Does the Bible teach that there’s a place, or state of existence, called Purgatory?
Howard Coles, Coleford, England
The idea of a place called Purgatory became an official article of faith of the Roman Catholic Church by the Council of Florence in 1439 and was again reaffirmed by the Council of Trent in 1548.
Purgatory presents us with the idea of a place and a condition into which, after death, the human soul passes in order to undergo the purifying fires of the judgement of God that will eventually allow it to pass on into heaven.
The prospect of purgatory gives to the funerals of those who hold the doctrine, a dreadful aspect. The joy of the assurance of salvation through faith in Christ is absent. Under the shadow of such a doctrine as that of purgatory, death is for the believer not the entering into the joy of the presence of God, but the ushering of the soul into a place of unspeakable torture. Many live in fear of death because they think that an unknown amount of years of pain and anguish await them in purgatory. How tragic that millions suffer because of this false teaching, when all the time Christ has paid for their redemption in full if they would only believe and trust in Him and His work at Calvary! For those who teach and believe this false doctrine, there is no difference between the fires of purgatory and the fires of hell except for the duration.
Adding to the perversity of this doctrine is the pecuniary aspect, which has been called a ‘gold mine’. In order to escape the fires of purgatory, faithful followers will pay for prayers to be said on behalf of their departed loved ones, already supposedly suffering in it. The prayers of the priest, special masses, and other religious services can even be paid for in advance of death by those fearing prolonged suffering in the fires of purgatory. After death occurs, money is extracted from the mourning relatives and friends to pay for masses to be said in order to shorten the period of torment in purgatory. See Fifty Years in the Church of Rome by Father Chiniquy.
But what does the Bible say about it? It must be said that there is absolutely no reference to purgatory in Scripture. If there is to be teaching of a particular doctrine then there must be clear scriptural support and in this case there is none. A booklet issued in support of the existence of purgatory quoted Matthew 12. 32, ‘And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come’. The booklet explained that by implication this verse teaches that there must therefore be sins that can be forgiven in the ‘world to come’. This is however utterly refuted by clear verses that teach that the existence of purgatory is not possible viz.,‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from (out of) death unto life’, John 5. 24. For the sinner who hears the words of the Lord Jesus, and believes on the Father who sent Him, eternal life is assured.
Notice also that there is no judgement for such a person, ‘Today thou shalt be with me in paradise’, Luke 23. 43. There was no purgatory for the thief on the cross; rather there was an immediate entrance into heaven. Such is also the case for every sinner who has trusted Christ for forgiveness, ‘It is finished’, John 19. 30. These words of the Lord Jesus from the cross refer to the work of atonement for sins. At the cross, He paid it all, and there is no need for any further payment to be made. ‘We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord’, declares Paul in 2 Corinthians 5. 8. In connection with this verse we might well ask the question, ‘Where is the Lord?’ The Lord is not in purgatory but in heaven and so will all sinners be who have trusted Him!
‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’, Rom. 8. 1. If you are in Christ, there is nothing and no one that can condemn you.
‘For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’, 1 Pet. 3. 18. There is no need for any further suffering for sins on the part of true believers, since Christ died once and for all.
‘And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more’, Heb. 10. 17. Here is a definite statement from God about sinners who place their trust in the Lord Jesus. As a purposeful act of His own will, He will not remember the sins of a believer ever again.
The doctrine of purgatory twists the Scriptures, distorts the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross, and makes people miserable and unsure in their faith. In its essence, the doctrine of purgatory makes a travesty of the justice of God by making people pay again for something that has already been paid for by the Lord Jesus. This is a mockery of God and His plan of salvation and the cross of Christ. How wonderful then, when a person who has been taught and so holds this doctrine finds out the awful error of it and comes into the relief and glory of the truth that when one dies one can go straight to heaven through simply believing the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.