by Tim Rohr, 2/10/06
Purgatory is a favorite topic of those who oppose and challenge the teachings of the Catholic Church. Their favorite line is “show me the word ‘Purgatory’ in the Bible”. Not withstanding the fact that nowhere in the Bible does it say that everything we believe has to be in the Bible; and notwithstanding the fact that the Jesus didn’t give us a book but a Church (as we have discussed before); and notwithstanding the fact that there are plenty of other words or concepts (such as “Trinity” and “Incarnation”) or even their own doctrines of “sola fide” and “sola scriptura” that challengers to the Catholic faith cannot show explicitly in the Bible. And not…okay, enough with the “notwithstanding’s” (there are more)! The deal is that it is actually quite simple to show Purgatory in the Bible, as we shall see in a moment.
First, we must be reminded that a bible-only challenger will in fact accept only that: a bible-only answer. So don’t waste your time with explanations from the Catechism or “I believe…etc.” Second, we must remember that the person challenging you is usually not interested in an answer at all, even if it IS from the Bible. So what are we to do? Well, the answer in a minute. And by the way, never mind 2 Maccabees where it mentions prayers for the dead. They don’t have that book in their Bible.
First, a short course in Purgatory: 1) The Bible tells us plainly “nothing unclean shall enter heaven” (Rev 21:27); 2) Rarely (probably only a martyr) does anyone ever die completely clean. 3) Where do our souls go if “nothing unclean shall enter heaven” and (assuming) we are not condemned to hell by un-repented mortal sin? Catholic answer: Purgatory-a state of purgation or purification before we are allowed to enter into His presence.
Now, back to our challenger! The most common scripture used to “prove” purgatory is 1 Cor 3:14 where St. Paul tells us that some of us, despite our impurities, can be saved “but only as through fire”. This is a very sound verse, but is often easily dismissed by our challengers because of its metaphorical context.
So here’s what I suggest (by the way I only own a bookstore, I’m not a certified anything).
First, prove from the Bible the existence of a “third” place.
Non-Catholics swear that the Bible proves only heaven and hell and that there is NO third place. However, the Bible DOES prove the existence of a third place. (Note: Don’t worry about the word “purgatory” for now, or what happens there, or how long you’re there. Just get them to question there own presupposition that there is no third place. You can move on from there later.)
Here’s how you do it: Revelations 20:14 states very clearly that at the end of time “death and hades are thrown into the lake of fire” The question is then what is “Hades”? “Hades” cannot be Hell in the sense of that place of eternal damnation because the “lake of fire” is obviously that place. So how can hell be thrown into hell? No... Hades is a third place.
Now be prepared for the argument that “Hades” WAS a place for the dead who died before Jesus opened the gates of heaven. On that you can both agree. The problem is that “Hades” is still hanging around at the “end of time”. And what’s more, there ARE folks in it! (“…and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them” - Rev 20:13) So what are people doing in a place called Hades that is neither heaven nor hell at the end of the world? There’s only one answer: There’s a third place, we just happen to give it name.
But the key here is NOT to give the answer but to lead your challenger to it. Force yourself to ask questions, not give answers. Let’s say you are confronted with “where is “purgatory” in the Bible?
Here’s an idea of how it can go:
- Well, John, what’s your understanding of Rev. 20:14? What is “Hades”?
- It can’t be “hell” can it, hell is obviously the “lake of fire”, so what do you think “Hades” is?
- And why is it still around at the end of the world if there was no need for it after Jesus saved us?
- And who are these people who are in it and why are they there?
By the way, it would be good to familiarize yourself with these scriptures before you use them. Get your bibles out and mark them up!