Catholic apologists often let us know how crucial it is to have an infallible magisterium and church Tradition in order to interpret the Bible correctly. With so many Catholic apologists now commenting on sacred scripture, I thought it would be interesting to provide their commentary on the Bible. Let’s see how they’ve been able to rightly divide the word of truth.
1 Peter 3:18-20
18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.
Recently on Catholic Answers, Karl Keating gave the evidence from history and the Bible for purgatory. One of the three verses he used was 1 Peter 3:19. You can listen to Mr. Keating’s exegesis here.
Mr. Keating says the “spirits in prison” are “people bound for heaven having died prior to the coming of the new covenant.” They are “the patriarchs and the prophets, and all the good people of earlier times.” The New Catholic Answer Bible though says “It is not clear just who these spirits are. They may be the spirits of the sinners who died in the flood, or angelic powers, hostile to God, who have been overcome by Christ” (p. 1351). So for Keating, they are good people heaven bound, for the New Catholic Answer Bible, they are sinners or angelic powers, and they say nothing about this passage being a proof text for purgatory in their commentary notes.
Keatings says, “Where were these folks? well, they were in some third state, some third condition or place.” Place? Pope John Paul II said “[Purgatory] does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence.”
Keating says, “It wasn’t heaven and it wasn’t hell.” Interestingly, Jim Blackburn (another Catholic Answers host) says it is hell in the general sense,
“St. Peter tells us that Jesus ‘went and preached to the spirits in prison’ (1 Pet. 3:19). ‘Prison’ (Greek, Phulake) here refers to hell in the general sense of the place where departed souls rested prior to Jesus? opening the gates of heaven. The Catechism explains that ‘he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there’ (CCC 632).” [Hell? Yes! (Part I), This Rock Volume 18, Number 8, October 2007]
Keating concludes, “Now that might of well have been purgatory, maybe some different third state, it doesn’t matter. The very fact though that it existed proves that a third state like purgatory can exist.” Some different third state? Given development of doctrine, anything is possible. The truly odd thing about this statement though is if you listen to the entire call in which Keating expounds on purgatory, he says 1 Peter 3:19 is a biblical citation that argues for purgatory, and it’s “the most apt verse we can look at in a certain way.” It sure did seem like he was using it to prove purgatory. Elsewhere, Mr. Keating says of 1 Peter 3:19, “I think it was purgatory itself, but it may have been altogether separate. Even if it were, so what?”