What is Purgatory?


By BibleAsk Team


The word Purgatory (medieval Latin: purgatorium) is not found in the Bible but comes from 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 sins, 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 state between death and eternal life that the souls of the dead go to, to expiate their sins that had not been fully cleansed during life.

The Catholic Church teaches that the process of purgatory (the final purification of the elect) 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. And it claims that a person’s time in purgatorial fire may be shortened, and his pains alleviated, by the faithful prayers and charitable works of those still alive. But this teaching of temporary punishment is not supported by the Scriptures. For more, check: https://bibleask.org/is-prayer-for-the-dead-wrong-or-useless/

Catholicism bases the conception of purgatory, and the practice of praying for the dead, on the Deuterocanonical book – 2 Maccabees 12:46. The Deuterocanonical books teach doctrines that are not in harmony with the Holy Canon and that are not historically accurate. For this reason, Protestants don’t accept the teaching of purgatory on the basis of their Sola Scriptura stand. This belief means that the Bible alone should be the primary and absolute source for all doctrines and practices. Also, Protestants don’t uphold 2 Maccabees as part of the inspired Scriptures 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 (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; Isaiah 53:5). 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 the sins of humanity (Romans 5:8). When He died on the cross, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He completed the work of man’s redemption and now He serves as the High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary (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.”

Christ took care of “purging” man’s sins by His redemptive work 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 Christ’s sacrifice, believers are cleansed, declared righteous, forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and sanctified. Thus, His work of salvation was perfect on man’s behalf. Hence, those who believe in Him 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, 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). People don’t do good works to be saved but because they are saved. Good works are the fruits of God working in the heart (Philippians 2:13).

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.  For it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 3:15

Catholics wrongly base their belief of Purgatory on 1 Corinthians 3:15. This verse 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 describing the purgatory doctrine, Dante Alighieri wrote an Italian narrative poem called the Divine Comedy in the early Christian era of the 14th century. This poem of the Middle English Literature described Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise or Heaven. It was based 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.”

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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