Friday, December 6, 2013

Does 1 Maccabees Deny Its Own Inspiration?

Wojciech Stattler, Maccabees (1842)
In arguing against the Deuterocanon (the so-called “Apocrypha”), Protestant apologists take frequent recourse to the following three verses from 1 Maccabees that allegedly “prove” that no prophets exist at the time that the Deuterocanon was written:
  • So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them.” (1 Maccabees 4:45b-46).

  • Thus there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.” (1 Maccabees 9:27).

  • And the Jews and their priests decided that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise...” (1 Maccabees 14:41).
So, for example, C. Michael Patton uses 1 Maccabees 9:27 to argue that “The Apocrypha itself attests to the absence of prophets in its own time.” His view of the argument is a fairly modest one: “Although I don’t think this is the greatest argument, it does hold some value.

Somewhat less modestly, CARM claims, in a section entitled “Not Prophetic,” that these verses disprove the prophetic status of any of the Deuterocanonical Books:
The Apocryphal books do not share many of the chararacteristics of the Canonical books: they are not prophetic, there is no supernatural confirmation of any of the apocryphal writers works, there is no predictive prophecy, there is no new Messianic truth revealed, they are not cited as authoritative by any prophetic book written after them, and they even acknowledge that there were no prophets in Israel at their time (cf. 1 Macc. 9:27; 14:41).
Let Us Reason Ministries goes further yet, using 1 Maccabees 9:27 and 14:41 to support the Protestant notion of an “intertestamental period” in which God and the prophets went silent for about four centuries prior to the birth of Christ:
Some of these books are traced to the inter-testamental period such as Maccabees. There were 400 years of silence in the inter- testamental period where God did not speak nor have prophets. 1 Maccabees 9:27 and 14:41 tell us the prophets ceased to appear among the people. So the book of Maccabees as well as the Apocrypha could never be considered inspired scripture equal to the Old Testament these books were always held as historical writings with some questionable accuracy not as inspire writ. If God was silent in this inter testament period, no inspiration or prophetic writing, where does this put the Apocrypha?
Bible.ca goes the furthest, to claiming that these verses show that “The apocryphal books themselves make reference to what we call the Silent 400 years, where there was no prophets of God to write inspired materials.

So the Protestant argument is presented in somewhat different ways, from a weak-but-interesting argument against the canonicity of the Deuterocanon (Patton's view), to textual proof of a 400 year period of prophetic and Scriptural silence, rendering canonicity impossible (Let Us Reason and Bible.ca's view). So what can we say in response to all of this? Let's take the argument apart, piece by piece.

The Three Logical Non Sequiturs

Nuremberg Chronicles, Maccabees (1493)
The Protestant argument, written out, would look like this:
  • (a) 1 Maccabees refers to a time in the past that there were no prophets.
  • (b) Therefore, there must not have been prophets at the time that 1 Maccabees was written. [Let Us Reason and Bible.ca take this argument even further, and say that there must not have been prophets for a 400 year stretch].
  • (c) Since there were no prophets at the time that 1 Maccabees was written, the Book must not be inspired.
  • (d) Since 1 Maccabees is uninspired, the entire Deuterocanon must not be inspired.
Presented in that way, it should be clear that the argument proceeds from a true premise, (a), to three non-sequiturs. Nothing in (a) proves (b), nothing in (b) proves (c), and nothing in (c) proves (d).

Non-Sequitur 1: From the Past to the Present

None of the verses actually support the claim that 1 Maccabees was written during a time without prophets. Let's review those verses again. This time, notice that all three of them are presented in the past tense:
  • So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them.” (1 Maccabees 4:45b-46).

  • Thus there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.” (1 Maccabees 9:27).

  • And the Jews and their priests decided that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise...” (1 Maccabees 14:41).
Judas Maccabeus (10th c.)
In other words, the inspired author is recalling a time in the past when there were no prophets. Nothing in there suggests that there were no prophets at the time 1 Maccabees was written, much less that the prophetic age had permanently ceased. For example, if I wrote “in 1800, electrical lights and the Internet didn't exist,” would that prove that I don't have electrical lights or the Internet now? Of course not.

In fact, both 1 Macc. 4:46 and 1 Macc. 14:41 suggest that the people expected another prophet to arise soon, at least within the lifetime of Simon the high priest. And the inspired author speaks of there having been a lack of prophets “among them” (1 Maccabees 9:27), not “among us.” There's no sense that either the people or the inspired author think that the prophetic age has simply closed.

So what's really going on behind the scenes in this argument? As I mentioned in Tuesday's post, many Protestants believe (or assume) that there was an “intertestamental period” of “400 years of silence,” in which all revelation (including both prophets and Scripture) ceased. But if you don't read that (false, anti-Scriptural) assumption into the text, you'll find that it doesn't say anything like what its advocates claim.

So, in short, modern Protestants are reading into these passages an obviously-false doctrine (intertestamental silence) that wasn't held by the inspired author of 1 Maccabees. Without assuming that doctrine to be true, there's no way to get from (a) to (b), from prophetic silence in the past, to prophetic silence in the present.

Non-Sequitur 2: From Prophecy to Inspiration (The Problem of Psalm 74:9)

Let's assume for a moment that last point is wrong: that there really was no active prophet at the time 1 Maccabees was written. What then? Does that mean that inspired Scripture cannot be written during this period?

Absolutely not. Psalm 74:9 is inspired, yet apparently written at a time without prophets:
We do not see our signs;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is none among us who knows how long.
If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this verse. It shows (1) that even during the prophetic age, there were times without an active prophet, and (2) that an active prophet was not needed in order to have an inspired author. 

Remember that the Jews only considered one of the three sections of the Jewish canon “prophetic.” Yet all three sections are inspired. Those two terms do not mean the same thing (except to some Protestants). If Sacred Scripture could only be authored by a Prophet, then Protestants would seemingly have to reject the Psalms (or at least Psalm 74, and anything else written in that time period).

So, short of rejecting both 1 Maccabees and Psalms, the obvious conclusion is that this argument conflates prophecy and inspiration. The presence or absence of prophets doesn't tell us if the Book is inspired.

In other words, there is no way to get from (b) to (c), from a lack of prophets to a lack of inspiration.

Non-Sequitur 3: From 1 Maccabees to the Rest of the Deuterocanon

Introduction to the Book of Sirach,
Codex Sinaticus (4th c.)
Recall the earlier claim from CARM:
The Apocryphal books do not share many of the chararacteristics of the Canonical books: they are not prophetic, there is no supernatural confirmation of any of the apocryphal writers works, there is no predictive prophecy, there is no new Messianic truth revealed, they are not cited as authoritative by any prophetic book written after them, and they even acknowledge that there were no prophets in Israel at their time (cf. 1 Macc. 9:27; 14:41).
This argument assumes that because one Book, 1 Maccabees, describes a time in the past that there were no prophets, that this means that “they,” the “Apocryphal Books” collectively, acknowledge that there was no prophet in Israel at the time when any of them were written, and that none of the Books are therefore inspired.

But this is obviously a logical fallacy: why would rejecting 1 Maccabees mean you reject any other Deuterocanonical Book? The argument doesn't hold at all. There's no way to get from (c) to (d), from rejecting 1 Maccabees to rejecting all seven disputed Books.

In addition, it's utterly false that the Deuterocanonical Books, taken as a whole, “are not prophetic, there is no supernatural confirmation of any of the apocryphal writers works, there is no predictive prophecy, there is no new Messianic truth revealed,” etc. Like the rest of the Old Testament, the Deuterocanon contains Books which look forward (prophetic) and backwards (historical).

CARM suggests that the Deuterocanonical Books differ from “the Canonical Books” because they are “not prophetic,” but this isn't even a good description of the Books that they do accept. Elsewhere, CARM admits that only 17 Books of the 39-Book Protestant Old Testament are prophetic. That's fewer than half.

Both Jews and Christians distinguish between prophetic and historical Books, yet both categories are considered inspired and canonical. Books like 1 Maccabees and 1 Kings are historical.  Other Books, like the Book of Wisdom, are prophetic, looking forward.

And we see that Wisdom does contain Messianic prophesies, of the very sort that CARM blanket-denies exist. For example, Wisdom 2:12-20 contains a prophesy of the Passion of Christ, describing the wicked as plotting against the Righteous One in this way:
“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.  
He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.  
Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”
Matthew 27:37-43 contains the fulfillment of this prophecy:
And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
This, by itself, shows the inspiration of the Book of Wisdom. It taught Christ, prior to Christ, and was confirmed by the New Testament. So CARM is just wrong on this score. The Deuterocanon, taken as a whole, does contain Christological prophesies, ones that came true.


3 comments:

  1. In addition to Psalm 74:9, I would throw in 1 Cor 7:12-16.

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  2. Hi Joe, thank you for this wonderful article. That verse in Maccabees was one thing in the Deuterocanon that I did not have a response for. Now I do :). May God bless you and keep you safe in your work as a blogger and as a seminarian on his way to the Priesthood. May Mother Mary also watch over, look after and intercede for you.

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  3. "So CARM is just wrong on this score."

    CARM is wrong on a lot of things...

    From claiming that the Bible is inspired because the Bible says it's inspired... With nothing much else to back up that claim. (That's in their first part of their articles of Faith, most of these intellectual and philosophical problems come from.)

    They also call God "Trinity" while that word doesn't appear anywhere in Scriptures...

    Regarding Baptism, they quote a lot of the relevant passages, except for the two most important verses concerning Baptism in my opinion, Matthew 28:19, (they do quote that passage in the Trinity section, but alas, the word "Trinity" isn't in that passage...) where Jesus tells his followers to Baptize people, along with John 3:5 both of which contradicts their statements: "Baptism is not necessary for salvation." (Jesus says otherwise.) and "The act of water baptism does not save anyone." If one truly believes that Jesus is God, and God then tells you to do something in order to get into Heaven, it is therefore in your best interests to do whatever that may be.

    I don't even understand how anyone can state: "Baptism is not necessary for salvation." and call themselves a "Bible Alone Christian" or following "Sola Scriptura", if anything they should be out in front of the pack, spraying people with SuperSoakers...

    Don't even get me started on nonsense of "The Rapture".

    There's just too much wrong-stuff with them to take them seriously...

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