Is Purgatory Biblical?

Question
Is Purgatory Biblical?
Answer
Is Purgatory Biblical?

Definition:

The Doctrine of Purgatory is part and parcel of works righteousness system of justification. It is false; a mere superstition.

What is Purgatory? Purgatory (Latin: Purgatorium) according to the Catholic Encyclopedia is "a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God's grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions."

According to the Catholic Church, Purgatory is a very painful place and souls can spend many decades there as they are slowly purified. To help speed up the process the Church has the authority to offer what are called "indulgences." An indulgence is the lessening of the temporal punishment due to sins that have already been forgiven.

In the 16th century, in northern Germany Johann Tetzel (1465-1519), was credited - though it probably preceded even him - with selling indulgences for the dead by saying, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul out of purgatory springs." This rhyme for a dime jingle lead Luther to write in his 95 Theses, #82, "Such as: Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?'' The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial." At the Council of Trent in 1563, though the doctrine of Purgatory lingered on, the Catholic Church condemned all base gain for securing indulgences.

While the Roman Catholic Church believes what Jesus did was immeasurable at Calvary, they do not believe it was enough. They assert, in his suffering at Calvary, Christ built up a Treasury of Graces filled with the works of: (1) himself, (2) Our Lady (the virgin Mary), and (3) the saints. Indulgences today are in two categories: (1) Plenary Indulgences - to free Catholics from all the temporal punishment they owe for their sins up to that time and (2) Partial Indulgences - to free them from some of the temporal punishment they owe for the sins they have committed.

This said, there is absolutely no scriptural basis for Purgatory. Roman Catholic scholar Richard P. McBrien admits, "There is, for all practical purposes, no biblical basis for the doctrine of purgatory" (Catholicism: New Edition. HarperOne, 1994, p. 1166).

Catholic Basis for Purgatory

Purgatory, though a place of suffering, is allegedly for those that are headed for Heaven, not for Hell. It is meant to cleanse away lesser sins (venal sins). It is a place of temporal punishments. Catholic theologians use several texts of Scripture to attempt to make their case. The main ones are:

2 Samuel 12:14

2 Samuel 12:14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.

Some Catholics assert that David suffered after his sin with Bathsheba and therefore Purgatory must exist.

While we agree that David still suffered after the confession of his sin of murder and adultery (Psa. 51), his suffering was upon this earth, not in some other intermediate state called Purgatory. However, David knew that one day that he would see his son again (2 Sam 12:23), but there was no mention of passing through Purgatory to accomplish this. His son went to be immediately with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8) and that is where David went after death as well (Heb 11:32; 12:1, 23; cf. Psa 23:6; 73:24-25).

Matthew 5:20

Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Catholic Church agues that a Christian's righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees and therefore Purgatory is a necessity; that is that the suffering there will purify and make one acceptable to God.

While we agree that one's righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, this can't be accomplished by Purgatory, nor need it be, as it has already been accomplished by Christ for all believers. In the Great Exchange, God took care of the believer's sin once and for all (Heb 7:27; 9:14; 10:19):

(1) God takes all the sinner's debits (sin/unrighteousness) and places them on Christ's ledger (2 Cor 5:21), and

(2) God takes all Christ's credits (righteousness) and places them on the believer's account (1 Cor 1:30).

Jesus is very God of very God, and his righteousness cannot be exceeded! The saint is completely cleansed in Christ alone (Ezek 36:25-27; Jude 1:24-25).

Matthew 5:25-26

Matthew 5:25-26 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

The Catholic Church teaches that in this text "prison" is Purgatory, and the "last penny" is the complete payment for the cleansing of sins.

However, the point of this text is to emphasize that people should settle disputes quickly, before it reaches the judge. Debtors in biblical times could be imprisoned until they paid their debts. Here debtors being punished in an earthly prison, is the anti-type to being judged by God on the day of judgment. The "last penny" refers to quadrans, a low-value Roman bronze coin. So, in context, God's judgment knows no half measure. Even the smallest of sins can put one in Hell. Jesus is speaking about judgment in Hell, not Purgatory as the remainder of the chapter makes clear (Matt 5:21-22, 29-30).

Matthew 12:32

Matthew 12:32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Matthew 12:32 is a common proof text for Catholic apologists. The words "age to come" is said by some Catholics to refer to Purgatory. They state that "venial sins" can be forgiven in this "age to come." However, the text says there will be no forgiveness "in this age or in the age to come." The text speaks of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (no mere venial sin). Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a sin that cannot be forgiven (Mark 3:28-29) and which no true Christian can commit, as they are eternally secure (John 6:35-40; 10:25-29; Rom 8:28-39; 1 Cor 1:4-9; 2 Co 4:13-14; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; Phil 1:6; 3:20-21; Col 3:3-4; 1 Thess 5:23-24; 1 Pet 1:3-5; 1 John 2:19; 5:4; Jude 1:1, 24-25). Therefore, this text cannot refer to Purgatory, which is allegedly for Christians.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw - each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 is the primary text the Catholic Church turns to in their teaching of Purgatory. Rome teaches that the "fire" referred to here is the satispassio or the Suffering of Atonement for venial sins (relatively slight sins that do not entail damnation of the soul).

However, this is a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 3:15-20. In context, Paul is speaking specifically of church leaders (1 Cor 3:5-6, 10, 22). 1 Corinthians 3:15-20 refers to the judgment of a leader's work (1 Cor 3:13, note all the words in the text in bold indicating works), not all people in general. Though all Christians one day will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to be judged (2 Cor 5:10 cf. Rom. 14:10-12) that is not what is in view here. The judgment in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 is not of all Christians, but of wise and unwise builders of the church. And even unwise builders of the church will not themselves be in the flames - this is nowhere in the text.

Moreover, it is both wise and unwise builders works that will be judged. Yes, even the "wise builders" whose works are "gold, silver, precious stones" (1 Cor 3:12). Why would these works, energized by the grace God (1 Cor 3:10) suffer in any kind of Purgatory? Simply stated, "works" not founded upon Christ will be consumed by fire (suffer a loss of reward), whereas those founded upon him will receive due rewards (Matt 6:20; 1 Cor 9:17; 2 John 1:8).

In addition, this testing by fire occurs on judgment day (1 Cor 3:13), not in any alleged intermediate state. The context of 1 Corinthians 3:15-20 clearly does not support Purgatory.

Hebrews 12:14

Hebrews 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Catholics cite Hebrews 12:14 saying since "holiness" is a perquisite for seeing the Lord then Purgatory must exist.

However, in the verses just prior (Heb 12:4-11) to Hebrews 12:14 it speaks of discipline in this age, not in any age to come. This text refers to sanctification in the saint's life upon this earth. Again, there is no mention of Purgatory.

1 Peter 3:18-20

1 Pet 3:18-20 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

This is another text some Catholics use in order to support the false Doctrine of Purgatory. They claim the "prison" mentioned in the text is Purgatory.

First, the text declares that Christ already suffered for all the elect at the Cross (1 Pet 3:18; cf. 1 Pet 1:1). No mention is made of Purgatory being needed. Second, even some Catholics (CCC 632-635) state "prison" (Greek, phylake) refers to Hell (cf. Prov 27:20; Matt 5:25; Luke 12:58; ), not Purgatory. The Syriac renders the word as Sheol (2 Pet 2:4-5; Jude 1:6).

Moreover, the text is not saying that Jesus went to Hell (prison, a place of punishment) to preach, but rather through the voice of Noah (1 Pet 1:10-11; 2 Pet 2:5) he preached to Noah's generation while they were still living; but now being dead (1 Pet 4:6) and in Hell (1 Pet 3:19). See "Noah, Baptism, and Hell - 1 Peter 3:18-22" below.

Revelation 21:27

Revelation 21:27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Based upon this text, Catholics assert that Purgatory is necessary so one may be cleansed before entering the eternal glories of Heaven (cf. Hab 1:13).

But, this text does not refer to Christians, but rather reprobates (Rev 21:8; 22:15). See "What is Reprobation" below. Only Christ's bride (Rev 21:9; cf. Isa 61:9-10; Matt 22:11) - his church is cleansed (Rev 3:4-5, 18; 5:9; 6:11; 7:9, 13-15; 19:8; 22:14) from all sin by the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:13-15; 12:11; 19:13; cf. Rom 5:9-10).

2 Maccabees 12:39-45

2 Maccabees 12:39-45 And the day following Judas came with his company, to take away the bodies of them that were slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen, in the sepulchres of their fathers. And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain. Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden. And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain. And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection, (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.) And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.

This text is part of the Apocrypha. It is not part of the biblical canon, as much of what in it is mere myth and fable. See "The Catholic Bible?" below.

This said, Catholics herein argue that those who have died, and are in Purgatory can be helped by the sacrifices and prayers of the living.

However, Purgatory is for "venal sins." The "idolatry" of the soldiers addressed here are what the Catholic Church calls a "moral sin." The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 states, "Considered in itself, idolatry is the greatest of mortal sins." According to the Catholic Church, mortal sins cannot be forgiven in Purgatory.

In addition, Razis is praised for an unsuccessful and then successful suicide (2 Macc 14:41-46). However, suicide is something the Bible condemns (1 Cor 3:16-17). The Catholic Church refers to suicide as a mortal sin (Baltimore Catechism - Q/A 1274). So, is St. Paul right or Maccabees? Of course, Maccabees is an Apocryphal book and therefore not inspired. This aside, if the author is wrong on suicide (death), then should one trust what he says concerning life in Purgatory after death?

Scriptural Basis Against the Doctrine of Purgatory

The teaching of Purgatory is the result of numerous Catholic errors on justification. See "Catholics and Justification?" below. They fail to understand that Christ alone atoned for each and every sin of the elect without exception. Therefore, there is no need of Purgatory.

Once a believer dies they go immediately to be with the Lord. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 NASB:

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord - for we walk by faith, not by sight - we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord

Believers have passed from death unto life, not death into Purgatory and then maybe into life if someone bails them out of Purgatory (John 5:24). They have come to "Mount Zion and to the city of the living God" (Heb 12:22-24).

Even on this side of glory, believers are already seen as glorified and seated in the heavenly places. Romans 8:29-30 states that after justification is glorification; Purgatory is not mentioned. Paul uses the aorist tense for the word "glorified" (Greek, edoxasen, meaning already glorified), as he did for every other verb in Romans 8:29 (Predestination --> Calling --> Justification --> Glorification). This tense reveals that this is an absolute certain event for all those that are justified. Paul uses the same tense when he pictures the saints already seated with Christ Ephesians 2:5-6 (Greek, synekathisen, meaning already seated). Neither text mentions Purgatory.

Jesus' death at Calvary perfectly expiates each and every sin (past, present, and future) of the believer. All their guilt is removed. This is their "position" in Christ; which doesn't always match up with their "practice." Colossians 2:13-14 states:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Though a saint is presently in the midst of progressive sanctification (Col 3:10), their sin (all of it), its debt (all of it), and its hostility (all of it) has already been dealt with "in Christ" alone at the Cross (cf. Col 1:22). Christ "purged" their sin (Heb 1:3 KJV). The word for "purged" or "purified" (Greek, katharismon) is in the aorist tense, meaning that "in Christ" all the saint's sins have already been removed. "In Christ" their cleansing is already complete (Definitive Sanctification, see below; Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; Eph 5:25; 2 Tim 2:2, 2 Thess 2:13-14, etc.).

Moreover, John says that the believer is cleansed from every sin. 1 John 1:7 states, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." Every kind of sin, and each and every one of them was cleansed at the Cross (cf. 1 John 2:1). If we fail to "walk in the light" then the Christian should confess his sin (1 John 1:8-10): (1) repentance (2) faith (see Psa. 51). See "Lessons on Repentance - Psalm 51" below. It is important to note here that sin does not change a saint's position "in Christ" (they are still fully justified), but it can effect their fellowship with God; grieve / quench the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19). Moreover, the "all sin" in 1 John 1:7 corresponds to "no darkness at all" in 1 John 1:5. Therefore, once a person has believed in Christ - once they have been to Calvary - just as there is no darkness in God, the same is "accounted" towards the saint. Positionally speaking their slate is wiped clean. No wonder Paul says, "blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin" (Rom 4:8). The believer's sins are gone; "as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (Psa 103:12). It is interesting, that according to present scientific theories the universe is considered to be ever-expanding; actually expanding faster now than it has in the past. Therefore, if science is correct - and even if it isn't - the meaning of the text is that our sin has been so far removed from us that it will not be found again. And it is not as if God is looking for it, because it was dealt with at Calvary.

For the believer, the eternal judgment of sin has been put away once and for all (Heb 9:26). Christ's sacrifice is perfect and complete. It can't be added to or improved upon, because anything we could offer would be as a filthy rag (Isa 64:6, best interpreted as menstrual cloth). Hebrews 10:14 states, "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." Though a saint is presently "being sanctified," God sees his sin as already dealt with at the Cross. The verb teteleioken meaning "he has perfected" is in the perfect indicative active meaning a past completed action with results that are ongoing. So, though a believer is growing in holiness everyday, they will never be more perfect than they are "in Christ" already. "It is finished" (John 19:30).

This said, saints don't have a license to sin (Rom 6:1-2). There is still a present struggle against sin in the believer's life (Rom 7:7-25; 1 John 1:8-10). Moreover, God still disciplines sin (Heb 12:3-17). Christians still suffer for their sins while upon this earth (i.e. Samson, Moses, David). But sin is not greater than Christ's grace and work in the believer's life (Rom 5:20; 8:1).

It is not our obedience, repentance, or faith that is the ground of our justification; it was Christ alone (Eph 2:9-10; Tit 3:4-5). And it will be this same amazing grace in Christ that ushers each saint into glory.

Peter wrote, "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:13). Note Peter says to set our minds "fully on the grace." There is no hope in the prison called Purgatory, only in the grace of Christ.

In Closing

Bail bondsman bail people out of prison for a crime. The bail can be an amount of money, a home, or whatever other standard the law allows. The Catholic Church is similar to a bail bondsman, as it thinks Christians are still headed for Purgatory to undergo years of imprisonment. While today it may not be money, they still ask for a price of some sort. Be set free from the bail bondsman called the Catholic Church. Trust in Christ alone (Rom 10:9-10). If you know Christ, he has already declared you "not guilty"! (Rom 3:24-26; 8:33-34; cf. John 8:36). You don't having a pending date of appearance in Purgatory.

In conclusion, Purgatory is not a biblical doctrine.

Related Topics:

What is Reprobation?
Noah, Baptism, and Hell - 1 Peter 3:18-22
Definitive Sanctification
Is Catholic Penance Biblical?
Lessons on Repentance - Psalm 51
What is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary?
What is the Immaculate Conception?
Praying the Rosary?
Catholics and Justification?
The Catholic Bible?
Apocrypha Accounts?
Transubstantiation vs. Consubstantiation vs. Memorialism vs Reformed?
Hahn's Hersey: The Four Cups?
Pre-Apostolic Succession ???
What are the three types of Merit?
Can Catholics be Saved?
Are all Protestants going to Hell (Catholic Dogma)?
Was Peter the First Pope?
Who is the One True Church?
Do you agree with what the Roman Catholic teaches?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).