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Purgatory

Question

Some Christian faiths believe in a place between heaven and hell where you must repent for your sin before going to heaven, called Purgatory. Where in the Bible is that taught or discussed?

Answer

The answer to that depends on whether you use a Catholic Bible or not. That’s because Catholic Bibles contain a number of additional books, known as the Apocrypha, in which that doctrine is implied. The Apocrypha are not found in any other Bibles, but they play an important part in Roman Catholic teachings. These books date from the period between the Old and the New Testaments. Remember that the Old Testament is in fact the Hebrew Bible – the Bible of the Jews. Mainstream Jews never recognized the books of the Apocrypha, because they were of unknown or very doubtful origin, and were regarded by Jews as false, or heretical, or just bad. The word “Apocrypha” itself means “secret” or “esoteric” – in other words, not belonging to the main canon of books. But these books were widely read in the period before Jesus was born.

The apocryphal books included by the Catholic Church are 1-2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, the Prayer of Azariah, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 1-2 Maccabees (the Maccabees were a group of Jewish rebels who took control of Judea – modern Israel – for about 100 years before Christ was born, establishing an independent Jewish kingdom for a while).

We must remember that, after Jesus’ death, there were also many “secret” Christian apocryphal books around, which weren’t accepted in the canon of Christian books of the Bible, usually because they weren’t considered reliable. You may have heard of some: the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, or the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve). If they were all included in our Bible, we’d have some very different biblical teachings: that’s the trap the Catholic Church fell into when it recognized the apocryphal Old Testament books (that’s why it’s the only church that teaches the doctrines of Purgatory – a place where they believe almost everyone goes to after death – and of praying for the dead: praying for those in Purgatory).

How did this come about? Well, you may have heard of the Septuagint – it was a translation of the Hebrew Bible from Hebrew into Greek, performed by 70 Jewish scholars based in Alexandria – at least, that’s what the tradition says. The translation was probably done in the 3rd century BC, i.e. 300-200 BC. The important point is that this Septuagint translation included the apocryphal books I mentioned. And this was all later translated into Latin by an Italian scholar called Jerome, who lived in the 4th century after Christ. Jerome’s Latin translation is known as the Vulgate. It was recognized by the Catholic Church as its official translation, and so the Apocrypha got into Catholic Bibles.

The practice of praying for the dead is therefore mentioned in 2 Maccabees 12:6: “[Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin”. This in turn implies that Purgatory exists as a place where people can repent and be purified of their sins before entering Heaven, and also that we on earth can help them along! The Catholic Church also sees Purgatory as being referred to in the universally recognized books of the Bible, in 1 Corinthians 3:15 and 1 Peter 1:7, which refer to a refining fire.

Warsaw International Church
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