December 14, 2003 Q & A

Apocrypha and Purgatory


I read in your website that the Bible does not mention purgatory. However, you must be reading the King James version. Martin Luther removed several books from the Bible that didn't agree with his teachings. Please take the time to review the books he removed. You may be enlightened by the scripture that has been removed from many Protestant bibles.


It looks like your question (or comment) is at bottom really about the Bible more than about purgatory. I have indeed read the books (well, a good deal of them) included in the Catholic Bible and not in the Protestant Bible. I will try to reply briefly:

(1). Up until the time of the Reformation there was more than one opinion regarding the books to be included in the Bible. St. Augustine, for example, while revering the books to which you refer as being worthy of reading in the churches for edification, considered them to be "deutero-canonical", that is, having secondary authority not on a par with the fully canonical books.

(2). The Protestant churches (not just Martin Luther) considered the canon of Old Testament Scripture in use by the Jews of Palestine and recognized by Christ and his apostles to be the divinely given canon of OT Scripture. The other books (referred to by Protestants as "The Apocrypha") were never part of the Jewish canon and circulated in communities outside Palestine. There was actually a much larger library of such books, written in Aramaic or in Greek, some of which are still extant. The Reformers did not originate their view of the canon (i.e., take books out of the Bible, as if all the church before them had accepted all the books found in the Catholic Bible).

(3). The "Catholic" books were not officially declared to be part of the Bible until the Council of Trent, an action in reaction to the Protestant Reformers, and not a council of the whole church.

(4). We do not consider that councils of the church are infallible, and in particular not the Council of Trent, which did indeed address and reform moral abuses in the church. But rather than adopting doctrinal reforms which would have clearly affirmed what the Bible teaches about salvation - through the work of Christ alone, received by faith alone, imparted by grace alone (Rom.3:19-26, Eph. 2:1-10, etc.), Trent codified the doctrinal traditions that had grown in the previous centuries to obscure the gospel under prayers to saints, the mediation of Mary, penance and meritorious works, purgatory, the sacrifice of the mass, etc., none of which find any support in Scripture.

In regard to purgatory, please consider that our Lord was confident that the thief on the cross would be with him "this day" in paradise, that Paul's expectation was that on leaving this life he would go into the presence of the Lord (Phil. 1:21-24, 2 Cor. 5:1-9). The book of Hebrews teaches the once-for-all sufficiency of what Christ did on the cross to atone for the sins of believers (e.g., 10:12-14) and tells Christian worshipers that the church on earth is already spiritually united with the heavenly Jerusalem, with all the angels, God the Father, Christ our redeemer, and "the souls of righteous men made perfect" (12:22-24). While we remain in this life our loving Father is active chastening and disciplining us that we may more and more be cleansed of sin and share in His holiness (12:5-10), but by His promise we expect upon death to pass into His presence fully perfected by His Spirit. For the Christian believer, death has lost its sting and become the portal, not to purgatory, but to the glorious presence of our God where we will await our final glorification in resurrection when Christ returns to the earth.

This is merely a brief accounting of where we stand and why on the questions of purgatory and "The Apocrypha". Since you found our website to offer your comment, you can if you wish go there again and find our Confession of Faith, where we state our positions officially as a church. Chapter 1 gives a full statement regarding the Bible, and Chapter 32 gives a summary of the Bible's teaching on "The State of Men after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead". If you click on the version with the Scripture proofs you will get the text with the Scripture passages on which it is based.

Thank you for your comment / question. I hope the exchange is profitable for us both.



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