanon was that the Jews of their time or today did not accept it — Jews who near universally followed the traditions of the Pharisees. It is quite peculiar to quote Jesus' words condemning the traditions of the Pharisees, in defence of a tradition which comes from the Pharisees.

They say Christians should give logical reasons why the Apocrypha is not inspired; but the reasons they give do not stand up to logical scrutiny.

  1. ? The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1968, p. 463.
  2. ? Ibid.
  3. ? Ibid., p. 462.
  4. ? How We Got Our Bible, Ralph Earle, Baker Book House, p. 41
  5. ? The Other Side of Purgatory, Paul Juris, Nystrom Publishing Co., pp. 82, 83.
  6. ? Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell, Here's Life Publishers, Inc., p. 33
  7. ? The Other Side of Purgatory, p. 93
  8. ? The Faith of Millions, John A. O'Brien, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1963, p. 346


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