What Do Christians Believe About Purgatory? What Does The Bible Teach?

by Jack Wellman on November 17, 2012 · Print Print · Email Email

What do Christians believe about Purgatory?  What denominations believe this or teach this?  Is Purgatory Scriptural and if so, where is it found in the Bible?

What is Purgatory?

Purgatory is said to be a place where the remaining sins are purged so that the person might achieve the status of going to, or being worthy to enter, heaven.  The Catholic Church teaches about the existence of Purgatory.  Protestants do not teach it because they see it as an attack on the finished work of Christ at Calvary.  The word “Purgatory” is not found in the Bible but neither is the word “Trinity” or the “Bible.” Many believe there are supporting Scriptures that indicate that it is both needful and that it does indeed exist.  Purgatory means “a cleansing place.”  Purgatory is the place where “small sins” that have been committed since the last time the person participated in the sacrament of reconciliation are purged as a person spend times there between earth and heaven when they die. The time spent there is dependent upon the number of such sins that the person committed.  The time spent in Purgatory is equal to the severity of the sins that one has committed that were not forgiven before their death.  The person still dies in a state of grace, but they died with sins that they either failed to pay penance for or they failed to confess before death.

Purgatory is not hell because hell is for those who have never repented and placed their trust in Christ nor is it heaven because no unclean thing shall enter heaven (Rev 21:27).  Purgatory is transitory or a place of transition from there to heaven.  The time spent there is to purge or cleanse them from the remaining sins that were unatoned.

Where is Purgatory?

Purgatory is said to be less of a place but a state to be in.

Purgatory’s location is really unknown since no one has been there and returned to tell us and the Bible speaks of no such place; it is impossible to know.  Purgatory is said to be less of a place but a state to be in.  For those who believe in Purgatory, the location of the “cleansing place” is not as important as the purpose for the place.  The Catholic Bible does site some scriptures from their Bible such as 2 Maccabees 12:46 where the Jews prayed for the dead who were in a place (Purgatory) where they could be helped.  The prayers were thought to aid and assist their exit from such a place.

Bible Verses Used to Support Purgatory

The Catholic Church believes that other Scriptures teach the reality of Purgatory like in Matthew 12:32, “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come and Matthew 5:26, Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny among many other Scriptures. You can see why the Catholics used Matthew 5:26 to prove the existence of Purgatory.  I will not include all of the Scriptures that some use as Scriptural proof for the existence of Purgatory because there are several of them and space will simply not allow for them all.  Besides the verses Matthew 5:26 and 12:32, there are Micah 7:8-9, Malachi 3:2-4, Luke 16:9, Zechariah 9:11, Ephesians 4:8-10, 1 Peter 3:19-20 and 4:6.  Another one that is used is Luke 16:19-31 which is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus which I will include below:

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’  And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.“

Bible Verses That Conflict with Purgatory

John 3:18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

John 5:24Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

Romans 4:6-8David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

Romans 8:33-34Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

2 Corinthians 5:21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Romans 4:5  “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

Who Believes in Purgatory?

Most Catholics and a few scattered denominations believe in Purgatory as being real.  Most evangelical or Protestant Christians do not.  There is no record in the history of the early church that this doctrine was ever taught.  I found none of the early church fathers wrote about it like Polycarp, a student of the Apostle John or Justin Martyr.  You decide for yourself whether or not you believe it.  Of these things we can be certain:

  • that there is salvation only in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12);
  • and there is simply no other way that a person can be saved (Acts 16:30-31)
  • and that salvation means that one believes that Jesus lived a sinless life, died in the place of sinners, was raised from the dead, and today sits at the Right Hand of God (Romans 10:9-13).

I pray that you will place your trust in Jesus Christ today and be saved (John 3:16-17), otherwise you will stand condemned and judged as guilty by the Savior, the Lord, Judge, and Master Jesus Christ (John 3:18, Rev 20).

Interested in more Christian answers? Take a look at these articles:

What steps do I take to become a Christian?

Can a Christian lose their salvation?

Who goes to Heaven?

Resources:

New International Version Bible
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide


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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Barry Lewis November 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Jack!

Thanks again for another very interesting and informative article! I have never believed in purgatory and never will. I will never understand the Catholics and their seeming need to put a priest and now a “place” between man and Jesus and heaven. I do believe that Catholics are going to heaven because they do believe in Jesus and the gospel, but I will never understand them. They remind me of the Pharisees in the days of the Jesus’ teaching.

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Jack Wellman November 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Hello Mr. Lewis. Thank you sir for such an encouraging comment. I am with you and I, like you, believe that Catholics believe in the only name that can save them, Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). I look forward to meeting you as well as many of them on that Great Day, which appears to be coming soon.

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Tony Reese November 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm

I too find the Catholic church much in the vien of the Pharisees of Jesus time. Binding their members in religion. But, also, I do believe there are truly saved catholics. I pray that the spirit of religion be broken, not just catholic but in all the earth in all beliefs, so that the Gospel of Jesus can be first and foremost in all our lives.

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Karen November 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm

TPurgatory I believe was invented by catholics tho I believe their idea came from a time when old testament people died BEFORE Jesus was crucified. We catch our first glimpse of it when the rich man died and went to hell and he saw Lazarus afar off in “Abraham’s Bosom” and wanted Lazarus to dip his finger in water just to give him a drop of water. But Abraham said a great gulf separated them and they weren’t allowed to. Please note the beggar was not in heaven at this time but was at peace whereas the rich man was in unbearable heat and torment so much so that he asked for the poor Lazarus to go back and warn his rich brothers. Now read in the four gospels AFTER Jesus crucifixion and death. He had the keys and went Hades and hell. After His resurrection you never see Abraham’s bosom again. You will find many scriptures thru out the new testament that show the minute we die we go to heaven where Jesus is and if you aren’t saved you go straight to hell just like the rich man did.

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Robert November 19, 2012 at 9:15 am

Great article Jack, very informative.
The thought struck me as I read your article that Purgatory seems to be the continuation of the “works oriented” salvation that is often the focus of the Catholic tradition. It seems that the teaching means that, even after death, there remains the possibility of us gaining salvation through works. Just my take on it. God bless you, Jack.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Jack Wellman November 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Thank you Robert my friend. Always the encourager and I wonder if you are not in the lineage of Barnabas, the encourager? I believe in 1 John 1:9.

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Derek Hill November 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Thank you for this article Jack. I have quite a few friends/coworkers that are Catholics. I love them all with a “Christ-like” love. One in particular I have had many conversations with and we have both agreed to disagree on this issue of purgatory. Your article gave me encouragement and reassurance that the belief in Christ is everything and my friend does believe in our Savior. I have wrestled with the idea that maybe he would not be in heaven, but I know he believes in Christ. God bless you Jack! Your words have helped many, including me brother!

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Jack Wellman November 19, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Derek, you words are like a parched desert that blooms after a spring rain. I must say that I love your agreement to disagreement because truly, Jesus alone saves and I certainly don’t have perfect understanding (what an understatement!) but those things I DO know, are enough to save me. God bless you brother, you man of encouragement.

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Anyamele Angela November 22, 2012 at 7:13 am

I am a Catholic, I know by the grace of God I will make heaven. What one need to do, is to be born again and alway depend on Christ Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life.

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Jack Wellman November 26, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Amen Anyamele…that is so true. Believing in Jesus Christ alone saves us. None of us have perfect understanding but our Savior is perfect. Thank you for you comment my friend.

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James Alvarez November 25, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Hi Jack,

Thanks for an informative article.
It is very hard to reconcile with devoted Catholics about the nonexistence of purgatory especially here in the Philippines. They got stuck in their belief that they can do something for the salvation of a person who died already through their prayers and offerings. This belief disregards the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross to give salvation to all who will believe in Him and accept Him as their personal Lord and Savior.

Thanks again and God bless,
James

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Jack Wellman November 25, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Thank you Mr. Alvarez. I appreciate your kind words. I wish I had included 1 John 1:9 which says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” and on the cross He said, “It is finished” meaning the work at Calvary.

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Othniel Magtajas December 5, 2012 at 11:49 pm

I do not mean to sound questioning the entirety of your preaching, I am just confused in this part. Because I find that you cannot definitely say that purgatory does not really exist, and it lives me hanging. I’ll wait for your reply, GOD Bless you.

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Jack Wellman December 6, 2012 at 10:44 am

Thank you Othniel for your comment. Don’t worry about sounding negative. I am still growing in the knowledge of the Bible but my point is that purgatory does not exist. That is, what I believe, I said in the article. There is no such evidence that it exists because it is not found in the Bible anywhere and therefore, I say that there is no such thing as purgatory. Does this clarify it my friend? Thank you and may God richly bless you.

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Kamran E. Faazzal December 8, 2012 at 1:03 am

Greetings in Jesus name.
Hi Dear Jack Wellman.

Is completely nice and beneficial article for the guidance of true believers. May Lord Jesus bless you more and more for His glory.
Lets pray for the people and denominations which are following and teaching the wrong teachings all over the world.
Stay blessed in The Holy Blood of Jesus Christ.
Your Br. in Christ
Evg.Kamran E. Faazzal

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Deb April 11, 2013 at 9:03 am

Jack,
I can across your website while doing research on an article entitled “Purgatory” Does it really excise? You have written articles and books on this subject but my question to you is this….We as Christians believe in the word of the bible and the bible does not mention the word “Purgatory” at all, so should this word “Purgatory” be put in the same category as our faith and beliefs? If we believe there is such a place that we go to after death before we can enter into the heavenly realm then believers will go there, but ones who do not believe in “Purgatory” believe that when we die, we will either inner into Heaven or decent into hell and do not linger in between.
Would love to have commits on this please

Thanks
Deb

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Jack Wellman April 11, 2013 at 10:29 am

Thank you Deb for your comment and question. I do not believe that purgatory should be put in the same class as faith or beliefs because faith and belief (in Christ) is in the Bible while purgatory is not. It is written that after a man or woman dies, then comes judgment. Jesus paid it all so why would God require us to pay additionally in a purgatory for sin that Jesus took upon Himself. Its like thinking that Jesus paid it all…but I have to pay more for my own sins in purgatory. Does this make sense?

There is either the destination of hell or heaven after death. I see no other options in all of the Bible.

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Mike November 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm

“Thank you Deb for your comment and question. I do not believe that purgatory should be put in the same class as faith or beliefs because faith and belief (in Christ) is in the Bible while purgatory is not. [So if it's not in the Bible it's not to be believed? In that case I hope you burned all of the textbooks you were required to read in your Moody "seminary".] It is written that after a man or woman dies, then comes judgment [so where exactly in your KJV does it say that judgment comes IMMEDIATELY after death?]. Jesus paid it all [please explain exactly what "Jesus paid it all" is supposed to mean] so why would God require us to pay additionally in a purgatory for sin that Jesus took upon Himself [you blatantly misrepresent the Church's teaching on Purgatory, typical of Protestant false teachers. Not one single soul in Purgatory is paying for a mortal sin which Jesus took upon himself]. Its like thinking that Jesus paid it all…but I have to pay more for my own sins in purgatory [Read 1 John where he differentiates between mortal sins and sins that do not lead to death]. Does this make sense ?

There is either the destination of hell or heaven after death. I see no other options in all of the Bible [then you need to reread your bible--for sola scriptura protestants like you who claim Catholics never read their bibles, you don't seem to know it very well yourself.]”

“To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” -John Henry Cardinal Newman.

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Jack Wellman November 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I am so sorry Mike that you mixed up about what is sacred Scripture (i.e. Macabeed or Moody Textbooks) but the 66 books of the Bible have been, from the beginning, the Word of God and Jesus or the Apostles never quoted anything from the Apocrypha ever. Sorry to disappoint you. What about Lazarus and the rich man…he went IMMEDIATELY to hell fire after he died and begged Abraham to help him warn his brothers….but if there is a purgatory, why didn’t he want his brothers to “pray him out” of purgatory? Hmmmm… I repeat that purgatory represents this: “Sorry Jesus, your death on the cross was not quite enough…we have still more to do by our prayers for the dead.”

To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” -John Henry Cardinal Newman. I believe Mr. Newman would be better off looking deep into history instead of His Own story!

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bill July 6, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Another purpose of Purgatory is to provide Christians with accountability for their actions. You simply cannot accept Jesus as your savior and go around committing sin without recourse. Good deeds are still required to get into heaven. But good deeds alone will not save you. You must accept Christ as well. This is a symbiotic relationship. You can’t be a murderer your whole life and on your death bed accept Jesus and expect to get into heaven. You need to pay for your sins..but not through hell but through Purgatory. You have accepted Christ and you will get into heaven but not until you pay the price for your indiscretions and be cleansed through Purgatory.

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Othniel Magtajas September 22, 2013 at 10:39 pm

I see that what you mean by the word Purgatory is the consequences the Christians will face after committing certain sins. Those who are already cleansed by the blood of the Lord Jesus should not dwell on sin anymore, or get back to the old life they have already left behind, but because some still fail to maintain the holiness of God in them, by committing willful sins, even if they would be forgiven, this does not necessarily mean that the consequences they will face afterwards, the effect of their sins, will no longer be experienced or encountered. The things that we have already done, will surely have an effect after, may it be either negative or positive. That is why we should always have convictions and a repentant heart, by examining ourselves and by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. By this, somehow we will be cleansed and be forgiven and this is according to the grace and mercy of God.

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Mike November 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

You should read the Catechism and learn what the Church’s position on Purgatory is before writing an article full of errors. We don’t hide the truth. It’s very easy to find.

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Jack Wellman November 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm

For Catholics to rely on books that are were not accepted as canon like 2 Macc. 12:43–45 to try and prove that there is a purgatory I stand by this article. Where in the 66 books of the Bible does this prove purgatory? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1030, “All who die in Gods grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

The Second Vatican Council, p. 63, says, “The truth has been divinely revealed that sins are followed by punishments. Gods holiness and justice inflict them. Sins must be expiated. This may be done on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and trials of this life and, above all, through death. Otherwise the expiation must be made in the next life through fire and torments or purifying punishments.” So I guess that 1 John 1:9 is wrong and 2 Cor 5:21 is useless?! I think not! Are you saying, “Sorry Jesus, your death on the cross was not quite enough…we have still more to do by our prayers for the dead. Nice try Jesus.” BTW:

1.It is not explicitly found in the Bible.
2.It implies that the righteousness of Christ does not cleanse from all sin.
3.It implies that justification is not by faith alone.
4.It implies that there is something we must do in order to be cleansed of sin.

The Apocrypha of which one of those books is 2 Maccabees is often cited to justify the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory — praying for the dead. According to a Catholic source, 2 Maccabees was written in Egypt. “Its primary source and first author was Jason of Cyrene, a man steeped in orthodox Judaism and skilled in the Hellenistic art of rhetorical narration.”

This book is extra-biblical because:

It is not included in the Hebrew canon of Scripture.

The Apocryphal writers sometimes disclaim divine inspiration. For example, in 2 Maccabees 15:38,39 CT, we read, “So these things being done with relation to Nicanor and from that time the city being possessed by the Hebrews, I also will here make an end of my narration. Which if I have done well and as it becometh the history, it is what I desired: but if not so perfectly, it must be pardoned me.”

and “In all of the New Testament there is not even one single reference or quotation, made by Christ or any of the Apostles, that would confirm all or any part of the Apocrypha as being divinely inspired.”

In 2 Machabees (another spelling) 12:43-46, we have the reference cited by the Catholic Church to support Purgatory. If one would read verses 40 through 46, he would learn that God killed these people because of idolatry. According to Catholicism, if you die in the state of mortal sin, which idolatry is, you’ll go straight to Hell when you die! Therefore, according to Catholic doctrine, Judas Machabeus was WRONG in suggesting that the people should “pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (verse 46)!

For a person to believe in the doctrine of Purgatory, he/she would have to be totally misinformed about the Biblical doctrines of the Atonement, Redemption and even Salvation. Purgatory infers works for salvation, a soul-damning and devilish teaching. Augustine said, “there are some who have departed this life, not so bad as to be deemed unworthy of mercy, nor so good as to be entitled to immediate happiness.”(8) This statement infers works for salvation which is refuted by Eph. 2:8,9; Titus 3:5; Rom. 4:4-6 and 2 Tim. 1:9. Consequently, one can therefore conclude that Augustine was NOT a Christian, but instead a minister and servant of Satan, 2 Cor. 11:13-15!

In summary, the Apocryphal books, which include 2 Maccabees, are NOT from God, NOT inspired and MUST NOT be placed on the same level of authority as Holy Writ. For the Catholic Church to do just the opposite shows.

I agree with Martin Luther on what this article states and uses biblical references alone to stand on the truth (which is also easy to find), “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

1. The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1968, p. 463.

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chuks March 7, 2014 at 8:26 am

Thanks for the nice apology.

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chuks March 7, 2014 at 8:28 am

Nice write up. Good apologetic material.

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