A Protestant affirms “Second Chance” Purgatory

Roman Catholics have nearly always affirmed purgatory, though only rarely does a Catholic theologian (Rahner, perhaps Pope Benedict XVI) affirm purgatory as a second chance. (Second chance meaning an opportunity to respond to God in a saving manner after death.) A few Protestants have affirmed second chance purgatory. Jerry Walls, in his book Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation), mentions O.A. Curtis, P.T. Forsyth and Will Willimon.

Jerry Walls modifyies a traditional (Catholic) view of purgatory by contending for purgatory as the opportunity for second chances; that is, one can be converted in purgatory. And he is a Wesleyan/Methodist, and this is the best study I’ve seen on this topic. Jerry Walls, in other words, is arguing in a rigorous philosophical and theological manner what Rob Bell presented in his Love Wins. I am unconvinced, am persuadable, and will offer brief support for my disagreement at the end of this post.

Purgatory raises these sorts of questions: How do we “do” theology? Why do so many Christians believe death is the end of opportunity? Is repentance after death that much different from repentance at death? What is the relationship of thinking all infants who die in infancy and purgatory as a second chance? Is there biblical support for second chances or for purgatory?

Here is one way Walls states his view: “Purgatory is the second chance to attain this sort of relationship [with God, with others] for those persons who were tardy in repentance, or complacent, or who pursued this relationship only halfheartedly in this life” (126).

At the heart of Walls’ proposal is a belief in “optimal grace,” namely, that God does whatever God can do to save all because God wills the salvation of all. In other words, everyone gets a full and equal chance to respond to God. [Walls explores counterfactuals — had someone lived longer, would that person have responded? He also explores whether or not Dante believed in optimal grace, and concludes he did not.] If God grants optimal grace, then damnation is only for those who persistently reject that grace.

Apart from a robust view of Calvinist election, the issue of “fairness” or “justice” enters this discussion. Walls believes not only in optimal grace but also in justice as fairness so that each person is morally culpable for a full perception of the salvation in Christ. If this can’t happen in this life, he infers, it can happen after death. [Calvinist Terry Tiessen, a friend of this blog, contends those who believe now in God will encounter Christ at death and can respond from a God-faith to a Christ-faith. He also thinks infants can exercise, at death, faith in Christ.]

Walls does not think second-chance purgatory minimizes life now but allows the hope of return. He allows that this means some could choose to leave the faith after death but, with others (like Thomas Talbott), thinks genuine love of God is so satisfying it is unlikely anyone would de-convert. He thinks this kind of purgatory is yet distinct from the last judgment. He also believes some will choose hell eternally.


1. How to do theology. The first issue for me when I read this study, which is as good as it gets, is that theology is to be done first and foremost by exploring biblical passages so that the Bible both teaches the substance of what is to be believed and sets the parameters. There is for me too much speculation here. Yes, the common Christian tradition is that infants will go to heaven, and there is some textual support for this and it seems reasonable to me, but I would not argue it is conclusive. Yes, I also believe in a wideness in God’s mercy, and I would argue this from righteous Gentiles in the Old Testament, and in texts like Cornelius in Acts 10-11, but these texts set parameters and they are not entirely clear to me. Yes, yes, yes… there are issues here but the big one is how to do theology and I’m a prima scriptura guy — so I want to see second-chance purgatory established in texts and, without such texts, then it is for me a matter of theological speculation. Walls is a good example of that. But there are to me a couple texts that make second-chance purgatory unlikely.

2. There is the uncrossable chasm in the parable of the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. Some like to say “that’s the details of the parable and it’s tricky,” and I don’t buy this kind of logic. The point for me is that Jesus apparently uses a typical Jewish cosmology (Hades as a temporary prison) to make a very important point. Maybe one doesn’t want to press Hades as a place in reality, but that’s not quite the same as saying the point — and let’s be clear that his point is “uncrossable finality” — isn’t being made. And the rich man presses for more and Jesus allows himself in the parable to press back harder by saying they’ve got Moses and the Prophets — that is, “God has spoken” — and he makes it undeniably clear that such revelation is sufficient.

Of course, it can be argued that such a parable would only apply to those who know Moses and the Prophets. Fair enough, but the words of Jesus have to be taken with utter seriousness: it’s not just “ancient cosmology, ignore it” but instead “he died, he had his chance, there’s no more chances.” On the prospect of what happens to those who have not heard — Walls does not explore 1 Peter 3 and I don’t know why more don’t. [A tough text, and I have written on it in my 1 Peter commentary, but one of the best readings is that this is a declaration of victory in Jesus’ ascension and not an opportunity for those who have died, but it could be read that way. Walls does not appeal here.]

Walls doesn’t see the logic of Luke 13:23-30 quite the same as I do, but that text to me is quite the warning both about how many will be saved and that those who appeal “after death” get no hearing. Thus, the famous at death then judgment text of Hebrews 9:27-28 may not say “no purgatory” but it does fit with this reading of the parables of Jesus. In spite of the many today who like the idea of open gates in Revelation 21-22 being open for new folks to enter, I find that reading strained: open gates is a symbol of security and there remains in Revelation the reality of the wicked being banned.

3. On optimal grace, I like his idea. I prefer, however, to think God’s grace in this life is enough and God will be merciful in judging all on the basis of what is just — including judging those who have not heard on the grounds of what they have heard. Instead of pushing optimal grace into the postmortem state, I’d see it in this life.

The big picture here: there is no evidence in the New Testament for second-chance purgatory; there is a slight possibility of postmortem opportunity for those who have not heard in 1 Peter 3 but I’m surprised how rarely that text is used in this discussion; and there are texts that seem to require readings that positively exclude second chances (not to say purgatory as well).


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  • “[Walls] thinks genuine love of God is so satisfying it is unlikely anyone would de-convert. ”

    What would Walls say about Adam de-converting? Did Adam’s initial faith have room to grow, or is Walls ignoring a potential paradox? If the former, it would seem Adam’s decision was less a fall and more a failure to spiritually evolve. A bit off-topic, admittedly.

  • Sorry, but I feel the word “unlikely” is a way of circumventing having to commit to communicating something. Is this departure from genuine faith possible or not? And if it is, why? “Unlikely” doesn’t have any explanatory power except that it risks drifting God’s allure (or even a “genuine” declaration of faith) into the realm of other pleasantries: Able to momentarily seduce but not immune to losing to higher bidders.

  • Will Willimon believes in Second chance purgatory??? Dang it!

  • scotmcknight

    Kyle, that discussion has been had by the likes of Walls and Talbott and those who discuss this, and the argument generally is that Adam was “innocent” and not “perfect in love,” so that Adam and those glorified are not the same.

  • Tom

    “I prefer, however, to think God’s grace in this life is enough and God will be merciful in judging all on the basis of what is just — including judging those who have not heard on the grounds of what they have heard. Instead of pushing optimal grace into the postmortem state, I’d see it in this life.”

    I guess I would ask why you prefer this? Wouldn’t second chance purgatory mean that more people would have the chance to get into heaven? If that is the case, I think I would prefer the view that helps me see God as the most loving and the most people making it. I have a hard time beieving that people who have been treated badly by God’s people here and therefore reject the message would then be rejected again by God when they see Him face to face and can understand clearly. I’m thinking here of the child abused by the minister or Jews abused by Christians.

    The other question for me would be; If God is then merciful to those who didn’t believe in this life due to these things, then is faith in Christ required for Heaven?

  • Two things to consider as you wrestle with the “Rich Man and Lazarus Parable,” Scot.

    (1) The purpose of parables was oral performance to persuade the audience to do something. The persuasion in Luke 16 seems to be to reject wealth as a path and embrace living for the kingdom now. As in many parables, the reality of the glimpse or analogy of eternal things does not matter. Many Jewish parables use pictures of the eternal that should not be pressed too closely (a good read is David Stern’s Parables in Rabbinic Midrash).

    (2) God’s warnings have historically and without exception been sterner than his practice.

  • D. Foster

    Hell is one of those tricky ones for me. The doctrine of eternal damnation encourages a bottom-line thinking: do whatever it takes to not go to Hell because this is the only chance you get, and you’re really screwed if you get it wrong.

    Several things to consider.

    1) Why isn’t this bottom-line thinking front and center in the New Testament? Why aren’t they all re-emphasizing the eternality of Hell over and over again?

    2) Why does God punish people forever? In all my defenses of the traditional nature of Hell over the years, I’ve always been very open that it makes no sense whatsoever to me.

    3) If Hell is eternal, and a result of God’s justice, why are we sad about it? The Psalms portray judgment happening on the wicked and it is celebrated: they’re making songs about it. Revelation 6:9-10 portrays the same. Shouldn’t we be happy that God’s justice is coming on the wicked? Wouldn’t the lack of such response be a deficiency in us?

    4) Why would God be sad about eternal damnation and not be able to change it? What keeps him from allowing these people to be saved?

    Hell as a place of refinement of the wicked makes perfect sense; Purgatory as a place of spiritual growth that needs to take place makes perfect sense; a Heaven that is always open to human beings after being renewed from their sins make perfect sense.

    What doesn’t make sense to me is that there is a place of eternal torment, that we’re not supposed to be freaked out about this, that we’re supposed to believe God wants us to be sad about people to whom this will happen, and yet we are supposed to celebrate God’s love and justice when we are told he does something that seems to us neither loving, nor just.


  • I just can’t help but think that all these conversations about hell and purgatory are just evidenc that we have completely missed the point. I’ll admit, it’s intriguing to discuss and consider, as all speculation into mystery can be, but if we were to arrive at a correct answer where would we be? Would we be any better equipped to love the world as much as God does? Would we be any better able to give ourselves up for the good of others? To set captive free? To free the oppressed?

    Let’s go back to the litmus test from. Few weeks ago. If our sense of urgency share the good news of the peace of reconciliation with God in Love is in any way affected by our beliefs on heaven and hell we have sorely missed the point.

    If being a source of hope and peace to a human being who I suffering RIGHT NOW is not enough motivation to share the gospel of peace with them then we need to question if we’ve found it. Love is now.

    “do not worry about tomorrow…”
    “give us the bread we need for this day”
    “Love your neighbor as you would love your self”

  • It’s funny, I find this very ironic. When I took Dr. Wall’s Philosophy course in Seminary and he was hinting around the topics of purgatory, I raised my hand and asked this very question; could there be a 2nd chance grace in a place/time called purgatory? He quickly discounted the notion, or perhaps he misunderstood my question but it seemed rational to me out of the theology he grounded it in. This as well could re-aflame the debates around the “Love Wins” debate. There is much I ‘wonder’ about in terms of the Gospel of grace and mercy, if there was a purgatory of 2nd chance or extended grace, it would not surprise me.

  • Sorry for the mass of typos. Typing quickly on my phone. : )

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: Two things to consider as you wrestle with the “Rich Man and Lazarus Parable,” Scot.

    Two more things I would consider.

    1) The story of the rich man and Lazarus (and yeah, I think it probably happened) happened before Good Friday & Easter Sunday. What happened then changed everything, and we can’t necessarily assume that a chasm that was unbridgeable before the death of Jesus was also unbridgeable afterward.

    2) There’s actually not that much evidence of genuine repentance on the part of the rich man in hell. His thoughts are for his own suffering, and those of his brothers, but not really about his own sin and the state of his soul.

    Repentance after death is possible, I think (and a great many visionaries, mystics and theologicans have held that, especially in the Eastern Christian tradition), but that doesn’t mean it’s likely. It’s possible that the further we continue in sin or in goodness, especially in the hereafter, the more we become ‘fixed’ in our habits of the soul, and the more difficult it becomes to change. (Traditionally, this is how Christian orthodoxy has seen the devils and angels, as permanently fixed in good or evil).

  • Tom

    I don’t think the point is to equip people to love the world. I think the point is to have another explination that is a possibility so people that look at Christianity can see God as loving and caring and not someone who puts people into an eternal hell because of a few bad choices they make in the 100 years they live here.
    For me, this explains a lot of the injustice I see in Scripture. Why did God order the killing of people including infants and children? If there is a chance after death, then all these people would not automatically be lost.
    This view paints a more loving picture of God so if it is a Scriptural view, this is the view that makes sense to me.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: a Heaven that is always open to human beings after being renewed from their sins make perfect sense.

    Yeah, I do believe in that. Jesus says, after all, ‘The day is coming when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it shall live.’ And St. John says of heaven, ‘The gates of that city shall always be open by day, and there shall be no night there.’

    I think it’s helpful to start with Dostoyevsky’s ‘Parable of the Onion’. That little story (and it comes out of the same Orthodox tradition that assures us that God has mercy even on those in hell) gives us a remarkable illustration both of how heaven is never closed to those who genuinely wish to repent, and also how difficult that sort of repentance might really be.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    I don’t think the question is so much, ‘Will God have mercy on the souls of the dead who are genuinely repentant’. I think the answer to that is clearly good. We can get there by reason alone, since we know that God is infinitely loving, and we can find references in scripture and tradition as well.

    The more interesting question, to me, is ‘Are the souls of the dead capable of repentance’. I think the answer there is, yes, but it may not be likely in all cases. And I think that’s a much more difficult question to answer.

  • BTW, I ran my comment (#6) by a PhD student of Midrash and rabbinic parables. He said, “I agree on all points with your comment. Parables often or even generally (though not always) were not given to establish “doctrine” but to affect motivations and practice.” He said that he was pressed for time or he would be able to give specific examples of parables depicting eternal reality in ways that would be insufficient as doctrine, but designed for persuasion of the moral-ethical point (in the case of Luke 16, abandoning faith in riches and working for the kingdom instead).

  • Amos Paul


    I must say that I am shocked at your chosen interpretation of the Rich Man parable. I’ve never understood this drive to take the parable as a message about the finality of judgement! After all, what did the rich man *do* in the parable? It appears that he was punished not necessarily for sin… but for being rich.

    I sort of agree with Derek @6. That there *is* a warning going on here to turn to God rather than riches. But more than that, I think that the parable is very obviously playing with the notion of Justice. That doesn’t Justice demand that whatever balance there is in this life ought to be reversed in the next? That the scales we weighted evenly?

    Moses and the prophets themselves preach the Justice of God! The parable speaks of the uncrossable chasm. They say that *even if one were raised from the dead* people wouldn’t believe they needed God so desperately.

    But you being a story-Gospel man, can you really take this parable out of the context of the story? That is, can you really take this parable out of the context of the story of the Gospel?

    If I were to read a parable like this in *any* literary work other than the Bible, I would certainly think the parable was directly FORESHADOWING the role of the main character. Because, quite coincidentally, that’s exactly what Jesus does. He dies and raises again. And EVEN MORE, common Christian tradition is that Jesus ‘stands in the gap’. Much as Moses interceded for the Jewish people, Romans 8 says Christ is interceding for us. The natural order of Justice and Judgement has a huge monkey wrench thrown into its conclusion by the sudden Eucatastrophe of the death and resurrection of JESUS CHRIST!

    This is an opportunity to emphasize the Gospel story, man. The Gospel writers didn’t just throw together things they saw Jesus doing and saying. They wrote and framed some very specific stories to accomplish some very specific literary purposes. If you take this parable out of the story of Jesus, I think you lose most (if not all) of the literary point.

  • scotmcknight

    Derek, #6, how do you know it doesn’t matter? How do we make judgments like this? One consideration: if the chasm is crossable, the whole parable falls apart. Can Jesus use that rhetoric without that corresponding somehow to what he believes about the afterlife?

  • I’m curious where Pope Benedict XVI has affirmed purgatory as “a second chance…to respond to God in a saving manner after death.” That sounds fairly uncharacteristic of him….

  • scotmcknight

    Amos Paul,

    I have been working this parable for years and I can’t find any logically satisfying way to read it apart from that warning having ultimate significance. If the chasm is crossable, the whole thing falls apart as rhetorical force. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’m certainly open to other readings — and have read most of them I think — but this is where I’ve come.

    To be sure, in light of Story, but I can’t say that would reshape what I say. Sure, it’s only part of the Story. No doubt there.

    To be sure again, it’s about motivating the rich man to be generous toward the poor … but that doesn’t mean the rhetorical plot of Jesus is unimportant. To be sure, about justice — but that again is rooted in a plot Jesus entangles the rich into … and what happens to the warning/rhetoric of that plot is actually not the case? That’s where I have been on this parable.

  • Kenton


    Have you read Ken Bailey on the parable? The rich man was still in his mindset that Lazarus was still subservient to the rich man. That, to me, is the “uncrossable chasm.” (That’s me processing KB. I don’t think you can put that on him.)

    The rich man was the one that described the chasm as uncrossable, not Abraham, not Lazarus, and not Jesus. Until he is willing to lay aside his dehumanizing mindset of the poor, he’ll never be able to cross the chasm.

  • C

    “God will be merciful in judging all on the basis of what is just — including judging those who have not heard on the grounds of what they have heard.”


  • Amos Paul


    I’m certain I haven’t studied the parable as much as you… but it’s just one of those things. That this parable has always been on my mind whenever questioning and trying my faith of who I think Jesus was and what I think about Christianity. Because it speaks so terrifyingly of the plight of the rich man… it’s always been hard for me to process. Especially since the parable speaks so little of the rich man’s actual sin!

    Until the notion hit home, particularly in reading some of Tolkien’s work on the idea of ‘eucatastrophe’, that Christ may have been driving home a message of the *kind of* catastrophe the Jews were heading towards in a rhetorical manner. Indeed, utilizing their own standards of Justice and cosmology.

    Then I ‘colored in’ the parable with Jesus in the sense that the parable talks about dying/rising again (which Jesus does) and an un-crossable gap (an allusion to Moses or Ezekial 22:30?). If I inform the parable with the rest of the Gospel story, I see, instead of an expected catastrophe, a eucatastrophe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucatastrophe) of Christ’s authority, power, and willingness to ‘stand in that gap’.

    And I, personally, don’t see the story losing rhetorical force because the catastrophic expectation is a part of the literary buildup towards a eucatasrophic challenge to our expectations.

  • Sherman Nobles

    I too am a “prima scriptura guy” and see in scripture evidence of post-mortem salvation. Jonah from Sheol, the grave, realm of the dead, cried out to God and was saved. Paul seems to speak affirmatively of “baptism for the dead” as evidence that there is a ressurection from the dead. And of course Peter speaks of Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison, even those who died in rebellion to Noah’s ministry, so that they might be judged according to the flesh but live in the spirit. And then in John’s Revelation we see the nations and kings who were anti-Christ, bowing to Christ and paying Him homage after the lake of the fire and the brimstone (Dead Sea). Of course, the primary message of scripture is “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is within reach”, but I do believe the passages mentioned are sufficient evidence to affirm belief in opportunities for repentance after death.

    And if one is to believe that Jesus really is the savior of all, especially we who believe (1 Tim.4.10), in deed not in title only, then such necessitates belief in post mortem repentance. And if the sacrifice of Christ is to really be greater than the sin of Adam in scope and power, Rom.5.18, then such necessitates belief in post mortem repentance. And….

    The Lord shall dry every tear, and I believe that there will be plenty of tears shed by us all. Frankly, the passages of judgment which are firmly rooted in how we actually live, not just what we profess to believe, do not worry me so much for others, but they sure scare the hell out of me!

  • Sherman Nobles

    Concerning the uncrossable gulf in the story/parable of the rich man and Lazarus, “IF” this was meant to be taken literally and not just metaphorically, then I must ask who is the gulf “uncrossable” for? Is it uncrossable for God too or just from man’s perspective? I trust that God can cross any gulf. “What can separate us from the love of God!” Also, “IF” we are to take that passage literally, then does that mean that all the rich will suffer endlessly and the poor be rewarded. In short, I believe the passage is meant to affirm several things not the least of which are 1) God is just and takes everything into consideration, even our physical trials. And 2) those who are rich have a greater responsibility before God to care for others.

    I believe that if there was a Hell, as seems to be described in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, that it would be specifically named and repeatedly warned of throughout scripture, especially in the OT; but it’s not.

  • Tom:
    That is a great point. I completely agree that helping to bring people to a point where they can see the Love of God more clearly and truly is a good thing. I had all but left church because I was repulsed by but also held captive by the thought that Calvinism was the only way to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s sin. Ironically it’s taken an intellectual journey through William lane Craig, rob bell, eastern orthodox theology, and Peter Rollins to bring me to a point here I now know that salvation is found not in finding answers but in asking questions free of fear at what answers you might find. God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud. The God I know intimately in Christ Jesus now is a much much greater God then I ever found in my quet for knowledge.

  • PaulE

    Here’s my argument for why I think Scot is right in his third point of response:

    Jesus performed miracles in Capernaum that he never did in Sodom; and Jesus claims that had Sodom seen these miracles, they would have repented. So given Walls’ idea of “optimal grace”, wouldn’t we have to conclude either 1) that God will raise up the men of Sodom and show them these miracles (Walls’ position?), or 2) that God will take this into account on the day of judgment (Matthew 11:24)?

    My question, though, is whether we actually see “optimal grace” in Jesus’ statement in verse 24? If I understand the concept correctly, it seems like Sodom should have every reason to expect eternal life on that day; yet in that case, “more bearable” becomes quite the understatement.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    There is a lot of good back and forth on these kind of issues but I am always amazed that the general discussion is always about the morality, justice, fairness, or problem of hell. Why do we always rail on the injustice of hell but do not rail on the injustice of heaven? If it is wrong for some finite sins to separate people eternally from God, why should some finite good within us lead us to the conclusion that we all deserve eternal heaven? And if the whole idea of merit deserved or earned reward or punishment is skewed to begin with, then isn’t our theological reasoning and moral outrage somewhat amiss as well? Just asking . . .

  • Scot McKnight


    1. I have read Bailey and just don’t agree.
    2. It is not true what you claim: Abraham said the chasm is uncrossable in v. 26 not the rich man. Not sure how you got that. (That Bailey, and I’ve forgotten?)

    What strikes me here is the relentless unrelenting on Abraham’s part.

  • Scot (answering #17):

    The reason I don’t put much stock in the description of the afterlife is multiple:

    (1) I’m a student of rabbinic parables and slightly unrealistic depictions of eternal realities are common and not for making theology, but moral persuasion (a la David Stern’s Parables in Rabbinic Midrash).

    (2) Lazarus is said to rest in Abraham’s lap (bosom indicates reclining next to him at a symposium style meal, as you are well aware). Shall I take this literally also?

    (3) There are other elements of unreality in the parable (speaking to Abraham from the other side).

    (4) The foreground of the parable is Yeshua and his opponents. The discussion between the rich man and Abraham sounds an awful lot like Yeshua (Abraham) speaking to his opponents (who have Moses and the Prophets).

    (5) Genre.

    I think reading a large number of rabbinic parables is a good exercise.

  • Kenton

    2. Whoops. I stand corrected. (Me. Bailey wouldn’t make that mistake.)

    1. Are you saying you don’t think the rich man still thought of Lazarus as his servant? That WAS Bailey, and that was very insightful to me. It was a hell of his own making. (Me again.)

  • Kaleb

    Here is my ONE QUESTION…(please help me!)

    If we can say that Jesus telling us to pluck out our eye is a form of hyperbole…that we should just understand that as a way to put the emphasis on the seriousness of the sin…..then why, why, oh why are we going to all of a sudden say in another parable that an ‘uncrossable chasm’ is not a form of hyperbole but is LITERAL FACT about the after life?

    I would love to hear why I/we have to take the one parable as doctrine about the afterlife… but we certainly can not take the other parable in the same way. Like if Jesus said we should just poke our eye, instead of plucking it out, somehow the whole parable would fall apart because plucking it out is what the parable hinges on??? Or maybe the passage would no longer be an important because our eye can heal from just a poke, but a pluck that is forever!!!!

  • Leaving Luke 16 and coming back to Scot’s first point about how to do theology – at best Walls’ argument is one from silence; a sort of ‘theology of the gaps’, trying to bridge ‘God is love’ and ‘God as judge’?

    And, being more critical, the idea of second chance purgatory is pure supposition. The overwhelming weight of the NT is on the significance of this life in shaping future destiny. I haven’t read Walls and believe Scot if he says it is an excellent study – but however good it seems to me inevitably to be building a case of post-mortem second-chance on pretty thin exegetical foundations.

  • Tom

    Patrick, maybe you are reading through the history you have been taught. Maybe the overwheming weight of the New Testament is really for a second chance. There are many many people who have thought this way and as I look back at the Scripture and re-read them with fresh eyes, I don’t think it is as clear as I once thought. I have not read the book yet, but I have been going down this path for quite a while now. It is interesting to me that you judge his book as “thin” exegetically even though you have not read it.

  • scotmcknight


    None of your arguments establishes your point that it doesn’t matter other than some kind of intuition.

    1. Unrealistic is an intuition; there is nothing unrealistic in this parable if one has the intuition that Hades/Gehenna is a continuum of pain and punishment, etc. (Self-imposed or not.)
    2. Abraham’s bosom is a fair enough expression as presence; as is the Son and Father relation, not to say other instances.
    3. The point is part of the rhetoric of the parable in order to make the point.
    4. Not sure what this proves: I would certainly agree with this.

    How do you know this stuff doesn’t really matter or that it doesn’t correspond in some way to the afterlife? The issue is method: how does one look at a parable and say “this is just local color, Jesus doesn’t really believe it, but who cares?”

    Some of what I see in your arguments are false dichotomies: not theology but rhetoric. There are more options than these two. Moral persuasion only works when something genuinely connects with reality.

    Look, I’m not a card-carrying hell-as-pain person; I have been preaching this parable for more than a year and it has been a push against our riches; we tend to see ourselves as the ones who get to heaven but this parable isn’t like that — it warns the rich about how they treat the poor; what I see in this parable is hardly untraditional, unhistorical, and agrees with some of the best parable interpreters out there.

  • Scot,

    In terms of your thoughts on Rev 21-22, I’d be interested for you to tease out your statements. On your reading I wonder what the purpose of open gates and walls are at all if they are just a representation of security. It would seem to be more emphatic for there to be no walls or gates at all if they were representing security alone.

    For me the walls entail a sense of seperation for those who have not yet entered into the heavenly city and it seems as if the lake of fire is the only other “place” existing. The gates represent the openess for entrance into the city and the apostles associated with the gates represent the gospel invitation. I would agree with your statement that the wicked are banned and as a good evangelical would argue that some sort of conversion must take place for entrance as the clear propositional staements in these pericopes make evident.

    What makes the second-chance reading most viable for me is that John clearly emends his source material from predominantly Isa 60 in a very specific way. He changes “kings” to “kings of the earth” to keep the continuity of his usage throughout the book in line. Further, to emphasize that the nations and kings are worshipping God, they are said to bring their “glory” into the city over against their wealth as in Isa 60. My struggle to read these groups as different than those destroyed/punished in Rev 14/19/20 is that John makes specific changes to maintain continuity with his usage of these groups througout the book. The reader is thus jarred to see the former enemies of God freely entering the city and worshipping.

  • scotmcknight

    Kaleb, the question is a non sequittor. Just because Jesus uses one piece of metaphorical language doesn’t mean he uses it always; that is, why is there any connection at all between Matt 5 and Luke 16?

  • scotmcknight


    Interpreting an image like that in Rev 21-22 always entails some careful, and less than certain, moves, and that is how metaphorical/symbolic language is designed to work. It evokes rather than describes.

    So let’s look briefly at that text at the end of Rev 21: 22

    I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

    First and foremost, Jerusalem is transformed into its ultimate realities.
    Second, no Temple, no sun, no moon … no need for light for the glory of God gives the light; the Lamb is its lamp.
    Third, both Israel and the nations will bask in that God-generated light, and the kings of earth — a variant on “nations” — bring in their gifts. This evokes tribute from foreigners, a theme in the OT prophets for the kingdom as they express that Israel’s God is the one true God.
    Fourth, notice the gates are not shut in this text as an evocation of peace and tranquility etc – they don’t shut because there is no night, the time when infiltrators sneak in.
    Fifth, the only ones who enter are pure — and in Rev 21-22 that excludes the wicked.

    Not one word is said of postmortem conversions. Perhaps you see it in the nations/kings, I’m less confident of that. Instead, I see that as language of triumph and final vindication of the God of Israel.

    But, this post is about purgatory, Walls does not bank on this reading of Revelation, and if you root your view in conversion after death on this text then I’d say one has to admit it is a bit of a stretch.

  • DRT

    Luke 16:

    Now the rich man went to Hades, and Hades is not hell, right? Hades is, per Rev 20:13, where you wait to be judged. So the torment of Luke 16 is a temporary torment, presumably for purification, while awaiting judgment, right?

    The unbridgeable chasm is only until the judgment.

  • scotmcknight

    DRT, OK, that’s a fair point but Revelation, which is not the same as Jesus/Luke, throws Hades into Gehenna. One good reading is that Hades is a temporary prison for those who will be in Gehenna, and Abraham’s bosom a temporary location for those who will in the kingdom. The “presumably for purification” is the QED, so can’t be assumed to be true. (And I’d like it to be true.)

  • DRT

    Yes, Hades is thrown into Gehenna, but after the dead were given up to be judged. If you have two waiting rooms for those that will get two judgments they you were already judged when you were put in the room. So, the second judgment gives a second chance implicitly, why else be judged?

    The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. 20:14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death – the lake of fire. 20:15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.

  • Amos Paul

    Indeed, DRT. For the *first* judgement has already come for those who’ve joined the family of God.

    1 Peter 4:17

    >For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

    John 9:39

    >And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”

    And as for those who have… passed. Remember. God is not God of the dead, but of the living! Mark 12:27

  • Sherman Nobles

    DRT, that’s “IF” one equates John’s the lake of the fire and the brimstone with Hinnom Valley. It seems to me though that the lake of the fire and the brimstone was more likely a reference to the Dead Sea, not Hinnom Valley (Gehenna). And that is “IF” one interprets Revelation from a futuristic perspective and not from a historical, preterist, or spiritualist perspective.

    It seems to me that “IF” there was a Hell, it would be specifically and repeatedly named and warned of. But as you know, it’s not. Sheol and Hades mean grave, realm of the dead. Gehenna was/is Hinnom Valley just outside of Jerusalem where the bodies of the dead were piled to rot after the judgment that came upon Jerusalem. If Jesus had intended to convey the concept of ECT, seeing a Hebrew word did not convey that meaning specifically, a good Greek word to use would have been Tartarus, but of course, Tartarus is never warned of for humans. But then you know all that.

  • Sherman Nobles

    From my perspective, answering the questions in the OP – “Purgatory raises these sorts of questions: How do we “do” theology?” – Considering post-mortem punishment as being meant to be remedial is a radical change from thinking of it as being retributive. And to me, punishment being remedial seems to dovetail well with the concept of God loving all of humanity, Jesus dying for all of humanity taking upon Himself the penalty (retribution) of our sins, and evidence in scripture that affirms that the chastizement of the Lord is for our good.

    It is a radically different perspective though and requires rethinking much that one has learned from the traditional perspective that affirms that punishment in the afterlife is solely retributive.

  • Sherman Nobles

    “Why do so many Christians believe death is the end of opportunity? Is repentance after death that much different from repentance at death?”

    Why? Because that is what has been taught “forever” and such long-held assumptions are rarely questioned. “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment”, notice that this does not affirm the purpose of judgment, much less that there is no opportunity for repentance at the judgment. As we face the truth concerning our lives I imagine there will be plenty of repentance for the best of us, plenty of weeping and grinding of teeth as we realize the pervasiveness of evil we participated in. And those who have been forgiven much, love much. I believe that judgment ultimately accomplishes every knee bowing in adoration to the Lord and every tongue joyfully proclaiming allegience to the Lord.

  • Chase Braud

    Jerry Walls does not argue for purgatory primarily on the grounds that it provides a second chance. Rather, he defends a Sanctification Model of the doctrine in which Purgatory is essential to the temporal process of realigning sinful desires to Christ.