What does the Bible say about Purgatory?
The answer can be very short: Nothing!
As far as I know there is no church, except the Roman Catholic church that has teachings about purgatory. Catholics find it strange that other churches don’t believe in purgatory, while others find it strange that Catholics do, as there is nothing in the Bible on which this believe could be based. On the other hand there are numerous Bible verses that go against this idea.
The Roman Catholic church believes that purgatory is a place (or a condition) of temporary punishment (that can last for a thousand, or even two thousand years) for those who are falling under God’s grace, but not completely free from daily, forgivable sins, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions, when they depart this life.
In other words, in Catholic theology, Purgatory is a place (or condition), where a Christian’s soul goes to after death, to be cleansed of the sins that had not been fully satisfied during life.
Is this doctrine of purgatory in agreement with the Bible?
Jesus died, to pay the penalty for our sins.
And in Isaiah 53:5-6 we read:
⁵He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed [from our sins]. ⁶All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
In Romans 5:8-10 we read:
⁸But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. ⁹Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. ¹⁰For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
So it is clear 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 the same as saying that Jesus’ suffering was insufficient, and saying that Jesus did not speak the truth when He said “It is finished!”.
Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
1 John 2:1-2
¹My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; ²and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
Saying that we must atone for our sins by cleansing in purgatory, is the same as denying that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient. The idea that we, after death, have to suffer ourselves for our sins, is contrary to everything the Bible says about salvation.
How did the Catholics come to the idea of purgatory?
The primary Bible verse the Roman Catholics point to is 1 Corinthians 3:15 where we read: If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
However when we read the verse in context it becomes clear clear what it means.
1 Corinthians 3:11-15
¹¹For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. ¹²Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, ¹³each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. ¹⁴If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. ¹⁵If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
This passage is using an illustration of things going through fire as a description of the judgment of the works of the believer. If the works are of good quality “gold, silver, costly stones,” they will pass through the fire unharmed, and we will be rewarded for them. If our works are of poor quality “wood, hay, and straw,” they will be consumed by the fire, and there will be no reward.
▪︎ This passage does not say that believers will have to pass through the fire, but rather that a believer’s works pass through the fire.
▪︎ Furthermore 1 Corinthians 3:15 refers to the believer “escaping like through the flames,” and not “being cleansed by the flames.”
Purgatory, like many other Catholic dogmas, is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ’s sacrifice.
who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did ONCE FOR ALL when He offered up Himself.
⁸For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; ⁹not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Catholics view works as a contribution to salvation due to a failure to recognize that Jesus’ sacrificial payment has no need of additional “contribution”. Similarly, purgatory is understood by Catholics as a place of cleansing in preparation for heaven because they do not recognize that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are already cleansed, declared righteous, forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and sanctified.
The whole idea of purgatory and the doctrines that are attached to it (like prayer for the dead, indulgences, works on behalf of the dead, etc.) all fail to recognize that Jesus’ death was sufficient to pay the penalty for ALL of our sins.
Jesus, who was God incarnate (John 1:1, 14), paid an infinite price for our sin. Jesus died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2).
To limit the sacrifice of Jesus to atonement for only the original sin or for the sins committed before salvation, is an attack on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. If we must, in order to be saved, pay for, atone for, or suffer because of our sins, then Jesus’ death was not a perfect, complete, and sufficient sacrifice.
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