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Matthew 5 points to Purgatory (cf. Luke 12:58-59)

Updated: May 29, 2021

By Luke Lancaster

Many will ask Catholics, "Where is Purgatory at in the Bible??" Ask and ye shall receive:

"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire" (Matt. 5:21-22).

For the first part of this passage, Jesus is pointing to the interior sin of anger, which begins much before the exterior sin of murder. He is saying to not get angry at somebody or you’ll go to "court." Then intensifying it, He says not to use a small insult, or you’ll go to the high court of the Sanhedrin. Then to the climax, He says not to use a grave insult, or you’ll go to the fires of Gehenna.

This point is important because, according to Scripture scholar Dr. Brant Pitre, rabbis sometimes spoke of Gehenna as a place of purgation before entering Heaven. So if this was a Jewish understanding, and Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, then it would be fitting for Christ to be speaking of Purgatory here. This seems to have a basis in the early Church as well, for the first Scripture scholar of the Catholic Church, Origen of Alexandria (184 – 253 AD), believed that Gehenna was either a short or long purgation, and not eternal. Now for the second part of Matt. 5:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 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; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny" (Matt. 5:23-26, see also Lk. 12:58-59).

For the second part of this passage, Jesus says that if you’ve gotten angry at someone, or insulted them in a minor or major way, to reconcile with them. For if you do not do this, then this will affect you after death. For Christ is the judge who will hand you over to the guard (probably an angel), and you will be put in prison (Purgatory). You will be in prison until you have satisfied the debt created by your sinful actions against God.

Early Christian Writings

According to Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong, St. Francis De Sales pointed out that some of the early Christians argued that this idea of a "prison" referred to a "purgative" place after death as well:

See Tertullian (155 - 240 AD) in his work, The Soul, 100, 10.

See St. Cyprian (200 - 258 AD) in his work, Epistle 4, 2.

See Origen (184 - 253 AD)in his work, Homily 35 on Luke 12.

See Ambrose (340 - 397 AD) in his work, Commentary on Luke 12.

See Augustine (354 - 430 AD) in his work, Commentary on Matthew 5.

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