The author of Hebrews states, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double- edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The certainty that God has spoken, and has done so in a fixed number of inspired books has swung open the doors to several confessions of faith. The London Confession of Baptist Faith opens by stating, “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.” The Westminster Confession states that God committed His word to writing, “for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world.” The confession adds, “those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.” This point, while seemingly innocuous and held to as a basic Christian presupposition, is a point of contention between historic Protestants and Roman Catholicism on the extent of the fixed canon of sacred Scripture. Roman Catholics since the sixteenth century Council of Trent are required by dogmatic decree to accept an additional set of books almost all exclusively written during the intertestamental period known as either the Apocrypha or Deuterocanon. While the argument over the inclusion or exclusion of these books generally takes place in the realm of historical analysis, certain internal biblical arguments for either inclusion or exclusion are likewise put forth. One such internal argument is based on Hebrews 11:35-37.
Hebrews 11:35-37 states, “(35) Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection. (36) and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. (37) They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated.” These verses, while intended to be a statement supporting the exposition and implication of biblical faith actually serve as a popular proof-text in the debate over the extent of the Hebrew canon. Those of Roman Catholic persuasion argue these verses are at least an allusion to 2 Maccabees 7:1, 13-14, if not a direct reference. These verses state, “(1) It came to pass also, that seven brethren with their mother were taken, and compelled by the king against the law to taste swine's flesh, and were tormented with scourges and whips. (13) Now when this man was dead also, they tormented and mangled the fourth in like manner. (14) So when he was ready to die he said thus, It is good, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by him: as for thee, thou shalt have no resurrection to life.”
Is this parallel justified? Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis argues that there are “over two dozen such allusions between the Deutero-canonicals and the New Testament” [Robert Sungenis, Not By Scripture Alone (Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing), p.278]. He lists this passage along with many others. According to Catholic apologists, the reason for such parallels are due to the fact that the Bible used by the New Testament writers was the Greek Septuagint. Roman Catholics hold this Bible translation contained the Deuterocanon, and the disputed books were treated implicitly as sacred scripture by the New Testament authors, as well as the early church. Recently, Roman Catholic apologists have had a boost of support from a recent book, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger by Gary Michuta. Mr. Michuta has presented the first full-length defense of Apocrypha inclusion coming from a Roman Catholic perspective in quite a while.
Michuta argues that Hebrews 11:35 is indeed a reference to the Maccabean martyrs, and is so with “a high degree of certainty.” First, there are no other examples presented in the Greek Old Testament of persons undergoing torture and not accepting deliverance for the hope of a better resurrection.”[Gary Michuta, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger (Port Huron: Grotto Press, 2007), p. 37]. Second, 2 Maccabees twice explicitly refers to a “hope for a better resurrection” as does Hebrews 11:35. Third, Michuta finds linguistic similarities between the words rendered “tormented”(or “tortured”) in Hebrews with Eleazar’s martyrdom in Maccabees. Hebrew 11:36 mentions “mockings and scourgings” as does 2 Maccabees 7:7, “So when the first was dead after this number, they brought the second to make him a mocking stock: and when they had pulled off the skin of his head with the hair, they asked him, Wilt thou eat, before thou be punished throughout every member of thy body?” Michuta summarizes these points by stating, “Apart from dogmatic prejudice, this reference to 2 Maccabees is unquestionable, and both Catholic and Protestant scholars rightly acknowledge this point of contact between Hebrews and the Deuterocanonical book of 2 Maccabees.”[Ibid., p. 37].
If it can be established that the New Testament writers quoted the Apocrypha as Scripture, it would follow that the Protestant Bible is missing inspired God-breathed books. Michuta concludes his book by stating, “The removal of the Deuterocanon is indeed a matter of supreme importance, since it affects the very Word of God Himself; and its effects can be shown to have been devastating in both theology and practice”[Ibid., p. 308]. Has Mr. Michuta and Catholic apologetics proved their contention? Did the writer of Hebrews implicitly consider the Apocrypha as God inspired scripture, and quote it as such in Hebrews 11?
At stake in such a controversy is the very certainty of the word of God. If Rome is correct, the Old Testament that the author of Hebrews believed in is not the same Old Testament that that the Westminster divines believed in. When the author of Hebrews stated the word of God is living, active, with a piercing sharpness, have Protestants dulled the blade by leaving the Apocryphal books out? Can Protestants consistently and actually find comfort and exhortation in the testimonies of faith found in Hebrew 11 if they actually deny the Biblical books from which the author compiled his list of faith’s heroes?
Before delving specifically into answering these questions, it is crucial to review the immediate context surrounding the passage in dispute. The writer of the book of Hebrews exhorts his readers to persevere amidst trials and persecution (Heb. 10:19-39). He reminds his readers that earlier they had earlier stood their ground “in a great contest in the face of suffering” (Heb, 10:32), even while being “publicly exposed to insult and persecution” (Heb. 10:33). They need to persevere (Heb. 10:36), because they are those who do not “shrink back” and are destroyed (Heb. 10:39).
They are those who are to live by faith, and are themselves part of a great community of saints. Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1) described at length in Hebrews 11, they are those whose faith was authored and finished be their great high priest, Jesus Christ (Heb. 12:3). Hebrews 11 presents a substantial panoply of specific events in Biblical history, beginning at creation, and taking the reader on a rapid journey through Hebrew history. The writer mentions and expounds briefly on specific individuals: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab. All these mentioned have explicit Biblical references to substantiate their place among the heroes of faith. The writer of Hebrews also speaks of Israel collectively living by faith during the Exodus, and the claiming of the land promised to them by God.
Noting his limitation by time, toward the end of the chapter the writer ventures from the specific to general. He is unable to specifically expound with greater depth on others included in the great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 11:32). These though, are no less important: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets (Heb. 11:32). Similar to those presented in Hebrews 11:1-31, these names also find explicit mentioning in the Old Testament. These people would have been as familiar to the Hebrews as were those the writer did expound on. Hebrews 11:33-40 appears to be expounding on the names just mentioned:
“(33) Who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, (34) quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (35)Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; (36) and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. (37) They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (38) (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (39) And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (40) because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”
P. E. Hughes states this description is “spontaneous and unstudied”[William Lane, Hebrews 9-13 (WBC 47B) (Waco: Word, 1991), p. 385]. William Lane says these verses “presupposes a rather detailed knowledge of the OT and of Jewish history on the part of the writer and the congregation addressed”[Ibid., p. 385]. He further expounds on this section from Hebrews noting the section includes nine short clauses in vv 33-34. He speculates, “The first three appear to form a group prompted by the antecedent reference to those named in v 32b”[Ibid., p.385]. Verse 33 describes those “who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions.” This verse clearly applies to those mentioned in Hebrews 11:32. Verse 33 first notes those “who by faith conquered kingdoms.” As Albert Barnes noted long ago, “The meaning is, that some of them subdued kingdoms, others obtained promises, etc. Thus, Joshua subdued the nations of Canaan; Gideon the Midianites; Jephtha the Ammonites; David the Philistines, Amalekites, Jebusites, Edomites, etc”[Albert Barnes, Notes, on the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1876) pp. 293-294]. Here easily documented Biblical figures correspond to the description offered. These also “performed acts of righteousness.” As John Gil described, these people “exercised vindictive justice, in taking vengeance on the enemies of God, and his people; civil righteousness, in the discharge of their offices; and moral righteousness, in their conversation before God and men”[John Gil , The Collected Works of John Gil (electronic edition) (Baptist Standard Bearer, 2002)]. These people also “obtained promises,” promises from God to their posterity, specifically promises to be in God’s people, ruled by His Messiah.
Specific acts of courage and faith then follow. Some who lived by faith were able to “shut the mouths of lions.” While some of the intended audience may have thought of Samson killing a lion in Judges 14:6, the reference was most likely to Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6). Daniel was also able to “quench the power of fire” as recorded in Daniel 3. Others “escaped the edge of the sword,” perhaps an allusion to David as recorded in 2 Kings 6:16 in which David fled from Saul’s deadly pursuit. Some “from weakness were made strong” may be an allusion to Samson who at times received increases in bodily strength, or David, who in times of weakness was refreshed by the Lord. Some “became mighty in war” and “put foreign armies to flight” could refer to most of those names mentioned in Hebrews 11:32. Recall how Gideon overthrew the camp of the Midianites.
From the preceding, it is obvious the writer to the Hebrews assumes his readers are quite familiar with the history of the Jewish people as recorded in the Bible. William Lane implies through his exposition of this section that the examples given in 11:32-40 not only show a deep familiarity with the biblical record, but possibly a correspondence to Jewish extra-biblical history as well. Lane points out that these two counts of divine deliverance reported in the book of Daniel are linked and mentioned together in Jewish tradition in 1 Maccabees 2:59-60; 3 Maccabees 6:6-7; 4 Maccabees 16:3, 21; 18: 12-13 [Lane, p.386]. He also states, “The reference to David is not surprising since he holds such a firm place in the exemplary tradition (e.g., Sir 45:25; 47:2-11; 1 Macc 2:15)”[Ibid., 384]. Lane see verse 34 as not only deeply biblical, but also “richly illustrated in the early Maccabean resistance to Seleucid repression at the time of Antiochus IV Epipihanes (cf. 1 Macc 3:17-25; 4:6-22, 34-36) [Ibid., p. 387]. Despite Lane’s appeal to Jewish tradition, one thing is most certain; the names and descriptions presented in Hebrews 11:32-34 are first and foremost biblical. Lane himself is most aware of this. Commenting on the overall structure of Hebrews 11, he states, “In brief, the introduction, first two examples, and conclusion of Heb 11:1-40 take the form of a list of attested exemplars who receive divine approval in the pages of Scripture”[Ibid., p.319]. It is to the controversial verses that we now turn. Does the writer to the Hebrews abandon the Biblical text, or does he have a different Old Testament than that used by Protestants?
Hebrews 11:35 states, “Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Some commentators see “Women received back their dead by resurrection” as an allusion to the widow at Zarephath of Sidon, who saw her dead son come back to life by the faith of Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24). Jamieson, Fausset and Brown point out the oldest manuscripts read, “They received women of aliens by raising their dead.” They point out “1 Kings 17:24 shows that the raising of the widow’s son by Elijah led her to the faith, so that he thus took her into fellowship, an alien though she was” [Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on Hebrews (ESword Electronic Edition, 2008)]. Other commentator’s see the verse alluding to the Shunamite in 2 Kings 4:36. William Lane argues the language in 35a parallels that used by the LXX in 2 Kings 4:37 which states, “The woman…received her son.”
“Others were tortured” is the first glimpse of a possible Apocryphal allusion. Barnes notes, “The word which is used here - τυμπανιζω tumpanizo - to “tympanize,” refers to a form of severe torture ” that also is described in 2 Maccabees 6:19-29 [Barnes, pp. 294-295]. Likewise, William Lane sees the word translated as “tortured” as the rack or stake to which people were tied to, as described in 2 Maccabees 6:19, 28. Calvin notes that some have translated the word as “imprisoned,” but likewise agrees, “the simple meaning is, as I think, that they were stretched on a rack, as the skin of a drum, which is distended” [Calvin, The comprehensive John Calvin collection 2.0 (Ages Digital Library, 2002)].
Lane also sees “not accepting their release” as a statement “amply illustrated by the behavior of the ninety-year-old scribe, Eleazar, who refused the pretense of renouncing commitment to God so that he might ‘be released from death’ (2 Macc 6:22). He willingly chose the rack and endured a brutal beating” [Lane, p. 389]. In 2 Maccabees 6:30 Eleazar states, “But when he was ready to die with stripes, he groaned, and said, It is manifest unto the Lord, that hath the holy knowledge, that whereas I might have been delivered from death, I now endure sore pains in body by being beaten: but in soul am well content to suffer these things, because I fear him.” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, John Gil, state a similar opinion. John Calvin comes close to locating the allusion away from the Apocrypha, but likewise states, “Now though they say that Jeremiah was stoned, that Isaiah was sawn asunder, and though sacred history relates that Elijah, Elisha, and other Prophets, wandered on mountains and in caves; yet I doubt not but he here points out those persecutions which Antiochus carried on against God’s people, and those which afterwards followed” [Calvin, The comprehensive John Calvin collection 2.0 (Ages Digital Library, 2002)].
“So that they might obtain a better resurrection” is best understood as a contrast with those children restored to their mothers mentioned in verse 35. The “better resurrection” is one in which death does not return as it did to those sons given back those their mothers. Lane states, “The reference to the refusal of release and the enduring of torment in the context of a firm expectation of attaining the resurrection shows unmistakably that the allusion in v 35b is to 2 Macc 6:18-7:42, where the Jewish historian recounts the martyrdom of Eleazar and of a mother and her seven sons at the hands of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his officers. Specific reference is made to the hope of the resurrection in the account of the sufferings endured by three of the seven brothers, as well as in the encouragement offered to them by their mother (2 Macc 7:9, 11, 14, 22-23, 29)” [ Lane, p.389]. On this phrase, Albert Barnes comments that, “No particular instance of this kind is mentioned in the Old Testament; but amidst the multitude of cases of persecution to which good men were subjected, there is no improbability in supposing that this may have occurred. The case of Eleazer, recorded in 2 Macc. 6, so strongly resembles what the apostle says here, that it is very possible he may have had it in his eye” [Barnes, pp. 294-295].
The phrase, “and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment” can find support for the abusive persecution of the prophets documented in 2 Chronicles 36:23; Jeremiah 20:7-8; 37:15-16, 18-20; 38: 6-13. John Gill notes “As Samson by the Philistines; Elisha by the children, whom the bears devoured; Jeremiah by Pashur, and others; the Jews by Sanballat and Tobiah, when building the temple; the prophets, whom God sent to the Jews, as his messengers, and scourgings; or smitings, as Jeremiah and Micaiah, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment; as Joseph, Samson, and Jeremiah, Gen 39:20. Now of these things they had trial, or experience; their graces were tried by them, and they patiently endured them” [John Gil , The Collected Works of John Gil (electronic edition) (Baptist Standard Bearer, 2002)]. The abuse described does again find support from 2 Maccabees 7:1.
“They were stoned,” finds mention of Biblical support from 2 Chronicles 24:20-21 in which the prophet Zechariah was killed in such a way. The New Testament though infers Jerusalem used this method against God’s prophets often in the past (Matt 23:27; Luke 13:34). Jewish tradition gives various accounts of the stoning of the prophet Jeremiah in the Midrash Aggadah and 4 Baruch, a theme picked up on by the early church in The Lives of the Prophets, a work attributed to Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis (315-403 C.E.).
“They were sawn in two” could refer to the tradition about the death of Isaiah in which he was found hiding in a tree trunk, and thus killed by a saw for taking refuge in a tree. The Ascension of Isaiah was well known in the early church. It had wide circulation, with manuscripts extant in Ethiopic, Coptic, Slavonic, Latin and also, some segments of it can be found in Greek. The tradition concerning Isaiah’s dreadful death by Manasseh was popular in Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic circles. John Gill reviews different versions of the story found in Jewish tradition, and then notes how widely accepted it was in the early church by Justin Martyr, Origen, Tertullian, Lactantius, Athanasius, Hilary, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nyssene, Jerome, Isidorus Pelusiota, Gregentius, Procopius Gazaeus, and others.
The phrase “they were tempted” could allude to many different biblical personages, like Job, tempted by Satan. John Gill sees Eleazar and the seven brethren with their mother tempted to deny the faith and renounce the worship of God in 2 Maccabees 6:7. Albert Barnes likewise locates one of the descriptions of those tempted in the Apocrypha: “Amidst the sorrows of martyrs, therefore, it was not improper to say that they were tempted, and to place this among their most aggravated woes. For instances of this nature, see 2 Macc. 6:21, 22; 7:17, 24” [Barnes, pp. 295-296].
“They were put to death with the sword” presents the opposite of those who, in verse 34, “escaped the edge of the sword.” Eighty-five priests were slain by Doeg 1Sa_22:18. Lane points out, “Elijah escaped the wrath of Jezebel, but other prophets had not been so fortunate (1 Kgs 18:4, 13; 19:10). The prophet Uriah…was ‘struck down by the sword’”[Lane ,p. 391]. Lane though adds, “The fate of being murdered by the sword was certainly not an isolated experience in the OT or in the post-biblical period (cf. 1 Macc 1:30; 2:9, 38; 5:13; 7:15-17, 19; 2 Macc 5:24-26) [Ibid., p, 391].
Elijah and Elisha certainly “went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated.” Zechariah 13:4 infers that this was the standard garb of a prophet. Within the early church, 1 Clement urged believers to imitate “those who went about in goatskins and sheepskins, heralding the coming of Christ; we mean Elijah and Elisha, and moreover Ezekiel, the prophets” (1 Clement 17:1).
1 Kings 18:4 records prophets hiding in caves. Certainly the biblical prophets fit the description “men of whom the world was not worthy.” 2 Maccabees 10:6 records, "And they kept the eight days with gladness, as in the feast of the tabernacles, remembering that not long afore they had held the feast of the tabernacles, when as they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts'' Albert Barnes likewise finds Apocryphal allusion: “Compare 1 Macc. 1:53; 2 Macc. 5:27; 6:7. The instances mentioned in the books of Maccabees are so much in point, that there is no impropriety in supposing that Paul referred to some such cases, if not these very cases. As there is no doubt about their historic truth, there was no impropriety in referring to them, though they are not mentioned in the canonical books of Scripture. One of those cases may be referred to as strikingly illustrating what is here said. “But Judas Maccabeus with nine others or thereabout, withdrew himself into the wilderness, and lived in the mountains after the manner of beasts, with his company, who fed on herbs continually lest they should be partakers of the pollution;” 2 Macc. 5:27” [Barnes, pp. 296-297].
It seems highly probable the writer to the Hebrews alluded to the Apocrypha in chapter 11. The parallels Catholic apologists suggest particularly in verse 35 and 2 Maccabees seem likely. “Others were tortured,” “not accepting their release” and “so that they might obtain a better resurrection” appear to be the closest points of contact with 2 Maccabees. As noted above, other vague points of contact could be inferred, but not with the same level of certitude of these three statements. Within the arena of rhetoric and polemics, the above study demonstrates that Protestant exegetes do not disagree with the possibility of Apocryphal allusions in Hebrews 11. Thus, Protestants are not hiding the fact that 2 Maccabees may be what the writer to the Hebrews has in mind.
Did the writer of Hebrews therefore implicitly consider the Apocrypha as God inspired scripture, and quote it as such in Hebrews 11? This does not necessarily follow. Other non-biblical books are quoted in scripture, but not treated as Scripture. Jude quotes from the Apocryphal Book of Enoch in Jude 14, and some see a possible allusion to the Assumption of Moses in Jude 1:9. Paul quotes pagan poets and philosophers on Mars Hill, and an allusion to the Penitence of Jannes and Jambres may be found in 2 Timothy 3:8.
Even within Hebrews, the writer may be alluding to spurious accounts concerning Jeremiah and Isaiah in 11:37. Sensing the weight of such a criticism, Catholic apologist Gary Michuta states, “The reference to the noncanonical book, The Ascension of Isaiah, in Heb 11:37 does not negate my point. It is not my contention that Heb 11 used only information supplied by Scripture, but that it uses only biblical figures to illustrate supernatural faith. That is clear from the preceding context. The reference to those who were ‘sawn in two’ is an expansion on the biblical figure of the prophet Isaiah. One can find numerous expansions of biblical figures in the New Testament from apocryphal sources, but none introduces new biblical characters”[Michuta, 41]. Does such an explanation satisfy? No, for it is an invention of Catholic apologetics to weave around an obvious flaw in argumentation. On what basis does one decide that expansion is an allowable method in the usage of non-biblical material for the inspired writers? It is a created distinction. There is nothing within the dogmatic statements from Rome noting this as an accepted method of biblical interpretation.
Roman Catholics argue that since the Septuagint contained Apocryphal books, they were considered scripture. This argument fails for a number of reasons. First, it is not certain that simply because an Apocryphal book was found in an LXX that the Jews considered it scripture. Like the early church, the books could have been included to be used for reading and edification but not considered inspired scripture. Second, the extant evidence shows different Apocryphal books are included in different early manuscripts. That is, no early manuscript contains all the apocryphal books argued for by Rome. Some of the early manuscripts actually contain 3 and 4 Maccabees, writings not considered canonical by Rome.
Contrary to Catholic claims, it does not follow that Protestant Bibles are missing inspired God-breathed books. Rather, the writer to the Hebrews included both heroes of faith from the Bible and Jewish tradition. For the writer of Hebrews, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double- edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. This did not mean for the writer that God’s hand cannot be seen in extra-biblical history. As in our own day, the promises of Scripture are to be clung to as God’s hand of providence directs history. Since each ounce of history is directed by God, the lives of his people both from the Bible and those outside the Bible, can be seen as examples of those who live by faith, and referred to for encouragement.