In 2 Maccabees 12:40-46, it says,

And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain. 41 Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden. 42 And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain. 43 And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection, 44 (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,) 45 And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. 46 It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins

How is this passage to be understood, especially vs 46?

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.

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    This is not the place to refute or support the theology of one text on the basis of others - but we can explain the meaning of the text in its context. Hence my edit.
    – Dan
    Apr 23, 2014 at 12:58
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    @Daи I accept your edit-my purpose was to obtain an answer, not to "muck about" in theology.
    – Tau
    May 29, 2014 at 6:07
  • I stumbled upon this reference to prayer for the dead today: jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12447-purification
    – user10231
    May 24, 2016 at 15:11
  • @tau - I suggested some edits, and tags, hoping that it would make the question easier to search for. I hope we can find more tags regarding purgatory and "prayer for the dead" ... but not sure what their names should be. Jul 30, 2016 at 22:18

1 Answer 1


The context of this text is the (Jewish) Maccabean revolt in Jerusalem against the attempted forced conversion to idolatry by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the events in 1 Maccabees and this text form the basis for the modern Jewish celebration of Hanukkah). The presence of numerous teachings from the Jewish Pharisaic tradition(s) also support this (in contradistinction to Sadducean teachings, particularly belief in the resurrection of the dead as in the passage being considered). Unlike 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees focuses a lot on the conflict between Judaism and "Hellenism", a so-called 'civil war' between Jews that also has implications through at least the early second century.1 This distinction between the Pharisaic tradition who resisted Hellenization vs. the Sadducean Jews who were often favored by Greek rulers must be kept in mind when reading this text with its clear support for the resurrection from the dead.

The meaning of this specific passage is that Jews in this era who believed in the resurrection of the dead also felt it was perfectly proper to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins after death (but before the resurrection). This view is common in Judaism as well as in early Christianity (where it was very prevalent), and it is still practiced by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians today.

1 An example of this can be seen in a conflict that is recorded in the early Christian text The Acts of the Apostles, in chapter 6 where the Hellenic Jews' widows were being overlooked in food distribution.

  • Thank you for your response! I wanted to deal with this text separately from the Luke 12:47-48/1Cor. 3:13-15 as it is more problematic-and considered "Appocryphal" by much of Christianity. I had to post this question quickly as my work was making demands, so I appologize if it showed. Yes, it is a tightrope between textual and theological analysis-I hope more can answer from a textual basis. I didn't realize Eastern Orthodox supported this practice-do they also support "Purgatory"?
    – Tau
    Apr 23, 2014 at 14:46
  • Sorry, 1st sentence of your reference answered my question. That is even more interesting; where does Eastern Orthodoxy 'place' the souls that receive 'graces' of prayers after they die?
    – Tau
    Apr 23, 2014 at 14:50
  • We (I am Eastern Orthodox) do not believe in purgatory, but we do have a concept of a purgative experience after death for some. It would be hard to explain it all in comments.
    – Dan
    Apr 23, 2014 at 18:41
  • We do not officially teach that there is any 'second chance' or postmortem repentance, but we hold out hope for it. Check out my answer here and also this one where I've elaborated on this before if you're interested.
    – Dan
    Apr 23, 2014 at 18:46
  • Whew! We are definitely stepping off of a cliff here. I understand why the links in the comments. My answer following the Luke 12:47-48 question is the Time of Restoration-which Futurists and Dispensationalists call the Millenial Reign. Since Augustine equated "Israel" w/"Israel of God"(or The Church), Catholicism and "High Church" Protestantism had no place for it, in fact the Westminster Confession of Faith forbade "chiliasm", or the Doctrine of a Millenial Reign.
    – Tau
    Apr 24, 2014 at 1:54

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