Purgatory
The Catholic notion of a purification process that happens after death to prepare souls for heaven. Some believe purgatory to be a literal place, while others believe it is simply a period of suffering.
Cardinal
A senior officer in the Catholic Church, usually a bishop. In addition to leading a diocese or offering counsel to the Pope, a cardinal’s key duty is electing the Pope whenever necessary.
Heathen
A person or group that does not acknowledge a particular religion, most often Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. In the Old Testament “heathen” referred to anyone who did not follow and worship the God of Israel.
Type
A person, thing, or event that foreshadows a later, often more important, antitype or fulfillment.
Hell and Purgatory
Author: Professor Walter J. Veith, PhD
Publish date:
Summary: What happens in the afterlife? Many people are confused about what the Scriptures mean on this topic.
 
This article is part of a series. We recommend that you first read: The Mystic Realm of Death.
 

Intertwined with beliefs about death and spiritism are the doctrines of hell and purgatory. These doctrines are of pagan origin, and were adopted into the Christian culture by the Roman Catholic Church fathers in the 1400s.

The doctrine that the wicked dead are tormented forever is inconsistent with the character of God, who demonstrated infinite love for us in the sacrifice of His Son. Unfortunately, many people have misunderstood these concepts and reject God as a result.

Common Definitions

Cardinal Gibbons writes about purgatory, "There exists in the next life a middle state of temporary punishment, allotted for those who have not died in venial sin...The existence of purgatory naturally implies the correlative dogma, the utility of praying for the dead."i

Samuel Hopkins understands hell to be an eternal torment for the wicked, and says that their torment will lead to pleasure for God's people!:

The smoke of their torment shall ascend up forever in the sight of the blessed...before their eyes...this display of divine character and glory will be in favor of the redeemed, and most entertaining, and give the highest pleasure to those who love God...Should the eternal torment and fires be extinguished, it would in a great measure ...put an end to the happiness and glory of the blessed.ii

Hell is generally defined as a place where those who died in enmity with God suffer eternal torment, whereas the souls of the righteous go to heaven upon death. The Hebrew she'ol and the Greek Hades can both be translated as "hell," and refer to the world of the dead.

The Greek term geena is used 12 times in the New Testament, and denotes "fiery punishment." It is derived from the Hebrew Ge Hinnom, or "the Valley of Hinnom," where heathen rites of sacrificing and burning children to Molech were practiced. Jeremiah called it "the valley of slaughter." The Valley of Hinnom became a place for burning rubbish and, with the development of a doctrine of a fiery hell where the wicked were punished, the valley served as a type of the fires of the last days.

The Biblical terminology is often used in a metaphoric sense and confusion can arise as to whether the terms are referring to a place or state in which the dead find themselves.

Permanent Consequences, not Everlasting Pain

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to geena three times. He warned the Pharisees of the damnation of geena. The nature and effect of the fire is described in the Bible as "unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:43-48; Luke 3:9) or "everlasting fire" (Matthew 25:41). This fire will cleanse the earth (2 Peter 3:10-12; Luke 3:17) after the second resurrection (Revelation 20:5).

The word aiónios, which means "everlasting," is used to describe the fate of the righteous as well as the wicked. The punishment of the wicked is everlasting death. The fire itself is not everlasting, but the final consequence of the fire—death—is everlasting.

This principle is clearly demonstrated in the Scriptures. In Malachi 4:1-3, speaking of that last day when the earth and all the wicked are burned up, God tells the prophet, "behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch... they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this."

Ashes and stubble indicate that the fire is out. The wicked do not burn eternally, but their destruction is final. Their pain and suffering is over, as is their life of sin and rebellion. God has mercy even on the wicked in that He does not allow them to suffer eternally.

Similarly, Jude 7 says, "Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (emphasis added). The fires are no longer burning, but the consequences of the fires are everlasting.

Total Obliteration

In the Bible, the word for "destruction" means total and irreversible obliteration. For example, God sent the Flood to destroy—make non-existent—all life on Earth (Genesis 6 and 7). Later in history, God often required the Israelites to destroy their war plunder as an offering to Him. This was done through killing the livestock, and burning the plunder until only ash remained. (Numbers 21:2-3; Joshua 6:21).

This definition of a state irreversible destruction is what we see throughout Scripture in relation to the punishment for those who choose to reject God:

He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed (Exodus 22:20).

And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed (Isaiah 1:18).

In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

Like the pain of dying—which eventually culminates in death—the punishment for those who reject God lasts for only a while. Eventually, the destruction is complete and they simply cease to exist.

Read the next article, An Immediate Afterlife?

 


 

i. Cardinal James Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers (Ayers Publishing, 1978): 173.

ii. Samuel Hopkins, Works of Samuel Hopkins (Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1852): 201.

This article is adapted from Truth Matters by Professor Walter J. Veith, an international speaker who has studied Biblical issues in-depth in his quest for truth. His popular series Genesis Conflict brings the debate between Creation and evolution to a new climax as he dissects the arguments with a scientific eye. His highly-acclaimed series Total Onslaught sheds light on the state of the world today as we move to a one-world government and an anticipated apocalypse.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article and website are not intended to accuse individuals. There are many priests and faithful believers in Roman Catholicism who serve God to the best of their ability and are seen by God as His children. The information contained herein is directed only towards the Roman Catholic religio-political system that has reigned in varying degrees of power for nearly two millennia. Under the influence of its successive popes, bishops, and cardinals, this system has established an increasing number of doctrines and statements that clearly go against Scripture.
 
It is our sincere desire to lay the clear Word of God before you, the truth-seeking reader, so you may decide for yourself what is truth and what is error. If you find herein anything contrary to the Word of God, you need not accept it. But if you desire to seek for Truth as for hidden treasure, and find herein something of that quality, we encourage you to make all haste to accept that Truth which is revealed to you by the Holy Spirit.
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