Monday, June 29, 2009

Does 1 Maccabees 9:27 Prove the Deuterocanon Uninspired?

Starting Monday of last week, I've been posting, section by section, an ongoing dialogue with Reese Currie which revolved pretty heavily around the Deuterocanon, and whether or not it's inspired. If you need to get up to date, click the "Reese Currie" tag at the bottom of this post. Today's the last day: I hope you've enjoyed it so far!

His arguments for today make more sense in context: he had argued previously that the Deuterocanon cannot be inspired because: (1) the author of 1st Maccabees disclaims being a prophet in 1 Maccabees 9:27 [and an inspired prophet wouldn't get that wrong]; and (2) only prophets can write Scripture. I disagree with both propositions. Oh yeah: both of us say 2 Maccabees when we mean 1 Maccabees: hope that isn't too confusing.

The verse in question is 1 Maccabees 9:27, “So was there a great affliction in Israel, the like of which was not since the time that a prophet was not seen among them.” So with all of that said, 10a) is his argument for the second proposition above (that only prophets write Scripture), while 10b) draws the conclusions from this argument.


10a) As for people who were not prophets writing Scripture--Christ did not apparently believe in a third division. In referring to the entire OT he never failed to refer to it as "the law and the prophets." Moses of course was a prophet so the "division" does not exclude Moses as a prophet, though it does set the Law apart, but it does include the hagiographa as also being the work of prophets.

The fact that Christ commonly referred to the OT as “the Law and the Prophets” did not mean that He thought those were the only two divisions, or that those were the entire contents. For example, in Luke 24:44, He refers to “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” So He clearly thinks that there’s more than that: “the Law and the Prophets” is just a handy shorthand. The rest of this argument seems to be based on the false belief that Christ always and only referred to the Bible as “the Law and the Prophets,” which Luke 24:44 shows to be untrue.

10b) But the writer of 2 Maccabees recognizes that he personally is not a prophet, as prophets had stopped appearing in Israel before. In fact, the writer assumes his readers know the approximate time that prophets have stopped appearing since he uses it as a reference point. If we argue the writer is wrong because, as we know, new prophets later appeared, then we again argue against 2 Maccabees being inspired Scripture because it is then in error, and we argue against the infallibility of the organizations that "infallibly" called it inspired. That's a fault with the argumentation, not with the overall faith, because when the prophets prophesied that Elijah would come, of course that indicated that in the future there would be a prophet.

I don’t think that the writer of 2 Maccabees is saying that he’s not a prophet. Imagine a Jewish writer describing his WWII experiences saying, “After the Germans expelled all the Jews from the area, they destroyed all the homes.” Now you find out that the author lives in the present day in the area he’s describing. Does that mean he’s not a Jew? No. It just means that absence of Jews in the area was a temporal condition: he’s using it as a placemaker to let you know where you are in the narrative. Just because the Germans expelled all the Jews, it doesn’t mean they never returned.

Likewise, the author of 2 Maccabees is saying that all the prophets stopped appearing, and things got really bad. But when he’s writing, things aren’t really bad anymore. He’s writing after the fact, just like the author in my hypothetical above. The Jews believed that the cessation of prophets was temporary, and this view is pretty well established even when prophets did stop showing up in the intertestimental period. There were clear unfulfilled prophesies about Elijah and about the Messiah which required that prophets not be permanently ceased. So when John the Baptist shows up, no one says, “don’t you know? The prophets are all gone!” They just assume, “okay, the prophets must be back!” and start looking for the Messiah.

But beyond this, let me reaffirm that I don’t think Christ only thinks that prophets can write Scripture. I don’t think He says that at all when He uses the “Law and the Prophets” shorthand, and I don’t think we have any reason to believe that the writers of the historical books (1st and 2nd Chronicles, 1st and 2nd Kings, etc.) were prophets. They’re describing well known facts, and don’t need insights into the unknown or the future. The only requirement is inspiration, not prophesy. So while I don’t think the evidence shows the writer of 2nd Maccabees wasn’t a prophet, I also don’t think it’s a very convincing argument in any case.

Anyway, Joe--I appreciate you because you are such a kind person and express your views so well, and it is obvious to me that you write out of love and concern. And you make some excellent points about the deuterocanonical/ apocryphal books. I sort of don't like the use of the word "apocrypha" because there are other OT books Catholics also view as apocryphal so I've frequently borrowed the term "deuterocanonical" above while not yet convinced they are canonical in any way--"secondarily" or not. But you do make the best points I've ever read in their favor and I will take these points to heart.- Reese

Thanks, Reese! I’ve got to say that you also make the best points on this subject: most people I talk to don’t know why they believe what they do on the issue, and haven’t bothered to read it (I wish I was just talking about Protestants here, but I know some Catholics this is true of, too, which is embarrassing). I have really enjoyed this ongoing conversation, and it’s definitely been a benefit to my faith life. I hope this e-mail finds you, your wife and your two kids well, I hope Father’s Day was relaxing, and I’ll say a pray that God uses both of us in the way He deems most appropriate. Feel free to respond at your leisure (I certainly took mine). In Christ, Joe.

There you have it. I normally don't include conclusions, because I think they're sort of personal, but in this case, I wanted to make clear that his style isn't really one of an opponent or adversary: he made it clear from the start he doesn't want a traditional debate, and I've been thoroughly impressed and pleased with his approach. He's interesting, interested, and engaging, without being hostile or going overboard. I just hope I can match his humility in this regard.

5 comments:

  1. http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2009/06/the-pope-justification-the-new.html

    I've been behind on reading your stuff, Joe, but I thought you might find this post interesting. Scot is one of my favorites (as is John Armstrong from where I found you). Scot wrote a 16 part series on NT Wright's recent book, and today's post is a follow up. I would love to hear your thoughts. Also, have you ever heard of YWAM's (Youth With A Mission) division called Kerygma Teams?

    http://www.alanandloriharris.com/About-Kerygma-Teams.php

    I'd love to also get your perspective on them...

    Peace,

    DJ|AMDG

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  2. Reece seems like a really nice guy.

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  3. Whoops spelled his name wrong. Silly me.

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  4. DJ|AMDG, I haven't heard of Kerygma Teams before - I glanced a bit at the site, and it seems to be a Catholic convert from Protestantism whose trying to draw Protestants and Catholics together while teaching Catholics about their own Faith. If that's right, that's *perfect.* Protestant zeal for God coupled with the Catholic deposit of Faith can produce some amazing results: Scott Hahh, Tim Staples, Mark Shea, etc.

    These guys have kept a fondness towards Protestantism and especially Protestants, and just view them as incomplete Catholics, which is about where I'm at, I think.

    As for the Pope on justification, he's amazing, isn't he? His work is sort of unique, so I'm interested to hear what critics say. Particularly interesting will be to see if there are orthodox Catholic critics: the pope is in the mode of a private theologian here, so he's very much open to criticism; it just so happens he's almost an intellectual giant.

    Actually, Pope Benedict on anything is pretty incredible. His work on Paul is fascinating. Speaking of, did you hear the news about Paul's bones? I'll probably blog about it tomorrow, but it's pretty incredible!

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  5. Salome, yeah, Reese is great. It's weird, because my first encounter with him was through written an anti-Catholic web page he'd written, which I set out to debunk. I sent him a copy of what I'd said against his page, and we sort of went from there, but he turned out to be much nicer and reasonable than I could have ever expected.

    I went into it thinking he was some kind of closed-minded jerk, and I sort of got my own mind opened along the way.

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