Praying for the Dead: Paul's use of the Maccabees (1)

This is not intended to be a final word on use of the Deuterocanon as canonical, but an exercise in biblical contextual studies. In the first part of this (initially planned) two part series, I want to establish that there may be a connection between the New Testament writings of Paul and the writes of the Deuterocanonical writings of the Maccabees. This is not meant to say that the four books of the Maccabees are close to being inspired, but we cannot imagine that the New Testament was written in a vacuum. Allusions does not signify quotes, and quotes do not signify inspiration (see Jude’s and Peter’s use of Enoch). Instead, many place these books, and the rest of the Deuterocanon in the place of a tool in studying the historical development surrounding the Apostles and the New Testament writings.

The four  books of the Maccabees (two are held by Rome and all four by the communions of the East) provide an interesting piece of history of the so-called inter-testamental period (supposedly from Malachi to Matthew). In them, we find the history of the Hasmoneans who ruled Israel from the time of Judah Maccabeus’ overthrow of the Greeks until they welcomed in the Romans.  While the Jews do not consider them canonical, it is in the first two books which we find the Jewish holiday of Hanukah (1st Macc 4; 2nd Macc 19; cf John 10). They were included in the canon, and quoted from, in the early church. Further, the first two books were in earliest English translations, including the KJV. Of interest to those who are concerned with prophecy is the 1st chapter of of the first book of Maccabees.

Before we reexamine the matter of prayers for the dead in 1st Timothy 1.16-18 and a possible connection to 2nd Maccabees, I want to set up the idea that Paul were not foreign to the writings of the Maccabees.

Besides the connection between the Hanukah celebration inaugurated in the Maccabean books and John 10, there are clear allusions between the New Testament and these books (among others in the Deuterocanon). In the context of culture, it would be difficult to separate the source material, even in education, from the final goal. Even now, we find writings which we may disagree with do influence us in different ways. We know that Paul had close contact with the culture which produced these books, as he was a Jew with Roman citizenship. Further, he came from a sect of Judaism, the Pharisees, a group sharing basic theological precepts (Judgment Day, afterlife) with the Maccabean authors.

Below is a partial list of allusions meant only to show that Paul might have had contact with the books:

1st Maccabees:

2.60: Daniel, because of his innocence, was delivered from the mouth of the lions.

2nd Timothy 4.17: But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.

12.9: Therefore, though we have no need of these things, since we have as encouragement the holy books that are in our hands,

Romans 15.4: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

2nd Maccabees:

3.30: they praised the Lord who had acted marvelously for his own place. And the temple, which a little while before was full of fear and disturbance, was filled with joy and gladness, now that the Almighty Lord had appeared.

Titus 2.11: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,

6.4: For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit.

Romans 1.28: And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.

12.15: But Judas and his men, calling upon the great Sovereign of the world, who without battering rams or engines of war overthrew Jericho in the days of Joshua, rushed furiously upon the walls.

1st Timothy 6.15: which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

3rd Maccabees:

4.16: The king was greatly and continually filled with joy, organizing feasts in honor of all his idols, with a mind alienated from truth and with a profane mouth, praising speechless things that are not able even to communicate or to come to one’s help, and uttering improper words against the supreme God.

Romands 1.28: And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.

4th Maccabees:

2.5-6: Thus the law says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or anything that is your neighbor’s.” In fact, since the law has told us not to covet, I could prove to you all the more that reason is able to control desires. Just so it is with the emotions that hinder one from justice.

Romans 7.7: What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

1st Corinthians 12.2: You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.

18.24: to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Romans 16.27: to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Galatians 1.5: to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I want to focus on Romans 1.28 and the interaction with 2nd and 3rd Maccabees:

RSV Romans 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.

BGT Romans 1:28 Καὶ καθὼς οὐκ ἐδοκίμασαν τὸν θεὸν ἔχειν ἐν ἐπιγνώσει, παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς εἰς ἀδόκιμον νοῦν, ποιεῖν τὰ μὴ καθήκοντα,

RSV 2 Maccabees 6:4 For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit.

BGT 2 Maccabees 6:4 τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἱερὸν ἀσωτίας καὶ κώμων ὑπὸ τῶν ἐθνῶν ἐπεπληροῦτο ῥᾳθυμούντων μεθ᾽ ἑταιρῶν καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἱεροῖς περιβόλοις γυναιξὶ πλησιαζόντων ἔτι δὲ τὰ μὴ καθήκοντα ἔνδον εἰσφερόντων

RSV 3 Maccabees 4:16 The king was greatly and continually filled with joy, organizing feasts in honor of all his idols, with a mind alienated from truth and with a profane mouth, praising speechless things that are not able even to communicate or to come to one’s help, and uttering improper words against the supreme God.

BGT 3 Maccabees 4:16 μεγάλως δὲ καὶ διηνεκῶς ὁ βασιλεὺς χαρᾷ πεπληρωμένος συμπόσια ἐπὶ πάντων τῶν εἰδώλων συνιστάμενος πεπλανημένῃ πόρρω τῆς ἀληθείας φρενὶ καὶ βεβήλῳ στόματι τὰ μὲν κωφὰ καὶ μὴ δυνάμενα αὐτοῖς λαλεῖν ἢ ἀρήγειν ἐπαινῶν εἰς δὲ τὸν μέγιστον θεὸν τὰ μὴ καθήκοντα λαλῶν

We can immediately see a thought connection through the ‘debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles’ which is found in all three set of verses, but moving beyond that we find that the passages are linguistically connected by the word καθήκοντα. It literally means, ‘something which ought not to be done‘ (Friberg Lexicon). According to Thayer, it means ‘shameful; forbidden.’ Many will point to the Stoics for this word, but according to Moulton-Milligan, it is well attested in the ancient world beginning about 246 b.c, but dying out about 90 a.d. In my opinion, it would then mean that this word was not common outside the religious/philosophical community.

We should note that in all of Scripture, both canonical and contested, this word is use three times – once by Paul and twice by the author(s) of 2nd and 3rd Maccabees and always in the context of the depravity of the Gentiles. There is a connection as well with the word ‘filled’ (Gk, πεπληρωμένος) in all three of these presented passages.

As a side note, unlike with E-Sword, I was able to use BibleWorks 8 to search the Greek, had excellent access to the Lexicons, as well as compare different translations and books (using their parallel viewer.)

You may purchase BibleWorks 8 from:

Westminser Bookstore
BibleWorks

Post By Joel Watts (10,059 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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10 thoughts on Praying for the Dead: Paul's use of the Maccabees (1)

  1. Just remember Sandmel’s old warning against parralelomania, defined as “that extravagance among  scholars which first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to  describe source and derivation as if implying literary connection flowing in an inevitable or  predetermined direction” (“Parallelomania,” JBL 81).

  2. I completely agree, Josh, but we cannot believe that the NT was created in a vacuum. Since the Maccabean period was so close to Paul’s, and indeed, the theology of the Maccabees was Paul’s, it makes a sense to believe that Paul does have cultural connections – thoughts, words – which was carried over from this group. In the Maccabean books, we find the genesis of the Pharisees. Paul was a Pharisee – so it is natural to assume that he used this foundation in his life.

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