2 Maccabees is a member of the Old Testament Apocrypha and covers some of the same historical events recorded in 1 Maccabees. Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches include 2 Maccabees in their Canon of Scripture. Jews and Protestants do not. What should we believe?
2 Maccabees deals with a short period of time in the history of Jewish revolt against the Seleucids, specifically 180 – 161 BC. The name of the author of 2 Maccabees is not known, though the writer states it is based on the five volumes written by Jason of Cyrene (2 Maccabees 2:23). Jason’s larger document has not been discovered, so there is no way to compare 2 Maccabees to what Jason of Cyrene may have written. There is also no way to confirm that Jason of Cyrene was a prophet through whom God spoke His Word. Jesus and His Apostles did not mention Jason nor quote from his writings. They also did not mention nor quote from 2 Maccabees in the New Testament.
Historians do not view 2 Maccabees as accurate as 1 Maccabees. 2 Maccabees deals more with theological concerns, which makes it important to know if it is part of the Canon of Scripture. They include: resurrection of the dead, prayer for the dead and sacrificial offerings to free the dead from the power of sin, and the intercession of the saints. Let’s look at each one.
Resurrection of the dead – this was a big issue for Jews in 2nd and 1st centuries BC and the 1st century AD. As we know from previous studies, the Pharisees believed in the physical resurrection of the dead, but the Sadducees did not. Jesus not only believed in the physical resurrection of the dead, He preached it, then did it. He rose from the dead.
The Old Testament (Tanakh) refers to dead people being brought back to life (e.g. 1 Kings 17:23; 2 Kings 13:21) and also promises resurrection at a future time (e.g. Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:1-4).
2 Maccabees Chapters 6 & 7 have the stories of the brutal deaths of a scribe named Eleazar and a woman and her seven sons and their belief in a future resurrection and life after death.
Prayers for the dead and sacrificial offerings to free the dead from the power of sin – The Tanakh does not refer to a prayer for the dead or making sacrificial offerings to free the dead from the power of sin, but 2 Maccabees does.
“So Judas gathered his host, and came into the city of Odollam, And when the seventh day came, they purified themselves, as the custom was, and kept the sabbath in the same place. And upon the day following, as the use had been, Judas and his company came to take up the bodies of them that were slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen in their fathers’ graves. Now under the coats of every one that was slain they found things consecrated to the idols of the Jamnites, which is forbidden the Jews by the law. Then every man saw that this was the cause wherefore they were slain. All men therefore praising the Lord, the righteous Judge, who had opened the things that were hid, Betook themselves unto prayer, and besought him that the sin committed might wholly be put out of remembrance. Besides, that noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forsomuch as they saw before their eyes the things that came to pass for the sins of those that were slain. And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachms of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection: For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And also in that he perceived that there was great favour laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.” 2 Maccabees 12:38-45
Jesus and His Apostles did not request nor require that believers pray for the dead or make sacrificial offerings for the dead. Some have pointed to 2 Timothy 1:16-18 as Paul praying for the dead Onesiphorus, but there is no proof that Onesiphorus was dead at the time of Paul’s letter, though he may have been — plus, even if Onesiphorus was dead, Paul asked the Lord to grant mercy to the “household of Onesiphorus.” That’s because Onesiphorus had often refreshed Paul when he was in prison. It was a common practice to wish good things on the household of people who had served someone well whether the people were alive or dead.
The intercession of the saints – This is the doctrine of Christians praying to dead saints to intercede with God on their behalf. Some point to 2 Maccabees 15:11-17 and Luke 16:19-31, but neither reference supports the idea of praying to a dead believer to intercede with the Living God. In fact, the New Testament is quite clear that the only Person Who can intercede with God on our behalf is Jesus Christ (e.g. Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25). Christians can intercede for living people (2 Timothy 2:1-4), but are not directed by New Testament writers to pray to dead saints. That includes prayers to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Anyone who is Catholic or was Catholic is familiar with the Salve Regina – Hail Holy Queen. It was written in Latin during the Middle Ages. Here is an English translation.
“Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us; and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Let us pray: Almighty, everlasting God, who by the co-operation of the Holy Spirit didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin-Mother Mary to become a dwelling-place meet for thy Son: grant that as we rejoice in her commemoration; so by her fervent intercession we may be delivered from present evils and from everlasting death. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jesus never asked anyone to pray to His mother. The Apostles never asked anyone to pray to Mary. God chose Mary to be the human vessel who would give birth to our Savior and she was greatly blessed for submitting to God’s Will (Luke 1:26-38). However, Mary knew she was a sinner who needed salvation (Luke 1:46-55). Jesus expressed His great love for Mary at the Cross when He asked the Apostle John to provide for her as a son would provide for his mother (John 19:25-27). John wrote a Gospel, three Letters, and the Revelation, but never mentioned Mary after his Gospel. Peter also did not write about Mary in his Letters, even though they were close friends. Even Mary’s son James (half brother of Christ) did not mention her when he wrote his Letter. Paul mentioned one person named Mary in his Letter to the Romans (Romans 16:6), but there’s no indication he was referring to the mother of Jesus. Even if the Mary Paul mentioned was the mother of Jesus, his words about her were simply, “Greet Mary, who labored much for us.” Nowhere in the New Testament do we find anything about praying to Mary.
2 Maccabees falls short of Canonicity. It was not included in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus did not refer to it. The Apostles did not refer to it. Some of the historical data is more legend than fact. It presents doctrines which are not supported by Christ and His Apostles.
3 Maccabees also falls short of Canonicity. The book has nothing to do with the Maccabees and deals with King Ptolemy Philopator and his purported visit to Jerusalem. The book is believed to be mostly fictional.
4 Maccabees draws on some of the characters from 2 Maccabees, but is primarily a discourse about the supremacy of the philosophy of reason over passion. Some people thought through the centuries that Josephus wrote 4 Maccabees, though there is no proof for that. The book also falls short of Canonicity for the same reasons as 3 Maccabees.
I find no compelling reason to believe that any of the Maccabees books should be included in the Canon of Scripture for the reasons stated above. 1 and 2 Maccabees have some historical interest about the long time between prophets (Malachi and John the Baptist), but nothing more.
In our next study, we’ll look at the apocraphyl books of Tobit and Enoch to see if they should be included as part of God’s Inspired Word.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”