Are Indulgences* Un/biblical*?

English: "The Judas Kiss", (Mark 14:...
English: “The Judas Kiss”, (Mark 14:45) by Gustave DorĂ©. Judas kisses Jesus in order to betray him to the guards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Sunday School we are discussing Christianity by century. Right now, we are at the 10th century, about the time scholasticism is firmly taking root in the West. With this enlightenment comes the manifestation of indulgences and the like.

So, it got me to thinking. First, keep in mind the usual Protestant view of indulgence may not be the correct one. Second, when I say “biblical” I do not usually mean it is directly found in Scripture. Christian doctrine is more often than not drawn from Scripture rather than capitalizing of direct words of Scripture. Of course, “biblical” is something still undefined. For instance, what canon do you use? If you are a Catholic and use books not found in the Protestant canon, is this considered biblical?

In the 12th chapter of 2 Maccabees, Judah seeks to turn away the temporal sins that may lay with the fallen. He does several things.

On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Macc 12.39-42, RSVCE)

He prayed, acting as a mediator and took up a collection for an offering by the priests at the Temple. He sought to turn away the temporal sin of those already redeemed. In Scripture (depending upon your limitation) we find something of an allowance for indulgences do we not? No wonder Luther worked feverishly to rid his canon of this book. It said something he didn’t like.


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One Reply to “Are Indulgences* Un/biblical*?”

  1. There really isn’t a justifiable reason to truncate the Canon, so this should be recognized as Scripture as well.

    What we see is that Judas Maccabeus’s comrades died as idolaters. He also anticipates a future general resurrection and judgment, which was the Pharisaic vector underway and gaining strength. In order to make atonement for that idolatry, he prays and gives alms for the dead, with the hope that they’ll fare better in the final judgment than otherwise.

    But this is a propitiation for the forgiveness of a mortal sin.

    The happiest home for this verse is purgatorial universal reconciliation. Under PUR theology, these mortal sinners have a big old judgment coming. But alms and prayers can express a genuine desire and hope for additional mercy. Hell IS purgatory, in other words, and so we don’t have to delineate between “hellish punishment for sin” and “disciplinary action with a point” like with Catholic purgatory.

    As it so happens, Jews who believe in an afterlife under the Pharisaic tradition (the tradition through which Christianity blossomed) also believe in a purgatorial punishment and reject endless hell as outrageous.

    So, my answer would be “Yes and no.” Indulgences, like prayers or alms, can act as prayers for mercy for those who have fallen — in any state, even mortal sin like idolatry. And postmortem mercy for mortal sinners is only possible if hell is purgatorial.

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