Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Is it Possible to Pray for the Dead? Is there a Contradiction between 2 Maccabees 12:44-45 and Ecclesiastes 9:5-6?

Catholics are used to offer prayers for the dead especially for their family members who have died. Catholics believe it has basis in the Bible which is written in 2 Maccabees 12. 
"For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.  But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin"(2 Maccabees 12:44-45).

The problem is it cannot be accepted by non-Catholics since they don’t consider the 2 Maccabees as part of the Bible.  .

If we carefully analyze, why can’t some Protestants accept this?

According to a Rabbi and scholar Shaye J.D. Cohen, this was removed by Martin Luther:
“In modern parlance the phrase “the Apocrypha” (or “the Apocrypha of the Old Testament”) is often used to designate those Jewish books (Ben Sira, Wisdom of Solomon, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Judith, Tobit, etc.) which are included in the Greek or Latin Old Testament of the church but are absent from the Hebrew Tanak of the Jews. This usage gained currency only when Martin Luther removed these books from the Old Testament and edited them as a separate collection under the title “The Apocrypha.” (Catholics call these books, or at least the majority of these books, “deuterocanonical,” and use the term “apocryphal” to designate those books which the church rejected from the canon altogether.) (From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, J.D. Cohen,p  175)

It was also stated in The Canon Debate edited by Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders (Protestant scholars) why Luther had it removed:
“With regard to the apocrypha, Luther’s judgment was shaped to some extent by the theological controversy about the doctrines of purgatory and praying for the dead, which were traditionally based on 2 Mace 12:45-46. He appealed to Jerome’s distinction between the (Hebrew) canonical books and the apocrypha, and to his principle that these books should not be used for establishing ecclesiastical doctrines.” (The Canon Debate, Lee Martin McDonald, p. 205)

Even Protestant Scholars used 2 Maccabees in their books to support their statements.

Here is what a noted Protestant scholar Craig Evans said when he used 2 Maccabees 7 in the book, Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science edited by Edited by Michael R. Licona and William A. Dembski to support the truth about the resurrection:
“Third, there is a strong tradition of pious Jewish martyrs who expect vindication through resurrection after their violent and cruel deaths. This is seen especially in 2 Maccabees 7, in the gruesome stories of the torture and execution of the seven brothers, who refuse to violate the Mosaic law. One of the brothers angrily replies to Antiochus, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (v. 9). Another brother warns the tyrant, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!” (v. 14). If these young men anticipated resurrection, why wouldn’t Jesus?” (Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science edited by Edited by Michael R. Licona and William A. Dembski, p. 162)

Even Jeannine K. Brown, another Protestant scholar tackled the resurrection and used 2 Maccabees 7 in the book, The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary edited by Gary M. Burge and  Andrew E. Hill:
“Though a majority of first-century Jews would have believed in bodily resurrection, they would not have conceived of resurrection as a series of individual resurrections. Instead, Jewish hopes focused on a corporate resurrection of God’s faithful people at the time of final restoration (e.g., Dan. 12:1–3; cf. 2 Maccabees 7:13–14, 20–23). So Jesus’s reference to his resurrection here was not likely heard as Christian readers of Matthew have (rightly) heard it since: as referring to Jesus’s resurrection ahead of the final, general resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20–23).” (The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary Edited by Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, Baker Books; REV UPD edition (March 1, 2012))

Aside from 2 Maccabees, we can read in the New Testament that Apostle Paul prayed for Onesiphorus. 
"May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain  when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me—may the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well how much service he rendered in Ephesus"(2 Timothy 1:16-18).
Perhaps, others will say that Onesiphorus was not yet dead when the Apostle Paul prayed for him.

Here are the comments of Protestant scholars in their books:
“The fact that Paul should begin his reminder about Onesiphorus in this way, by asking for present mercy for his household, and that at the end (v. 18a) he should ask for future mercy (on that Day) for Onesiphorus himself, suggests very strongly that Onesiphorus had died in the meantime. If so, it could only have increased Paul’s present pain and loneliness.” (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary, V13) page 236, Gordon D. Fee)

“. . . there are many who feel that the implication is that Onesiphorus is dead. It is for his family that Paul first prays. Now, if he was dead, this passage shows us Paul praying for the dead, for it shows him praying that Onesiphorus may find mercy on the last day” (The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, page 175, William Barclay).

Anti-Catholics assailing the Catholic Church and  often use Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 to dispute the belief of the Catholic Church regarding offering of prayers for the dead. 
"The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost.  Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun"(Ecclesiastes 9:5-6).
These verses prove that those who died are no longer capable of doing things they used to do when they were still alive such as eating food and drinking water.  They cannot also take part in what living persons do for their physical needs. 

Ecclesiastes does not address the question of prayers for the dead one way or the other. It does reflect an pre-Antiochus IV belief that the dead go to Sheol.

In the Book, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament written by John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas (non-Catholic Bible Scholars) on page 574:
"The term “reward” here probably refers to the benefits of life, in which the dead cannot partake. They cannot enjoy any of those things that are considered blessings in this life."

C.S. Lewis was a Protestant and thought praying for the dead was a great idea. He is a well-known Protestant theologian, who stated  in his book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer in Letter 20:
Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him?.”

Hence, there is no contradiction between 2 Maccabees 12:44-45 and Ecclesiastes 9:5-6.

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