Monday, August 19, 2019

Is Purgatory in the Bible?

42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Lk 12:42-48).

Among Catholic apologists, Brand Pitre is probably the best Bible scholar, so it's useful to evaluate his exegetical case for Purgatory:

Let's summarize his argument: 

1. The four kinds of servants represent four different eschatological/postmortem outcomes/fates:

i) The first servant does his master's will. He's prepared for the master's return. He goes straight to heaven.

ii) The second wicked servant is dismembered. He goes straight to hell. He suffers eternal punishment. 

iii) The third servant knew master's will, but failed to act according. He's unprepared for the master's return. He receives a severe beating.

iv) The fourth servant didn't know his master's will, so he's less culpable. He's invincibly ignorant. So he receives a light beating.

2. The wicked servant is dismembered. That's an image of death. That's a permanent condition. 

But the third and fourth servants (unprepared or ignorant) receive finite, temporary punishment. After they die, they don't go to hell or straight to heaven, but to a third realm. They are guilty of venial sin rather than mortal sin. Justice requires postmortem purification. Even though the fourth servant is unaware of his duty, sin still has consequences. 

So this parable clearly teaches that heaven and hell are not the only eschatological options. By contrast, Protestants only believe in two postmortem outcomes or fates: the decedent either goes straight to heaven or straight to hell. 

3. Now let's assess his argument. One problem is that he identifies the faithful servant with St. Peter. But it can't both be a reference to the unique status of St. Peter in Catholic theology as well as other faithful Catholics. 

4. He seems to think the lashes symbolizes quantitative punishment rather than qualitative punishment. The relative number of lashes represents finite temporal duration. 

But what if the imagery represents the severity of punishment rather than the duration of punishment? It's not about the temporal extent of punishment but the intensity of punishment? Remember, this is picture language. 

5. He says dismemberment is an image of death, which is  true, yet he thinks all these examples represent postmortem destinies. 

6. A fundamental blunder in his analysis is the timing. The rewards and punishments aren't synchronized with what happens after you die but when happens after Jesus returns. It's not about postmortem judgment but  the final judgment. 

7. He seems to be ignorant of Protestant theology. Classic Protestant theology differentiates the intermediate state from the final state. There are four outcomes–two interim and two enduring. Likewise, the four outcomes are paired off. At the moment of death the saints enter heaven, which is a rewarding but temporary, disembodied condition. At the final judgment, their souls will be reunited with immortal bodies, and they resume life on an earthly paradise. Conversely, at the moment of death, the damned enter a punitive intermediate state–a temporary, disembodied condition. At the final judgment, their souls will be reunited with immortal bodies, and they will experience physical as well as psychological misery, forever. 

8. He mentions 1 Cor 3 as another prooftext for Purgatory. I don't know his precise argument, although that's a stock Catholic prooftext for Purgtory. Among other things, I think that relies on a key unexamined assumption:

9. Finally, he mentions 2 Maccabees. Here's the text:

39 On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. 40 Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jam′nia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. 41 So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; 42 and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people 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 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. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin 2 Maccabees 12:39-45 (RSVCE).

There are several problems with using that as a prooftext for Purgatory:

i) Jews and Protestants reject the canonicity of 2 Macc. Of course, Catholic apologists will complain that we reject it to avoid a prooftext for Purgatory. But that objection cuts both ways. Catholics canonize the whole book just to get a prooftext for Purgatory. Moreover, Protestants reject it because we accept the Jewish canon. It's not like we single out 2 Macc for exclusion because it's a prooftext for Purgatory. 

ii) Even if we treat it as a fallible source, how historically reliable is 2 Mac?

iii) But suppose for argument's sake that we grant the inspiration/canonicity of 2 Mac. It's not a divine command or revelation regarding the existence of Purgatory. At best, it's just a record of what some Intertestamental Jews believed. We don't how how representative their belief is. It's not as if Intertestamental Judaism was monolithic. 

iv) Likewise, if some Jews prayed for the dead, that carries no presumption that their practice is justified. It may just be folk theology. It's a fallacy to automatically treat descriptive passages of Scripture as normative. Imagine using Judges as a manual of ethics! The fact that people believe something doesn't make their belief a fact.  

v) Moreover, the fact, if it is a fact, that these Jews prayed for the dead doesn't entail Purgatory as the only explanation. We don't know what they're presuppositions were. Maybe they prayed for the dead because they didn't think death seals your eternal fate. Maybe they didn't think the postmortem state is fixed but indefinite, and prayer can change whether dead Jews experience the resurrection of the just or suffer everlasting punishment. Who knows what they had in mind? 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve, if you get time, it might be helpful to interact with Pitre's written work? I know he has a book on Mary (which I haven't read) and a new book on Pauline theology (which I hope to read). I'd assume he's one of the go to guys for exegetical - theological arguments which, in my mind, would be the most convincing case for RC Doctrines. Hence a review would be quite helpful if you have the time!