“To Be Absent from the Body Is to be Present with the Lord”?

by Jimmy Akin

in +Religion, Apologetics, Benedict XVI, Bible, Eschatology, Podcasts, Theology

There is a common argument used against the idea of purgatory in some circles which goes like this: “St. Paul says that ‘to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:8). It’s that simple: If you’re a Christian and you aren’t in your body then you are with Jesus in heaven. There is no room for purgatory in St. Paul’s view. Purgatory is just a Catholic fable–a ‘man made tradition.'”

Is this true?

It turns out that if you examine what St. Paul really said, the whole argument is based on a misquotation. St. Paul said nothing of the kind.

Furthermore, if you look elsewhere in St. Paul’s writings–to the very same church he was addressing in his “absent from the body” passage–you find strong evidence for purgatory.

Far from being a Catholic fable, purgatory is rooted in the thought of the Apostle Paul himself–as I show in the following video.

I’ve also been working on a special mailing for the Secret Information Club where I “interview” John Paul II on the subject of purgatory. In the interview, I pose questions, and the answers are taken from his writing. Current Secret Club members will get it automatically.

Purgatory is a controversial subject that Catholics are often attacked over, so if you’d like to receive the special interview with John Paul II on purgatory, just sign up for the Secret Information Club by Friday, June 29th, and you’ll have it in your inbox on Saturday morning.

You should sign up using this handy sign up form:

If you have any difficulty, just email me at jimmy@secretinfoclub.com.

If you’re reading this by email, click here to view the video.

If you liked this post, you should join Jimmy's Secret Information Club to get more great info!

What is the Secret Information Club?I value your email privacy


DeeQuixote June 24, 2012 at 9:10 am

@newadvent Purgatory is contrary to the love of the living God.

toby_marks June 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm

@DeeQuixote How so? You could make the same argument about our existence in this life.

Tragos716 June 24, 2012 at 10:08 am

There is a long tradition of saints who have written about purgatory, and they often mention a time frame of greater or lesser length. How, in the light of what you quoted from the Pope, are we to interpret these writings?

Peter June 24, 2012 at 1:41 pm

The New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967, Vol. XI, p. 1034, acknowledges ” in the final analysis, the Catholic doctrine on purgatory is based on tradition, not sacred scriptures.”

yan June 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm

dude i am catholic i believe whatever the church says but dude…a prottie believes only what is taught clearly in the Bible [or what they think is in the Bible.  For example, Holy Trinity is not in the Bible, but they still think it is there.]  Major prottie premise: only what is clearly taught in the Bible is true and reliable.  Minor prottie premise: purgatory is not clearly taught in the Bible.  Prottie conclusion: doctrine of purgatory is not true and reliable.
I think you have to build your argument to protties on the reliability of the church as interpreter/guardian of the deposit of the faith.  JMO brother Aikster PEACE.  Even so you do good work here by making the doctrine at least biblically plausible; thank you brother for that and your other work.
dude one question re: your video: re: purgatory and time: DUDE, at Fatima, Mary told the seer that her friend would be in purgatory ‘until the end of time.’  I know this isn’t a refutation of your theological point BUT it is a clear reference to the experience of purgatory using temporal language.  Granted again that doesn’t refute your point nevertheless it is a piece of evidence, to which many many others could be adduced, that ought to be considered as weighing in favor of the ‘naive’ view that the duration of purgatory can also be grasped at through a temporal understanding of ‘duration.’  This ought to keep that view viable at least for the time being, don’t you think?
I don’t want to think that Mary was speaking to the seer in a purely ‘analogical’ manner, as that would have been completely misleading to the seers and to your average Joe Catholic that reads the words, ‘until the end of time.’  Why would Mary DO that if there wasn’t some ability to grasp the purgatory-duration concept through the normal understanding of the meaning of those words?
Think of some reasons for me; I can’t think of any that are adequate to justify the deception which that usage would otherwise foreseeably entail upon the hearing of the faithful.

Marc Jordan June 24, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Peter, my friend. Without tradition there would be no “sacred scripture”. But tradition helps us interpret it.

Nick from Detroit June 26, 2012 at 6:51 am

I have a question for Mr. Akin, or, anyone else who might have an answer.
About six months ago I was having a debate with some non-Catholics about Purgatory. In the course of using some well-known examples from Matthew 5, Luke 16, 1 Cor. 3, Phil. 2, and Rev. 21, I was also attempting to show examples from the Old Testament.
While explaining some of these Old Covenant quotations, I postulated that being unclean, and the need for ritual washing and purification to enter the Temple area, was a “type” of Purgatory. In order to enter the Presence of God in the Temple (and Christ is the New Temple) Hebrews had to be pure, i.e., ritually clean, through the process of washing (baptismo in Greek) and sin offerings.The problem is I don’t remember reading this comparison of ritual cleansing and Purgatory anywhere.
I follow many Catholic apologists, like Mr. Akin, Dr. Hahn, Jeff Cavins, etc. I’m not well versed on the writings of the Early Church Fathers, I’m afraid. So, I’m not sure if this something I have heard from someone else, and just can’t remember? Or, was this a flash of inspiration from the Holy Spirit? Or, was I completely off base? Which would mean I should stop making this comparison, right?
I would appreciate any thoughts on this subject.
God Bless!

Vincentius June 26, 2012 at 7:48 am

From the comment:  “The New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967, Vol. XI, p. 1034, acknowledges ” in the final analysis, the Catholic doctrine on purgatory is based on tradition, not sacred scriptures.”
There are many references to Purgatory in the Scriptures.  I am not familiar with the New Catholic Encyclopedia and I wonder how they have arrived at that declaration (almost sounding infallibly).
Here is a good example that Purgatory exists.  In ACTS chapter 9: 36 et seq, St. Peter raises Tabitha from the dead:
“And in Joppe there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.  And it came to pass in those days that she was sick, and died. Whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.   And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppe, the disciples hearing that Peter was there, sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not be slack to come unto them.  And Peter rising up, went with them. And when he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber. And all the widows stood about him weeping, and shewing him the coats and garments which Dorcas made them.  And they all being put forth, Peter kneeling down prayed, and turning to the body, he said: Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes; and seeing Peter, she sat up.”
What we Catholics know is that after death, there is Heaven, Hell or Purgatory.  If Tabitha was in Hell, then she could not have been raised from the dead because once in Hell nobody leaves.  Also, if Tabitha was WITH the Lord, in Heaven, she would be returned to earth to live another. or a new. life.  Therefore she was in that place where one goes for purification, a place where one is not shackled by chains, nor a place where one is already enjoying the Beatific Vision. 
Another example would be the raising of Lazarus by Jesus, as well as those who arose from their graves the moment Jesus commended His spirit to His Father.

Vincentius June 26, 2012 at 7:52 am

Correction to “Also, if Tabitha was WITH the Lord, in Heaven, she would be returned to earth to live another. or a new. life.”  
Also, if Tabitha was WITH the Lord, in Heaven, WHY would she be returned to earth to live another. or a new. life?

Everett June 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm

From the research I’ve done, the earliest person I found to even suggest there was something other than heaven or hell after death was Augustine in the fifth century.  He didn’t call it purgatory, but it was a place you went if there were sins to be purged to prepare you for heaven.  He didn’t justify this from Scripture;  it was one of his many speculations.  Pope Gregory I (d.603), an ardent admirer of Augustine, became the first person in church history, from what I’ve read, to actually teach purgatory, but like Augustine, didn’t call it purgatory.  Purgatory became offcial church doctrine, along with indulgences, at the beginning of the Crusades; both were used to recruit men to kill in the name of the One who said love your enemies.  If you claim to have found purgatory in Scripture, you have found something none of the fathers of the church found, including Jerome and Augustine.     

Nick from Detroit June 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm


Nick from Detroit June 27, 2012 at 6:00 pm

 @Everett ,
You are mistaken, I’m afraid.
Several early Church Fathers had written about Purgatory/prayer for the dead before Saint Augustine. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullain, Origen, Cyprian of Carthage, and Ambrose all talk about Purgatory/prayer for the dead before Augustine. And, they cited Scripture as well.
Inscriptions in the Catacombs and writings such as <i>Acts of Paul and Thecla</i> (A.D. 160) pre-date Augustine by two centuries.
In addition to the New Testament Scripture citations that I provided, in my previous comment, there is 2 Maccabees 12:43-46, which shows that the Jewish practice of praying to the dead was well established about two centuries before Christ.
God Bless!
p.s. Check out these links for more information:

Nick from Detroit June 27, 2012 at 6:15 pm

 @Everett ,
p.p.s I also forgot to mention the account of Saint Polycarp’s martyrdom, in the Second century A.D. Polycarp was taught about Christ by Saint John the Apostle himself, when he was a boy. It is recorded that Polycarp prayed for all those he had ever known before he was martyred, at the age of 86. This certainly included many people who had been long deceased.
God Bless!

Vincentius June 27, 2012 at 6:20 pm

I think you already stated the answer to your question:  “He didn’t call it purgatory, but it was a place you went if there were sins to be purged to prepare you for heaven” 
What does it mean to be “purged”?   A purgation. 
The term “Purgatory” might be, as you relate, does not appear in the holy Scriptures, but the references are there.  There are as well other terms we are acquainted with that are not in the Scriptures, such as “ever Virgin,” “Trinity,” etc.
Here are four out of the many scriptural references to Purgatory.
Luke 12:59  “say to thee, thou shalt not go out thence (Heaven), until thou pay the very last mite.”
Matthew 5:26 “…pay the last farthing.”
Apocalypse 21:27  “nothing defiled, or unclean can enter heaven:”
2 Machabees 12:46  “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”   One cannot and need not pray for one who is in hell, which won’t do any good; nor for one who is heaven, who has already attained perfection.

Vincentius July 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm

 @Everett You didn’t make a thorough research it seems or you’d have found it in Apocalypse (Revelation) 21:27   ” There shall not enter into it any thing **defiled,** or that worketh abomination or maketh a lie, but they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb.”
If you died without a stain of sin, you don’t do Purgatory, where you need to be purified and made “undefiled,” but go straight to heaven.  But who among us, except a very few, can make this claim?   Simply because the term “Purgatory” has been defined, according to you, only recently, doesn’t mean it came into existence only after the definition.  Dogmatic definitions are made to explain and made clearer doctrines and teachings, such as The Trinity, the Incarnation, etc., and as such become articles of faith.
Mblouin:   “Wondering….will Purgatory go the way of Limbo someday?  Not “necessary” any longer?”  
At the end of “time” as we know it, when the General Judgment takes place, and the last person in Purgatory is released, Purgatory will no longer be necessary.
Limbo will still be there for all those who have not been baptized (by water, desire or blood).  As taught by the Church, there is no suffering in Limbo but is a place of pure happiness, except for the fact that those who are there are deprived of the Beatific Vision,  Either this belief is held de fide (with faith) as taught by Christ (John 3:5 “Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he *cannot enter* into the kingdom of God”) or it is not and we hold on to our own interpretation and belief

mblouin July 18, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I am thinking that sometimes we can get too caught up in the traditions of organized religion;  “feeding” the frenzy of  “doing/saying/thinking all the right things; never expanding reading/interpreting our sacred scripture beyond the literal level, thereby capturing a higher degree of spiritual understanding.  
Wondering….will Purgatory go the way of Limbo someday?  Not “necessary” any longer?

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