Monday, May 28, 2012

Are the Books of Maccabees Supposed to be in the Bible?

This is an opening statement to a debate I have been asked to have.... someone asked me to post it here to make it easier to read.

Are the two books of Maccabees supposed to be in the Bible or did some evil Jewish Rabbi slip them in or was it just an accidental mistake that it was put into the Old Testament?

How do we go about finding out if the books of Maccabees are theopneustos or God-breathed?
Let us, for a moment, think about the inquiring agnostic--someone relatively unaware of anything about Christianity. The Holy Spirit draws them into a Christian bookstore and they ask for a Bible. Well, which Bible? There is a Orthodox Bible, Catholic Bible and Protestant Bible sitting on the shelf. Which one is God-breathed, which one is the Bible?

If the agnostic were to encounter a Protestant salesperson, the answer might be that only the Protestant Bible is the authentic one. A Catholic or Orthodox salesperson would say they all are, but that the Protestants removed seven books (more for the Orthodox), but that even though a shorter version, the Protestant Bible is still theopneustos or God-breathed.

Then the agnostic started flipping through the pages of each Bible. This is what he would see: 

The Orthodox included books not found in the others called I Esdras, four books of the Maccabees and an extra Psalms (151). Other than that it would contain all that the Catholic Bible contained. The Catholic Bible would have less than the Orthodox but more than the Protestant and it would include books entitled: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, (as well as additions to Jeremiah and Daniel) and the first two books of Maccabees.

So, the agnostic is wondering how one would go about knowing if Maccabees was truly part of what God wanted in Holy, inerrant and infallible scripture. If it is God-breathed, then its teachings would be authoritative.

Here are some options:

1. I get to decide. 

The agnostic was told that the Holy Spirit guides Christians to all truth. So, he might assume that if he were to become Christian he could read the different Bibles and make a personal decision about whether Maccabees is God-breathed or not.

However, that isn't such a good idea. Wouldn’t that be placing us as judges over God’s word? 

If we open that Pandora's box of "we all get to make a personal choice" of what is God-breathed or not--then we all, in essence, get to edit the Word of God. If it is His Word, then it is not mine to alter. I would think this idea a scandal to those who believe in sola scriptura. 

If all Christians could decide based on their communication with the Holy Spirit, then could baptized children decide which books they feel are inspired? 

Martin Luther would have taken out James, Hebrews and Revelation if he could have. Jerome of the fourth century would have taken out more. Thomas Jefferson edited his own Bible... There would be many today who would add books such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Acts of Peter and Paul.

What would the scriptures look like if each of us could put in an order for our own personal Bible? I think a lot of the Old Testament would be tossed out by some Christians today, certain passages removed that make us uncomfortable. Within one generation the scriptures would be lost, for there would be few Bibles that looked alike. So, practically we know God doesn’t place us in charge as individuals to decide what is or is not God-breathed.

2. Pure numbers. 

If consensus has anything to do with it, then Maccabees is supposed to be in the Bible because 1.1 billion Catholics and 240 million Orthodox have it in their scriptures, outnumbering the Protestants two to one.

But does God go by numbers? Don’t think so.

3. The oldest Bible?

The Ethiopian Orthodox Bible is one of the oldest. The interesting thing about this particular canon is that it developed in isolation from the other western, eastern and even coptic canons (canon means list of books in the Bible), so it cannot have been influenced by the Catholic church. It contains the books of Maccabees. This is one of the best proofs we have. Isolated Christians in North Africa were using the Septuagint that contained the books of Maccabees long before they came into contact with western Christianity and they can trace their lineage back to the Apostles.

The Coptic Bible is also one of the oldest. It goes back to the Apostle Mark and includes the books of Maccabees. 
What about the oldest western manuscripts, do they contain the books of Maccabees?

The 4th century Codex Sinaiticus  and the Codex Venetus are considered world treasures for they are among
 the most ancient hand-written Bibles. They contain the books of Maccabees.

The 5th century Codex Alexandrinus is one of the earliest manuscripts of the Bible Christians have. They contain the books of Maccabees.

From the earliest lists of the Bible canon from 4th century Council of Hippo and 5th century Council of  Carthage, we find Maccabees listed.

For all of Christian history until the Protestant Reformation we find that the book of Maccabees is in 99.99% of Bibles.
But being old, does that prove that Maccabees is God-breathed? Maybe, but what is the best criteria for deciding. The agnostic might then ask: What Bible did Christ use? If Christ used Maccabees as scripture, then we have our answer--our decisive, undeniable answer.

4. Did Jesus consider Maccabees God-breathed scripture?

Like everything in history, nothing is simple. The Jews had many differing canons of scripture: the Babylonian, Palestinian, Samaritan, the ones found at Qumram (possibly the Essenes), and the Septuagint. Each of these sets of scriptures were somewhat different in not only the books they used but the wording. Just like we could look a text up in a Biblical search engine and find out what translation someone used, so scholars today can look up quotes of Jesus and the Apostles and tell what set of canons they used.

It would be much like this: If we saw a bunch of “thous and thys” we would go to the King James Version first to see if the text matched. If not, then one of the older English translations such as Wycliffe, etc. If we see the text in modern slang we might first check it out with a very modern version. This is how scholars would match texts with the translation.

Today, scholars can identify which of the known canons of Jesus’ day that He and the Apostles used following a similar pattern. And scholars have found that of the 350 quotes of the OLD TESTAMENT recorded in the New Testament by Jesus and the Apostles 300 can be, with certainty, identified as coming from the Septuagint.

Why is that important to know? Because the books of Maccabees are in the canon of the Septuagint. 
The Septuagint is widely agreed upon as the Bible of Jesus and the early Christian church as recorded by Protestant scholars such as Lee Martin McDonald, F. F. Bruce, Jaroslav Pelikan and other non-catholic scholar such as Christopher de Hamel, Stephen Miller and Robert H. Huber who have written works on the history of the canon.)

Since the secular language of Israel was Greek, it is no wonder they chose the Greek Bible as their source of Old Testament scripture. And the Apostles wrote the majority of the New Testament in Greek.

Many Protestants will claim that because Jesus and the Apostles did not directly quote from the books of Maccabees that it proves Maccabees is not God-breathed. Yet there are several Old Testament books that Jesus nor the disciples directly quoted from such as Esther. Does that prove Esther should be removed from the Old Testament?

However there are many text in the New Testament that pull from Maccabees that would be familiar to the Jewish audience.

Allusions to the book of Maccabees in the New Testament:
(Examples From Appendix D of The Biblical Canon: It’s Origin, Transmission and Authority written by Protestant scholar Lee Martin McDonald.)

4: 15
6 ;10
6: 12
24:4, 31

3: 29
5: 2-39

There were many, many more but this sampling should suffice. Does the fact that the New Testament allude to passages in the books of Maccabees prove those books to be God-breathed? Well, it's a pretty good indication since it is referred to much more than one or two instances. Please keep in mind this is the list of a Protestant scholar. 

So, what is better proof? If Jesus used the Septuagint version of scriptures with the Maccabees a part of that version and there are numerous references to it that the Hebrew hearers would catch, then wouldn't that wrap it up for you? It did for me. Of course this is a quick overview of the topic, but we can get into more specifics as the debate continues....

Maccabees was part of the Bible that Jesus and the Apostles used. Can there be anything more we need to add? At this point my opening statement is finished.
Protestant Sources:
Whose Bible is it Anyway, Jeroslav Pelikan
The Biblical Canon, Lee Martin McDonald
The Canon of Scripture, F. F. Bruce
The Book: A History of the Bible, Christopher DeHamel
The Bible: A History, Stephen Miller and Robert Hubert

Catholic Sources: