Saturday, September 09, 2017

Prooftexts for Purgatory

1. I'm going to comment on Catholic prooftexts for Purgatory. Before remarking on specific passages, there's a general problem with the methodology of Catholic apologists: even if their prooftexts are consistent with Purgatory, that doesn't mean they entail Purgatory. Something that's merely consistent with the truth of X can be equally consistent with the falsity of X. For instance, Tony Blair was Prime Minister during the 9/11 attacks. So his Prime Ministership is consistent with the 9/11 attacks. But it hardly follows that his Prime Ministership entailed the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 attacks were independent of whoever happened to be the English Prime Minister at the time. 

2. Mt 12:32

I take the basic argument to be this: if blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable both in this life and the afterlife, then there's an implied contrast with other sins which are forgivable (forgiven?) in the afterlife. 

i) At best, that's a possible implication, but hardly a necessary implication. It can just as well or better be an emphatic way of saying blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. That sin, even though it was committed in this life, has permanent damnatory consequences. 

ii) Assuming for argument's sake that it does open the door to postmortem forgiveness, that would make it a disproof for Purgatory inasmuch as someone can only enter Purgatory if they die in a state of grace. So their sins must already be forgiven in this life, as a precondition for entrance into Purgatory. 

iii) If, moreover, a Catholic apologist is going to draw inferences from this text to extrapolate to cases other than the unforgivable sin, then there are four possible interpretations:

a) Some sins are forgivable both in this life and the afterlife

b) Some sins are unforgivable both in this life and the afterlife

c) Some sins are forgivable in this life but unforgivable in the afterlife

d) Some sins are unforgivable in this life but forgivable in the afterlife

There's nothing in the text to single out the Catholic interpretation, to the exclusion of other interpretive options. 

iv) Likewise, if a Catholic apologist says this opens the door to postmortem forgiveness, then that doesn't select for Catholic Purgatory. It could be used as a prooftext for postmortem salvation (you get a second chance in the afterlife). 

3. 1 Cor 3:15

i) In context, it refers to the day of judgment, whereas Purgatory concerns the intermediate state.

ii) In context, the "fire" isn't to purify character, but to test the quality of the preacher's work.

4. Lk 12:47-48

There's nothing distinctively Purgatorial about this passage. Rather, it describes different penalties for different sins. Degrees of punishment corresponding to degrees of accountability corresponding to degrees of knowledge. 

5. Mt 5:25-26

i) Mt 5:25-26 is quite down to earth. About the here and now rather than the hereafter. It refers to an out-of-court settlement to avoid debtor's prison. That's not Purgatory, but prudent advice to Christians to head off legal tangles like that.

ii) Even if we think it applies a fortiori to eschatological judgment, the point is that, in contrast to an out of court settlement, hell (v22) has no escape hatch. 

6. 2 Macc 12:39-46

Evangelicals reject this book as apocryphal, but even if we grant the book's canonicity for discussion purposes, the Catholic appeal fails to distinguish between a descriptive text and a prescriptive (or proscriptive) text. This is not a divine command. Even if the account is historically accurate, a narrative doesn't endorse everything recorded in the narrative. Assuming this is historically accurate (a dubious assumption), it tells you something about the attitude of Judas Maccabaeus and his coterie, but tells you nothing about God's attitude. There's nothing normative about this example, any more than atrocities in the Book of Judges are normative, or royal sins in 1-2 Kings are normative.  


  1. Hi Steve, I was wondering if you could comment on this year old article discussing Enns', his journey and new book.

    1. Of course, I forget to post it

  2. Correct me if I'm wrong but 2 Mac. is about idolatry which would be a mortal sin, something you can't get out of purgatory for. If that's the case, this text proves too much.

    1. True. Catholic apologists finesse that by saying God had a lower standard back then.