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2 Maccabees and The Canon of Scripture

In this post I am going to raise the question of whether Roman Catholics should consider 2 Maccabees as inspired scripture, and therefore a part of the Old Testament canon. I base this on the following section, which mentions Judas Maccabees offering sacrifices and prayers for Jewish soldiers who were killed in the battle against the army of Antiochus Epiphanes IV:

 Expiation for the Dead. Judas rallied his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was approaching, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the sabbath there. On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his companions went to gather up the bodies of the fallen and bury them with their kindred in their ancestral tombs. But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. [g]Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.” 2 Maccabees 12:39-46

12:42–45 This is the earliest statement of the doctrine that prayers (v. 42) and sacrifices (v. 43) for the dead are efficacious. Judas probably intended his purification offering to ward off punishment from the living. The author, however, uses the story to demonstrate belief in the resurrection of the just (7:9142336), and in the possibility of expiation for the sins of otherwise good people who have died. This belief is similar to, but not quite the same as, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. (New American Bible Revised Edition [NABRE]; italicized and underline emphasis mine)

As the footnote suggests, this passage is taken to be pre-Christian evidence that certain (most, many?) Jews believed that prayers and sacrifices could be offered to God for the dead to expiate/atone for sins committed while they were still alive.

However, this text raises certain problems for Roman Catholics since the passage emphatically teaches that the reason these Jewish soldiers were killed is that God had punished them for wearing amulets of the idols of Jamnia, which the Law of Moses expressly condemned.

Note, once again, the relevant part taken from another Roman Catholic translation of the Holy Bible:

“But when they found on each of the dead men, under their tunics, objects dedicated to the idols of Jamnia, which the Law prohibits to Jews, it became clear to everyone that this was why these men had lost their lives. All then blessed the ways of the Lord, the upright judge who brings hidden things to light, and gave themselves to prayer, begging that the sin committed might be completely forgiven. Next, the valiant Judas urged the soldiers to keep themselves free from all sin, having seen with their own eyes the effects of the sin of those who had fallen;” 2 Maccabees 12:40-42 New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)

According to Roman Catholic theology, these Jewish soldiers died committing a mortal sin, which means they will everlasting punishment in hell.

Here is what the Roman Catholic Catechism teaches in regards to mortal sin and its consequences:

Catechism of the Catholic Church – Sin

states in respect to mortal sin:

1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture,129 became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:

When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. . . . But when the sinner’s will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.130

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”131

1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.”132 The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consentIt presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart133 do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

129 Cf. 1 Jn 5:16-17. (Bold and underline emphasis mine)

Since these Jews knew what the Law says about idolatry, and therefore were not ignorant of their sin, and since they had not repented of their crime of idolatry before they died, this means that their physical deaths signified that God had condemned them to hell to suffer forevermore.

Moreover, pay close attention to the fact that the Catechism references 1 John 5:16-17 in support of the distinction between venial and mortal sins. Here is what that NT epistle states in regards to praying for a person who commits the sin that results in death:

“He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin which is not to death, let him ask, and life shall be given to him, who sinneth not to death. There is a sin unto death: for that I say not that any man ask. All iniquity is sin. And there is a sin unto death.”  Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)

John is emphatically clear that Christians should not pray for the individual whose sin leads to death. And yet Judas and his companions not only prayed for individuals whose sins resulted in their physical and everlasting deaths, they even offered expiatory sacrifices for them, which is in clear violation of John’s inspired instructions.

In light of the foregoing, how can 2 Maccabees be inspired, canonical writing when it contradicts both Roman Catholic theology and a New Testament epistle, which all the major branches of Christianity recognize as inspired, canonical Scripture?


Atonement and the Apocrypha: Some Questions Concerning the Deutero-Canonical Books

Are The Jewish Apocrypha Inspired Scripture? [Part 1]

Are The Jewish Apocrypha Inspired Scripture? [Part 2]

Are The Jewish Apocrypha Inspired Scripture? [Part 3]

Are The Jewish Apocrypha Inspired Scripture? [Part 4]

Are the Jewish Apocrypha Inspired Scripture? [Appendix]

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