Home › Got Questions?

What Does The Bible Say About Purgatory?

The Bible never speaks of a place where one can go to be purified of his sin. Rather, it always speaks of a Person to whom we can go to be purified: Jesus Christ. God tells us that those who refuse to trust Christ to cleanse them from their sins are condemned: Whoever believes in Him avoids condemnation, but whoever does not believe is already condemned for not believing in the name of God’s only Son (John 3:18). There are only two choices: Whoever believes in the Son has life eternal. Whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure the wrath of God (John 3:36; See also Revelation 20:15; Luke 16:19-31, especially verse 26). Anyone who accepts Christ is completely saved: There is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Saying that there is no condemnation, certainly eliminates the flames of purgatory.

Another passage which clearly excludes the idea of purgatory is, their sins and transgressions I will remember no more (Hebrews 10:17). If, as the Bible says, God no longer remembers the sins of those who are in Christ, He does not punish them for these sins. To do so would be saying that Christ had not made full payment for them and that God the Father still remembered them. (See also Romans 5:8-11; Hebrews 10:14-18; Psalm 103:12).

Anyone who does not believe that Christ has completely saved him, has not completely trusted Christ to save him. That is, he does not believe that Christ’s sacrifice has paid for all of his sins, and thinks he must pay for some of them himself. However, we are saved when we stop trusting what we can do, and start trusting Christ to save us.

The idea that Christ’s sacrifice is not sufficient to cleanse us from all of our sins would condemn a great sinner such as the thief who was crucified with Jesus to suffer a long time in purgatory if not for all eternity in hell! Instead, there was nothing left over that Christ’s death on the Cross did not cover. When the thief placed his trust in Christ, Jesus said to him, I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).

If purgatory existed, and the mass helped people to get out, the rich would have a tremendous advantage by being able to pay for masses to shorten their suffering. The poor instead, would be left to the mercy of the occasional priest who might say an unpaid mass for them. One ex-priest wrote, “If we really believed that the mass would save people from the flames of purgatory, would we make them pay for it? I would even save a dog if I saw one in a fire, and I would never even think of asking to be paid!”

Purgatory was evidently a pagan idea. Virgil, the pagan Latin poet who lived 70 – 19 B.C. divided the departed souls into three different places in his writings: One for the good, one for the dammed, and a third where the less bad could pay for their sins. Since the idea of purgatory existed outside of the church before it came into the church, it is probable that it was brought in by contact with pagans like Virgil. There was a great influx of non-Biblical ideas into the church around 300 A.D. when the Roman Emperor Constantine took many unsaved people in as members of the church.

In any event, there is no mention of purgatory in the Bible. Some would try, however, to make the idea sound somewhat Biblical by referring to 2 Maccabees 12:41-45, a passage in one of the apocryphal books written between the times of the Old and New Testaments. These books were never accepted as part of the Hebrew Old Testament, nor quoted in the New Testament, but they are included in the Catholic Bible, though usually with an explanation that they are of a less inspired category. Apart from this passage in 2 Maccabees, the apocrypha is little used by the Catholic church to support a doctrinal position.

It is important to notice that this passage does not speak of purgatory at all, but actually condemns idolatry, particularly the practice of wearing little images on a necklace or such. Hebrew soldiers were found wearing this sort of thing after a battle, and their buddies, on making this discovery, realized that they had died in the sin of idolatry. They then counselled prayer for their souls. The Roman Catholic position is that prayer for them would have been unnecessary if they were in heaven and useless if they were in hell, so there must be another place. The logic seems good, but the result contradicts the clear teaching of the inspired Scripture. Contradicting inspired Scripture with a philosophical response based on an apparent inference from the Apocrypha is a very weak argument indeed. The very word “Apocrypha,” which comes from the Greek word for hidden, has come to mean “false,” or “of doubtful authorship.”