Souls coming out of Purgatory - Wikimedia Commons


Previous: Revelation 2:20 continued- 9

20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. - Revelation 2:20

We will consider two more unfortunate developments in the Church of the Middle Ages.

Restriction of the Laity from Reading the Bible

At the Counsel of Toulouse in AD 1229, the same one we cited above that established the Inquisition, a new church law was adopted that greatly limited the privilege of the laity to read even the official Latin version of the Bible, and declared it strictly forbidden to read any translation of the Bible into other languages. Here is the text of the law.

Canon 14. We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; unless anyone from motive of devotion should wish to have the Psalter or the Breviary for divine offices or the hours of the blessed Virgin; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.

Remember our earlier study about the "Nicolaitans" (Greek for "to conquer the people") in chapter 2, verse 6 (Church at Ephesus), and chapter 2, verse 15 (Church at Pergamum). The hierarchy of the Church had adopted layer after layer of unbiblical ideas, but if most of the people did not know what the Bible taught, they would tend to go along with the false teaching, especially when they had now accepted the belief in the infallibility of papal decrees and Church councils.

This meant that many of the people who were persecuted as "heretics," and were put to death, were people whose ideas were more biblical than the official position of the Catholic Church. But if the people couldn't read the Bible for themselves, how would they know this was happening?

Jesus said that man should not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God (Matthew 4:4). Paul told Timothy,

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. - 2 Timothy 2:15


All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16

The New Testament Scriptures were the Gospels, Acts, and the Letters to the churches. They were all meant to be read in their entirety to every Christian. That was one of the first things we noticed about this last book of the Bible - that it promised a blessing to all who read it, and even to those who heard it being read by someone else (Revelation 1:3).

One early reformer who defied this church law was John Wycliffe, an English theologian and professor at Oxford. He and a group of other scholars translated the Bible into English. It was known as the Wycliffe Bible. He died in 1384, but the Council of Constance declared him a heretic in 1415. It was decreed that his books were to be burned. His remains were dug up, burned, and the ashes were cast into the River Swift.


One of the great differences between Catholic and Protestant theology is the belief in purgatory - a place between heaven and hell where the temporal penance for sins committed during one's lifetime could be discharged. Then the purified believer could go on to his or her heavenly reward.

There were hints of belief in Purgatory from about AD 1200, but the formal doctrine was established in AD 1254 by the First Council of Lyon, and confirmed by the Council of Florence in AD1435-1438, and again at the Council of Trent in AD 1545-1547, after the Reformation.

They based their belief on a passage from 2 Maccabees 12:42-46, where it was written that it is "a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins." This book is considered apocryphal by Protestants, and not included in their Bible. The story of the rich man and Lazarus was cited (Luke 16:19-26) and the teaching about the Bema Seat judgment (1 Corinthians 3:11-15), but these passages actually show that once a person has died his condition cannot be changed. Hebrews 9:27 says, "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment."

This concept of purgatory led to the practice of "prayers for the dead." It also opened the way for an abusive campaign by the Church of selling indulgences, whereby the wealthy could presumably pay for the sins of departed loved ones so that they could be released from purgatory. We will take another look at this in our commentary on the next church (Sardis) - representing the period of the Reformation. The selling of indulgences was the primary issue in Martin Luther's "95 Theses" that began the Protestant Reformation.

Come back soon for the next installment of our verse-by-verse study of the Book of Revelation. Next: Revelation 2:21


Listed by Chapter and Verse

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Contact us.

Free Hit Counter
Free Hit Counter