Purgatory – 1 Cor 3:15

Let’s start off with what the Church says about purgatory

CCC 1030 &1031

III. THE FINAL PURIFICATION, OR PURGATORY

1030 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.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

I shared an article from Church POP (Div of EWTN) about some of the myths about what Catholics believe about purgatory. Naturally a couple of my Protestant friends felt the need to speak up. We had a pleasant exchange and we left the conversation still as friends.

During our back and forth I was told that the Catholic Church has taken 1 Cor 3:15 out of context and twisted into something the text doesn’t say (I’m paraphrasing). This comment of course is no surprise to me, it’s a comment levied against me often. So I went back and re-read 1Cor 3:15 and than backed up to the beginning of the chapter. I also pulled up the haydock bible commentary in my Verbum App.  The Bible Christian Society also has a link to a website version of it as well.

As I read from the beginning of the chapter, along with the commentary I found something deeper that I never noticed before. Although what St Paul is talking about can be applied to all Christians, he’s seems to have a piticular type of Christian in mind. Let’s first take a look at the text.

Catholic Study Bible

1 Corinthians 3:1-15

1 But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
2 I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready,
3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?
4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apol’los,” are you not merely men?
5 What then is Apol’los? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.
6 I planted, Apol’los watered, but God gave the growth.
7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
8 He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.
9 For we are God’s fellow workers;you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.
11 For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-
13 each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day * will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

This passage seems to be speaking about Priests and teachers. Let’s break it down.

1 Corinthians 3:1-15

1 But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
2 I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready,
3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?

First three verses St  Paul seems to be talking about when he first established the Church in Corinth. Describing them as being of the flesh and infants in Christ. We all know the saying “Baby steps”, well St  Paul seems to be saying that here.
4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apol’los,” are you not merely men?
5 What then is Apol’los? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.

Verse 4 and 5 St Paul mentions Apol’los, presumably (based on vs 6 and vs 10) the person St Paul anointed to run the Church in Corinth. There also seems to be a division going on here, some saying that they follow Paul and others saying they follow Apol’los

6 I planted, Apol’los watered, but God gave the growth.
7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
8 He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.
9 For we are God’s fellow workers;you are God’s field, God’s building.

Vs 6-9 St Paul is giving credit where credit is due. He’s saying that it’s God that gives the growth to the Church and to the people. And that Paul and Apol’los are simply the tools He is using.
10 According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.

St Paul is switching gears a little here. He’s gone from an agricultural analogy to an building analogy. We also see here where St. Paul is saying how he laid the foundation (started the Church in Corinth) and another man is building upon it (Apol’los)

11 For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

The foundation which St. Paul lays is the teachings of Jesus.

12 Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-

Gold, silver and precious stones are good faithful doctrine. If St Paul laid the foundation and another man is building upon it, than we’re talking about the Preists. And what do Priest do, they instruct the faithful on the faith.

wood, hay and straw would not be false teachings since we see that the wood, hay and straw are burned away and the person still goes to heaven. So these must be venial sins.

13 each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day * will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.

Verse 13, here’s where the rubber starts to hit the road. Each mans work (given the context) talking specifically about the Priests, verse 12 St Paul was talking about “anyone building on the foundation”. For the Day will disclose it is judement day. When are we judged? After we die and how does the verse end?  “and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”
14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

In verse 13 we see the judgement which takes place after death and ends with the works being tested with fire. Verse 14 and 15 tells us what happens based on that test. If your works were righteous and survive than you receive your reward.

What reward would this be? Well obviously it’s Heaven.

But what about that wood, hay and straw? Verse 15 tells us what happens with that.  “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss”. Here’s a question to think about. We know this person is going to heaven, the next line in the verse says so. So do you suffer loss in heaven? Is there suffering and loss in heaven. Of course not!!

Therefore there must a moment between death and the entrance into heaven where our works are tested with fire. This passage St Paul seems to be talking about the leaders of the Church in Corinth, but this can also be applied to all of us. The next number of verses St Paul begins to talk about how we are Gods Temple and the spirit dwells in us.

Mortal sin destroys Gods temple. We die spiritually, but venial sin (which can  lead to mortal sin) darkens the soul and is our wood, hay and straw.

1 Corinthians 3:17

17 If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.

 

I feel that 1 Cor 3:1-15 lays out some important things.

1. Its God working through us that we are able to accomplish what we do.

2. Through out our lives we need to co-operate with Gods grace and remain faithful

3. If we die in Gods grace our works will be tested, and even though we may be destined for heaven our wood,hay and straw will be burned away first.

4. We die, than judged, than our works are tested with fire BEFORE we enter heaven.

 

Further Reading

Catholic Answers

Catechism of the Catholic Church – Purgatory

 

 

I am not a theologian. I’m a layman that loves Jesus and loves his Church. I do my best to adhere to Catholic Orthodoxy.

Cheers and God Bless