Is the Divine Comedy/Dante's Inferno biblically accurate?

Dante's Divine Comedy was written in the 1300s and has endured as one of the most popular pieces of Italian literature from the medieval period. Dante writes in first person narrative regarding three realms where the dead dwell after this life that include heaven, hell, and purgatory based on popular Roman Catholic teachings of his time.

While some assume Dante's work is based on biblical information, the Bible was only one of many sources utilized in his work. In addition to the Bible, the Divine Comedy mixes mythology, tradition, and even some Islamic writings. As a work of fiction, it was not intended as a completely accurate depiction of the afterlife but rather a work of art discussing the mystery of what lies beyond this life.

Several particular views presented in Dante's work, however, have influenced Western thinking about the afterlife. First, the Divine Comedy offers three destinations in the afterlife—heaven, hell, and purgatory. While purgatory is a strong tradition in Roman Catholic teachings, it is not found in the Bible. Jesus presented clear evidence that there are only two options after this life that are based on how one responds to Him in this life (Luke 16:19-31).

Second, Dante speaks of seven levels of hell. Again, this tradition is not found in the Bible, though it has often been a popular idea in culture.

Third, Dante presents different levels of suffering in hell. For Dante, examples of punishment range from walking endlessly in circles to extremes such as being immersed in boiling blood. However hell ultimately works, the Bible is clear that it is a place of great torment for all and does not make such distinctions of punishment (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; Revelation 20:15).

Fourth, Dante presents nine levels of heaven, each one progressively closer to God. He also indicates those in heaven will mature from one level to another. Neither of these ideas is present in Scripture. Though there will be crowns or spiritual rewards, these will be based on service in this life and salvation itself will be based on grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Finally, Dante expresses salvation is ultimately based on human efforts. In his work, both before and after death, a person's works enable progression from one realm or level to another. While believers are called to serve Christ in this life, no amount of works is sufficient to earn a place in heaven. Further, there is no chance for salvation after death (Hebrew 9:27).

Though creative, Dante's writing is a work of fiction and is not to be used as a source for accurate biblical theology. Instead, Scripture offers a clear way to know God and to spend eternity with Him.

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