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Purgatory and the Bible

Updated on August 20, 2012
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I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


A Different Gospel

The Bible plainly teaches that salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). It also tells us that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, after living a perfect life on this earth, died on the cross for our sins. Scripture tells us that he who knew no sin, (Jesus), was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (II Corinthians 5:21). And by this one offering Jesus Christ has "perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14). Yet the Catholic Church teaches a doctrine that goes against the plain instruction of the Bible and in effect, teaches a different gospel than that which was given to the Church.

That teaching is the doctrine of Purgatory. And it must be clearly understood by the people of God, and denounced at all costs.

I. The Soul After death

According to Roman Catholic tradition, the soul at death undergoes judgement immediately. In that judgement the soul's eternal destiny is determined. Some eternally go to God to be in Heaven. Others go to Hell. However, they would say that there is a third option. Catholics also believe that some souls aren't sufficiently free from sin and its consequences to enter Heaven right away. But neither are they so sinful that that they are destined for Hell. For these people there is Purgatory. This is a place of purification, or temporary punishment by which those in a state of grace are believed to be made ready for Heaven. In this place of purification, souls achieve the holiness necessary to enter Heaven.

II. Venial and Mortal Sins

In order to understand the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, we have to realize that they make a distinction between what they call venial and mortal sin. Mortal sins are grave violations of God's law. These sins turn man away from God. If they aren't redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, they can cause a person to be excluded from Christ's Kingdom. Those who die with mortal sins will go to eternal death in Hell.

Venial sins, although still constituting a moral disorder don't set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God. They are still bad but they don't deprive the sinner of heaven.

In various ways, such as the sacrament of baptism, or that of penance, pardon for sins can occur during this life. But if that doesn't happen, venial sins can still be purified after death. That is where Purgatory comes in. Purification can also be made, in Purgatory, for the temporal punishment due to remitted mortal sins.

III. The Work of Christ

One of the major problems with purgatory is its teaching about the forgiveness of sins through the work of Christ. They would say that Christ's death only covered the penalty of eternal death. However, the Christian still needs to make satisfaction for the sins committed after baptism. And satisfaction must be made before a person can enter Heaven. If it is not completed during this life, it has to be accomplished after death.

The Bible, however, clearly teaches, in several places, that our Lord died for sin, once for all, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. (I Peter 3:18; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:10; Romans 6:10). There is no place that says that Christ only died for sins before baptism. He rather died for all sins, past, present and future. Also, it certainly doesn't make any distiction between venial and mortal sins. All sin, unless cleansed by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ will merit Hell. And all sin was cleansed for those who have accepted His sacrifice through faith (I John 1:7).

IV. The Mass

Catholics teach that the purification of purgatory can be shortened by the prayers of the saints. This is where the sacrifice of the Mass comes. This is a sacrifice to secure forgiveness from sins committed after baptism. Mass may be said for the soul that is in purgatory. They would say that there is no way to know the duration of a soul's stay in purgatory, so the living are told to indefinitely pay for masses to be said for the dead.

Also, it is believed in the Mass, that the the elements of the bread and the wine are turned into the actual body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, thus, in effect resacrificing Him over and over again. Again, Christ died one time, for all.

V. The Treasury of Merit

The treasury of merit is supposedly the value of all the good works of Christ and all the saints, which were over and above what was required of them. The clergy supposedly can apply these extra merits to those souls which are in purgatory.

VI. The Basis for Purgatory

The Roman Catholic Church has no direct authority for their teaching on purgatory. However, Rome claims that its oral tradition is equal to Scripture, so they don't really need to appeal to the Bible. However, they do appeal to certain things, both in and out of Scripture.

Firstly, the Jews and some of the early church members made prayers for the dead. There is also a passage in II Macabees, found in the Catholic Bible. In this passage Judas Maccabeus sent 2000 drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice. This was to be offered for the sins of the dead.

Even if we were to accept this passage as Scripture, there is still a problem with Rome using this. These dead were actually guilty of idolatry. Roman doctrine says that this is a mortal sin, so these people went to hell. Sacrifice couldn't have rightly been made for them.

There are two Bible verses such as Matthew 5:25,26 and I Corinthians 3:12-15 that they use as well. In Matthew 5:25,26 Jesus tells His disciples to agree with their adversary quickly or they would deliver them to the judge, who would deliver them to the officer to cast them into prison. He said they wouldn't come out of prison until they paid the uttermost farthing.

The problem with this is that Jesus isn't talking about future punishment at all. And if he were, he'd be saying that man can atone for his own sin, and that eventually all will be saved after they pay the uttermost farthing.

I Corinthians 3:12-15 is talking about fire trying every man's work. Paul is actually referring to a person's works being tried, and not the person himself. Fire isn't applied to the person at all. And this is not a judgement to determine salvation but a judgement for rewards. In this passaage, there is the possibility that a person could have all of their works burned up, but still be saved, yet so as by fire (15).


The doctrine of purgatory is a teaching that isn't in Scripture. But it is also one that is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of salvation by grace, through faith. It cheapens the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross and gives man credit for his own salvation.

The only one who went through any kind of purgatory at all was our Lord Jesus, who had by Himself purged our sins on the cross, and then sat down at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1:3). He died for our sins, once for all. Hebrews 10 talks about our Savior sitting down, having perfectly finished the work of sin-bearing (10:10-14).

There are many passages in Scripture which could be used to dispute purgatory. Just read passages such as Romans 3:24; Romans 4:1-8; Romans 5:1-19; Romans 8:1; Romans 8:33-34; and Ephesians 2:8,9. All of these passages tell us that salvation is in no way, shape or form by works. And these are just a few.

Purgatory is really another gospel and therefore cannot co-exist with the good news of salvation found in the Bible. It needs to be abandoned by all who love God, and care about His once for all sacrifice on the cross.


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    • GodTalk profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Shirley 

      8 years ago from Kentwood, Michigan

      You're welcome. And the Lord bless you as well.

    • dianetrotter profile image

      G. Diane Nelson Trotter 

      8 years ago from Fontana

      Sometimes I write "on the fly" so thank you for checking me! Have a blessed weekend.

    • GodTalk profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Shirley 

      8 years ago from Kentwood, Michigan

      Thanks for the clarificaton. You're right. All that the Bible says about salvation being by grace through faith, apart from works, is incompatible with both the ideas of purgatory and of venial/mortal sin.

    • dianetrotter profile image

      G. Diane Nelson Trotter 

      8 years ago from Fontana

      I'm sorry I didn't mean to imply that 1 John 1:9 was related to Catholocism. I was addressing the conflict between that scriptue and venial/mortal sin. The ideas are incompatible.

    • GodTalk profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Shirley 

      8 years ago from Kentwood, Michigan

      In reading the writings of Catholic scholars, they confirm what I've said in this article. Purgatory is not mentioned directly in the Bible, either the Catholic Bible, or the one that Protestants use. It is rather inferred from some misinterpreted Scriptures. The major passage in the Catholic Bible that I saw they used was the one in II Macabees 12, which I explained in the article.

      Also, I John 1:9 has absolutely nothing to do with eternal salvation. The book of I John was wrtten, according to John himself, in order that we might know that we have eternal life (I John 5:13). This is totally inconsistent with the fear of committing some mortal sin which will keep us out of heaven, if not confessed before we die.

      And I John says nothing about the whole idea of confessing your sin to a Catholic priest. Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man(I Timothy 2:5). Confession is made directly to God, and also the person against whom we have sinned (Matthew 5:23,24; James 5:16).

      This passage is simply saying that a person who is saved is one who keeps his relationship with God in order by confessing sin in his life. The Bible says that sin in the life of the believer quenches the Holy Spirit's work in our lives and grieves Him (I Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30).

    • dianetrotter profile image

      G. Diane Nelson Trotter 

      8 years ago from Fontana

      I think purgatory may be covered in the five books deemed inconsistent with the rest of the Bible. I have no personal knowledge of this but have heard it explained. I went to Catholic elementary school and well remember mortal and venial sins. Also 1 John 1:9: If you confess your sins He is faithful to forgive you of all unrighteousness.

    • GodTalk profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Shirley 

      8 years ago from Kentwood, Michigan

      There is no doubt that Scripture does say that all will be judged at death. However, the judgement between heaven and hell has already been decided for believers in Jesus Christ. Paul makes it clear that the judgement that the believer will experience will be a judgement for rewards, or loss of rewards for what we have done for Christ on this earth.

      Paul has said in II Corinthians 5:10 that "We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. This is referring to the Bema seat of Christ. It is at this judgement that Paul is also referring in I Corinthians 3:10-15.

      At this judgement we will be judged for the things done for Christ. These are called gold, silver and precious stones. These things cannot be destroyed by the fires of judgement, but refined. The things not done for Christ and His glory, are called wood, hay and stubble. These works will be burned up, and Paul says that we will suffer loss for them. That is, we will suffer a loss of rewards. However, even if a person's work is completely burned up, though it is a sad thing, Paul says that he will still be saved, yet so as by fire.

      This judgement happens after the catching up of the Body of Chirst, the Church, just before the great Tribulation. The judgement for the unbeliever happens much later, after the Millennial reign of Christ, and the final battle with Satan, who, himself will be judged and thrown into the Lake of fire.

      This final judgement for the unbeliever is found in Revelation 20:11-15. This is a judgement to determine heaven and hell, because these persons never accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. They too will be judged according to their deeds done, because they rejected the work of Christ. No one can ever make it into Heaven by good works, so all people judged here are eternally lost. One of the saddest verses in all of Scripture is Revelation 20:15 which says: "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the Lake of Fire."

      Thankfully, none of us who know Christ will ever have to be judged at this judgement, for Jesus faced the wrath of God for us on the cross. Through faith in Christ, we can all spend eternity with Him in the New Heaven and the New Earth. That will be a glorious time.

    • Segun Tewogbola profile image

      Segun Tewogbola 

      8 years ago from Texas

      It is appointed for man to die but once and after this is the judgment. What are we then saying?

    • GodTalk profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Shirley 

      8 years ago from Kentwood, Michigan

      Thank you Felipe717. You're right about Ephesians 2:8,9. There is no denying that salvation is by grace through faith, and is a gift given to us from God. It says it very plainly there. We can do nothing to merit salvation. God bless.

    • Felipe717 profile image


      8 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Great Hub! I was a Catholic for a long time and Ephesians 2:8-9 helped me see the errors in the Catholic traditions. Thank you for the Hub.


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