Being a Christian for quite a long time, I am familiar with various doctrines, such as the belief in Purgatory. In my last semester in theology school, I decided to write an article about Purgatory. I sought help from the local Catholic Priest, and we would have daily 20-minute sessions on this topic. When I finally wrote the article, the Priest approved it, and it was published in the Church’s online Journal. Two days ago, my theology class students asked me to explain the concept of Purgatory from the Scriptures. Since we had already defined this term, I moved straight to answering the question. Being conversant with this doctrine, it took me one hour to cover the topic comprehensively. So, if you are not quite familiar with Purgatory and whether it is Biblical, you might ask, what is purgatory in the Bible?
First, the term purgatory does not appear anywhere in the scriptures. However, Purgatory is taught by some denominations, like Roman Catholic. It is believed to be an in-between space, where a saved soul that carries God’s grace but is not totally pure goes for refinement before going to heaven. The doctrine of Purgatory is debated among many denominations, with some opposing it so loudly.
So, join me as I dig deeper into the meaning of Purgatory. I will look at whether this doctrine is biblical, what the Catholic Church teaches about it, and its origin. Furthermore, I will also look at examples of Purgatory in different religions and some Christian arguments against this doctrine. So, keep reading to learn more.
Is purgatory biblical?
The term purgatory is not found anywhere in the scripture. Furthermore, most of its teachings and doctrine do not align with the Bible. Jesus, as seen in Romans 5:8, paid the price for all our sins by dying on the cross. And this concept is reinforced severally in the New Testament. However, as some theologians put it, Purgatory mocks Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This is because the doctrine that those who have been called by God and saved by grace have to suffer after death for their sins does not align with the biblical teaching about salvation (1 John 2:2).
What Does the Catholic Church Teach About Purgatory?
The Catholics believe that Purgatory is a place where the souls of the dead who have not fully paid for their sins but have God’s grace with them go to be cleansed. They believe these souls will temporarily be in this place to be refined and achieve the holiness needed to see heaven. The Catholic Church references Revelation 21:27, which says that there is nothing unclean or not pure that shall see heaven.
However, it is also clear that Purgatory is not a second chance given to those who are not saved to redeem themselves. The Catholic Church teaches that some souls retain a “stain” for the sins they committed despite repenting and asking for forgiveness. Therefore, if your soul is destined to go to heaven and is not worthy of eternal torment in hell, then you have to be “cleansed” from the “stain” before entering God’s Kingdom in heaven.
Where did the doctrine of Purgatory come from?
As seen above, the teaching of Purgatory does not have enough doctrinal and scriptural support. It was first expressed clearly during the Council of Florence by the Roman Catholic Church (1431 AD-1449 AD). The Catholic Church believes that some sort of Purgatory appears in the Old Testament (Apocrypha) but is fully revealed in the New Testament. In 2 Maccabees 12:39-46, Judas Maccabeus and other members pray for the dead for their sins to be atoned. However, Protestants and several other denominations do not support the inspiration of Maccabees. On the other hand, the Catholics hold on to the teaching of Maccabees, which explains why they teach Purgatory and argue that rejecting the Apocrypha does not erase its historical value.
In the New Testament, Matthew 12:32 notes that anyone who sins against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age or the coming age. Those who believe in Purgatory quote this as emphasis enough on why the belief came to be.
Scriptures that support Purgatory
Purgatory did not just come from thin air, as those who believe in it have evidence that supports where they got the idea from. Most people who believe in Purgatory always have supporting scriptures to justify their beliefs. So, let’s look at some scriptures that support purgatory in the Bible.
Revelation 21:27 says that nothing unclean shall see the Kingdom of God, but only those whose names appear in the Book of Life of the Lamb. The Roman Catholic uses this scripture to expound on Purgatory and notes that if you have God’s grace but are not yet pure, you must be refined before entering the kingdom of God.
Furthermore, 2 Corinthians 5:10 says that each of us must appear before the judgment seat and receive our consequences for the good and bad things done while in the body. Therefore, whether you have been saved by God’s grace and mercy, you must suffer temporal punishment in Purgatory before seeing heaven.
Additionally, the Apocrypha has several verses that support purgatory. However, Apocrypha is not included in the biblical canon. Thus, most denominations do not believe in it. 2 Maccabees 12:39-46 in Apocrypha contains indulges and prayers to make when guiding souls out of Purgatory.
Christian arguments against Purgatory
Several Christian denominations are against the doctrine of Purgatory. Those who hold onto the purgatory doctrine believe this is a place of refinement. However, as mentioned in the verses above, Christians argue that this refinement is the sanctification process a believer receives during their life on earth to be more like Christ.
Furthermore, Christians and theologians who are against the concept of purgatory argue that those who believe in it fail to recognize the fact that Christ’s death was enough to pay for all our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). Purgatory enforces the idea that salvation is through work, and not by grace as the scripture says (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Furthermore, the doctrine of Purgatory, as taught by the Catholics, is based on God not forgiving some souls fully, creating the need for temporal punishment and cleansing. Christians argue that this is a mockery of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross and said it is finished (John 19:30).
What is an example of Purgatory in different religions?
The best example of Purgatory, as seen in religious history, comes from Ancient Greece. This group believed that in the afterlife, the dead either go to paradise, a place of torment, or a place between paradise and torment; they called this place the Fields of Asphodel. The Ancient Greeks believed that the people who would go to the Fields of Asphodel would have their souls wandering aimlessly. They believed that this person have a taste of the good and bad, and they will be in some dreamlike state for the rest of their afterlife.
Hinduism and Buddhism also portray examples of Purgatory in their religion. They believe in Naraka/Neraka, which they believe is a place that holds the soul during the in-between cycles of life and reincarnation. Furthermore, Judaism also believes in Gehenna, which, when scrutinized, could somehow fit among the examples of Purgatory. The Bible defines Gehenna as a refinement place where you go through the fire. However, theologians have not yet agreed if this place is hell itself or Purgatory.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.