What is Purgatory?

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Definition

The word Purgatory (medieval Latin: purgatorium) is not found in the Bible but is a Roman Catholic doctrine.  According to the the Catholic Encyclopedia, Purgatory 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.” This doctrine was defined in the Second Council of Lyon (1274), the Council of Florence (1438–1445), and the Council of Trent (1545–63).

The Roman Catholic Church holds that all who have died in a state of grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified, undergo the process of purification which it calls purgatory, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.  In other words, Purgatory is an intermediate place that a Christian’s soul goes to after death to be cleansed of the sins that had not been fully cleansed during life.

The Catholic Church teaches that the process of purgatory is the final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. It holds that the time spent in Purgatory is equal to the severity of the sins that one has committed that were not forgiven before their death. And it claims that a person’s time in purgatory may be shortened, and his pains alleviated, by the faithful prayers and charitable works of those still alive.

Catholicism bases the teaching of purgatory and the practice of praying for the dead, on the Deuterocanonical book – 2 Maccabees 12:46. The Deuterocanonical books teach many things that are not in harmony with the Scriptures and are not historically accurate.

For this reason, Protestants don’t accept the purgatory doctrine on the basis of their Sola Scriptura stand which means that the Scripture alone should be the primary and absolute source for all doctrines and practices (faith and morals). Also, they don’t uphold 2 Maccabees as part of the Holy inspired Canon but as only part of the Apocryphal literature.

Is Purgatory Biblical?

The idea that believers have to suffer for their sins after death is contrary to what the Bible teaches about Jesus’ sacrifice and salvation. The Scriptures state that Jesus suffered for our sins so that we could be delivered from suffering. To say that we must also suffer for our sins is to say that Jesus’ suffering was insufficient (1 John 2:2).

Christ was crucified to atone for all sins of humanity (Romans 5:8 also Isaiah 53). When He died on the cross, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He completed the work of our redemption and now He serves as our high priest in heaven (Hebrews 4:14-16). Paul says in Hebrews 10:14, “By one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.”

Jesus took care of “purging” our sins by His work of salvation at the cross. Hebrews 1:3 affirms, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, believers are cleansed, declared righteous, forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and sanctified. Thus, Jesus’ work of salvation was perfect on our behalf. Hence, those who believe in Christ are “made perfect” forever; no further “purging” is necessary. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Catholics view meritorious works as a means to attain salvation. But the Bible declares, “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The idea of Purgatory and prayers for the dead, indulgences, meritorious works on behalf of the dead, etc. are all based on salvation by works. The Bible teaches,“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9).

The great danger in the purgatory doctrine is that it encourages people to go on sinning all through their lives thinking to wait to make things right when they die and reach purgatory only to find that it’s too late. The Bible teaches there is no second chance after death (Hebrews 9:29).

Misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 3:15

Catholics base their belief of Purgatory on 1 Corinthians 3:15, which says, “If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” This verse talks about materials going through fire to describe the judgement of the works of men.

At the judgment, the good works that are represented by “gold, silver, costly stones,” will pass through the fire without being destroyed. But the bad works, which are represented by “wood, hay, and straw,” will be burned up by the fire with no reward. This verse does not teach that believers pass through the fire, but rather that their works pass through the fire. Thus, the believer will escape from the fire not be cleansed by it.

Middle English Literature

In the 14th century, Dante Alighieri wrote an Italian narrative poem called the Divine Comedy. And he based his poem on the medieval Roman Catholic theology and philosophy, particularly Thomistic philosophy, which derived from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, Consequently, the Divine Comedy has been called “the Summa in verse.”  This poem described Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise or Heaven.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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