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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Is There Any Biblical Support for Purgatory?

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Don Stewart
Purgatory is a belief that contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture with respect to the person and work of Christ. This, however, has not stopped people from attempting to find some biblical support for this non-biblical doctrine. The following passages are offered for the support of purgatory.

1. Isaiah 4:4

When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.

It is argued that burning, in this context, refers to the fires of judgment - a hint of the doctrine of purgatory.

2. Matthew 5:25,26

Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer and you are thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there until you have paid the last penny.

Some Roman Catholics teach that prison is purgatory, and the last penny is the complete payment for the purgation of sins.

3. Matthew 12:32

Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

It is claimed that this verse has at least an indirect reference to purgatory. It is claimed that Jesus left open the possibility of forgiveness in the next world.

4. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw - the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

This passage speaks of the believer being refined by fire. To some, it is a clear indication of a refining place, purgatory.

5. 2 Maccabees 12:41,42, 45

Therefore they praised the work of the Lord, the just judge, who reveals what is hidden; and turning to prayer, they asked that this sin might be entirely blotted out. The noble Judas called on people to keep themselves free from sin. . . But since he had in view the wonderful reward reserved for those who die a godly death, his purpose was a holy and pious one. And this was why he offered an atoning sacrifice to free the dead from their sin (2 Maccabees 12:41,42,45, New English Bible).

This is the clearest statement as to some type of sacrifice that can be offered for the dead. Those who have died, and are in purgatory, can be helped by the sacrifices and prayers of the living.

6. Hebrews 9:27

And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment.

Those who believe in purgatory understand these two events as happening immediately after one another. The person dies and then there is a judgment to determine their destination. The wicked are sent away to hell while the righteous go to either heaven, if they are in a perfected state, or purgatory, if further purification is needed.

From passages such as these, the Roman Catholic church believes it can find some biblical support for their doctrine of purgatory.


The verses used to support purgatory do not give credence to this belief.

1. Isaiah 4:4

Isaiah's reference has nothing to do with purgatory. It speaks of God refining people in this life, not the next.

2. Matthew 5:25-26

Paying the last penny has nothing to do with paying for sin in the next life. In Roman law, the plaintiff could bring the accused along with him to the judge; the defendant could however, settle the matter on any terms with the plaintiff as they proceeded to the tribunal. However once they reached the tribunal the issue would be settled according to law. Jesus is encouraging people to settle their differences before it reaches the judge.

3. Matthew 12:32

The phrase "this world and the next" was a Jewish phrase meaning "never." In the other gospels which give this same account, the phrase is omitted. This is because Mark and Luke are writing for Gentiles. In addition they both state that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will "never be forgiven." Mark says.

But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin (Mark 3:29).

The account in Luke reads.

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Luke 12:10).

Nowhere does it state, or imply, that forgiveness can be achieved in the next world. Never means never!

4. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

"He shall be saved through fire" does not mean he shall be kept alive in the midst of hell-fire. The fire deals with the works of a person, not their character. In addition, this testing by fire occurs on judgment day, not in the intermediate state.

5. 2 Maccabees 12:41, 2, 45

The teaching of a purgatory found in 2 Maccabees has no relevance at all for believers. 2 Maccabees is not included in the text of sacred Scripture, hence anything it teaches is not to be regarded as authoritative.

Does Not Teach

Furthermore, this passage does not teach the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. These soldiers committed what the Roman Catholic church considers a mortal sin -idolatry. The suffering in purgatory can only forgive venial sins. Mortal sins cannot be forgiven.

6. Hebrews 9:27

There is absolutely nothing in verse that mentions, or hints of, a purgatory. Furthermore, it does not specifically say that the judgment comes immediately after death. The Scriptures teach the contrary. Judgment only comes after Christ returns and resurrects the dead. This is still future. Hence this verse offers no support whatsoever for purgatory.

Conclusion On Purgatory
We conclude that there is no biblical support whatever for the idea of any believer going through suffering after their death. The passages that attempt to teach this doctrine do no such thing. On the contrary, they contradict any idea that people can pay off sins in the next life before entering heaven.
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