1st Maccabees, Lesson 1: Introduction

KJV Bible Index (610x352)Why the Apocrypha

When we consider studying a book from what we call the Apocrypha, why should we do so?  After all, when we look at our Bible translations, those books are missing from our English-language Bibles and have been so for about 200 years.  Are those books part of the Bible?  If so, then why aren’t they in the Bibles we now use?  If they aren’t, then why were they universally in all Bibles for about 1800 years?

To make sense of this, at least if the Apocrypha is Scripture, we need to go the beginning.  In this case, the beginning is with the Septuagint, the first translation of the Old Testament into the Greek language.



  • Septuagint (LXX): An ancient translation of the Old Testament into Greek, dated as early as the late 2nd century BC.  The New Testament quoted it, particularly the Apostle Paul, as did the Apostolic, Early Church, and later Greek Church Fathers.  Today, the Septuagint still serves as the Old Testament for Eastern Orthodoxy, including translations of it.

The oldest Septuagint manuscripts include fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (2nd century BC), and 1st century BC fragments of the Torah and the Minor Prophets.  Later, relatively complete manuscripts of the Septuagint include the Codex Vaticanus (4th Century) and the Codex Alexandrinus (5th century).

  • Masoretic Text: The Hebrew text of the Old Testament.  A group of Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes compiled this text between the 7th and 10th centuries and also added vowel points to the consonant-only Hebrew text (thus, also adding a layer of interpretation).  It serves as the source for Protestant Old Testament translations and one which Roman Catholic translators consult for the non-Deuterocanonical books.

The oldest manuscripts of the Masoretic Text that exist date from the 9th century.  The Aleppo Codex, which is missing its Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy), dates from the 10th century.


The Septuagint

If we were to trace the New Testament writers’ use of the Old Testament, we would find that the Septuagint was the primary text the writers used.   We can see the influence of the Septuagint on the New Testament in several ways.

  1. Vocabulary: The Septuagint’s influence on the vocabulary used in the New Testament “outweighs all other influences.”[1]
  2. Quotations: When the New Testament (NT) writers quoted the Old Testament, what constituted a quotation for them was not the same as for us (they were freer with quotations, even combining different Old Testament quotations into composite quotations).  Yet, when we analyze the Old Testament (OT) quotations, this is what we find.  When we analyze OT quotations in the NT where the Septuagint and Masoretic Text differ, the NT favors the Septuagint over the MT almost 13 to one.  The NT has 77 instances where it favors the Septuagint over the Masoretic Text.[2]  The NT has six where it favors the Masoretic Text.[3]
  3. The NT includes a broader range of writings as authoritative Scripture than only the Masoretic Text (the OT in today’s Protestant Bibles).  This broader range is what we call the Apocrypha.  Here are just a couple of examples.
    • The Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day used the OT book, Wisdom of Solomon, to mock Jesus and assert that He wasn’t the Messiah.  This shows that the Pharisees (but not the Sadducees) considered the books in the Septuagint, including the Apocrypha, as Scripture.
      • In Matthew 27:43, they taunted Jesus for not merely being loved by God (Psalm 22:8-9) but specifically because “He said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Wisdom 2:18).  Matthew 27:41-43:
        • 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 save himself, 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.’”
    • Hebrews chapter 11 lists many martyrs who died for the faith in the Old Testament.  The movement is chronological, from older to newer.  By the time Hebrews chapter 11 gets to verse 35, it describes what took place in 2nd Maccabees.
      • Hebrews 11:35: “Women received back their dead by resurrection.  Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.”
      • 2 Maccabees 7:1, 13-14:
        • It happened also that seven brothers and their mothers were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh…. When he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourths in the same way. And when he was near death, he said, “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.”

That the NT references the Septuagint so often simply shows that the NT writers (under Holy Spirit inspiration!) considered the Septuagint as Scripture.  That they also quoted and referenced what we call today the Apocrypha (which were books in the Septuagint) simply shows that the NT writers also considered those books as Scripture.


The Lutheran Church

As incredulous as it may sound, in our theological disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church, our Lutheran Confessions never list the books of the Bible!  Since the Lutheran Church considers the Bible as the final authority in judging doctrine, knowing what is Scripture and what is not is supremely important.[4]  Yet, we made no such list of the books of the Bible.

The question is why?  It’s very simple.  We had no disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church on what books made up the Bible.  We considered the same books as they did as biblical, so we never bothered compiling a list to differentiate ourselves from them.

How do we know this to be true?  Within the Lutheran Church, Martin Chemnitz (the “Second Martin”), in his Enchiridion, was the first to list the books of the Bible.  He listed the Apocrypha as Old Testament Scripture; however, he labeled them as the “apocryphal books of the Old Testament.”  What he meant by that is that they were books of the Bible that we would not use to make doctrine.

Now, we must also recognize that Luther did not consider the Apocrypha as books that belonged in the Bible.  Luther also had the same opinion for Esther and Song of Songs in the OT and James and Revelation in the NT.  Yet, Luther never removed those books from his translation of the Bible into German (Die Bibel).  And so we agree with Luther’s actions but not what he said about those books. (In other words, if we throw out the Apocrypha based on what Luther said, then we would have to do the same for Esther, Song of Songs, James, and Revelation).


Introduction to 1st Maccabees

Lesson 1--Timeline

 1st and 2nd Maccabees belong to a 2nd-class tier of Old Testament books that have consistently been in all English-language Bibles until about 1800.  Roman Catholics consider these books as canonical, although they still use the name Deuterocanon (second-tier canon) to describe them.  The Eastern Orthodox call these books Anagignoskomena, “books worthy of being read.”  The Lutheran Church has traditionally called these books Apocrypha, books considered to be part of the Bible but not used to make doctrine.

1st Maccabees covers a period of Israelite/Judean history from roughly 175 BC to 130 BC (possibly as late as 104 BC, 1 Macc 16:23-24).  It covers the achievements of three generations of the Maccabee family.  It begins with the priest Mattathias.  1st Maccabees covers the rule of his three sons: Judas, Jonathan, and Simon.  It finishes with an appendix of Simon’s son, John Hyrcanus.

Today, most scholars believe that 1st Maccabees was written in Hebrew (or possibly “Semiticized Greek”) around 100 BC and then translated into Greek.  If so, no surviving Hebrew manuscripts remain.  It has received its name because of the Maccabeus family described within it.  “Maccabee” is a moniker often thought to mean “hammerer,” a tribute to the military prowess of the Maccabean family line.  The book is also an important historical source for events in Judea in the 2nd century BC.

2nd Maccabees covers a shorter time span.  It begins by going over important background information on the Jewish High Priesthood before the Maccabean revolt began to about 161 BC. 


Outline of 1st Maccabees

  1. Introduction: 1:1-9
  2. The Cause of the Maccabean Revolt: 1:10-62
  3. Mattathias: 2:1-69
  4. Judas Maccabeus: 3:1-9:22
  5. Jonathan Maccabeus: 9:23-12:53
  6. Simon Maccabeus: 13:1-16:17
  7. Appendix: John Hyrcanus: 16:18-24



In 175 BC, the third of the Seleucid monarchs to control Judea, Antiochus IV, came to power.  Using 2nd Maccabees to fill in some of the blanks, shortly before Antiochus IV came to power, trouble developed in connection with Onias III, the high priest in Jerusalem.  2nd Maccabees describes Onias as a pious man whom someone named Simon opposed.  Simon was the captain of the temple and their dispute had to do with “the administration of the city market” (2 Macc 3:4).

To get back at Onias, Simon told the Seleucid governor of the area that the Jerusalem Temple contained incredible sums of money that could become part of the king’s coffers, since they were not needed for sacrifices (2 Macc 3:5-6).

This led to a visit by Heliodorus, the top official in the kingdom.  He was sent to confiscate the money, but was unsuccessful.  This then led to a view in the Seulecid leadership to weaken the hold of the Temple on the Jewish people, so they could gain the “untold riches” within it.  Even more, once Antiochus IV became king in 175 BC, a corruptive change also took place concerning the Office of the High Priest.

Jason the brother of Onias obtained the high priesthood by corruption, promising the king at an interview 360 talents of silver and, from another source of revenue, 80 talents.  In addition to this he promised to pay 150 more if permission were given to establish by his authority a gymnasium and a body of youth for it and to enroll the people of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch.  When the king assented and Jason came to office, he at once shifted his compatriots over to the Greek way of life. (2 Macc 4:7b-10)

This is the undercurrent of turbulence that existed in Israel before more Hellenization was to take place.

[1] See W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, trans. and adapted from W. Bauer’s 4th ed. by W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, rev. and aug. from the 5th ed. by F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. xxi.


[2] Enoch was not, because God translated him, Gen 5:24 in Heb 11:5.  To your seed Gn 12:7 in Ga 3:16.  Jacob ::: worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff, Gen 47:31 in Heb 11:21.  Would you kill me, as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?, Ex 2:14 in Ac 7:27-28.  My name might be published abroad in all the earth, Ex 9:16 in Ro 9:17.  A royal priesthood, Ex 19:6 in 1 Pe 2:9.  The Lord knows those who are his, Nu 16:5 in 2 Tm 2:19.  You will worship the Lord your God, Dt 6:13 in Mt 4:10 and Lk 4:8.  Put away the wicked man from among yourselves, Dt 17:7 in 1 Cor 5:13.  Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree, Dt 21:23 in Ga 3:13.  Cursed is everyone who doe not continue, Dt 27:26 in Ga 3:10.  Let all the angels of God worship him, Dt 32:43 in He 1:6.  Why did the Gentiles rage?, Ps 2:1-2 in Ac 4:25-26.  Their throat is an open sepulchre, Ps 5:9 in Ro 3:13.  Out of the mouth of infants, Ps 8:2 in Mt 21:16.  What is man, that you are mindful of him?, Ps 8:4-6 in He 2:6-8.  Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness, Ps 10:7 in Ro 3:14.  They have together become unprofitable, Ps 14:1-3 in Ro 3:10-12.  You will not leave my soul unto Hades, Ps 16:8-11 in Ac 2:25-28.  Their sound went out into all the earth, Ps 19:4 in Ro 10:18.  I will declare your name to my brothers, Ps 22:22 in He 2:12.  Sacrifice and offering you would not, Ps 40:6-8 in He 10:5-6.  That you might be justified in your words, Ps 51:4 in Ro 3:4.  They have together become unprofitable, Ps 53:1-3 in Ro 3:10-12.  Let their table be made a snare, Ps 69:22-23 in Ro 11:9-10.  He gave them bread out of heaven to eat, Ps 78:24 in Jn 6:31.  Today, if you will hear his voice, Ps 95:7-8 in He 3:15 and He 4:7.  Today, if you will hear his voice, Ps 95:7-11 in He 3:7-11.  And they all grow old as does a garment, Ps 102:25-27 in He 1:10-12.  I believed, and therefore did I speak, Ps 116:10 in 2 Cor 4:13.  The Lord is my helper, Ps 118:6 in He 13:6.  The poison of snakes in under their lips, Ps 140:3 in Ro 3:13.  For whom the Lord loves he disciplines, Pr 3:11-12 in He 12:5-6.  God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, Pr 3:34 in James 4:6 and 1 Pe 5:5.  And if the righteous is barely saved, where will the ungodly and sinner appear, Pr 11:31 in 1 Pe 4:18.  If your enemy hungers, feed him, Pr 25:21-22 in Ro 12:20.  Except the Lord of Hosts had left us a seed, we should have been as Sodom, Is 1:9 in Ro 9:29.  By hearing you will hear, and in no wise understand, Is 6:9-10 in Mt 13:14-15 and Mk 4:12.  By hearing you will hear, and in no wise understand, Is 6:9-10 in Ac 28:26-27.  Lest they should see with their eyes ::: and I should heal them, Is 6:9-10 in John 12:40.  Behold, the virgin will be with child, Is 7:14 in Mt: 1:23.  I will put my trust in him, Is 8:17 in He 2:13.  It is the remnant who will be saved, Is 10:22-23 in Ro 9:27-28.  On him will the Gentiles hope, Is 11:10 in Ro 15:12.  When I will take away their sins, Is 27:9 in Ro 11:27.  He who believes on him will not be put to shame, Is 28:16 in Ro 9:33, 10:11, and 1 Pe 2:6.  Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men, Is 29:13 in Mt 15:8-9 and Mk 7:6-7.  I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, Is 29:14 in 1 Cor 1:19.  All flesh will see the salvation of God, Is 40:3-5 in Lk 3:4-6.  The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Is 40:3 in Mt 3:3, Mk 1:3, and Jn 1:23.  All flesh is as grass, Is 40:6-8 in 1 Pt 1:24-25.  Who has known the mind of the Lord?, Is 40:13 in Ro 11:34 and 1 Cor 2:16.  And in his name will the Gentiles hope, Is 42:4 in Mt 12:21.  A people for God’s own possession, Is 43:21 in 1 Pe 2:9.  To me every knee will bow, Is 45:23 in Ro 14:11.  At an acceptable time I hearkened unto you, Is 49:8 in 2 Cor 6:2.  For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, Is 52:5 in Ro 2:24.  They will see, to whom no news of him came, Is 52:15 in Ro 15:21.  Who has believed our report?, Is 53:1 in Jn 12:38 and Ro 10:16.  He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, Is 53:7-8 in Ac 8:32-33.  Neither was guile found in his mouth, Is 53:9 in 1 Pt 2:22.  Rejoice you barren who does not bear, Is 54:1 in Ga 4:27, The holy and sure blessings of David, Is 55:3 in Ac 13:34.  To set at liberty those who are bruised, Is 58:6 in Luke 4:18.  He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob, Is 59:20-21 in Ro 11:26-27.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Is 61:1-2 in Lk 4:18-19.  I was found by those who did not seek me, Is 65:1 in Ro 10:20.  A disobedient and gainsaying people, Is 65:2 in Ro 10:21.  Behold, the days come, Jer 31:31-34 in He 8:8-12.  I will put my laws on their heart, Jer 31:33-34 in He 10:16-17.  I will call them my people who were not my people, Ho 2:23 in Ro 9:25. I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, Ho 6:6 in Mt 9:13 and 12:7.  O death, where is your sting?, Ho 13:14 in 1 Cor 15:55.  I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh, Jl 2:28-32 in Ac 2:17-21.  You took up the tabernacle of Moloch, Am 5:25-27 in Ac 7:42-43.  I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen, Am 9:11-12 in Ac 15:16-17.  For I work a work in your days, which you will in no wise believe, Hab 1:5 in Ac 13:41.  But my righteous one shall live by faith, Hab 2:3-4 in He 10:37-38.


[3] He who takes the wise in their craftiness, Job 5:13 in 1 Cor 3:19.  Who has first given to him, Job 41:11 in Ro 11:35.  A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, Is 8:14 in Ro 9:33 and 1 Pe 2:8.  Out of Egypt did I call my son, Ho 11:1 in Mt 2:15.  They will look on him whom they pierced, Zch 12:10 in Jn 19:37.  Behold, I send my messenger before your face, Mal 3:1 quoted in Mt 11:10, Mk 1:2, and Lk 7:27.

[4] “We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and norm according to which all teachings, together with all teachers, should be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone.” (Ep, Summary, 1)


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