A Refinery Called Purgatory

Many of us would have heard of Purgatory from pop culture, most notably the Divine Comedy (aka Dante’s Inferno) by Dante Aligheri. Deriving its name from the Latin root word purgare, it means to purify and to remove dirty/impure things. It was one of the main teachings that the Protestant Reformation sought to establish doctrinal stances around.[1]

What is Purgatory

Purgatory is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) as follows:

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.[2]


The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

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.[3]

This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” From the beginning the Church has honoured the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.[4]

As mentioned in another article, the Roman Catholic understanding of justification is not the same as the Protestant understanding of Justification. The Protestant understanding of Justification takes on a more forensic overtone as it builds on the belief of Imputed Righteousness, where the perfect iustitia aliena (alien righteousness) of Jesus Christ is imputed onto the believer at the moment of belief and the believer’s legal standing before God is made right. Conversely, the Roman Catholic understanding of Justification is built on infused righteousness which is seen as the preparation of the believer’s disposition to a sanctifying process where a believer’s righteousness can be enhanced or diminished, rather than a declarative of a believer’s legal standing before God.  Because a believer is infused with saving grace and the righteousness can ebb and flow with the observance (or neglect) of the Sacraments and other works, it stands to reason that at the end of a believer’s life a believer may still have some unrighteousness left from lesser sins.[5] Purgatory is then the final purification to rid the believer of the leftover unrighteousness after which he may enter heaven.

Scriptural Support

For the sake of brevity, the author will only be highlighting the passage most commonly raised by Roman Catholics when defending the doctrine of Purgatory which is 2 Maccabees 12:38-45.

Other verses also commonly raised to defend the doctrine of Purgatory include Matthew 5:26, Matthew 12:32, 1 Corinthians 3:15, Colossians 1:24, and 1 Peter 3:19-20. As these books are all present in the Protestant bible and thus available for self-study, the author will leave these verses out.

Catholic apologist Tim Staples writes on Catholic.com as below:

A Very Good Place to Start

Perhaps the best place to start is with the most overt reference to a “Purgatory” of sorts in the Old Testament. I say a “Purgatory of sorts” because Purgatory is a teaching fully revealed in the New Testament and defined by the Catholic Church. The Old Testament people of God would not have called it “Purgatory,” but they did clearly believe that the sins of the dead could be atoned for by the living as I will now prove. This is a constitutive element of what Catholics call “Purgatory.”

In II Maccabees 12:39-46, we discover Judas Maccabeus and members of his Jewish military forces collecting the bodies of some fallen comrades who had been killed in battle. When they discovered these men were carrying “sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear” (vs. 40), Judas and his companions discerned they had died as a punishment for sin. Therefore, Judas and his men “turned to prayer beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out… He also took up a collection… and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably… Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”[6]

Aside from asserting the non-canonicity of the book of 2 Maccabees, the author would argue against Staples that even within this passage, it does not support the doctrine of Purgatory the way that he writes it in his article and is at best silent on the issue. To establish this point, let us read through the whole passage to understand the context:

2 Maccabees 12 38-45 (NRSV)

38 Then Judas assembled his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was coming on, they purified themselves according to the custom, and kept the sabbath there.

39 On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors.

40 Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason 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 supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result 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, so that they might be delivered from their sin.

In short, Judas Maccabeus’ army had just defeated the governor of Idumea, Gorgias’ army. Judas was looking through the clothing of his own men that died in the battle and found that they were carrying amulets of the idols of Jamnia and asserted that this was the reason these men were slain in battle. He then collected some money as a sin offering for those that died and is praised by the author of Maccabees for doing so.


Upon initial reading of the passage, it would seem that Staples has a case for a proto-Purgatory especially from v.43-45 as the author of Maccabees did imply that Judas prayed and made atonement for the dead. However, this can be refuted with a simple read through with basic hermeneutics.

Let’s read through v.43-45 and highlight the content Staples left out in his article with ellipses.

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, so that they might be delivered from their sin.

Though the books of the Hebrew Old Testament were written mainly in Hebrew and Aramaic, the books of the Apocrypha, including 2 Maccabees, were generally written in Greek. The word translated as “For” in v.44 is εἰ in Greek. The Greek εἰ is a Conditional Participle or Conjunction which means that the subsequent serves as an explanation to the notion presented beforehand.[7] In other words, v.44 serves to explain the reason for Judas’ actions in v.43. V.45 then serves as the antithesis to the reason provided in v.44.

We see here the author of Maccabees in v.44-45a explaining the foolishness of Judas’ actions if he did not believe in their resurrection and commending the wisdom of Judas’ actions if he did believe in their resurrection. In other words, the author is providing commentary on Judas’ action and commending the consistency of his actions with his belief regardless of whether it was factual or not, not postulating the veracity of his beliefs. In simpler words, the author of Maccabees is praising Judas for not being a hypocrite rather than telling the readers that his beliefs were correct.

Closing Notes

There are many other passages that serve as antitheses to the doctrine of Purgatory. The author has only addressed one particular passage as it is one commonly referred to when discussing this doctrine.  The author strongly encourages readers to read the book of 2 Maccabees for themselves so that the readers may be spurred to inculcate a Berean spirit and examine for themselves to see if these things are true.[8]

Fides Quarens Intellectum


[1] Cf. 95 Theses by Martin Luther; Article XXII of 39 Articles of Religion and other notable works

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1031

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1032

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030

[6] Tim Staples, Is Purgatory in the Bible? on Catholic.com

[7] Strong’s Greek Concordance #1487

[8] Acts 17:11

Righteousness: Imputed? Infused? Confused?

Righteousness presents itself as no minor theme that finds itself peppered all over Scripture. When asked what Righteousness is, many Christians find themselves befuddled in attempting to explain this concept especially to our non-Christian friends. It is important to note that other beliefs also have concepts of Righteousness; so when I say many Christians have trouble explaining Righteousness to our non-Christian friends, I mean to explain Righteousness in the Christian context with all its nuances. For example, many religions traditionally associated with the Far East like Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism employ the word Dharma to mean righteous living/practice or truth.[1]

Much can be said on this subject even when narrowed down to within the Christian sphere of understanding, so I will focus this article to an aspect of Righteousness hotly debated in the Christian realm, namely the nature of Righteousness’ relationship to us whether by imputation or infusion. This article is meant to provide some layman understanding of the issue so that further self-study will be made easier.

But before we delve into the matter, it would be best to establish some solid footing in the definition of Righteousness in order to see how it relates to the whole imputation versus infusion debate.

What is Righteousness?

The Greek δɩκαɩοσύνη (dikaiosunē) and Hebrew צדקה (tzedakah) are traditionally translated into English as Righteousness, Justice (or even Charity) depending on the context.[2] In these contexts, Righteousness/ Justice is usually presented and defined along the lines of “fulfilment of an obligation/ requirement/ demand.”

A couple of examples of Righteousness being rendered in the fulfillment sense with brief commentary are listed below:

(All translations are taken from the ESV unless stated otherwise)

Deuteronomy 6:25

And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’


Moses had just given Israel the commandments and statutes which they were supposed to observe when they lived in the Promised Land. Israel would be counted righteous if they were to do and fulfill all that they were commanded to do.

Matthew 3:15

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.


It is the author’s belief that the baptism of Jesus was symbolic of His entry into the priestly ministry, just as priests and high priests had to perform a ritual bath to consecrate themselves to minister in the Tabernacle, fulfilling the commandment of God.[3] Much more can be expounded on this matter but that is not the focus of this article.

Now that we have established the definition of Righteousness as the state of fulfillment of God’s demands, let us now proceed to define and examine each mode by which we receive righteousness, and how it all fits into the understanding of soteriology.

Infused Righteousness

Traditionally associated with the Roman Catholic perspective of justification, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is consistent with the Protestant view that justification is through faith[4] by the grace of God.[5] However, it is the mechanism by which that faith justifies which the two camps differ on. The Catechism states:

The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.[6]

Robert Hooker, a 17th-century theologian writes of the Catholic doctrine of infused righteousness as below:

(Words have been rewritten to reflect 21st century spelling. Word order and grammar remains)

This grace (righteousness) they (Roman Catholics) will have to be applied by infusion, to tend that as the body is warmed by the heat which is in the body, so the soul might be righteous by inherent grace, which grace they make capable of increase; as the body may be more warmed, so the soul more and more justified,…[7]

Lest the author be accused of referring to a non-Catholic for the explanation of Infused Righteousness, below is an excerpt from the Council of Trent:

“Justification is not the mere remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renovation of the inward man through the voluntary reception of grace and gifts of grace; whereby an unjust man becomes just, the enemy a friend, so that he may be an heir according to the hope of eternal life … The only formal cause of justification is the justice (justitia) of God, not that by which he himself is just, but that by which he makes us just, — that namely by which we are gratuitously renewed by him in the spirit of our minds, and are not only reputed, but really are and are denominated just, receiving justice into ourselves each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Spirit imparts to each as He pleases, and, also, according to each one’s own disposition and cooperation . . .”[8]

From Hooker and the Council’s explanation, we can note that the Roman Catholic understanding of infused, justifying faith is that it is seen as the preparation of the believer’s disposition to a sanctifying process where a believer’s righteousness can be enhanced or diminished, rather than a declarative of a believer’s legal standing before God. The source of this ebb and flow of this saving grace thus lies in the observance of sacraments, performance of good works with the proper disposition… or the neglect/ denial thereof as implied by the Council:

If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification; – though all (the sacraments) are not necessary for every individual; let him be anathema.[9]


Based on the understanding of Infused Righteousness, the Roman Catholic understanding of Justification which separates the period of change in legal status before God and the change in a believer’s disposition allows for (or dare I say, necessitate) the doctrine of Purgatory. Purgatory is explained in the Catechism as:

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.[10]


The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire.

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.[11]

To explain further, because a believer is infused with saving grace and the righteousness can ebb and flow with the observance (or neglect) of the Sacraments and other works, it stands to reason that at the end of a believer’s life a believer may still have some unrighteousness left from lesser sins10. Purgatory is then the final purification to rid the believer of the leftover unrighteousness after which he may enter heaven. The doctrine of Purgatory is further expounded here.

Imputed Righteousness

Imputed Righteousness, which is traditionally associated with the Reformed camp, postulates that our justification before God stems not from the inherent righteousness of a believer but from the iustitia aliena (alien righteousness) of Christ.

Believers are thus, according to Luther, righteous on account of the alien righteousness of Christ which is imputed to them – that is, treated as if it were theirs through faith[12]

The Westminster Larger Catechism elucidates the distinction between justification and sanctification in this manner:

“Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification, his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued; the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.” [13]

It is important to note the distinction made in the Reformed camp between justification and sanctification as the making of this distinction forms the main thrust between the divide between the Roman Catholic and Reformed understanding of Justification.

Imputation in the context of Scriptural language means to ascribe the status of righteous i.e to regard someone as having fulfilled the Law, or in other words ‘to justify’. It is in this nuance which the Reformed camp speaks of Christ’s righteousness (Christ fulfilling the Law) being imputed unto the believer. The believer is then looked upon by God as though the believer has fulfilled the Law himself.

Though a believer’s legal status may be right before God, the Apostle Paul rightly points out that this declaration of a believer’s justification in Christ is by no means a license to sin.[14] Sanctification, though distinct from Justification, always follows Justification. Sanctification therefore, in one of many understandings in the Reformed mind, is the continual working towards Holiness in conformity to the character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.[15]

Much can be said about the nature and mechanism of imputation such as the double-imputation or whether it is only the Passive Obedience of Christ that is imputed. Once again, the author may do so in a future article.

Closing Notes

It is the author’s opinion that the divide between the Roman Catholic and Protestant understanding of Justification can mostly be characterised in one question:

Do the change in a believer’s legal status before God and the change in the believer’s disposition to the will of God come together or separately?

The answer to the above question, be it ‘together’ or ‘separately’, will then lead to one of the two views. As mentioned in the beginning, the aim of this article is to provide a basic framework by which the reader may use to understand the arguments employed by the various camps in their espousing of each doctrine in their own self-study.

The author notes that there is a lack of Scripture quoted in this article employed by both sides in support and against each position. This has been intentionally done so that the readers may be spurred to inculcate a Berean spirit and examine the Scriptures for themselves to see if these things are true [16].

Fides quarens intellectum.


[1] Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1.4.xiv

[2] Strong’s Greek Concordance #1343; Strong’s Hebrew Concordance #6666

[3] Exodus 40:12-15; Leviticus 16:4

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church #153

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church #1996

[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church #1999

[7] Hooker, Justification (Works V, 110.11 – 111.7)

[8] Canones Concilli Tridentini; De Justificatione, vii. viii.

[9] Canon IV, The Seventh Session of the Council of Trent

[10] Catechism of the Catholic Church #1030

[11] Catechism of the Catholic Church #1031

[12] McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction pp.126

[13] Westminster Confession, Larger Catechism. Q.77

[14] Romans 6:1-14

[15] Goodwin, The Work of the Holy Ghost, Book VIII pp.390

[16] Acts 17:11

Views on Hell

[Articles in the Multiple Views series are intended to present various views held by Christians, in an objective and unbiased manner]

Perspective  Proponent & Overview
 A) Literal View  i) Proponent


John F. Walvoord


“Jonathan Edwards pictured hell as a raging furnace of fire. He imagined the wicked being cast into liquid fire that is both material and spiritual”[17]


Charles Spurgeon: “… in fire exactly like that which we have on earth thy body will lie, asbestos-like, forever unconsumed, all thy veins roads for the feet of Pain to travel on, every nerve a string on which the Devil shall forever play his diabolical tune of hell’s unutterable lament.”[18]


E.B. Pusey: “The fire shall pierce them, penetrate them … like a molten ‘lake of fire,’ rolling, tossing, immersing, but not destroying.”[19]


Augustine (?)[20]


ii) Overview


“.. the orthodox view is commonly interpreted to be the belief that punishment for the wicked is everlasting and that it is punitive, not redemptive.”[1]


“… an important principle must be observed all throughout the Scriptures: while the term “forever” [in the Bible] may sometimes be curtailed in duration by its context, such termination is never once mentioned in either the Old or New Testament as relating to the punishment of the wicked.”[2]


“The most definitive term in the New Testament is gehenna, uniformly translated “hell” and referring to everlasting punishment (Matt 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6).”[3]


“All the references to gehenna, except James 3:6, are from the lips of Christ himself, and there is an obvious emphasis on the punishment for the wicked after death as being everlasting. The term gehenna is derived from the Valley of Hinnom, traditionally considered by the Jews the place of the final punishment of the ungodly …

Whatever its historical and geographic meaning, its usage in the New Testament is clearly a reference to the everlasting state of the wicked, and this seems to be the thought in every instance.”[4]


“Though not always expressly stated, the implication [of the New Testament passages mentioning gehenna] is that the punishment will have duration and be endless.”[5]


“Though the word gehenna is not used in Matthew 7:19, some believe that this is what Christ meant when he said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Also implied in Christ’s statement in Matthew 7:23 is the truth that part of the punishment of hell is to be separated from Christ forever: “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.’””[6]


“John implied [in Revelation 20:13-14] that the grave will some day give up the bodies of the wicked dead and that they will be resurrected in order to enter into the eternal punishment of the lake of fire. The fact that they are still in existence indicates that their existence was not terminated when they died physically, but they are still alive and suffering torment in hades, the intermediate state up to this point. This state is then emptied, however, and those who are in it are cast into the lake of fire, the second death; this action indicates eternal separation from God.”[7]


“Though the word gehenna is not used [in Revelation 20:10 and Revelation 21:7-8], the lake of fire is, and it serves as a synonym for the eternal place of torment.”[8]


“As Buis points out, the Greek word aionios in every instance refers to eternity.”[9]


Buis: “Aionios is used in the New Testament sixty-six times: fifty-one times of the happiness of the righteous, two times of the duration of God in His glory, six other times where there is no doubt as to its meaning being endless, and seven times of the punishment of the wicked.”[10]


“In support of the idea that aionios means “endless” is its consistent placement alongside the duration of the life of the godly in eternity. If the state of the blessed is eternal, as expressed by this word, there is no logical reason for giving limited duration to punishment.”


W.R. Inge: “No sound scholar can pretend that aionios means anything less than eternal.”[11]


“A general rule, however, can be established that unless Scripture specifically terminates a promise given “forever,” limiting it to time in contrast to eternity, we may assume that “eternity” means “everlasting,” as indicated in the character of God and in the character of salvation in Christ.”[12]


“… though aionios is generally used of eternal life, it is specifically coupled with punishment of the wicked in Jude 7 … This is in contrast to “eternal life” mentioned in verse 21.”[13]


“A most convincing evidence that eternity usually means “without beginning or end” is found in the definition of this word in Arndt and Gingrich. This word is used normally in the New Testament to mean either “without beginning or end” or at least “without end.” None of the passages uses the word in a sense other than infinity in time, but it may mean infinity in time past or infinity in time future.”[14]


“If the slightest sin is infinite in its significance then it also demands infinite punishment as a divine judgement. Though it is common for all Christians to wish there were some way out of the doctrine of eternal punishment because of its inexorable and unyielding revelation of divine judgement, one must rely in Christian faith on the doctrine that God is a God of infinite righteousness as well as infinite love. While on the one hand he bestows infinite grace on those who trust him, he must, on the other hand, inflict eternal punishment on those who spurn his grace.”[15]


“There is sufficient evidence that the fire is literal. In the case of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, the rich man in hades asked father Abraham to cool his tongue with water because, “I am in agony in this fire” (v.24). Thirst would be a natural reaction to fire, and the desire to cool his tongue would be in keeping with this description.”[16]

B) Metaphorical View  i) Proponent


William Crockett


John Calvin: “We may conclude from the many passages of Scripture, that it [eternal fire] is a metaphorical expression”[47]


Charles Hodge: “There seems no more reason for supposing that the fire spoken of in Scripture is to be a literal fire, than that the worm that never dies is literally a worm.”[48]ss


J.I. Packer: “… the mistake is to take such pictures as physical descriptions, when in fact they are imagery symbolizing realities … far worse than the symbols themselves.”[49]


Kenneth Kantzer: “The Bible makes it clear that hell is real and it’s bad.  when Jesus spoke of flames … these are most likely figurative warnings.”[50]


ii) Overview


“… the Bible does not support a literal view of a burning abyss. Hellfire and brimstone are not literal depictions of hell’s funishings, but figurative expressions warning the wicked of impending doom.”[34]


Martin Luther: “It is not very important whether or not one pictures hell as it is commonly portrayed and described.”[35]


“The words of Jesus and the apostles tell us that the final abode of the wicked will be a place of awful reckoning, but specifically what the reckoning will be, we cannot know for certain until we pass beyond this life.”[36]


“Unfortunately, some people confuse a high view of Scripture with taking every word of the Bible literally. They think that whatever the Bible says must  be true literally. But this neglects the symbolic use of words, or what is often called rabbinic hyperbole. Rabbis in ancient times (and this includes Jesus) often used colourful speech to bring home forcefully their points.”[37]


“For example, when Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children … he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26), he does not mean we must hate our parents to be proper disciples. This is a language vehicle used to convey the point that loyalty to him is supreme. We must love Jesus so much that our other loves seem like hate in comparison. The same is true with Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” We know Jesus did not intend people to take his words literally, because the context has to do with lust. Removing an eye – or even two eyes – will not help because even blind people lust. This is colourful speech by Jesus the rabbi; he means that sin is so serious that it is better to lose an eye than to perish in hell.”[38]


“In Jewish literature, vivid pictures of hell are given to show that God has ordained an end to wickedness. The writers do not intend their descriptions to be literal depictions of the fate of the damned, but rather warnings of coming judgement. In the Qumran texts, for example, mutually exclusive concepts like fire and darkness are used more to evoke a horrifying image than to describe a literal hell.

The writers speak about “the shadowy place of everlasting fire” (1QS 2:8) and describe hell as “the fire of the dark regions” (1QS 4:13). The same is true with 1 Enoch, which talks about “darkness … and burning flame” (103:7) and “blazing flames worse than fire” (100:9). Similarly, 2 Enoch 10:2 pictures hell as “black fire.”

The Testament of Abraham 12-13 uses fire to picture the Last Judgement. There the archangel Purouel (whose name means fire) “tests the works of men through fire” (13:11). The fire that burns up the works of individuals in both the Testament of Abraham 13:12 and 1 Corinthians 3:15 is not a literal fire, but a symbol of something far greater.”[39]


“Fire is often nonliteral in Jewish writings; they use colourful language to make a point. Even the Torah was said to have been written with “black fire on white fire” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sekalim 6:1, 49d), and the tree of life was described as gold looking in “the form of fire” (2 Enoch 8:4). There are mountains of fire (Pseudo-Philo 18:3), rivers of fire (1 Enoch 17:5), thrones of fire (Apoc. Abram. 18:3), lashes of fire (T. Abram. 12:1) – even angels and demons of fire (2 Bar. 24:6; T. of Sol. 1:10).”[40]


“In the Scriptures God is said to be a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24), who has throne “flaming with fire” that has a “river of fire” issuing from beneath the throne (Dan. 7:9-10). Sometimes the images of fire approximate our understanding of material fire on earth. God speaks out of fire that does not consume a desert bush (Ex. 3:1-6) and carries a prophet to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). In the New Testament, John says of the exalted Christ, “his eyes were like blazing fire” (Rev. 1:14). Fire is also used figuratively for discord (Luke 12:49), judgement (1 Cor. 3:15), sexual desire (1 Cor. 7:9), and unruly words (James 3:5-6).”[41]


“C.H. Dodd suggests that Paul “shared with many of his contemporaries the belief that … the material universe would be transfigured into a substance consisting of pure light or glory, thus returning to its original perfection as created by God.””[42]


“In the New Testament the final destination of the wicked is pictured as a place of blazing sulphur, where the burning smoke ascends forever. This would have been an effective image because sulphur fires were part of life for those who lived in the Jerusalem of Bible times. Southwest of the city was the Valley of Hinnom, an area that had a long history of desecration. The steep gorge was once used to burn children in sacrifice to the Ammonite god of Molech (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31; 32:35).”[43]


“How could hell be a literal fire when it is also described as darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 14)? Those who raise this question have a good point … The point is that when it comes to God’s wrath at the end of time, Jewish writers are not concerned with seeming conflicts; they can describe punishment in many ways because they have no clear scheme as to what form it will take. For example, they often talk of hell as a place where the bodies of the wicked burn eternally, even though at the same time they are said to be rotting away with worms and maggots (Judith 16:17; Sirach 7:17; cf. Isa. 66:24). The author of 2 Enoch 10:2 even links “black fire” with “cold ice” in the place of eternal torment. What these writers are trying to do is paint the most awful picture of hell they can, no matter how incompatible the images might be. Yet of this they are certain: God will forever punish those who walk in the paths of wickedness.”[44]


“The wicked are said to weep and gnash their teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28), their worm never dies (Mark 9:48), and they are beaten with many blows (Luke 12:47). No one thinks hell will involve actual beatings or is a place where the maggots of the dead achieve immortality. Equally, no one thinks that the gnashing of teeth is anything other than an image of hell’s grim reality.”[45]


“The eternal fire was created for spirit beings such as the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). How then will people with spirit bodies (and disembodied spirits such as demons) be affected by a physical fire? Physical fire works on physical bodies with physical nerve endings, not on spirit beings.”[46]


C) Purgatorial View  i) Proponent


Zachary J. Hayes


Origen (?)


Clement of Alexandria (?)


Jerry Walls


ii) Overview


“This word [i.e. purgatory] is commonly understood to refer to the state, place, or condition in the next world between heaven and hell, a state of purifying suffering for those who have died and are still in need of such purification. This purifying condition comes to an end for the individual when that person’s guilt has been expiated. But as an eschatological “place”, purgatory is understood to continue in existence until the last judgement.”[69]


“To understand the inner logic of the concept of purification after death, we need to think of a number of interrelated points.


First, it is helpful to recall that symbolism about purgation does not begin with Roman Catholicism, nor with Christianity, nor even with the Bible. In fact, such symbolism is widespread in religious history. It is symbolism that reflects a sense of distance between human creatures and God. There is distance, first, because all creatures are limited and finite, while God is infinite.


Second, there is distance because human creatures are sinners. Not only are human beings “less than God,” they are also “guilty before God.” Now, if the concern of the religious journey is to move to ever greater closeness and intimacy with God in a relationship of love, one must ask how the distance between God and creature might be bridged.”[70]


“The idea of a purifying fire was present in extrabiblical and in biblical tradition long before the Christian/Catholic concept of purgatory used it in its own way. When such symbolism is used in a Christian context, it expresses the conviction that something happens in the encounter between God and the human creature that makes the creature more “capable” of receiving the gift of divine presence within itself.”[71]


“If, from this side of death, we seem to be flawed lovers, and if the condition called heaven involves the perfection of love, how can we possibly bridge that distance?”[72]


“… he [i.e. Augustine] speaks frequently about the cleansing suffering that awaits those who die without being adequately purified in this life. Augustine was much concerned with the moral significance of human life and with the moral continuity between this life and the next. Because of this continuity, he could envision a process of cleansing on both sides of death. He argues that it is better to be cleansed in this life than the next, for the cleansing process in the next life will be far more severe than anything experienced in this life.”[73]


“The idea of a process of purification and not only in this life but in the next as well seemed to Cyprian a welcome way out of an otherwise uncomfortable dilemma [i.e. good people who had failed the test of heroic martyrdom in the time of persecution]. We could argue that, with Cyprian, the central insight of what eventually became the doctrine of purgatory was formulated already by the middle of the third century.”[74]


“Purgatory, as Roman Catholic theology envisions it, it involves a process of purification after death for those who need it. It is a process in which the concern of the living for the dead, expressed through prayers and charitable works, may have a beneficial effect on the healing of the dead.”[75]


“In his brilliant study of the history, Jacques Le Goff argues that it was first in the late twelfth century that the clear reference to purgatory as a place is found in Christian literature. If this argument is correct, it means that even though many intimations of a purifying process may be found in the early centuries of Christian history, the tendency to think of purgatory as a particular place on the eschatological map was a product of the Middle Ages. And even when purgatory was associated with a special place, it is interesting that this place was not necessarily “extra-terrestrial” but could be thought of as somewhere on this planet.”[76]


“In summary, the notion of purgatory is intimately related to the conviction that our eternal destiny is irrevocably decided at the moment of our death and that, ultimately, our eternal destiny can be only heaven or hell. But not everyone seems “bad enough” to be consigned to an eternal hell. And most do not seem “good enough: to be candidates for heaven. Therefore, something has to happen “in between.” But this cannot mean a coming back to life and getting another chance since our destiny is decided at the moment of our death. Therefore, some sort of cleansing process is postulated between death and the entrance into heaven.”[77]


“… purgatory means “suffering to the end what one has left behind on earth – in the certainty of being accepted, yet having to hear the burden of the withdrawn presence of the Beloved. This is not unlike the view presented by Dante in his Divine Comedy: the souls in purgatory are those of people who were basically animated by the love of God, but whose lives at other levels were marred by blemishes.”[78]


“He [i.e. Origen] argued that at the end of history, the unity of creation would be restored under the rule of God. To him this seemed to be the simple requirement of the goodness of God. In the end, all the enemies of Christ would be overcome, not by being annihilated but by being won over by the divine love. This meant that those who had not made the grade during their first life would return until they had succeeded. Thus the purgative process postulated by Origen is oriented to a theology of universal salvation. In the end, Origen says, there is only “heaven.” Even what Christians have called “hell” is seen as a temporary situation that is superseded by a total restoration of all reality to its God-intended form.”[79]


“Other early Eastern Christian writers envisioned a form of process after death. In the early third century, for example, Clement of Alexandria taught that souls would endure some sort of remedial “fire,” a fire that was understood in a metaphorical sense. The whole vision of Clement was cast in the framework of an understanding of Christian life that saw grace as an increasing God-likeness in the just …


Clement envisioned a growing God-likeness, beginning in this life and continuing in the next, until the soul had reached that state of maturity appropriate to its place in the heavenly mansions.”[80]


“The texts of Scripture have a long and complex history, and the divine message of revelation is found not in a specific verbal formulation but in a cluster of religious insights that have their own distinctive history …


So while the Scriptures remain the privileged and irreplaceable literary point of contact with the basic experiences that lie at the foundation of historic Christianity, there is no specific literary or verbal formula that may simply be identified with the revealed message of God.


From here, the step to tradition becomes clear. In Roman Catholic thought, Christians never deal solely with the text of Scripture. There is also a history of acceptance and interpretation of that text, for no text is self-interpreting.”[81]


“… tradition is not a second source of doctrine next to and independent of the Bible. Rather, it is the living communication of biblical revelation in ever-changing circumstances and in new and different communities and cultures. Just as the texts of Scripture give witness to the divine revelation, so also does the reality of tradition give witness to the same revelation, but in circumstances unknown to the authors of Scripture.”[82]


“If we are looking for clear and unambiguous statements of the doctrine [of purgatory in the Bible], we will look in vain. But our reflections on the matter of tradition and development might suggest a reformulation of the question. We might better ask if anything in Scripture initiated the development that eventually led to the doctrine of purgatory. Or, what is it in the biblical material that generates this form of Christian tradition?”[83]


“Beyond this [2 Maccabees 12:41-46], there is no other Old Testament text that stands out clearly in the development of Christian purgatorial doctrine.”[84]


“One could ask what meaning this text [i.e. Matthew 12:31-32] could have if it were not possible that some sins could be forgiven in the next world. This, in fact, seems to be the understanding of Augustine and of Gregory the Great. Likewise, it is the understanding of various medieval popes and councils. This text, therefore, has been seen to provide at least some biblical warrant for the concept of purgatory.”[85]


“If we take the “Day” [in 1 Corinthians 3:15] to refer to the final judgement, then the text seems to speak of a “fire” after the particular judgement that is involved in individual death. Though it is not necessary to interpret this text to mean the fire of purgatory, it was common among the Latin Fathers to understand this fire as a reference to some sort of transient, purificatory punishment prior to the final salvation. Examples of this interpretation can be found in Augustine and Caear of Arles.”[86]


“In conclusion, we might say that for Christians of earlier generations, it was not difficult to find some basis in Scripture for the doctrine of purgatory, even though each particular text might be subjected to different interpretations. For contemporary readers of the Bible, the actual texts of the Scriptures offer less clear evidence of purgatory than does the history of patristic exegesis.”[87]


“If Roman Catholic theologians find the evidence of Scripture ambiguous, what follows after that is unavoidably a matter of tradition and the development of church doctrine. And a genuine form of purgatorial understanding was developed rather early in the patristic church.”[88]


“The official teaching on purgatory is found in solemn statements made by solemn assemblies of bishops and theologians recognised at least by Romans Catholics as ecumenical councils. In response to the Eastern Church, the Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439) addressed the issue. The Council of Trent (1563) did the same in response to the Protestant Reformation.”[89]


“The councillar teaching on purgatory is very concise. The Council of Lyons stated that those who die in charity and are truly sorry for their sins, but before they have made complete satisfaction for their wrongdoings, will be purged after death by “cathartic punishments.”[90]


“The Council of Trent, like that of Lyons, is brief. Trent reduces its teaching on purgatory to two points. First, purgation exists for some between death and the general resurrection, and second, the souls undergoing such purgation can be aided by the prayers and good works of the faithful and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass.”[91]


“… the concept of purgatory does not stand alone as a theological idea. Rather, it is part of a larger scenario that reflects the Roman Catholic understanding of how God deals with us and how we are to respond to God in the context of grace and eschatological fulfilment.”[92]

 D) Conditional View  i) Proponent


Clark H. Pinnock


John Wenham


John Stott: “I do not dogmatise about the position to which I have come. I hold it tentatively. But I do plead for frank dialogue among evangelicals on the basis of scripture. I also believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.”[122]


Phillip E. Hughes


G. Selwyn: “There is little in the NT to suggest a state of everlasting punishment, but much to indicate an ultimate destruction or dissolution of those who cannot enter into life: conditional immortality seems to be the doctrine most consonant with the teaching of Scripture.”[123]


ii) Overview


“Hell is not the beginning of a new immortal life in torment but the end of a life of rebellion. Hell is, as C.S. Lewis said, the “outer rim where being fades away into nonentity.””[104]


“There is no single Jewish view of hell. Many sources present the destruction of the wicked (e.g., Wisd. Sol. 4:18-19; 5:14-15), while others speak of everlasting conscious torment (e.g., 1 Enoch 27:1-3). There is a similar diversity in the early Christian sources. The Apostles’ Creed affirms that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead at the end of history, though it does not spell out the exact nature of that judgement. One can find the idea of everlasting torment (in Tertullian), annihilation (in the Didache), and universalism (in Origen).


The diversity was not to last, however. The view of hell as everlasting physical and mental torture came to dominate orthodox thinking early on.”[105]


“The Old Testament gives us a clear picture of the end of the wicked in terms of destruction and supplies the basic imagery of divine judgement for the New Testament to use …


While it is true that the point of reference for these warnings [in Psalm 37 and Malachi 4:1-2] in the Old Testament is this-worldly, this basic imagery overwhelmingly denotes destruction and perishing and sets the tone for the New Testament doctrine.”[106]


“Our Lord spoke plainly of God’s judgement as the annihilation of the wicked when he warned about God’s ability to destroy body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28). He was echoing the terms that John the Baptist had used when he pictured the wicked as dry wood about to be thrown into the fire and chaff about to be burned (Matt. 3:10, 12). Jesus warned that the wicked would be cast into hell (Matt. 5:30), like garbage thrown into gehenna–an allusion to the valley outside Jerusalem where sacrifices were once offered to Moloch (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6) and where garbage may have smoldered and burned in Jesus’ day. The wicked would be burned up just like weeds thrown into the fire (Matt. 13:30, 42, 49-50).”[107]


“The apostle Paul creates the same impression when he wrote of the everlasting destruction that would come upon unrepentant sinners (2 Thess. 1:9). He warned that the wicked would reap corruption (Gal. 6:8) and stated that God would destroy the wicked (1 Cor. 3:17; Phil. 1:28); he spoke of their fate as a death that they deserved to die (Rom. 1:32), the wages of their sins (6:23). Concerning the wicked, the apostle stated plainly and concisely: “Their destiny is destruction” (Phil. 3:19). In all these verses, Paul made it clear that hell would mean termination.”[108]


“It is no different in any other New Testament book. Peter spoke of the “destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7) and of false teachers who denied the Lord, thus bringing upon themselves “swift destruction” (2:1, 3). He said that they would be like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that were burned to ashes (2:6), and that they would perish like the ancient world perished in the great Flood (3:6-7). The author of Hebrews likewise referred to the wicked who shrank back and would be destroyed (Heb. 10:39). Jude pointed to Sodom as an analogy to God’s final judgement, being the city that underwent “the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). Similarly, the apocalypse of John speaks both of a lake of fire that will consume the wicked and of the second death (Rev. 20:14-15).”[109]


“The Bible does not teach the natural immortality of the soul; it points instead to the resurrection of the body as God’s gift to believers. God alone has immortality (1 Tim 6:16) but graciously grants embodied life to his people (1 Cor. 15:21, 50-54; 2 Tim. 1:10). God gives us life and God takes it away. There is nothing in the nature of the human soul that requires it to live forever. The Bible teaches conditionalism: God created humans mortal with a capacity for life everlasting, but it is not their inherent possession. Immortality is a gift God offers us in the gospel, not an inalienable possession. The soul is not an immortal substance that has to be placed somewhere if it rejects God. If a person does reject God finally, there is nothing in biblical anthropology to contradict what Jesus plainly taught – God will destroy the wicked, body and soul, in hell.”[110]


“Presumably the traditional view of the nature of hell was originally constructed in the following way: People mixed up their belief in the divine judgement after death (which is scriptural) with their belief in the immortality of the soul (which is unscriptural) and concluded (incorrectly) that the nature of hell must be everlasting conscious torment The logic would be impeccable if only the second premise were not false.”[111]


“According to Christian theology the nature of God is revealed in Jesus Christ and shown to be boundlessly merciful. God loves the whole world. His heart is to invite sinners to a festive meal (Matt. 8:11). He is a forgiving and loving Father toward them (Luke 15:11-32), not a cruel and sadistic torturer as the traditional view of hell would suggest.”[112]


“Our moral intuition agrees with this. There is a powerful moral revulsion against the traditional doctrine of the nature of hell. Everlasting torture is intolerable from a moral point of view because it pictures God acting like a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies whom he does not even allow to die.”[113]


“Sending the wicked to everlasting torment would be to treat persons worse than they could deserve.


Consider it on the basis of an Old Testament standard of justice, the standard of strict equivalence: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exod. 21:24). Did the sinner visit upon God everlasting torment? Did he cause God or his neighbors everlasting pain and loss?”[114]


“What purpose of God would be served by the unending torture of the wicked except those of vengeance and vindictiveness? Such a fate for the wicked would spell endless and totally unredemptive suffering. Here would be a punishment just for its own sake. Surely God does not act like that. Even the plagues of Egypt were intended to be redemptive for those who would respond to the warning.”[115]


“The New Testament says that God is going to be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28) and that God is going to be making “everything new” (Rev. 21:5), but the new creation turns out flawed from day one. John Stott does not think it adds up right, asking: “How can God in any meaningful sense be called ‘everything to everybody’ while an unspecified number of people still continue in rebellion against him and under his judgement?”


What kind of reconciliation and redemption is it if heaven and hell coexist forever, if evil, suffering, and death all continue to have reality?”[116]


“Here [i.e. Isaiah 66:24] the dead bodies of God’s enemies are being eaten by maggots and burned up. The fire and the worm in this figure are destroying the dead bodies, not tormenting conscious persons. By calling the fire unquenchable, the Bible is saying that the fire is not quenched until the job is finished.”[117]


“In this text [i.e. Matt. 25:46], Jesus does not define the nature either of eternal life or of eternal death. He says there will be two destinies and leaves it there. This perspective gives us the freedom to interpret the saying about hell either as everlasting conscious torment (eternal punishment) or as irreversible destruction (eternal punishment). The text allows for both interpretation because it only teaches the finality of the judgement, not its precise nature.”[118]


“[In Luke 16:23-24] … unless there is a lot of room in the patriarch’s lap, the detail seems to be imagery rather than a literal description of what the future life will actually be like. In addition, the story refers to hades (the intermediate state between death and resurrection), not to gehenna (the final end of the wicked), and is not strictly relevant to our subject.”[119]


“Regarding Revelation 14:11, we observe that, while the smoke goes up forever, the text does not say the wicked are tormented forever. It says that they have no relief from their suffering as long as the suffering lasts, but it does not say how long it lasts. As such it could fit hell as annihilation or the traditional view. Before oblivion, there may be a period of suffering, but not unendingly.”[120]


“I take John’s primary point throughout Revelation to be that everything that has rebelled against God will be overcome and come to an end. G. B. Caird catches the point: “John believed that, if at the end there should be any who remained impervious to the grace and love of God, they would be thrown, with Death and Hades, into the lake of fire which is the second death, i.e., extinction and total oblivion.””[121]

Continue reading “Views on Hell”