Our Take on Purgatory, Pt. 2

Refining FireThis is the concluding article on the Lutheran view of the Roman-Catholic doctrine of purgatory.


Continuing our look into the Roman-Catholic doctrine of purgatory, Rome teaches:

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.  [Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1030]

Last month, we looked at the Old-Testament passage the Church of Rome uses to support their teaching of purgatory.  This month, we look at their use of the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 3:15 and 1 Peter 1:7.


1 Corinthians 3:15

If someone’s work will be burned up, he will suffer loss; he, however, will be saved—but it will be through fire.

What’s the context for this verse?  A few verses earlier, the Apostle Paul stated that he had laid a foundation for the Corinthians, which was Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).  Paul had done that as a pastor of the Church, bringing them Jesus in Word and Sacrament.

No one is to build on Christ for his salvation, for anything we do is tainted with sin and, thus, useless.  But what happens if someone trusts in Christ for his salvation but also thinks what he does has to have some merit with God.  What happens then?

Paul answers: “Each person’s work will be revealed, for the day will disclose it…” (1 Corinthians 3:13).  When will these self-relying works be revealed?  On the day, which is the Last Day when Christ returns, also called the “Day of Judgment.”  So, someone who trusts in Christ but also looks to himself in some way for salvation (a “felicitous inconsistency”), those “works” will be revealed and “burned up” on the Last Day.

How long will this burning up of those works take?  How long will it take for us to be before Jesus after He raises our bodies from the grave?

1 Corinthians 15:50-55

I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood [our fallen flesh] cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Lo!  I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O death, where is thy victory?

O death, where is thy sting?”

(I quoted from the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition so no one can accuse me of bias.)

This revealing and burning up of our self-relying works will be instantaneous.  Perhaps, this graphic may help us better understand the differences between Paul’s understanding of this “burning up” and what Rome teaches.


July 2016, Purgatory


The works being burned up are a result of the fallen flesh.  So those works “burn up” when the body is raised, cleansed in an instant to reunite with the soul to live in the new heaven and earth.


1 Peter 1:7

To understand this verse, we need to understand it within the flow of Peter’s thought.  To do this, we look at 1 Peter 1:3-7:

By his [God’s] great mercy we [the saints] have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who [the saints] by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this [God’s salvation which He is guarding for the saints] you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (RSV CE)

The question before us is this: Does “a little while,” the time when “you may have to suffer various trials,” refer to purgatory or not?  Although Peter uses “fire” imagery like Paul, their time lines are not the same.  The suffering Peter refers to does not take place on the Last Day.  How do we know that?  He lets us know: it is “now” [Greek, arti] (1 Peter 1:6).  So, this suffering is not purgatory.


A Response by the Eastern Christian Churches

In 1054, the Christian Church, which up to that time was in complete fellowship, broke in two.  This event is called the “Great Schism.”  The Lutheran Church is descended from the Western Church, the Church of Rome.  The Eastern Churches remained united, although they did not have one bishop overseeing them.

In 1439, at Florence, Italy, East and West met to try to reconcile.  Part of what had separated the East from the West was the doctrine of purgatory, which was not dogma in the west before the Great Schism.  Markos Eugenikos (1392-1445), the Bishop [Metropolitan] of Ephesus, responded:

That souls are delivered thanks to a certain purgatorial suffering and temporal fire which possesses such power and has the character of a help—this we do not find either in the Scriptures or in the prayers and hymns for the dead, or in the words of Teachers [the early Church Fathers].

The East called out the Roman-Catholic Church for not being catholic.  How’s that for irony?  Rome had made something into a dogma that was not universally taught throughout the Church from the beginning.  On this point, the Lutheran Church stands shoulder to shoulder with St. Mark of Ephesus.