The case against Purgatory
A bible verse often quoted to refute the Doctrine of Purgatory is Luke 23: 39-43 The Crucifixion of Christ and the comments of the Good Thief.
One of the criminals hanging there abused him. “Are you not the Christ?” he said. “Save yourself and us as well.” But the other spoke up and rebuked him. “Have you no fear at all?” he said. “You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,” he said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” “Indeed, I promise you,” he replied “today you will be with me in paradise.”
Because Jesus says to the good thief “today you will be with me in paradise” there is no suggestion of any delay in the good thief entering heaven. You may have thought that a criminal’s profession of faith at the last, i.e. a deathbed type confession, makes him a perfect candidate for purgatory. No such delay is evident here. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Looking at Jesus’ words here paradise is used rather than heaven. Now while you would expect heaven to be paradise, is paradise heaven?
Another problem, indeed a biblical contradiction, is in Jesus saying, “Today you will be with me in paradise”, is that Jesus does not ascend to his Father until 40 days after the resurrection. In John 20:17 (Jesus says to Mary of Magdala) “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
How can we resolve the issue of purgatory and the promise to the good thief and Jesus not having yet ascended to heaven?
A consideration of the word ‘Paradise’ used in Luke 23: 43. Why does Jesus use the word ‘Paradise’ (Greek transliteration – paradeiso) rather than the word ‘Heaven’ (Greek transliteration – ouranos)?
There are three occurrences of the word paradise in the New Testament; Luke 23: 43 – Jesus to the good thief, 2 Corinthians 12:4 – Paul describes being caught up to paradise, Revelation 2:7 – Jesus refers to the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.
Jesus uses the word paradise twice, once in Luke 23: 43 and again in Rev 2: 7. Jesus uses heaven many more times in all four gospels. To illustrate here are some extracts from J.B. Smith’s Greek-English Concordance.
From Young’s Analytical Concordance we can see this again with an emphasis on the occurrences of the word heaven in Luke;
Note how in Luke 11: 2 the word heaven in the Lord’s prayer is from the Greek ouranos.
Strong’s Concordance gives a number to the Greek and Hebrew words used in the bible and this refers to a lexicon for a definition. Then Paradise has the strong’s number 3857 and the definition –
and for heaven –
So overall then there are only three occurrences of the word paradise (paradeisos) in the New Testament and 284 for heaven (ouranos). There is only one occurrence of paradise in the Gospel of Luke and 37 of heaven. From the definitions we can see that paradise is described as a place of blessedness and heaven as the place where God dwells.
So now what.
Let’s look at another scripture, Luke 16: 19-31. The rich man and Lazarus.
Jesus is speaking,
‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames”. “My son,” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all; between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.”
The rich man replied, “Father, I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too”. “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them.” “Ah no, father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead”.’
This scripture shows that, pre-resurrection, there are two places in hell (hades); one a place of comfort and the other a place of torment. There is a chasm between them which cannot be crossed but each place is visible from the other.
The place where Lazarus is comforted, the bosom of Abraham, is a paradise, a place of comfort and blessing, but it is not heaven. It is a place of waiting. Waiting for what or rather who? Those who have died in faith, pre-resurrection, await Jesus to set them free.
Now let’s have a look at the Apostle’s Creed and what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has to say.
The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell; on the third day he rose from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
He descended into hell, on the third day he rose again.
CCC631 – Jesus ” descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is he who ascended far above all the heavens.” (Ephesians 4:9-10) The Apostle’s creed confesses in the same article Christ’s descent into hell and his Resurrection on the third day.
CCC632 – The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Saviour, proclaiming the good news to the spirits imprisoned there.
CCC633 – Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom” It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Saviour in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell. Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.
Also have a look at CCC634, 635 & 636, it’s all good.
CCC637 – In his human soul united in his divine person, the dead Christ went into the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him.
This song from youtube gives an illustration of all this;
So there we have it. “Today you will be with me in paradise” refers to the place of waiting, “Abraham’s bosom” and it is a paradise but it is not heaven. Those who were there, having died in faith, pre-resurrection, were released by Jesus to ascend to heaven. Ever since, that part of hell has remained empty as heaven was opened to those who were waiting, those who have died in faith since, those who will die in faith in the future and those who are alive and in faith when he comes again.
As “Abraham’s bosom” was not heaven, neither was it purgatory. Purgatory being that process of purification as we journey from earth to heaven. As I heard the Baptist preacher David Pawson say, “My wife finds it hard to believe that one day her husband will be perfect.” As David is now quite elderly this would suggest that this perfection is completed after death, and though he wouldn’t say so, this is what Catholics call purgatory.