Purgatory… the name brings to mind creepy images of dark caves filled with suffering souls in smoke and fire. There is much speculation, even from the “experts,” about how it actually works, and the degree of suffering, or how long one stays there. But is Purgatory real? Is it another place or state of being somewhere between Heaven and Hell? Is it something that Christians should be concerned about? And most importantly, does the Bible teach this concept?
Official Catholic Teaching
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.
Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”
So, according to this, when most people die, they may not be “fully purified” and ready to enter Heaven, since nothing unclean can enter it (Revelation 21:27). According to the Catechism, we should pray for the souls in Purgatory and offer “works of penance” on their behalf, apparently, to lessen their pain and to help get them out sooner than “scheduled.” But this is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is offensive to the gospel is not so much the possibility of having “another place or state” besides Heaven and Hell, but the idea that a mere human can pay for sins, whether his own or someone else’s.
First and foremost, we reject the concept of Purgatory (as all Christians should) because it involves a works-based salvation (Romans 4:4-5, Ephesians 2:8-9). That is, Purgatory involves a sinner having to work or to endure some sort of suffering for his sins, and this work or suffering supposedly helps to atone for those sins. But according to Scripture, this is impossible. Atonement for sins involves the death of a PERFECT substitute (Hebrews 7:25-28; 10:14), and we know that there is only one Person who fits in that category, the Lord Jesus Christ. No sinner can atone for his own sins, because he is tainted. So, no one is qualified but Jesus, and we can do nothing to add to His work on the cross. See also this article:
Ok, so what about the time of the Rapture / Resurrection? (1 Corinthians 15:50-52) Those who are still alive when the Resurrection happens will not have time to go to Purgatory because Paul says that when it happens, “So shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Wouldn’t it be unfair that those who rise on that day (still having imperfections in their life) won’t have to endure the pains of Purgatory, like all those who died before them?
But Catholic apologists may say, “Punishment in Purgatory does not have to be months, years, or centuries long. Their purification could possibly last just one second! We just don’t know ‘how time operates’ in the next life.” Maybe so, but the doctrine of Purgatory has more serious problems to work out than “how time operates in the afterlife.”
Anyway, concerning the length of time it takes to be “purged” and ready for Heaven, we believe that we will be changed instantly after death. If our bodies are changed and perfected in the “twinkling of an eye” in the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:52), then why can’t our soul and spirit be changed in like manner when we die? We see no biblical reason to believe otherwise.
The Sixth Session of the Council of Trent says:
"If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema." (CANON XXX)
Purgatory is largely based on the concept of “temporal punishments.” According to Trent, the sinner destined for Purgatory is forgiven the guilt and the eternal punishment of his sins, but he still has “temporal punishment” to pay.
According to the online New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, (under Purgatory, subheading “Temporal Punishment”) it is “clearly the teaching of Scripture” that temporal punishment is due (to be paid) even after a sin is pardoned by God. It goes on to give examples, like Adam being given the power to govern all things, yet he still had to work the ground which was cursed. Moses was forgiven for striking the rock twice, yet he was not allowed to go into the Promised Land (Canaan). David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheba, yet their child still died. Again, through these examples, the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia is attempting to prove that the concept of “temporal punishment” in Purgatory is biblical. But these examples were earthly punishments! These are consequences that happen here on earth, not in the afterlife.
To use another example, if someone who is married commits adultery, there can certainly be “temporal consequences” for his / her actions. The two involved in the sin may be forgiven by God, but there are still possible consequences to their sin. That is, 1) there is always the threat of a venereal disease, 2) one offended spouse could want a divorce, 3) the offended spouse could be violently jealous, or 4) a pregnancy could result from the adulterous affair. Again, these are all earthly consequences. But according to Scripture, there is no punishment, temporal or otherwise, for the Christian in the next life. The only after-death punishment that the Bible speaks of under the New Covenant is Hell, and ultimately, the Lake of Fire… but that is only for the UNbeliever.
Are We Forgiven…Or Not?
One popular Catholic priest said in a debate that the idea of Purgatory is “Pay now, or pay later,” in the sense of working out a debt. But that is certainly not the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ. The simple truth is, if we are “forgiven” for a sin but there is STILL some kind of punishment for us to pay, then we are not really forgiven, are we? And it must follow that the work of Jesus on the cross was not really enough to pay the full penalty for your sins after all (1 John 1:7-9). But would any real Christian dare say that? That’s blasphemy! If HIS payment was not enough for your sins, there will NEVER be enough payment for them. But thank God that His suffering on Calvary is totally sufficient.
Catholic apologists will say, “But Purgatory is how redemption is actually applied to us. It is the “final push” of the sanctification process. This was God’s plan all along.”
No, this was not God’s plan. God plainly tells us, over and over, that redemption is “applied” BY FAITH, TRUSTING, BELIEVING in HIS work and suffering, not ours. See also this link:
To make matters worse, our Catholic friends are obligated to believe this false doctrine under penalty of anathema (condemnation), as noted in the Council of Trent quote above. But there is absolutely nothing in Scripture to indicate that there will be additional punishment after death for those who are forgiven. Otherwise, the word “forgiven” is meaningless.
Purgatory is a denial of the sufficiency of Jesus’ work and suffering at Calvary. But proud and fallen man likes to think that he can work or earn his way into Heaven. He doesn’t like it when people point to the cross, and that alone, for salvation.
Next month, we will conclude this series by taking a look at the Scriptures that Catholics (and others) use to try and support the doctrine of Purgatory. Stay tuned…