Absent from the Body and Present with the Lord: Purgatory or Not?

Why do you believe in purgatory when the Bible says “to be absent for the body is to be present with the Lord?”

Well, actually, that’s not quite a direct quote, depending on the translation, and it is taken out of context.  Apropos “absent from the body, present with the Lord,” Here is the context:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling,because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.For we live by faith, not by sight.We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 

Paul, in context, is talking about the fact of eternal life: destroying this body is not destroying that life.  He exhorts us to confidence in that and also says he longs to be with Christ: I would prefer to be away from this body and present with the Lord.  

It’s akin to saying, “I would prefer to be away from Chattanooga and in Ireland.”  Saying that makes no comment on how I get there or what goes on between one place (or state) and the other.  It merely indicates that I have a preference for one situation over the other.  And who would not, if Christian, want to be with the Lord?

Paul here makes no statement about what happens between the two.  In others he does refer to the process of purgation,  (“all men’s works will be tried as if by fire…”) and so does Jesus (in the parable of the wicked servant who is cast into prison “until every cent is paid.”).  And of course, 2 Maccabees–tossed out of the canon by the Protestants–contains an explicit reference to praying for souls of those who have died, which is a direct reflection of the belief in purgation.

Most trnaslations keep the sense of the one above, but some interpolate as does the New Living Version, a Protestant translation which says:

Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.

This particular translation, which also happens to be a Protestant one, is in the minority when you place translations side by side.  The Vulgate (Latin translation) maintains the sense of the first translation posted: that of a preference for being with the Lord rather than being with the Lord as an immediate result of being absent from the body.   

So, as it turns out,  this verse is not an argument against the concept of purgation at all–it really doesn’t apply to the discussion when you read it in context and not in isolation.  Of course, you have to be ready to admit that perhaps there is another valid reading than the one you previously have decided is correct.  This is the inherent ambiguity of language….and why we need a Magesterium that, because of the Holy Spirit, can guarantee fidelity and continuity of teaching.  By this great gift, we as Catholics studying Scripture within the Church, with Her guidance and mind, can link what we read to day to the preaching and teaching of Christ and the Apostles 2000 years ago… with confidence.

 

 

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