Temporal Punishment IS Biblical (James White Was Wrong)

Temporal Punishment IS Biblical (James White Was Wrong) February 26, 2024

+ a “New” Argument on How Protestant “Faith Alone” Helps Prove the Absolute Necessity of Purgation After Death

I just watched the James White – Trent Horn debate about purgatory (2-17-24). I believe it is the only debate including White that I have ever watched in its entirety since I started interacting with him way back in 1995.

In his closing statement at 2:19:38, White stated: “you won’t find the term ‘purgatory’ in here [he held a Bible when saying this]; you did not find anything about temporal punishments in here . . . every time Trent went there, he’s quoting from the universal catechism, he’s quoting from a pope that lived 2,000 years after the birth of Christ. This truly is the issue . . .”

First of all, terms for doctrines considered in and of themselves are irrelevant. The terms original sin, Trinity, incarnation, justification by faith alone, and virgin birth don’t appear in the Bible, either, as White is undoubtedly well aware. And the only time “faith alone” appears it is condemned as a falsehood (in James 2:24), and additionally, the concept is condemned in other words, eight more times in context (2:14, 17-18, 20-22, 25-26). That doesn’t stop White from believing in the unbiblical doctrine of faith alone, does it? And there are scores more verses against faith alone. So this was simply a piece of sophistry.

Trent didn’t have time to cover this particular matter (one can’t do everything in a time-managed debate, and he did great), but I can easily show that temporal punishment is definitely taught in Holy Scripture. In fact, in an article I wrote just eight days ago, I demonstrated this very thing. I’ll add much more biblical evidence presently, too. So I thank James White for providing this opportunity to elaborate — more than I ever have — upon an explicitly biblical doctrine that is an important premise of the doctrine of purgatory. If he hadn’t made this denial, I wouldn’t be writing this. Blatant theological error brings about more apologetics and deeper analyses, as St. Augustine observed.

When Moses’ sister Miriam “spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married” (Num 12:1, RSV), God punished her with leprosy (12:6-10). That’s a temporal punishment for sin (not damnation). But it was not permanent, because Moses prayed for her to be healed (12:13), and she was after a time. This was literally Moses praying for an indulgence. The text implies that the leprosy wasn’t permanent as a result of the prayer. An indulgence simply mean a remission or relaxation of the temporal penalties for sin.

On several occasions, Moses atoned for his people and brought about an indulgence, so that they were not being punished for one of many sins of theirs (Ex 32:30-32; Num 14:19-23). In the latter case, God pardoned the iniquity of the Hebrews because Moses prayed for them. In Numbers 16:46-48, Moses and Aaron stopped a plague. That was an indulgence too, and the plague was a temporal punishment for sin. Phinehas, a priest, “turned back” God’s “wrath” (Num 25:6-13). The bronze serpent in the wilderness was an indulgence granted by God (Num 21:4-9). But a significant penance or temporal punishment for the sin of the rebellious Hebrews in the desert remained: they could not enter the Promised Land:

Numbers 14:26-37 And the LORD said to Moses and to Aaron, [27] “How long shall this wicked congregation murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the people of Israel, which they murmur against me. [28] Say to them, `As I live,’ says the LORD, `what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: [29] your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness; and of all your number, numbered from twenty years old and upward, who have murmured against me, [30] not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephun’neh and Joshua the son of Nun. [31] But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. [32] But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. [33] And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. [34] According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ [35] I, the LORD, have spoken; surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.” [36] And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, and who returned and made all the congregation to murmur against him by bringing up an evil report against the land, [37] the men who brought up an evil report of the land, died by plague before the LORD. (cf. 32:13; Josh 5:6)

Moses himself was temporally punished for sin: God didn’t allow him to enter the Promised Land, either (and this is well-known to Bible students):

Numbers 27:12-14 The LORD said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Ab’arim, and see the land which I have given to the people of Israel. [13] And when you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was gathered, [14] because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin during the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Mer’ibah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)

In the book of Judges we find the same dynamic again:

Judges 13:1 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.

Temporal punishment for sin occurred in the Bible as early as Cain (for murdering his brother Abel):

Genesis 4:10-15 And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. [11] And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. [12] When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” [13] Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. [14] Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.” [15] Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.

Note that the temporal punishment had a prescribed limit: Cain was punished with being “a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” but God wouldn’t allow anyone to kill him. This was the purpose of the “mark” of Cain. It verifies the notion of temporal punishment. Since White is so big on demanding particular words to describe biblical concepts that are clearly present, here (fulfilling his demand or request) is a passage where God [temporally] “punish[es]” a king:

Isaiah 10:12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride.

And what was the punishment?: “the Lord, the LORD of hosts, will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors” (Is 10:16). If someone thinks this is unfair, I would note that God repeatedly temporarily judged His own chosen people, Israel. One example among countless ones occurs in this same chapter (along with an “indulgence” from God: the relaxing of the punishment):

Isaiah 10:24-27 Therefore thus says the Lord, the LORD of hosts: “O my people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they smite with the rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. [25] For in a very little while my indignation will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction. [26] And the LORD of hosts will wield against them a scourge, as when he smote Mid’ian at the rock of Oreb; and his rod will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt. [27] And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.”

Here’s another passage where God “punishes” in a temporal sense (not eternally):

Isaiah 30:31-32 The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the LORD, when he smites with his rod. [32] And every stroke of the staff of punishment which the LORD lays upon them will be to the sound of timbrels and lyres; battling with brandished arm he will fight with them.

Here’s an example where God temporally punished the people of Jerusalem (Jer 5:1), because they didn’t do justice or seek truth (5:1), refused to repent (5:3), committed many ” transgressions” and “apostasies” (5:6), forsook God, followed false gods, and committed adultery (5:7-8). As a result, God says this:

Jeremiah 5:9 Shall I not punish them for these things? says the LORD; and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?

It’s punishment (the word is there, if White irrationally demands that) and it’s temporal, too, because, again, as every Bible student knows, God kept restoring Israel over and over after He punished them. The book of Jeremiah frequently states that God will “punish” Israel for her rebellion (6:15; 8:12; 9:9, 25; 11:22; 21:14). In the same book, God temporarily punishes the Israelites by allowing the Babylonians to conquer and destroy Jerusalem:

Jeremiah 32:28-36 Therefore, thus says the LORD: Behold, I am giving this city into the hands of the Chalde’ans and into the hand of Nebuchadrez’zar king of Babylon, and he shall take it. [29] The Chalde’ans who are fighting against this city shall come and set this city on fire, and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs incense has been offered to Ba’al and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods, to provoke me to anger. [30] For the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; the sons of Israel have done nothing but provoke me to anger by the work of their hands, says the LORD. [31] This city has aroused my anger and wrath, from the day it was built to this day, so that I will remove it from my sight [32] because of all the evil of the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah which they did to provoke me to anger — their kings and their princes, their priests and their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. [33] They have turned to me their back and not their face; and though I have taught them persistently they have not listened to receive instruction. [34] They set up their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to defile it. [35] They built the high places of Ba’al in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. [36] “Now therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, `It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’:

But after God temporally punishes Israel, the book then immediately describes how they will be pardoned (God offering in effect an indulgence):

Jeremiah 32:37-42 Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation; I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. [38] And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. [39] I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. [40] I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. [41] I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. [42] “For thus says the LORD: Just as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them.

In the chapter preceding, Jeremiah wrote magnificently about the new covenant itself:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. [33] But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

King David wasn’t punished by death due to his sins of murder and adultery (as Saul was for his sins), but he still had a terrible temporal punishment to pay: his son was to die (2 Sam 12:13-14). In other words, part of his punishment was remitted (indulgence) but not all. Now, since up to now I have only provided Old Testament prooftexts, I can imagine that some Protestants might demand that I provide NT texts, too. I’m happy to oblige such requests. It’s in the New Testament, too, folks:

St. Paul pointedly noted that those who received the Holy Eucharist in an “unworthy manner” were “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). That’s the serious sin. And he goes on to say that “many” of them received a temporal punishment as a result: “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Paul describes this punishment as being “chastened” (11:32). He had stated in 1 Corinthians 5:5: “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved” (cf. 5:1-4). Penance or punishment of this sort exhibits God’s holiness and just nature, whereas forgiveness and indulgences extend His lovingkindness and mercy.

And so, accordingly, St. Paul offered an indulgence or relaxation of the temporal punishment for sin to the same person (see 2 Cor 2:6-11). Paul even uses the word “punishment” to describe the former penitential chastisement, in 2 Corinthians 2:6, and says that it is “enough” and urges the Corinthians to “forgive and comfort him . . . reaffirm your love for him” (the indulgence). This is not simply implicit or indirect proof. It’s explicit New Testament proof for both temporal punishment and indulgences.

Even James White mentioned, I believe, Hebrews 12 in the debate, and acknowledged that there is such a thing as divine chastisement. What he seems unaware of, though, is the fact that this chastisement is equated with (temporal) punishment:

Hebrews 12:5-11 And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? — “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. [6] For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, we have in this passage divine punishment for sin, for our own good (including the word, “punished”), and it is described as temporal or temporary (these words come from the same root): in the words “for a short time” and “For the moment” and “later” [it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness”]. St. Peter even noted that God uses emperors and governors as His agents of temporal punishment (“sent by him”), for our good:

1 Peter 2:13-14 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, [14] or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.

One might wonder if James White is reading the same Bible that we read (save for the seven disputed books). How can he possibly miss all of this? It’s amazing and befuddling. But alas, he is reading and studying the same Bible, but he is selecting what he wants to see in it and overlooking things in the Bible that go against his prior theology. Because of this strong bias, he is apparently blind to this clear, undeniable evidence of temporal punishment in the Bible (likely because it is so in line with the concept of purgatory; and therefore must be minimized or dismissed altogether). Never ever underestimate the power and influence of bias (up to / possibly including downright hostile prejudice) on a mind.

All that he or anyone needs to know in order to accept this claim about temporal punishment for sin was how God dealt with the Hebrews / Israelites / Jews throughout the Old Testament: something readily known by anyone familiar with the Old Testament at all. They were punished over and over — by God — for their sins. But then God would heal and bless them after a time. That virtually sums up the entire Old Testament. It’s as obvious as the nose (or smirk) on White’s face. We Catholics accept and follow all of the Bible. Lastly, divine chastisement is all over Holy Scripture, and is the same notion as temporal punishment, whether the word “punish” is present or not:

Scripture refers to a purging fire in many places besides 1 Corinthians 3: whatever “shall pass through the fire” will be made “clean” (Num 31:23); “Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you; and on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire” (Dt 4:36); “we went through fire” (Ps 66:12); “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you” (1 Pet 4:12); We also see passages about the “baptism of fire” (Mt 3:11; Mk 10:38-39; Lk 3:16; 12:50).

The Bible makes frequent use also of the metaphor of various metals being refined (in a fire): “when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10); “thou, O God, hast tested us; thou hast tried us as silver is tried” (Ps 66:10); “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tries hearts” (Prov 17:3); “I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy” (Is 1:25); “I have refined you, . . . I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (Is 48:10); “I will refine them and test them” (Jer 9:7); “I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested” (Zech 13:9);  “he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them like gold and silver” (Mal 3:2-3); “. . . your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire” (1 Pet 1:6-7).

God cleansing or washing us is another common biblical theme: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! . . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Ps 51:2, 7); “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts” (Prov 20:30; cf. 30:12); “the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning” (Is 4:4);  “I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me” (Jer 33:8); “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses” (Ezek 36:25); “cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zech 13:1);  “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22); “he was cleansed from his old sins” (2 Pet 1:9); “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Divine “chastisement” is taught clearly in several passages; for example, “as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you” (Dt 8:5); “do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof,” (Prov 3:11); “I will chasten you in just measure” (Jer 30:11); “God who tests our hearts” (1 Thess 2:4).

These passages describe the presuppositional notions that lie behind the apostolic and Catholic doctrine of purgatory (methods of how God works, so to speak). Purgatory is “written all over” them. I once didn’t make the connection of what seems so obvious to me now. I think there are many who (like myself) may be able to be persuaded to see that the Bible is far more “Catholic” than they had ever imagined.


I had completed this paper (so I thought) and went to eat dinner, and during my meal I thought of another counter-reply to White (I love these “light bulb” moments!). Trent got White to agree during the cross-examination period that the sinner at death likely still has sin in his soul (which is a no-brainer anyway). Protestants and Catholics agree, I’m happy to report, that actual sin will not be allowed into heaven (Rev 21:27: “nothing unclean shall enter it”), and White readily agreed with that, too, so that something must necessarily change before we enter heaven.

For many years I have made a “nutshell” argument for purgatory on this very basis, noting that Protestants believe that the dead saved / elect person “will be instantly zapped” by God to make him or her sinless and ready for heaven, whereas we Catholics simply think it’ll take a bit longer. The difference can then be seen as one mainly of mere duration rather than of essence. When pressed on this, however, White — predictably —  appealed or reverted back to the Protestant “pillar” of faith alone, stating in one way or another that Jesus took care of all that at the cross.

But this leads to an internal problem (and this is the insight / argument that came to me at dinner). Protestants themselves, as part of their “faith alone / extrinsic / imputed justification” doctrine separate sanctification from justification. In doing this, by the way, they departed from all previous Christian soteriological tradition (hence, Protestant scholars Alister McGrath and Norman Geisler honestly admitted that this doctrine was virtually nonexistent between the time of the Bible and Luther). And — some more trivia — it wasn’t even Martin Luther who definitively did this. It was his successor, Philip Melanchthon: so the scholars tell us.

Since they separate the two things, actual sin and its removal are placed in the category of sanctification, which (in their view) is a process and lifelong, and not directly tied to salvation, whereas justification by faith alone is believed to be a one-time event (and for Calvinists, irreversible), in which God declares us totally righteous, even though in actuality we aren’t (i.e., we still commit actual sins). It follows from this that sanctification will not be completed (for virtually all of us, I submit) at the time of death.

If that’s true, then it means that — necessarily — God must do something about that, so that we can enter heaven. We can no longer do anything about it at death because “our time is up” (Heb 9:27: “it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment”). So God, after our death, must purge us of sins that were not utterly removed — even going by the Protestant conception of justification by faith alone. Thus, the very essence of purgatory can be proven by Protestantism’s own soteriological premises and beliefs.

White refused to admit that God had to do anything after our death to make us worthy to enter heaven (per Rev 21:27). And I think he did that because he’s sharp enough to know that if he had recognized that point, the “game” would have been over, biblically speaking. He would have conceded the most basic and important premise behind the biblical and historical belief of purgatory. It turns out, then, that the logical ramifications of one Bible verse (Rev 21:27) lead inexorably to purgatory in some sense. At the very least it establishes the most essential and central premise behind the Catholic (and I say biblical) doctrine of purgatory.


Related Reading

Purgatory: Refutation of James White (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) [3-3-07]

Does Time & Place Apply to Purgatory? (vs. James White) [11-6-19]

Vs. James White #11: Biblical Evidence for Indulgences [11-15-19]

“The Day” (1 Cor 3:13) & Purgatory (Vs. James White) [2-27-24]




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Summary: Baptist apologist James White made a major error in a recent oral debate on purgatory: he claimed that temporal punishment is nowhere in the Bible. Dead wrong!

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