Purgatory: History, Textual Basis, and Theological Merit, Pt. 5

Having looked at the tradition and development of the doctrine of purgatory, the texts commonly used in favor must be examined. Historically there are three main passages which have been used to support the dogma of purgatory: 2 Maccabees 12:43-45, Matthew 12:32, and 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. We should start by looking at 2 Maccabees, even though this text is non-canonical, it is important to engage Rome on their own turf. the text does seem to support some idea of offerings being made for the dead, in order that they may be released from their sin. Ignoring the issues this would cause in understanding the work and words of Christ (“It is finished” seems to make it rather clear that the sacrificial work of Christ was a once for all redemptive-historical event), this text does not support the Roman Catholic dogma as it has been built up in their history. Cornelius Venema helpfully points out that the sins for which Judas was making sacrifice included mortal sins such as idolatry, which his prayers and offerings could not help to atone for in the purgatory created in the minds of Roman Catholic theologians. It is clear, even from this non-canonical text that Roman Catholic dogma has performed some rather forced exegesis on the text. The fact that this non-canonical text with a rather forced reading is the strongest support of the dogma of purgatory is rather damning evidence.

The second text, Matthew 12:32 is the famous passage regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The text states that “whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, in this age or in the age to come”. Now, the age to come certainly indicates that there will be both reward and punishment following death. However, we can see that this text does not offer any substantial support to the concept of purgatory. This text simply makes it clear that the judgement and punishment rightly due to those who commit this sin will continue on past their earthly life, just like every other sin which is not forgiven to an unrepentant sinner. As with the passage in 2 Maccabees, there is a massive argument and subsequent dogma being built off of a very small amount of textual support. This is a clear case of applying the Texas sharpshooter fallacy to the text. There is a tiny bit of data which supports or correlates to a tiny portion of the dogma itself (in this case correlating to the idea of sins being forgiven after death), which is then teased out into an argument which would require a mountain of support to overcome the rest of the testament of scripture regarding the nature of justification; As well as the subsequent benefits of being in the covenant of grace at death. There is one more important point made by Venema as well related to this text. He points out that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age, nor in the age to come. The age to come (in this text, and others) does not refer to the intermediate state, but the age immediately surrounding and following the second advent of Christ, and can therefore not coincide with the intermediate state following death but preceding Christ’s return.

The last substantial text which Roman Catholic theologians appeal to in support of the dogma of purgatory is 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. This passage depicts fires of judgment which will reveal and test the works of righteousness. Each man’s work will be revealed by fire, according to this text, and the fire will test the quality of the work. Roman Catholic dogma argues that the fire which this text describes is a literal fire through which the souls of the dead in Christ will pass in order to be cleansed. Similar to Matthew 12:32, we can see a mistake regarding the time which this passage refers to. This passage clearly refers to the present trials and tribulations which believers face in this life, rather than a testing by fire in the intermediate state. Looking at these three primary texts used by Roman Catholic theologians to support the dogma of purgatory, we can see that they are largely devoid of any support of the doctrine, that they are at best tiny portions of biblical text in isolation from the testament of scripture, and that even ripped out of their true context, they still do not lend support to the doctrine of purgatory as Rome has laid it out.



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