Can someone explain this NABRE footnote from 2 Maccabees please?

I was reading 2 Maccabees 12:42-46 in the NABRE online at the Vatican website, and got to the well-known section that is always cited to provide support for Jewish and early Christian belief in praying for the dead. I am having trouble understanding the part of Footnote 7 that I bolded below. How, exactly, is Judas Maccabeus’ concept of what happens to his Jewish soldiers who died in a sinful state and thus needed an offering made, different from our later Western Catholic concept of Purgatory? The NABRE footnote does not explain the difference at all. (Yes, I know the NABRE footnotes are poorly written and annoying in general.) I figure there is some Catholic Scripture scholar on here who can enlighten me. Thank you in advance.

42 (*footnote 7) Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers 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 then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; 44 for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. 45 But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. 46 Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.

*footnote 7: [42-45] This is the earliest statement of the doctrine that prayers ( 2 Macc 12:42) and sacrifices ( 2 Macc 12:43) for the dead are efficacious. The statement is made here, however, only for the purpose of proving that Judas believed in the resurrection of the just ( 2 Macc 7:9, 14, 23, 36). That is, he believed that expiation could be made for certain sins of otherwise good men-soldiers who had given their lives for God’s cause. Thus, they could share in the resurrection. His belief was similar to, but not quite the same as, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory.

1 Like

This is from the Douay Rheims, Challoner notes, presumably. “Here is an evident and undeniable proof of the practice of praying for the dead under the old law, which was then strictly observed by the Jews, and consequently could not be introduced at that time by Judas, their chief and high priest, if it had not been always their custom.”. I also checked NRSVCE and RSVCE 2nd Edition. I wish I could be more help.


Thanks, that’s interesting pointing out that it was a custom under the old law and not introduced by Judas Maccabeus.

I’m still wondering how this conception under the old law differs from our current conception of Purgatory however, aside from the fact that Jesus hadn’t opened Heaven’s gates yet so all of the just people were then going to the limbo of the fathers/ bosom of Abraham/ however you want to express it.

Just a thought, but the difference may lie in the differences between expiation and purgation. Say, the difference between a ransom and a purge??


These are the notes from Haydock Commentary:

Well, that leaves me out.

I am sure you will find my response disappointing as all I can do is address the obvious.

Trying to read someone else’s mind is a difficult thing.

Is it possible that author of the NAB note meant that our New Testament understanding of Purgatory is that only by our participation in the saving Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that our works and prayers for the dead have value, and it is by the application of those graces won by Jesus Christ is how the souls in purgatory are helped ?

Does any other answer work ?


Thank you, but I’m not seeing how those answer my question of how Maccabeus’ beliefs aren’t the same as ours about Purgatory (other than Heaven not being open yet as I mentioned above).

It may be that I am just not seeing the right part or not understanding. If I have missed something in the Haydock commentary pertinent to my question, could you explain further?

It could posslbly be that.
It could also possibly be what 1Lord1Faith said.

I agree with you that it is hard to just read the mind of whoever wrote this confusing note.

I guess I was hoping that someone would have scholarly knowledge of the note and/or the belief systems beyond us having to guess at it. This may be a vain hope.

The footnotes for this edition of the Bible drive me up a tree sometimes.

The only way I can see to explain the note,
the wording itself I an not defending as I believe he could have explained what he intended better,
is that they did not have our revealed theology of Jesus Christ.

I am open to hear better explanations offered by others.

1 Like

Could it be that the author was preparing and preempting for a possible Protestant attack to his defense of Purgatory with the Protestant false accusation that “Catholics try to add to the infinite power and grace won for us by Jesus Christ” so that he could later add the rejoinder to their attack by stating what I stated above ?

Just a guess, I do not know.

Yes, it can be frustrating.


There seems to be different ways of looking at it. These are the footnotes from the JB, NJB, RSV and the CCB. The JB always makes sense to me.

Jerusalem Bible (JB)
12g. Judas is thinking of the resurrection of his fallen soldiers, cf. 7:9+, which, however, is dependent on atonement in the other world. Expiation for their sins is to be won by prayer, v. 42, and the offering of sacrifice, v. 43. After their resurrection the soldiers will receive their reward, v. 45. This is the only O.T. text mentioning an intermediate state where the souls of the dead are purified, and assisted in the process by the prayers of the living; i.e. purgatory.

New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)
j. Even purged of its glosses, see v. 45n, this text expresses the conviction that prayer and expiatory sacrifice are efficacious for the remission of sins for the dead. This is the first evidence in the OT of this belief. The sacrifice ordered by Judas, however, can have had the aim only of purifying the community, collectively defiled by the sins of a few, cf. Jos 7, and it may be that the author, writing forty years after the event, has attributed his own convictions to his hero. Be that as it may, this marks a new and important stage in Jewish theology.

New Oxford Annotated Bible With The Apocrypha (RSV)
12.39-45: Burial of the dead. The author believed that many had been killed because they wore sacred tokens of pagan gods which the law forbids (v. 40; Dt.7.25-26), but Josephus says (Antiquities, xii. viii. 6) this reverse befell them because they had disobeyed Judas’ instructions not to join battle before his arrival. This is the first known statement of the doctrine that a sin offering and prayer make atonement for the sins of the dead (v. 45), and it is justified by the hope that those who had fallen would rise again (vv. 43-44; 7.11; 14.46). Fall asleep, die (1 Cor.15.20).

Christian Community Bible
• 12.38 Judas’ soldiers feel encouraged in their faith when they find that their companions who died in the war deserved it because of some sin. Before, for example in the days of Joshua, believers were resigned to accept God’s justice and were not concerned about their guilty brothers (see Jos 7).

Now, Judas’ companions are concerned: did those who sinned stop being our brothers? They belonged to God’s people as we do: being raised to life, will they not share a happy future with us?

Hence, Judas’ initiative and the prayer for the dead. They have just discovered the solidarity among the members of God’s people, between the living and the dead.

1 Like

So you only mean Judas Maccabeus (+160 BC) belief, not various Christians later?

Ver. 45. With godliness. Judas hoped that these men who died fighting for the cause of God and religion, might find mercy; either because they might be excused from mortal sin by ignorance, or might have repented of their sin at least at their death.

It is not clear if this atonement is intended to be like the Day of Atonement for actual sins which is characterized by mourning, fasting, and repentance.

“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.” … 45 … “Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.”

Of course Catholic teaching on purgatory is only for temporal punishments not for absolution of mortal sins.

1 Like

It seems that the footnote is meant to defend against the claim that this passage supports the Catholic belief in Purgatory. But, it seems a little shrill. It seems as if it’s saying “well, yeah, the 100-yd butterfly is an Olympic event, but that race isn’t the entirety of Olympic swimming.”

I think “similar to, but not quite the same as”, is a poor statement that might better be stated as “part of, but not the entirety of”.

Just my two cents…


Is the NABRE commentary/footnote attributed to someone? Or is it anonymous?

It’s unattributed to my knowledge. I always assumed it was written by committee.

I suspect that footnote may simply mean that Christian theologians developed a very full doctrine of Purgatory, while no such development occurred in Judaism. Apart from this passage in 2 Maccabees, there is a late work in the Apocalyptic genre called the Testament of Abraham which touches briefly on the question. In one episode, Abraham is taken to heaven, where he sees Abel enthroned as a judge, passing judgment on every soul. The majority are sentenced to damnation while a few are allowed to enter Paradise. Abraham prays to God on behalf of some the condemned souls and God agrees to allow them to enter Paradise instead. But no explanation is given.


Biblical Footnotes are, regardless of the source (NABRE, RSVCE2, DR, etc.) are like (to use a cultural axiom) “like armpits, and many of them stink”.

You need to expand beyond biblical footnotes (which, by the way, even though they appear in a “Bible” are not the inspired word of God, to the writings of the Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church, Church Documents, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church way before you wonder about biblical footnotes.

Even if you end your studies with the biblical footnotes of whatever text you are using, you should at least engage in the ancient Church practices of Lectio Divina to allow scripture to speak through the filter of your heart.

Thanks, but asking a question about one footnote’s meaning doesn’t equate to some kind of over-focus on footnotes. This is the Sacred Scripture Apologetics section, where we ask things like technical questions on footnotes, and discuss them in a scholarly way. This isn’t a discussion about my prayer life or my belief. You going on about how I should do my Bible study is off topic and a bit presumptuous, as I did not mention anything about my process of Bible study.

90 percent of the NABRE footnotes are on technical issues such as whether a town had other names besides the one in the text, or whether the event described with the general happened in 154 BC or 162 BC, or explaining some practice of followers of Baal, etc. They’re not anything relevant to spiritual reading of the Bible anyway and I probably spend 1 minute looking at them at the end of each chapter. This is the first one I recall ever having a question about that was worth posting here, and that’s because this section of Maccabees is considered a major basis for Catholic belief in prayer for the dead, a subject I am greatly interested in and believe in regardless of what a footnote says.

Lectio Divina is a spiritual practice. If I were talking about that, we’d be over in Spirituality.
I have done Lectio Divina and will probably do it again from time to time. It is not my favorite prayer practice. I am also not doing it at the moment because the last time I did it, I was in the middle of Lectio Divina when the cops called to tell me my husband had been found dead elsewhere and I am not in the mood to revisit that memory with a prayer form that I didn’t like that much in the first place.

So I would kindly suggest that we please stay on topic here. Thank you for understanding.

1 Like

Not a Scholar but this is a record of a man’s actions which say alot about his character and love for his soldiers. But does it really show efficacy? It shows Judas’ desire for his men’s forgiveness. Saul’s conjuring up Samuel doesn’t prove a case for witches and yet even though wrong he was to act in such a way his motives weren’t bad. New Catholic here so if you’re going to set me straight do it gently…please!

No offense intended, and no attempt to hi jack the thread, so at your request I will back out of this one.

1 Like
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit