Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Is Purgatory a Biblical Doctrine? Part 2

Today we consider our look at the Roman Catholic (RC) doctrine of Purgatory, and whether it is a Scriptural concept. We will consider a few of the main texts used to establish the text as Scriptural.

Matthew 12:31-32

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32 ESV, emphasis mine)

The Catholic Church focuses in on this last phrase, “either in this age or in the age to come” as evidence for the case for purgatory. “Roman Catholics sometimes reason that if certain sins like blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven in the 'age to come,' then other sins may be forgiven in the 'age to come.' The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. (Rhodes, 247-8)"

I was happy to hear this verse came up in our discussion, because there is a rather simple response. Rhodes summarizes:

When this text says that the sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come, this is simply a Jewish idiomatic way of saying that the sin will never be forgiven. This becomes clear in the parallel account in Mark 3:29: “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (emphasis added). Hence, there is no support for the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory to be found in these verses. (Rhodes, 248)

James White adds, “Jesus is not, then, referring to the possibility of cleansing in the future, but is instead speaking of an "eternal sin," one that has no forgiveness whatsoever. If the Roman interpretation of Matthew 12 is valid, *then Mark's rendition is not.* Obviously, this cannot be, hence, it is the Roman interpretation that must be rejected. (White, Online Debate).”

Luke 12:59

I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.

This same concept is also found in the parallel passage in Matthew 5:26. “Some Roman Catholic theologians such as Ludwig Ott believe this parable lends support to the doctrine of purgatory, teaching a “time-limited condition of punishment in the other world.”

Rhodes’ response is given here (p 249-50): “The Roman Catholic interpretation is completely foreign to the context. That Jesus is referring to a physical prison during earthly life and not a spiritual prison in the afterlife is clear from the previous verse: “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison” (Matthew 5:25) Jesus is simply giving a practical teaching about reconciliation of human conflicts and the avoidance of situations that naturally lead to anger and personal injury (see Matthew 5:21-26).”

So this passage is referring to a physical prison, not a spiritual one after death. Not only that, but the idea of a prison-like purgatory, Rhodes points out, is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture that Christ on the cross paid for all the consequences of our sins. We will see many passages in the next section.

For now, let us look at the next verse used in support of the RC idea of purgatory.

Revelation 21:27

But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

RCs interpret this as supporting the doctrine of purgatory, for “only completely pure souls [can] be assumed into Heaven (Apoc. 21:27).” (Rhodes, 252)

We see again that purgatory is being read into the passage when it is not there. “It is true that “nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into” God’s kingdom, but that does not thereby mean that purgatory is the instrument through which people become purged of uncleanness. … our cleansing and purging from sin is based entirely on the finished work of Christ (1 John 1:7, Rom 8:1). (Rhodes, p 252)

1 Cor 3:10-15

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Ludwig Ott tells us that the Latin fathers took 1 Corinthians 3:15 “To mean a transient purification punishment in the other world” Vatican II described purgatory as a place where the souls of the dead make expiation “in the next life through fire and torments or purifying punishments.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes purgatory as a place of “cleansing fire.” (Rhodes, 244)

James White offers this excellent resource on the passage we’re now considering. In it, he gives a thorough exegesis of the passage. Then he gives several reasons why it cannot be used in support of purgatory. Finally, he responds to the misuse of the passage by many leading RC apologists, especially Robert Sungenis. Here is the section listing the arguments against purgatory in 1 Corinthians 3.

First, the passage is about Christian workers, not all the Christian faithful.

Next, the passage says nothing about the purification of individuals. Works are tested in this passage. Rome teaches souls are purified from the temporal punishment of sins by suffering satispassio in purgatory: but there is nothing about temporal punishments, satispassio, or suffering of individuals for their sins, in this passage. All these are extraneous to the text itself.

Further, the insertion of the Roman concepts into the passage turns it on its head. Remember, those with works of gold, silver, and precious stones (i.e., Christian workers who had godly motivations) appear in this passage: their works are subject to the same testing as the others. If this “fire” is relevant to purgatory, then are we to assume that even those with godly motives “suffer”? Are there no saints involved in building upon the foundation?

But most telling is this: the fire of which Paul speaks reveals. It does not purge. If this were the fire of Rome's purgatory, it would not simply demonstrate that gold is, in fact, gold, or hay is truly hay. The sufferings of purgatory are supposed to sanctify and change a person’s soul, enabling them to enter into the very presence of God! If this passage supported Rome's position, it would speak of purifying the gold, making it more pure, spotless, precious, and ready for God's presence. It would speak of the fire removing wood or other "impurities" from a person's soul, not simply telling us that the works a Christian minister did were or were not done with God's sole glory in mind. But the text speaks of a revelation of the quality of a man's work, which is wholly incompatible with Rome's use of the passage.

Modern Roman Catholics have started to move away from the term “fire” (though this was, inarguably, what attracted the attention of Rome to the passage in the first place), and seek to focus more upon the suffering of a loss, so that only the second group is seen as being relevant to purgatory. Of course, this is made possible by the constant repetition of the assertion, “Rome has never officially declared the meaning of this passage, nor that there is fire in purgatory, nor that purgatory is a place, nor that we experience time in purgatory...” etc and etc. The fact that one can go into history and determine with great clarity what was taught and believed only a few centuries ago does not seem to matter.

Finally, it should be noted that in Roman Catholic theology, a person sent to purgatory has already been judged to be in need of further purging (sanctification) before entering into the presence of God. Yet, there is no mention of such a judgment here; in fact, most RC interpretations see this as the judgment itself. (White, 1Cor3)

There are several other obscure passages (i.e. 2 Tim 1:18, Col 1:24) used in defense of purgatory, however most are again ‘read into’ the passage as we have seen, so no space will be given for them here. We will instead turn to the passages which contradict the idea of suffering in a transitional state so that a ‘saved’ child of God can be purged of sin before being accepted into Heaven.

Tomorrow we will turn the to the Scriptures which contradict the idea of Purgatory.

-White, James; An online debate http://vintage.aomin.org/ChanDeb1.html
-White, James; 1 Cor 3:10-15: Exegesis and Rebuttal of Roman Catholic Misuse http://vintage.aomin.org/1Cor3.html

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