Friday, July 07, 2006

Purging purgatory from 2 Maccabees

It is a common Roman Catholic argument that 2 Maccabees 12:40-45 implies purgatory in a stronger sense then our common Scriptures. It is further argued that, because Evangelicals don't accept this book as canonical, it doesn't impede what is stated in these passages. It reveals a belief in praying for the dead and the expunging of sin in the afterlife. Thus, it is argued, purgatory would be the sensible outcome of this expiation. I've read the passages over and over again, but cannot find anything which remotely supports anything which implies anything more then the resurrection. Neither have I found any writings of the early church which uses these passages in the way Rome uses it today. So, let us break down these verses and see what it leads to:

2Maccabees 12:40 - 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.

Clearly, those who were slain died in the state of idolatry as the law forbids. Those who were present knew this to be the reason for their deaths. Parallel this to the Catholic teaching on mortal sin which would be comparable to their transgression of the law. Those who die in a state of mortal sin cannot be prayed for. They are lost. Judas' prayer would have been unanswered.

2Maccabees 12:41 - All men therefore praising the Lord, the righteous Judge, who had opened the things that were hid,

God has revealed before all the cause of their deaths. They died because they were idolatrous.

2Maccabees 12:42 - 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.

These men prayed that the sin committed might be put out of God’s remembrance. Judas used these men as an example for the people to refrain from sin. He warned them what can happen if they indulge sin. It is unclear if the people prayed that God forget the sin in their midst or for these men.

2Maccabees 12:43 - 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:

Judas took a collection and sent it to Jerusalem so as to offer a sin offering. His intentions were pure and honest and because Judas believed in the resurrection he did so. There is no purgatorial implication here, but only that Judas believed in the resurrection—that the dead will rise again. He was hoping that his men would be raised. There was a Jewish belief that seems to have arisen later where the wicked would be destroyed. It is just as plausible to believe that Judas' believed in annihilation as he would in a purgatory.

2Maccabees 12:44 - 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.

Again, this passage pertains to the resurrection. The dead CAN rise again without inflicting a purgatory into the mix. Also, why must it be purgatory that Judas is implying? What if Judas was of the view that God can forgive and forget sin before the general judgment? So far, the implication Judas leaves us with is that if one dies in sin then one can pray that his sins be forgotten.

2Maccabees 12:45 - 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.

Understand that the book was written by an "epitomizer" of “Jason the Cyrene” and he’s speaking about Judas Maccabeus. From his vantage point, he assumes that Judas is of the thought that these men may have died godly due to their service to God and regardless of their blatant disobedience to the law. Judas believed in the resurrection, thus he prayed for them. The writer assumes this to be a “good and holy thought.” Judas does the “reconciliation” because he believed they may be delivered from their sins. Again, all this is written with the resurrection in mind and all the Catholic can do is inflict “purgatory” and assume that this is what Judas is implying, but there really is no reason to believe this to be the case considering it doesn’t say how this “deliverance” is to take place. Judas could have assumed that God would merely forget their sins due to their servitude sans a purgatory. IOW, there is no reason to believe that Judas, much less the Jewish people, implied or believed in a purgatory, but could have believed that God could forgive sins after death forthright.

In ending, it seems the passages in 2 Maccabees 12 aren’t any more provocative then the common Scripture verses Catholics claim imply a purgatory. Truth is, Catholics cannot uphold this as evidence of a purgatorial belief anymore then the passages they claim from our common Scriptures. Again, there are no early writings which would corroborate that the early church viewed these passages to be purgatorial. Instead, as they do the common Scriptures, they seek implications and read their doctrine back into them.


Joe said...

Before addressing the dogma of purgatory I must correct an error in your understanding of Catholicism. You claim that the statement below is Catholic teaching;

“Those who die in a state of mortal sin cannot be prayed for. They are lost.”

Whose soul would we pray for if not for that of a loved one who died in a state of mortal sin. No true Catholic would presume to know the disposition of anyone’s immortal soul nor believe that any soul is beyond the infinite mercy of The Lord.

I would challenge your disbelief in purgatory in two ways, both in the case of the scripture you mention and using general logic. I would start with a definition of purgatory. Purgatory describes the state of soul that has not been damned but that requires purification before being worthy of the presence of God.

If the fallen comrades in 2 Macabbees had been judged at the moment if death, there would be no point in praying for them or offering sacrifices for them. If they are saints in the presence of The Lord, they require no sacrifice. If they are damned, there is no reason to sacrifice for them. The text clearly suggests a third state where prayers and sacrifice would be of use.

I would also ask you consider how God (who is the source of our understanding of justice) could not allow for a purgatorial state. Take 2 cases;

1. The Blessed Virgin Mary who was without sin, was perfectly obedient to God, and mother to the Jesus.

2. A pedophile and murderer (who rapes, torments, steals innocence, destroys families and kills children) who, in his last hours of life repents for his sins and accepts Jesus.

Surly there must be mercy for even so twisted a soul. But that soul cannot expect to be immediately received into Gods presence in same fashion as Mary after a life so full of egregious sin.

Just couple of points to consider.....

You may also want to look at;

1 Corinthians 3:11-15
Luke 12:58-59

Churchmouse said...

Hi Joe,

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Zarnacy said...

Churchmouse, I see two separate Catholic ideas here: (1) Praying for the dead (2) Purgatory as a specific reason to pray for the dead. Your argument is that the text does not imply (2); but leaving (2) aside, it explicitly states (1), which is a position Protestants reject, no?

A Catholic believes it is useful to pray for the dead. Purgatory is used to explain that usefulness; but maybe, even if there is no purgatory, it is still useful in some other way? Whereas, Protestants reject all prayers for the dead, correct?

A person could accept 2Maccabees as a canonical, inspired, authoritative part of the Bible (the Catholic position), and accept on that basis prayers for the dead (again, the Catholic position), without necessarily endorsing purgatory, since you are right that this text does not teach the Catholic doctrine of purgatory specifically, just maybe one of the several elements that went into it?

Soloman's Father said...

[Quote from Joe:] "Surly there must be mercy for even so twisted a soul. But that soul cannot expect to be immediately received into Gods presence in same fashion as Mary after a life so full of egregious sin." [/quote]

Actually, in Acts 10:34, Peter makes mention that "God is not a respecter of persons". In other words, He does not show favortism. All who sincerly repent are forgiven and granted the same righteousness (right standing with God) as the next sinner.

For all have sinned and fallen short and it does not matter if a small rule or large one is violated. If any of God's commandments are violated then all of them are violated. That means *all* of us are just as guilty as the one you claim has "egregious sin" attached to him. That is why we are under Grace, not the Law. Romans 3:10, "There are none good, no not one." Sin is sin. It doesn't matter to God what results that sin produced, only that it is present.

We are the ones that attach value-judgements to sin. That "this" sin is much more severe that "that" sin. I'm reminded of the Pharisee that prayed to God saying: "Thank you God, i'm not like other people". He was also referring to a nearby tax collector who could not even raise his head when praying to God.

If you feel i'm being judgemental, have a look at 1 Corinthians 5:12-13.

Monkey Blogger said...

The problem is that the idea that Mary is sinless is not biblical in the bible I believe it is Luke Mary says that she rejoices in God her savior and if you are sinless you do not need a savior and I think in Romans it says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And has for your example of the criminal Jesus told the thief on the cross TODAY you wil be with me in paradise and you would expect a thief to spend time in purgatory if it existed.

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