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What Does the Bible Say About Purgatory?

What Does the Bible Say About PurgatoryMy mother was a cultural Catholic for many years, and although she was quick to identify herself with Catholicism, she had a limited knowledge of the Church’s teaching. Worse yet, she wasn’t yet a robust Bible reader. When I eventually became a Christian, I found myself examining several claims of Catholicism to see if they were true. Catholics believe in purgatory, “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.” The notion of purgatory assumes many of us die with unforgiven sins that need to be purged from our account; some of us are not good enough to go to heaven, but not bad enough to go to hell. Purgatory, therefore, is a temporary, intermediate place (or state of being) where good deeds and works can be performed in order to purge our impurity prior to our final destiny with God. Although millions of Catholics believe purgatory to be a reality, the idea needs to be tested in light of the Scripture. Is purgatory something we, as Bible believing Christians, should accept as true?

The evidence from the New Testament simply does not support the existence of purgatory. In fact, the Biblical doctrine of Salvation eliminates the need for purgatory:

Our Salvation Isn’t Based On Our Good Works
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, forgiveness is not based on the good works of the believer. For this reason, deeds or works performed for those in purgatory are both unnecessary and ineffectual:

Romans 3:21-24, 27-28
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus… Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Romans 8:1
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.

Our Salvation Is Based On Jesus’ Work on the Cross
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, Jesus’ work on the cross (His blood) purifies us from all sin. For this reason, there isn’t a lingering sin problem requiring the existence of a place like purgatory:

Titus 2:13-14
…we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

1John 1:7b
…the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

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1John 1:9b
…he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1John 2:2
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Hebrews 10:14
…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Our Salvation Has, Therefore, Already Been Guaranteed
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, Jesus has already purified and purged believers of sin based on our faith in Him. For this reason, there is no need for a place like Purgatory where additional purging must be performed:

1 Corinthians 6:11
But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Hebrews 1:3
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high

The Biblical doctrine of Salvation clearly eliminates the need for purgatory. In addition to this, the Biblical doctrine of Heaven eliminates the possibility of purgatory:

Our Reunion Is “Wrathless”
According to the Biblical doctrine of Heaven, believers will not be subjected to the continuing wrath of God; they have been justified in spite of their sinfulness. For this reason, we do not believe God’s wrath or condemnation needs to be addressed in a place like purgatory:

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Romans 5:9
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

John 5:24
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life”.

Our Reunion is Immediate
According to the Biblical doctrine of Heaven, believers are united with God in Heaven the moment they die. For this reason, the existence of purgatory is simply inconsistent with the nature of Heaven as it is described in the Bible:

2 Corinthians 5:6-8
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Philippians 1:20-23
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.

Luke 23:39-43
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Bible tells us with certainty we cannot earn our salvation with good works because Jesus’ death on the cross paid for all our sin. Jesus purged us from our impurity, and He doesn’t need any additional help from us. Click To Tweet

The Bible tells us with certainty we cannot earn our salvation with good works because Jesus’ death on the cross paid for all our sin. Jesus purged us from our impurity, and He doesn’t need any additional help from us. When we are united with God, we will not suffer God’s wrath if we have accepted the free gift of Salvation through Christ; we will join God the moment we die, and the finishing work of Jesus will be more than sufficient to guarantee our place at the table.

For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.

J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case ChristianityGod’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.

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J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and best-selling author. He continues to consult on cold-case investigations while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also an Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and a faculty member at Summit Ministries. He holds a BA in Design (from CSULB), an MA in Architecture (from UCLA), and an MA in Theological Studies (from Gateway Seminary).

11 Comments

11 Comments

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  5. Christine Shrewsbury

    December 6, 2020 at 11:09 pm

    I am 72 years old and what used to be referred to as a cradle Catholic, a Catholic from birth, or as Mr. Wallace refers to as a cultural Catholic. The Catholic Church has never taught that purgatory is a temporal place of punishment “…where good deeds and works can be performed in order to purge our impurity prior to our final destination with God.” The Catholic Church has never taught salvation by works, but salvation only by God’s grace and gift. They have taught that purgatory is a place of refinement. Neither can any soul in purgatory pray for him- or herself.

    • Tim McVicker

      February 23, 2022 at 9:55 am

      Hello Christine,

      This is a difficult thing for me to write in response to your comments. I am also in my 70’s and I was a cradle Catholic. For many years, I have been studying the Bible and the teachings of the Catholic Church and I have been unable, in a few areas, to reconcile some of the Church’s teachings with Scripture.

      Regarding Purgatory, the Council of Trent (25th Session – Decree on Purgatory) does state that the living faithful can perform works of piety, almsgiving, prayers, offering Masses etc. for the faithfully departed in Purgatory. It was not limited to prayers only.

      I also researched the history or development of Purgatory and found that it did not come about until the Second Council of Lyon in 1274. The Catholic Church defined, for the first time, its teaching on purgatory, in two points: some souls are purified after death; such souls benefit from the prayers and pious duties that the living do for them. The concept of Purgatory developed over time.

      Believe me, I know this is difficult to accept, as I have struggled with this and other issues. But I have found that Scripture must be the authoritative rule, as it were, since Scripture is the Word of God.

      From the Council of Trent…

      “And let the bishops take care, that the suffrages of the faithful who are living, to wit, the sacrifices of masses, prayers, almsgivings, and other works of piety, which have been wont to be performed by the faithful for the other faithful departed, be piously and devoutly performed, according to the institutes of the Church; and that what things soever are due on their behalf from the endowments of testators, or in other way, be discharged, not in a negligent manner, but diligently and accurately, by the priests and ministers of the church, and others who are bound to render this service.”

  6. Christine Shrewsbury

    December 6, 2020 at 11:16 pm

    In addition, the Catholic Church does not teach that anyone still living on earth can perform any good works or deeds for any soul in purgatory. The church only says pray for souls in purgatory because they cannot pray for themselves.

    • Kamran Umar

      December 7, 2020 at 7:37 am

      2 Maccabees was originally in the Bible but has since been removed and placed in the apocrypha. It states that “it is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.”

      Cathicism is one of the few variations of Christianity that believe this quote to still be canonical, so your final point does not make any sense.

      • Gary

        January 4, 2021 at 2:00 pm

        2 Maccabees has never been removed from the Bible. It has been part of sacred scripture since before the time of Christ, and it wasn’t until the first century A.D. when the Jews decided to remove it from their canon; however, Christians kept the book in their Bible. It wasn’t until the 16th century when the protestants decided to abandon the Christian old testament and replace it with the Jewish Canon. It’s been this way ever since.

    • Miguel

      April 10, 2022 at 2:26 am

      Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.
      Psalm 115:17 The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.
      —-Psalm 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
      —-Ecclesiastes 12:7 And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
      —Psalm 146:4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.
      —-Job 14:10-12 But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep.
      —-John 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
      —Job 14:12 So a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep.

  7. Christine Shrewsbury

    December 7, 2020 at 12:05 am

    Our Lady if Fatima spoke about purgatory when she appeared to the three children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, in Portugal in 1917.

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