Interesting & unique argument, made by my friend Tony Gerring in a guest post.
If you are a non-Catholic Christian, can you provide some insight on how you understand this story in Scripture? In Acts 9:36-42, Peter raises the disciple Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-42).
Where did Tabitha’s soul go after she died?
Did Tabitha’s soul leave heaven and return to earth?
What about Hebrews 9:27?: “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”
How do you understand this story?
In the New Testament, there are several occurrences of the dead being raised to life after Jesus’ resurrection. In Acts 9:36-42, we read about how Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. Note that Tabitha is specifically called a disciple of Jesus who did good works and gave alms. In verse 37, the Bible tells us she died. According to Protestant understanding, after her death, Tabitha’s soul must have gone directly to heaven.
Now if Tabitha had received her heavenly reward and her soul was in heaven with God, then God must have stripped Tabitha of her heavenly reward in order to send her soul back to a sinful, bodily existence on earth. But how could this be? This would violate God’s own love and justice: “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27.
In Catholic eschatology, there exists another option – that which is called purgatory. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. (CCC 1030). Furthermore, the “Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (CCC 1031)
If Tabitha was among the elect and her soul was undergoing this final purification in order “to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” her earthly resurrection would not violate God’s eternal justice, for her soul would not yet have entered into the heavenly reward promised by God.
However, if, as non-Catholic Christians assert, there is no purgatory, then immediately after her death her soul would have entered its heavenly reward. And, in order for Tabitha to be raised from the dead, God must have cast her soul out of heaven in order to return to a sinful, bodily existence on earth. The problem with this explanation is that it defies everything that Christians understand about God and his love and justice.
It is simply not possible for a soul once received into heaven to leave heaven and return to a sinful, earthly existence. This is an impossible theological difficulty for non-Catholic Christians.
However, the raising of Tabitha by Peter as recounted in the book of Acts fits perfectly within Catholic theology, maintains God’s love and justice, and still manifest’s God power over death on earth as a witness to eternal life in heaven. This story is also one of the strongest and clearest Biblical evidences for the reality of the final purification of the elect after death and before entering heaven.
[Dave: And of course Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43), and other raisings from the dead (that Jesus implied should be not infrequent occurrences of His disciples: Matthew 10:8) also confirm the same thing. These are all instances of people having died and returned to the earth.]
Photo credit: Saint Peter Raises Tabitha, by Fabrizio Santafede (1560-c. 1628) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]