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2 Maccabees & Paul on Resurrection

Today I came across a fascinating passage in the Apocrypha in the book of 2 Maccabees which talks of the hope of the resurrection of the dead. It uses some terminology that Paul later uses in 1 Corinthians 15 and elsewhere in the New Testament that I will point out briefly below. The passage reads as follows:

On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. 40 Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jam′nia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. 41 So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; 42 and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. 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, that they might be delivered from their sin.
(2 Maccabees 12:39-45, RSV)

Although 2 Maccabees is not part of the canonical Old Testament of the Bible, it is useful for understanding the development of ideas in Judaism which were very much still in play at the time of the early church. In Acts 23:6-10 it records a dissension among the Jewish sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees over the very issue of whether there would be a resurrection of the dead. It is also not unlikely that Paul was familiar with the writings of what some call the Apocrypha, of which 2 Maccabees is a part. Therefore it is worth taking a look at some similarities between this passage and Paul’s writings.

Looking at some of the terminology of interest, in the Greek (LXX) version of this passage it uses ἀναστάσεως (vs. 43; “resurrection“), ἀναστῆναι (vs. 44; “rise again“), and κοιμωμένοις (vs. 45, “who fall asleep“). By comparison, the same participle for those who fall asleep is found in 1 Corinthians 15:18 (κοιμηθέντες; “who have fallen asleep” ESV) and 15:20 (κεκοιμημένων; “who have fallen asleep” ESV), and the verb form in 15:51 (κοιμηθησόμεθα; “sleep” ESV). Also the word resurrection (ἀνάστασις) is found throughout the chapter in verses 12, 13, 21, and 42.

In terms of the theological point being made in each passage, if Paul is drawing in part from the same concepts as the 2 Maccabees passage then the situation which he is addressing to his Corinthian audience led him to shift focus from 2 Maccabees’ “useless” (περισσὸν) and “silly/foolish” (ληρῶδες) prayers to rather speaking of faith being “in vain” (ματαία; 1 Corinthians 15:17) without resurrection. Of course, the basis of a hope for resurrection is much more specific and made explicit in Paul’s epistle: it is based on the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. Yet the basic point is the same: worrying or hoping for anything for those who are dead is pointless if there is no resurrection. The passages are not really parallel, but there are enough theological/conceptual similarities to reveal the shared thought of a hope for future resurrection in both passages.

There is one further word in the Greek LXX version of 2 Maccabees that is worthy of note though, which led me to this passage in the first place. It is the word ἀποκείμενον (lexical form: ἀπόκειμαι) which means to reserve, store/lay up, or put aside. It is rendered thus in the NETS Septuagint translation (identical to the RSV here):

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.” (2 Maccabees 12:45a)

This same Greek word appears in the New Testament as well but occurs only four times; twice in Paul’s epistles. Paul similarly speaks along the lines of a future reward and a future hope (compare προσεδόκα, “expecting”, in 2 Maccabees 12:44) being laid up for the godly:

“Because of the hope laid up (ἀποκειμένην) for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel.(Colossians 1:5, NASB)

Henceforth there is laid up (ἀπόκειταί) for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.(2 Timothy 4:8, ESV)

From all this we can see some clear precursors in Jewish thinking about the expectation of the resurrection of the dead and the laying up of reward for the righteous on the day of resurrection. All of which ultimately leads up to the great revelation in the New Testament of the Jewish messiah Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25) and will thus raise those who “fall asleep” in him (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

True And False Gospel In Proverbs 9

I love it when new realizations leap out at you from a devotional reading of Scripture. I never noticed until recently that Proverbs 9 (which has a chiastic structure by means of two stories, which depict opposites that form bookends to the chapter) presents a foreshadowed picture of sorts of the gospel and also an anti-gospel at work in the earth (i.e. the work of God and the devil, respectively). In it both Wisdom and Folly are personified as women who beckon to simple people, with drastically different repercussions and results for those who accept.

Wisdom has built and prepared a large and strong house for herself (with seven pillars supporting it) and she has prepared a magnificent banquet at her own expense, and then takes an initiative to send out her own servant messengers to those in the city who are simple and who “lack sense” (vs. 4) to invite them to dine in her home as her guests so that they may become wise. This is almost unheard of: the wise seeking out the those who lack any wisdom, the simple, and freely offering an opportunity to them to become wise at their own expense. This is an altruistic hospitality, and a proactive one at that. If the people accept this generous invitation they will receive life, and will no longer be simple and can “walk in the way of insight”.

This is a beautiful parallel picture to the gospel. God in His benevolence and love has prepared something great and magnificent for an undeserving, sinful, and foolish people, and upon His own initiative (Wisdom sought out the simple, not the simple Wisdom) has offered freely His own Son Jesus at the greatest expense to Himself. And if anyone accepts Jesus through faith they will receive eternal life, and will “walk in the way of insight” (i.e. in the light as He is in the light, and be wise as He is wise, and is in fact Wisdom itself). And God in fact sent forerunners to point people to this ultimate offer through Jesus through servant messengers, the prophets, just like in Proverbs 9:3. In fact we see this picture used in one of the parables of Jesus about the kingdom wedding banquet in Matthew 22:

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come… So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (vss. 2-3, 10)

Perhaps Jesus is even deliberately drawing upon that passage in Proverbs in his parable here. Elsewhere Jesus also says that God sent his “servants” the prophets to Israel repeatedly but they wouldn’t listen. With all these observations it is amazing how Proverbs presents this picture which almost exactly mirrors the gospel proclamation and offer through Jesus.

Yet in Proverbs 9 we also see a counter-gospel, a false gospel and false hope that is offered. There is another woman and her name is Folly, and she too has a dwelling place and a banquet which she wants to invite the simple to partake of. But this is a great counterfeit. She offers a feast obtained by ill gotten means (vs. 17) instead of providing it of her own means and expense, and has stolen the food that she offers (note how this exactly describes that phony, cheapskate counterfeiter the devil!). Yet the simple that listen to her don’t realize that what they actually will get for dining with her is death!

They don’t realize that she has buried the bodies of all who dined with her in her basement: “little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead”. She has thousands upon thousands of skeletons buried in her basement. While Wisdom’s house is built upon seven pillars and is full of life, Folly’s house is built upon the corpses of her guests and is full of death. This is Satan’s ‘appealing’ offer! He says: “Stolen water is sweet” (Proverbs 9:17) come and partake of it. The offer is to take what you desire by any means you see fit and to enjoy the perverse pleasures thereof, and no change is necessary. The simple remain simple! This is the counter-gospel.

The gospel is benevolent and offers great benefit to the guests, giving them life and a call and opportunity to change. The counter-gospel calls for a satisfaction of lusts by means of injustice that require no personal change whatsoever and leads to death.

It is amazing how much is packed into that one little chapter in Proverbs, and how much there is to dwell upon in it!

John Murray on Regeneration and Faith

The American Calvinist theologian John Murray (one of the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary) discussing regeneration and faith in his book Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (pg. 106):

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