I don’t spend a lot of time on my blog. I’m more inclined to spend three hours on a post instead of whipping one out — that’s why. I’m a very slow thinker. I’m going to make an attempt to write short posts every day and see how many days I can manage. No focus. No deep thought. Whatever I’m thinking about.
Lately, I’ve been contemplating Christian Scripture. I own many Bibles, including a 1611 King James with the “Apocrypha” and two types of Catholic translations with the Deuterocanon. I’ve also read the works the Catholic church considers to be apocryphal, such as The Book of Watchers. By the way, even that book is considered Scripture in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo churches. It’s fascinating to me how we arrived at what’s considered to be divinely ordained Scripture; as somebody who grew up Protestant, I trusted that what was in my Bible was the definitive word of God. At that time, most churches were using the New American Standard. Some still used the King James Bible, but it was fashionable in my childhood to read the NAS instead.
It didn’t take me long to realize that Catholic Bibles contained extra books and even that some Protestant Bibles did, if you could get your hands on a 1611 King James. I’m both an information gatherer and a curious person. Naturally, I began to wonder how the books of the Bible came to be collected and fashioned together in one volume. The history is anything but easy, to say the least. For example, the Jewish interpretation of what is and what isn’t Scripture had some bearing on why Esther is Scripture and Maccabees is not. Esther fit into the time frame the Jewish people held as being prophetic; Maccabees did not. However, if you read them side by side, it’s clear they fit into a similar epoch of history re writing style. Neither lean very heavily on a tone of humility before God as the previous prophetic and historic works did. Rather, they both sprang from a time of captivity in which the Jewish people were trying to find their bearings again. For that reason (I believe), the tone in both is self-congratulatory. They are books of history — I don’t dispute that in the least — but they also strike me as patriotic works meant to bolster a society attempting to find its way again as God’s distinct people.
Ultimately, for Protestants, doctrine is more relevant than the Jewish opinion on prophesy. Maccabees is also rejected due to doctrine, namely the Catholic and Orthodox belief in praying for the dead. As far as I know, there is only one passage in Maccabees that discusses prayers for the dead:
2 Maccabees 12:43-45 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 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. 45 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.
Esther contains nothing like this; in fact, Esther has little to no doctrine at all. It doesn’t even discuss God. It’s strictly a story about a famous Jewish queen and her uncle, who protected their people from mass slaughter while they were in living in exile amongst the people in Persia. Therefore, it passes muster as an appropriate historical addition to the Bible because it can’t teach bad doctrine if it doesn’t contain it.
Maccabees doesn’t purport to teach doctrine, either. It does give a glimpse into at least one Jewish person’s thought on the resurrection of the dead — it’s a glimpse into one mind in a particular epoch of history. To be fair, Maccabees is only one reason Catholics believe prayers for the dead are valid. They also look at tradition, church history, and a line in 2 Timothy (May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day!). Are they stretching a little? Perhaps. But they earnestly believe in eternal life and the communion of the saints both living and having passed beyond the veil.
I’m running against the clock now. I would have liked to discuss The Books of Watchers, but it will have to be another time. Also, I need to reread it because it’s been at least ten years.