Luke 16 Doesn’t Describe Hell or Purgatory, But Hades

Luke 16 Doesn’t Describe Hell or Purgatory, But Hades January 16, 2020

I received a letter of critique regarding my book, Proving The Catholic Faith Is BiblicalMy reply follows.


He makes a sincere mistake on page 111. . . . He mentions about Dives not wanting his brothers to come to the same place he’s in so as not to be damned as he is (the parable about the rich man and Lazarus). He’s unfortunately made the same mistake I made for 26 years as well as Fr. Bill Casey, FM, and ironically, Saint Alphonsus Liguori.

Dives is actually in Purgatory and not hell! He’s not in hell, because as you will see he’s concerned for his brothers, [and] there is no concern or compassion in hell. Because it says he’s in torment in the flames, we automatically assume, hell.

I only discovered this when I read a marvelous book by professor Scott Hahn called Saints and Sinners. It’s amazing how often we don’t see what’s in front of our very eyes.

Thank you for your time.

You make an interesting criticism, but you are mistaken as to the categories I referenced. I agree that there is no concern or compassion in hell. But I never claimed that hell was being referred to in the story (not a parable, because they never have proper names) of Lazarus and the rich man. I specifically noted on the same page:

[I]n the story they are both in Hades or Sheol: the intermediate netherworld. . . .

Sheol is the Hebrew name, Hades the Greek one. It’s also known in Catholic theology as the “limbo of the fathers.” I also mentioned on the next page:

Nor do I recall any other parables referring to Hades [i.e., like this story does; another reason why it’s not a parable].

I didn’t cite it in my chapter, but Luke 16:23 (part of the story) specifically states (RSV): “and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz’arus in his bosom.” Many older translations (like KJV) use the word “hell” here, which is unfortunate. Hades is the actual term used, and it is a different place than hell. Hades appears nine times in the NT in the RSV. Sheol appears 65 times in the OT. NIV and NAB also use Hades in Luke 16:23.

You are correct about my referring to Dives’ eschatological state as “damnation.” So how can he be damned and not be in hell? It’s because, before the time of Christ Hades had two compartments: one for those who were damned and would eventually end up in hell, and one for the saved (who make it to heaven in due course). Hell didn’t yet exist; nor did purgatory. The division is described in the story:

Luke 16:25-26 (RSV) But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. [26] And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

I think its pretty obvious that this represented a “primitive” version of heaven and hell before Christ: where the saved and the damned have very different rewards and experiences. But we have more clues than this. Jesus visited Hades after His death:

Ephesians 4:8-10 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” [9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? [10] He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Hades was considered (likely, poetically) to be under the earth. The saved and the damned were both in Sheol / Hades together: precisely as in Luke 16. Universalism is a heresy, rejected by the Catholic Church (hence also by me). So Jesus took the saved persons in Hades to heaven. What about those in the “pre-hell” portion of Hades? We know more about that, too:

Revelation 20:13-14 And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. [14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire;

Thus, we understand — with the benefit of this inspired biblical revelation — that the saved in Hades who died before the time of Christ went to heaven when Jesus ascended (Eph 4:8-10), but the damned who were left in Hades wound up in the Lake of Fire, or hell, at the time of the Last Judgment and Second Coming. I write more about all this in my article for National Catholic RegisterDid Jesus Descend to Hell, Sheol, or Paradise After His Death?

Hades is similar to purgatory in that it is a state in the afterlife besides heaven and hell, but it’s not the same as purgatory. Dives was in “anguish” in a “flame” and in a “place of torment” (Lk 16:24, 28): so it looks like a frightening “foretaste” of hell indeed. This “pre-hell” compartment of Hades is also clearly not purgatory, according to Catholic teaching, which holds that the joys in purgatory (despite the suffering we will undergo there) will be greater than any we know in this life. What is described as Dives’ experience cannot possibly be equated with that. And all we know about the good compartment is that Lazarus was by “Abraham’s bosom” and was “comforted” (Lk 16:22-23, 25).

I hope this is helpful to you. Many people are confused about this passage, believe me. I have dealt with it many times in my 39 years of apologetics teaching.

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