Friday, September 09, 2011

Purgatory in Judaism? Plus More (with a Podcast on the Sunday's Readings)

TSP Podcast 2b: Reflections on this Sunday's Readings (Michael Barber & John Bergsma) [right click to download]

For more information on this Sunday's readings, you should look at John's fine post.

For those of you new to this podcast, please check out our Podcast (on the left!) and be sure to take advantage of the FREE recording of John Bergsma's talk (see the box on the right!).

Purgatory in Judaism? 

Moreover, in the commentary I mentioned that Jesus often seems to imply that some will endure a divine punishment which will not be everlasting. Here are the precise texts I had in mind:
Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; 26 truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny." (Matt 5:25–26).

"And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper” (Luke 12:57–59).
In addition, of course, we have the conclusion to this Sunday's reading:
"And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt 18:34–35).
Of course, troubled by the theological implications, some commentators wish to deny that divine punishment is in view. However, as Hagner explains, it is ultimately hard to resist such a view. On the Matthew 5 passage he writes, "since God’s judgment is in view in vv 21–22, it is impossible to avoid at least the suggestion of the same in the present passage (cf. 18:33–35; cf. too the context of the saying in Luke 12:57–59)” (Matthew 1:118).

Surely Jesus, it is supposed, could not have expected souls to eventually escape the divine judgment. Right?

Well. . . In fact, what is often overlooked is that Jesus' teaching fits well within a Jewish context. What many do not realize is that in certain rabbinic texts it appears that Gehenna is a temporary punishment. 

For example, in the Mishna it is stated that divine punishment will be not be eternal for all those who receive it: “[R. Akiba] also used to say: There are five things that endure for twelve months; the judgment of the generation of the Flood endured twelve months; the judgment of Job endured twelve months; the judgment of the Egyptians endured twelve months the judgment of Gog and Magog which is to come shall endure twelve months; and the judgment of the unrighteous in Gehenna shall endure twelve months. . .” (m. Ed. 2.10; cf. also b. Šabb. 33b; b. Roš. Haš. 16b-17a).

Strikingly, this point is recognized by the great scholar, R.H. Charles. In his commentary on The Book of Enoch, he wrote: “Gehenna was regarded as the Purgatory of faithless Jews who were afterwards to be admitted into Paradise, but the place of eternal perdition for the Gentiles” (56).

Joachim Jeremias also speaks of the “purgatorial” dimension of Gehenna in rabbinic literature (“γέεννα,” TDNT 1:658).

 Such traditions may also be attested in 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul speaks of those who will be saved through fire, noting that they will “suffer loss” (cf. 1 Cor 3:15: ζημιωθήσεται, αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται, οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός).

Now, while a purgatorial view of Gehenna is typically simply assumed to be a later development that the rabbis mistakenly attributed to earlier teachers, the passages in Matthew 5:26, 18:33, Luke 12:59 and 1 Corinthians 3 suggest otherwise.


Nathan Wagar said...

Dr. Barber, I had some questions about using those particular passages in Matthew and Luke in defending the doctrine of purgatory. I'm not disputing the presence of purgatory in Scripture, or amongst the Jews at the time of Christ, but rather whether those specific passages can actually be used to support it. Many protestants point out that it is hyperbolic language on the part of Jesus when he states that they will never be released "until the last penny has been paid", implying that they will, in fact, never get out of the prison. I used to dismiss this, until I was reading the fathers' commentary on these passages; they appear to unanimously view the prison as eternal punishment, not as purgatory. More strikingly, St. Augustine uses the same point regarding the word "until" that St. Jerome uses when defending the perpetual virginity of Mary in Matthew 1:25 against Helvidius:

“Paid,” that is in eternal punishment; and “until” used in the same sense as in that, “Sit thou on my right hand until I make thy enemies thy footstool;” [Ps 110:1] for He does not cease to reign [p. 184] when His enemies are put under His feet. So here, “until thou hast paid,” is as much as to say, thou shalt never come out thence, for that he is always paying the very last farthing while he is enduring the everlasting punishment of earthly sins. (From Catena).

Also, if we understand that purgatory is truly an application of the saving work on the cross, then doesn't there appear to be a problem with seeing purgatory in this passage when it is not the Judge, but the "officer" delivering us to the prison? Although one or two fathers saw the officer as referring to evil spirits, St. Ambrose in particular pointed out that the "Officer" was an angel that administered Divine Judgement, much as the angels that separated the wicked from the just and cast the wicked into hell. Regardless of interpretation, the "prisn" appeared to be viewed as eternal.

If the fathers seem to think that these passages refer to hell, and we defend this understanding of "until" regarding Mary, doesn't it seem to be exegetically uneven to fail to do so in this instance? It seems as though using these particular passages to attempt to prove purgatory may in fact damage our argument, even though we are not incorrect, and could in fact shut dialogue down. What are your thoughts?

John Bergsma said...

Michael, thanks for giving those references! Good stuff!

The Unenlightened Mind said...

I hope you guys will make these podcasts for iTunes