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Polina Musgrave wrote:

Hi, guys —

I have a question regarding the context of Matthew 5:25-26 and the consequential meaning of that Scripture.

The passage reads as follows:

"Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."

Matthew 5:25-26

I understand this verse is generally used by Catholics as a proof text for Purgatory and I myself have used it for the same reason for quite some time. The problem for me came up when I began to meditate upon this passage within its fuller context, starting from about Matthew 5:21-30.

The verses it surrounds on both sides refer directly to Hell and even the language used in Matthew 5:25:

. . . and you may be thrown into prison.

correlates with Jesus' consequent words in verse 29:

. . . It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into Hell. (emphasis mine)

Matthew 5:29

I do understand that it is usually said that you cannot get out of Hell and there is no punishment in Heaven and since verse 26 appears to be talking about temporary punishment, it must mean Purgatory.

  • That said, couldn't a Protestant defend his case against such an explanation by using the defense we, as Catholics, use for defending the Perpetual Virginity of our Mother Marry in Matthew 1:25 which reads:

    But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. ?

We say that the use of the word until in this verse denotes only what is done with no regard for what might happen in the future.

  • Couldn't such reasoning be applied to Matthew 5:26 with regards to its use of the word until and hence support the case for this verse as talking about Hell?

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. It has been on my mind quite a bit and I am finding myself unable to resolve this issue on my own.


  { Couldn't a Protestant rebut our view of Purgatory by using a Catholic defense for Mary's virginity? }

Bob replied:


Thank you for the question.

I wouldn't rely on this text as a proof text for Purgatory but rather to show God expects us to be accountable through and through.

For Purgatory, in a better sense, look to 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Corinthians 3:15.

In the former, Jesus preaches to spirits in a state not fit for Heaven, but not damnable. They are awaiting the fullness of redemption. There has to be the possibility of a third state besides Heaven and Hell for that to be true. In the latter verse from Corinthians, Paul talks about being saved but only as through fire. All our works are tested and what we cling to that is not of God must be burned away; we suffer loss, but are saved, for the cleansing refines us like Gold.

You can also point to Revelation 21:27, where it is pointed out that nothing unclean enters Heaven; we believe that God not only justifies us but that He completely sanctifies us before He brings us into His Abode. He doesn't bring in snow covered dung heaps like some legal farce, as Luther would suggest. His Word is effectual, and He effects our sanctification completely, and Heaven is the finality of that transformation that God carries out.

  • Ask your Protestant friend if he thinks we are going to take all our garbage into Heaven?
  • Then ask him if he knows anyone that achieved perfection before death?
  • So is God going to leave us half-baked or will He finish the job?

That is what they must ponder.

  • Purgatory is not a second chance
  • it is not some scam for the Catholic Church to extract money for indulgences, though some have believed that and practiced that, to their own peril.

It is the completion of God's Work in those he is [justifying/sanctifying] through His grace.

That said,

  • we can get to the work of cooperating with God for our sanctification now, or
  • we can draw the process out more — through our passage into his Heavenly Kingdom

but either way, He does not abandon His children who he has called home.

Purgatory is some of the best news we have, for we know God will not let us stay like this forever.


Bob Kirby
[Related posting]

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