What is the basis in the Scripture for the doctrine that those who haven't received salvation during their physical life, especially those who heard of Christ and yet chose not to pray to Him, will still have a chance to get saved after their physical death?

  • 1
    I think there's a verse in Maccabees that speaks of praying for the salvation of the dead, which is part of the Catholic justification for the doctrine of Purgatory.
    – kurosch
    Sep 24, 2012 at 15:35
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    It would be helpful if you highlighted a group or two that believed this rather than proposing it as pure conjecture
    – wax eagle
    Sep 24, 2012 at 16:58
  • 3
    @waxeagle - Okay: The Eastern Orthodox Church
    – brilliant
    Sep 24, 2012 at 22:48
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    Can you edit a short quote from that source into this question and indicate whether you want to hear an E.O. defense of the doctrine or some other response to it?
    – Caleb
    Sep 25, 2012 at 7:49
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    @Caleb - Honestly, if I wanted to hear the E.O. defense of this doctrine, I would've said that in my question. However, I am more or less familiar with how they would defend this doctrine - they would say that their tradition says so. In the present question, however, I am interested strictly in the available scriptural support (if any) for that teaching, therefore, I didn't even want to specify any group at all.
    – brilliant
    Sep 25, 2012 at 8:13

3 Answers 3


The only passage I am aware of is 1 Peter 3:18-20a:

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

It should be noted that this is rather a "standalone" passage, in that there is nothing similar in Scripture, so it is unwise to base a doctrine on it. However, you could read into this:

  1. Jesus is here preaching to dead people in hell (implied by "he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed") and
  2. He would not preach unless there was hope of their salvation.

Note though that this is speculation and not a central belief of any mainstream Christian denomination (that I know of - but see @brillant's comments, below).

  • 4
    "Note though that this is speculation and not a central belief of any mainstream Christian denomination" - As far as I know, it's one of the main believes in Eastern Orthodoxy: gotquestions.org/Eastern-Orthodox-church.html
    – brilliant
    Sep 25, 2012 at 7:36
  • @brilliant: good link. This link from Wikipedia appears to confirm what your link says, but it's not that clear to me: "Some have misunderstood the Orthodox Church to teach that sometimes a lost soul can't be saved after death through the prayers of the living." I read this double negative to confirm what you say: according to Eastern Orthodoxy a lost soul can be saved after death through the prayers of the living. Sep 25, 2012 at 7:50

2 Maccabees 12:38-45 (NRSVCE):

Then Judas assembled his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was coming on, they purified themselves according to the custom, and kept the sabbath there.

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.

Judas not only prayed for the dead men ("turned to supplication"), he also made a sin offering on their behalf. It is also the first reference of the resurrection in the scriptures.

Keep in mind that this is considered Scripture in Eastern Orthodoxy.


One more place in Bible which is (as far as I know) 1Corinthians 3:15. Here I post it with some context (1Cor 3, 10-15).

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

It definitely talks about those who build on Christ and will be saved, but it recognizes two categories: those who recieve reward and those who will be saved too, "but only as one escaping through the flames". Catholics interpret this as a reference to fate of those saved after death: they will go to heaven either directly (the reward) or through purgatory (the flames). Or through "something like purgatory" - I think Eastern Orthodox doctrine teaches something like this.

  • 2
    Don't these verses refer to Christians, in other words, to those who were already given salvation (since they,like Acts 13:48 says, had been "ordained to eternal life") during their lifetime?
    – brilliant
    Nov 20, 2012 at 23:51
  • @brilliant: this is the protestant interpretation. As most "purgatory" bible pericopes, the "purgatory interpretation" is not the only one. First references to these verses in early Christian scripts might show how they were understood by their audience and how Paul probably meant them. If anyone knows of such a research, send a link, please!
    – Pavel
    Nov 21, 2012 at 9:33
  • "this is the protestant interpretation" - As far as I know, it is also Catholic interpretation.
    – brilliant
    Nov 21, 2012 at 15:54
  • Sorry for a confusing formulation, I meant "your point is the protestant interpretation", of cours my answer is the catholic interpretation.
    – Pavel
    Nov 21, 2012 at 17:10
  • "Or through "something like purgatory" - I think Eastern Orthodox doctrine teaches something like this" - Not quite so. According to my observation, their teaching in this regard is rather vague and not finalized. They would rather say that only God knows who will finally be saved and who will not, and they also like to add that it is a sin of pride for one to claim that he will finally be saved (regardless of whether it will be a direct or indirect salvation - a point, which is also quite a grey area in the Orthodox theology). Hence, their negative attitude toward Luther and all protestants.
    – brilliant
    Nov 22, 2012 at 0:11

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