Is purgatory a Bible teaching?

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By BibleAsk Team


The concept of purgatory, a place or state of purification for souls after death, is primarily associated with Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. However, purgatory is not supported by the Bible, leading to theological debates regarding its validity. To explore this topic thoroughly, we’ll examine various theological perspectives and arguments against its scriptural basis, drawing upon relevant references from the Bible.

Theological Perspectives on Purgatory

1. Catholic Doctrine

Within Catholic theology, purgatory is understood as a state of purification for souls who die in a state of grace but still require cleansing from the temporal effects of sin before entering heaven. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1030-1032) teaches that those in purgatory undergo purification to achieve the holiness necessary for the beatific vision.

2. Eastern Orthodox Tradition

Similarly, Eastern Orthodox theology includes the notion of purification after death, often referred to as the “final theosis” or “final deification.” While not described as a distinct place like purgatory, Eastern Orthodox Christians believe in a postmortem process of sanctification leading to full communion with God.

3. Apocryphal Support for Purgatory

This passage from the Apocrypha is often cited in defense of purgatory. In 2 Maccabees 12:45-46 (NKJV), Judas Maccabeus offers a sin offering for fallen soldiers, believing in a future resurrection and praying for the dead. However, the Apocrypha is not accepted as Scripture (part of the inspired Canon) by all Christian denominations.

Lack of Scriptural Support

1. Hebrews 9:27

The doctrine of purgatory suggests a postmortem purification process for souls, yet Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV) states, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” This verse affirms the finality of death and emphasizes the immediacy of judgment, contradicting the idea of an intermediate state where souls undergo purification.

2. John 5:24

Jesus declares in John 5:24 (NKJV), “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” According to this verse, believers who have placed their trust in Christ have already passed from death to life and are exempt from further judgment or purification beyond death.

Emphasis on Immediate Judgment

1. 2 Corinthians 5:10

In 2 Corinthians 5:10 (NKJV), Paul writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” This verse underscores the belief in an immediate judgment at the resurrection, where individuals are held accountable for their actions during their earthly lives, without any reference of a postmortem purification process.

2. Luke 16:19-31 (Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus)

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 (NKJV) provides insight into the consequences of death. In this parable, the rich man and Lazarus experience distinct fates at the resurrection: Lazarus is carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man is tormented in Hades. There is no mention of a third realm like purgatory, suggesting that individuals face immediate consequences based on their faith and actions in life.

There are no Bible references that teach that once a person dies that he can be saved after death by virtue of what people in this life are doing on his behalf. The salvation of the dead are not dependent on the actions of the living. People take their record with them to their grave that they’ll face again in the day of judgment (Hebrews 9:27). The teaching of purgatory, that priests can pray for the dead when their relatives make a donation to the church to help them speed out of hell, originated in the dark ages. This was a plan for the church to monopolize salvation and generate revenues.

Sufficiency of Christ’s Atonement

1. Hebrews 10:14

Hebrews 10:14 (NKJV) asserts, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” This verse emphasizes the completeness and sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Believers are declared perfected through Christ’s sacrifice, with no need for additional purification beyond what Christ has accomplished on their behalf. Purgatory is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice was absolutely and perfectly sufficient to atone for all sins (Hebrews 7:27).

2. Romans 6:23

Romans 6:23 (NKJV) declares, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Salvation is portrayed as a free gift bestowed upon believers through faith in Jesus Christ, not contingent upon any additional purification process after death. The doctrine of purgatory introduces a secondary stage of purification that undermines the completeness of Christ’s atonement.

Distinctive Nature of Salvation

1. Ephesians 2:8-9

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) affirms, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Salvation is portrayed as a present reality for believers, received through faith in Christ alone, apart from any meritorious works or additional purification processes after death.

2. John 14:6

Jesus proclaims in John 14:6 (NKJV), “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Salvation is presented as exclusively through Jesus Christ, with no indication of a secondary means of purification (fire) or attainment of holiness apart from faith in Him.

3. Isaiah 53

The Bible declares that Jesus died to pay the penalty for all of our sins (Romans 5:8). Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV) declares, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” Jesus suffered for our sins so that we could be delivered from suffering. To say that we must also suffer in purgatory for our sins is to say that Jesus’ suffering was insufficient (1 John 2:2).

Catholics view meritorious works as contributing to salvation due to their failure to recognize that Jesus’ sacrificial payment has no need of additional “contribution” (Ephesians 2:8-9). They do not understand that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, believers are already justified.

Conclusion

The doctrine of purgatory, while espoused by Catholicism and eastern Orthodoxy, faces significant challenges when scrutinized through the lens of biblical teachings. The lack of explicit scriptural support, emphasis on immediate judgment, sufficiency of Christ’s atonement, and distinctive nature of salvation present formidable obstacles to the acceptance of purgatory as a biblical doctrine.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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