What the Bible says about it
Bible passages which appear to support Purgatory:
There is no direct, unambiguous reference in the Bible to either the existence or the
nature of Purgatory. Its existence has been inferred from a number of passages in the
- 2 Maccabees 12:39-45: This passage is taken from the Apocrypha which is
recognized by the Roman Catholic Church and a few Protestant denominations as
an integral part of the
official canon of scripture. It talks about living persons praying for the dead. One
could reason that there is no need to pray for the deceased if they are in Heaven; they
have already received their reward. If the deceased is in Hell, then
prayer would again be meaningless because they would be beyond help. One might surmise
that there must be an intermediate state or location where a person's soul could be helped
by the prayer of others.
- 1 Corinthians 3:15 discusses how each individual's good and bad works
will be judged after death. This is probably the main text used by Catholics to support
their belief in Purgatory. The passage refers to fire which will test the quality of each
man's work. If it is burned up...he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping
through the flames. This passage could be interpreted as a reference to the purifying
fires of Purgatory, which would eventually allow a person to escape. This reference cannot
refer to Hell, because one cannot leave that place; it cannot refer to Heaven because
there is no pain there; it must refer to some intermediate location. The key word in
the original Greek is "zemiothesetai" which is translated as "suffer
loss" in many versions of the Bible. But the original word also can refer to
punishment; this alternative meaning is suppressed in most translations.
- Revelation 21:27 states that no impure person will enter heaven.
"But nothing unclean shall enter it..." Some reason
that if a
person dies with some minor sins still on their record, then they are obviously not pure; they must go to some place to be refined until they can
- Other passages include: Psalm 141:8; Daniel 12:10; Micah 7:9;
Zechariah 9:11; Matthew 5:26; Matthew 12:32 & 36; Luke 12:47-48; Philippians 2:10;
Hebrews 12:22b; James 3:1; 1 Peter 3:19; 1 Peter 4:18; 1 Peter 1:7; and Jude 23.
- Passages which discuss "penitent mourning or concern for safe passage of the
dead" are: Genesis 50:10; Numbers 20:29; Deuteronomy 34:8; 2 Maccabees 12:44-45;
1 Corinthians 15:29; 2 Timothy 1:16-18; 2 Timothy 4:19. These have been used to
imply the existence of Purgatory. 2
Bible passages which appear to oppose Purgatory:
- Many conservative Protestants believe that various biblical passages on salvation
indicate that a person would go to either heaven (if
they were saved) or to Hell (if they were not) after death. Purgatory would thus
have no function. Some of
those passages are:
- Romans 5:18: "...by the righteousness of one (Jesus)
the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life."
- Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death; but the
gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Paul
appears to have believed that the unsaved would simply be annihilated and exist no more
in any form; the saved would attain eternal life in heaven).
- Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and
that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God."
However, it can be argued that these passages do not preclude the existence
of Purgatory. One might argue that perhaps Heaven, the free gift from God, is not
experienced immediately at death. There remains the possibility that the gift of heaven will be delayed
until after a person is purified in Purgatory.
- Others claim that Purgatory does not exist since the saved will avoid the
wrath and condemnation of God:
- Romans 5:9 states that: "Much more then, being now justified by his
blood, we shall be saved from wrath through
- John 5:24: "...He that heareth my word, and believeth on him
that sent me hath everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed
from death unto life."
Again, it could be argued that this verse does not preclude Purgatory. One
could believe that the punishment in Purgatory comes from the loving
chastisement of God, not from his wrath or condemnation. Thus, believers would
have to experience Purgatory.
- Many of passages do seem to indicate that a saved person has already been
totally forgiven his/her sins -- past, present and future. 1 John is particularly clear on this point.
Purgatory would thus not be needed, because the believers have already had
their sins wiped clean. A few of these passages are:
- Romans 3:24: "...Being justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:"
- Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them
which are in Christ Jesus..."
- 1 Corinthians 6:11: "And such were some of you: but ye
are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of
the Lord Jesus..."
- Titus 2:14: "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us
from all iniquity, and purify onto himself a peculiar people..."
- Hebrews 10:14: "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever
them that are sanctified."
- 1 John 1:7: "...the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us
from all sin."
- 1 John 1:7: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just
to forgive us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness."
- 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just
to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
- Robert Broderick, Ed., "Catholic Encyclopedia," Thomas Nelson,
Nashville, TN (1987), Page 502.
- Robert A. Sungenis, "Purgatory," at: http://net2.netacc.net/~mafg/prgtry01.htm
Copyright © 1998, to 2008 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-DEC-08
Author: B.A. Robinson