Monday, February 1, 2021

Dissection Of 1 Corinthians 3:15 As A Catholic Prooftext

  • Discussion:
          -Karlo Broussard wrote an article for Catholic Answers titled Purgatory's Purifying Fire, which contains responses to various Protestant arguments against the citation of 1 Corinthians 3:15 as a proof-text for that dogma. This article aims to refute Roman Catholic claims of the text being a reference to a person receiving purification in purgatory after death. Following are a few excerpts from the author alongside with a critique:

          "The idea of purification connotes the separation of good from bad...The good building materials (gold, precious stones, and silver) are separated from the bad building materials (wood, hay, and straw)."

          While it is true that a contrast in the kinds of materials used as metaphors describe the quality of various deeds performed in our lives, the problem with this argument is that the concept of Purgatory has been read into this passage. The context has nothing to do with a person making amends for his or her sins. It is not about believers undergoing punishment after death for venial sins. The text is about the reception of heavenly rewards (1 Corinthians 3:8; 14). God will evaluate the quality of each believer's work so as to bestow praise appropriately (1 Corinthians 4:5).

          "Furthermore, the imagery of fire conjures up the motif of purification. Peter uses it in 1 Peter 1:7 with reference to testing gold, and says that our sufferings test the genuineness of our faith."

          Just as men use fire for the purpose of refining precious metals such as gold and silver, God can use trials in testing faith and building up character (Job 23:10; Romans 5:3-5). That factor distinguishes trust in God from the type of faith even demons possess. The imagery of fire has nothing whatsoever to do with purgatory.

          "A third piece of evidence for the purification motif is the idea of judgment. Recall that the prophet Malachi describes God’s judgment as a “refiner’s fire,” and notes that God will “sit as a refiner” purifying the sons of Levi and refining them like gold and silver (Mal. 3:2-3)."

          Here is an excerpt from the Life-Application Study Bible on Malachi 3:2-3:

          "In the process of refining metals, the raw material is heated with fire until it melts. The impurities separate from it and rise to the surface. They are skimmed off, leaving the pure metal. Without this heating and melting, there could be no purifying. As the impurities are skimmed off the top, the reflection of the worker appears in the smooth, pure surface. As we are purified by God, his reflection in our lives will become more and more clear to those around us. God says that leaders (here the Levites) should be especially open to his purification process in their lives. Launderer's soap was alkali used to whiten cloth. It is also used here as a symbol of the purifying process."

         The Lord Jesus Christ is our propitiation before God. He satisfied the wrath of God and ensured the forgiveness of our sins. When He forgives our trespasses, He no longer "remembers" or counts them against us (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12-13). God does not count sin against those whom He has reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus Christ has already made perfect atonement for our sins (Hebrews 10:18; 1 John 2:1-2).

          Consider the following Roman Catholic excerpts on Purgatory being an unbiblical concept:

         "In the final analysis, the Catholic doctrine on purgatory is based on tradition, not Sacred Scripture." (Vol. XI, pg. 1034, Copyright 1967, Catholic University of America)

         The Roman Catholic New American Bible Revised Edition has this footnote on the text of 1 Corinthians 3:15:

         “The text of v. 15 has sometimes been used to support the notion of purgatory, though it does not envisage this.”

         The New Oxford Annotated Bible has this footnote on 1 Corinthians 3:15:

         "The expression as through fire is a common Greek idiom describing a narrow escape from danger: as the fire ignites, the workers escape from the legal penalty to be imposed upon their shoddy construction by running through the walls of the burning building."

         The context of 1 Corinthians 3:15 is about stewardship, not how one gets right with God. The fire reveals the quality of each person's works on the Day of Judgement. The phrase "he shall suffer loss" in verse fifteen refers to the loss of heavenly rewards. The Good News Translation renders 1 Corinthians 3:15 as follows:

         "But if your work is burnt up, then you will lose it; but you yourself will be saved, as if you had escaped through the fire." (1 Corinthians 3:15)


  1. Hi Jesse!
    This would be a great article to be listed under 'Christian Universalism,' especially for those, who promote the idea that Hell is purgative/purifying/refining and NOT a place of punishment.

  2. An excellent article Jesse, very good points.

    You mentioned that the NAB translation of the Bible has a footnote on 1Co 3:15 which reads: "The text of 1 Cor 3:15 has sometimes been used to support the notion of purgatory, though it does not envisage this." I would add that this Bible translation and the accompanying footnote can both be found on the official Vatican website.$4AC