Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Defending the Book of Maccabees

A friend recently told me that the Book of Maccabees shouldn’t be in the Bible because it has prayers for the dead in it. How should I respond to that?

There are a handful of books in the Catholic bible that are not included in Protestant bibles. These are Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch, as well as additions to Daniel and Esther. Protestants refer to these books as the “apocrypha,” or the “apocryphal books.” One reason why these books are excluded is because Protestants find in them various doctrines or practices that are supposedly at odds with the rest of Scripture. Your friend is using that argument, and there are at least two ways to respond to it.

One approach is to defend the practice of praying for the dead. After all, your friend is assuming that there is something wrong with praying for the dead, when in fact it is perfectly fine. Catholics pray for the dead because we believe in the reality of Purgatory, the state of being cleansed by God of any remaining impurities before we enter heaven. Souls undergoing this purging can benefit from our prayers because death does not separate us from the Body of Christ. As members of one Body, we can pray for each other and offer up our hardships for one another. A lengthy defense from Scripture is usually necessary before one can convince most Protestants that praying for the dead is a legitimate practice. Read the Catechism on these subjects, as well as a few articles from and you can find all the verses you need. You may also consider a different approach.

Another way to tackle this is to simply show your friend that prayers for the dead can be found in his Bible as well as the Catholic one. I like this approach because it turns his argument against him. Now, in order to be consistent, he has to start tearing out books that no one in his right mind would ever dream of excluding! Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:20-22), Peter (cf. Acts 9:40), and even Jesus himself (cf. John 11:41-43) are all seen praying for the dead in books that are well established in Protestant bibles. It is true that the prayer is for the person to come back to life. But, that doesn't change the fact that the soul of a dead person is still being prayed for, which, according to Protestants, is strictly forbidden. Note also that, in order for these souls to return to their bodies, they must have been in an intermediate state, since heaven and hell are irrevocable and eternal judgments. This is what "prayer for the dead" is: prayer for souls in this intermediate state. Also, in 2 Tim 1:16-18, Paul prays for the soul of Onesiphorus, that he will find mercy on the day of Judgment. So, prayer for the dead is certainly to be found in the Protestant bible.

This same two-fold approach can be used to defend the legitimacy of the other “apocryphal” books as well. If you have never read them before, I highly suggest you do!

Pax Christi,


Marcus said...

Question: Since the term "apocrypha" has ubiquitous connotations to both Protestants and Catholics, should we use the term "deuterocanonical" in order to differentiate them from non-canonical books, such as the Epistle of Barnabas, which we Catholics refer to as "apocrypha"? Then again, that term also seems to relegate the books to a sort of second class scripture, which it is not, so perhaps we should just explain that we call certain non-canonical books apocrypha, but Maccabees et. al. are just called sacred scripture.

Also, I'm rather taken with the notion of praying for my deceased friends and relatives, not just for the mitigation of their suffering (if that's an appropriate term) in Purgatory, but also for their conversion BEFORE their death (since God is outside of time, I can pray today for God to bestow his grace on them 5 years ago). I wonder how our Protestant brothers would view that?

phatcatholic said...

Thank you for your comment, Marcus. Within Catholicism, the books in question are referred to as "deuterocanonical." I realize that this isn't an ideal term (b/c of the implication that you mentioned), but it's better than "apocryphal," which I think Protestants (or, at least, the Reformers) use as a term of disparagement. As long as we explain that the term was always used simply to describe a set of books that were disputed for a time but that are now considered canonical, then there should not be a problem with it.

As for praying for people retroactively (if it may be called that), I'm not sure what Protestants would make of that.

*Calvin* said...

Is there any place in the New Testament where anyone prays for the dead other than for them to come back to life.
In all the places I read in the New testament they simply pray, then comand the person to get up. It seems they are not praying for the dead but praying to God for the faith and or power from the Holy Spirit to call them out from the dead.

Im about to start reading the apocrypha where woud I fined those prayers about the dead?

Thank you for your time.

Judas Maccabaeus said...

Hello, I have a site dedicated to the Maccabees called the Eternal Order of St. Judas Maccabaeus. If you're interested go to or see me at Facebook under Jason Corning. The Protestants worship Zeus, not the LORD GOd. Their Christ is the uncircumcised pervert named Apollo, the Greco-Roman sun god. The Protestant refusal to accept the Maccabees stems from this basic issue. They march towards Mt. Olympus and woe be to those Catholics who join them. Seek first the Kingdom and go towards Mt. Sinai. There, and only there, will you find the God of the Maccabees.

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