John Hoole - June 5, 2011





Among the Roman Catholic, the Greek Orthodox and Anglican churches, there is a teaching that the vast majority of Christian believers do not go immediately to heaven when they die.  Rather, they go to a temporary intermediate place called purgatory.  In this teaching, the position is taken that most Christians are not bad enough to go to hell, but neither are they good enough to be candidates for heaven.  So, first let us put a definition to the doctrine of purgatory.


Cardinal Ratzinger describes purgatory like this:


"Purgatory means that there is some unresolved guilt in the person who has died.  Hence there is a suffering which continues to radiate because of the guilt.  In this sense, purgatory means suffering to the end what one has left behind on earth - in the certainty of being accepted, yet having to bear the burden of the withdrawn presence of the Beloved."


Lorraine Boettner, (Protestant scholar) in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, gives an excellent description of purgatory.


"The teachings of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches set forth a place of temporal punishment in the intermediate realm known as purgatory, in which it is held that all those who die at peace with the church but who are not perfect must undergo penal and purifying suffering.  Only those believers who have attained a state of Christian perfection are said to go immediately to heaven."


"The great mass of partially sanctified Christians dying in fellowship with the church, but nevertheless encumbered with some degree of sin go to purgatory, where, for a longer or shorter time, they suffer until all sin is purged away, after which they are translated to heaven."


The gist of this teaching is that there are two kinds of sin - mortal and venial.  Sins that are severe and grave are called mortal because they have the power to kill grace in a person's life.  In other words, grace can die.  If a person commits a mortal sin they can only be restored through the sacrament of Penance.  Without such penance they perish forever.  All other sins are venial - that is forgivable - sins.


Purgatory, then, is a kind of halfway house or state of limbo between heaven and hell where believers must finish paying for their venial sins.  Part of the belief in purgatory is that the person who ends up there is unable to do anything on his own to shorten his time there.


Time in purgatory depends on two things.


         1.      The kind of life the person lived on earth.


         2.      What their family and friends are willing to do for them while in purgatory.


It is believed that those who are alive on earth can help out their friends and relatives who are in purgatory by praying for them, having special Masses done on their behalf, and even by obtaining or purchasing indulgences.  An indulgence is a remission of either all or part of the temporal punishment due for sins.  It is believed that the Pope exercises some kind of jurisdiction over purgatory.  It is his prerogative, by granting indulgences, to lighten the anguish of the soul in purgatory or even terminate it altogether.


St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome was financed largely on indulgences granted by Pope Leo X.  The chief salesman was a Dominican friar by the name of Johann Tetzel.  Tetzel became so brazen as to be able to manipulate the exact moment when a soul would be released from purgatory.  Tetzel taught that for ¼ florin (2 shillings), buyers of indulgences were assured: "As soon as the coin the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."


The granting of indulgences for money to release people from purgatory was one of Martin Luther's main problem with the Roman Catholic Church.  This, among other things, prompted his Ninety-Five Theses and the birth of the Protestant Reformation.  In my opinion, the Bible says nothing about an intermediate state of purgatory after death which allows for a person to have a “second chance” to be made perfectly cleansed.  Those who adhere to the idea of purgatory, believe it is absolutely essential that there be a place or state of final cleansing, for certainly, no moral flaw can enter heaven.


We agree with Catholics and others on the necessity for cleansing.  All of us have been defiled by sins we each have committed.  Yes, we all need to be cleansed before we can enter into the heavenly Jerusalem, and come into the holy and majestic presence of the Lord.


We disagree, however, on how this cleansing is achieved.  Catholicism insists that after baptism the individual must expiate his sins by penance in this world, and by the pains of purgatory in the next.  We believe that the Scripture teaches that only the blood of Christ cleanses the soul from sin.


The concept of purgatory is contradicted by the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross, where Jesus said, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)There was certainly no period of time required by this thief to purify himself.


Some Catholic scholars honestly admit that the real support for purgatory comes from church tradition, not from the Bible.  I have several quotes from Catholic scholars.  One of them, Richard McBrien concedes that:


         "There is, for all practical purposes, no biblical basis for the doctrine of purgatory.  This is not to say that there is no basis at all for the doctrine, but only that there is no clear biblical basis for it."


         I guess my first thought is:  If a doctrine is not backed by the Scripture, it should not be a doctrine at all.


In a Catholic publication, New Catholic Encyclopedia, R. J. Bastian admits that "In the final analysis, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is based on tradition, not Scripture."


The original idea for Roman Catholic purgatory comes from one of the apocryphal books.  These are writings that had an obscure origin.  Protestants do not accept these books as part of the inspired Word of God.  The Roman Catholics include them in their Bible.


The Apocryphal book in question for the subject of purgatory is the book of 2nd Maccabees.  This past week, I read the part of this book used by Catholics for the doctrine of purgatory.  It is found in chapter 12, verses 42-45.  There is only one phrase that alludes to something like a purgatory and praying for the dead.


I have at least three main problems with using this passage to support purgatory.  First, as mentioned earlier, the books of Maccabees is an apocryphal book that is not part of the Old Testament canon.  These are a group of books, written in Hebrew, between the Old and New Testaments and have no place in the inspired cannon of Scripture.


Let me give you some background from my study of church history.  In 382, Pope Damascus I commissioned St. Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin, using the original Greek and Hebrew.  Now, we know this scholar by the name Jerome.  But his real name was Eusebius Sophronius HieronymusJerome is much easier to remember.


Pope Damascus requested Jerome to include in the new Latin Bible the apocryphal books.  Jerome protested, correctly arguing that they should not be included since they are not divinely inspired.  Their discussion went back and forth, and finally, since the Pope was so insistent, Jerome agreed, but only if there was a statement included saying they were not inspired canon.


Jerome wrote that, "The Church reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures."  He later adds that the Apocryphal books are read "for the edification of the people, not to give authority to the doctrines of the Church."


These books were never accepted as part of the inspired canon in any church council.  They were not accepted as Scripture by any of the early church fathers, and they were never quoted by them.  All that is to say that the apocryphal books are not authoritative.


Now, to the passage in 2 Maccabees which was originally used to support the doctrine of purgatory.  Actually, this passage doesn't even mention purgatory or anything related to it.  In verses 39-45 of 2 Maccabees, we find a story of Judas Maccabeus and some of his soldiers.  In battle, some of his soldiers were killed.  Later it was found that every dead soldier had an idol to the god Jamnia in their tunic.


When he realized this, Judas Maccabeus, believed this rebellion against God was the cause of their death.  Judas quickly sent money to Jerusalem, with the desire that his soldiers receive absolution for their sins.  In addition, Judas and his living soldiers prayed and offered sacrifices on behalf of the fallen comrades.


There is really no clear development of any teaching of a specific place called purgatory.  In addition, the soldiers who died committed the sin of idolatry.  And idolatry is a mortal sin, not a venial sin, and those committing such sin would go directly to hell, not purgatory.


Here are a couple more pieces of data to keep in mind.  At the Council of Florence, in 1439, the doctrine of purgatory was first introduced to Catholicism.  It wasn't until the Council of Trent in 1548, that it was finally fully accepted as a doctrine.  But it was put into practice between those two Councils, then codified at the Council of Trent.


I have a question:  What about all the people in the Church prior to the 15th century who now are believed to be in purgatory, waiting for absolution.  There had been no one to buy indulgences or request special Masses for them.  By definition, many must still be there with little chance to be freed.


Catholic theologians, realizing that the apocryphal books are not valid for support of a doctrine, more recently have attempted to identify some biblical passages to support the doctrine.  Let's look at three of them.


1.      Matthew 5:26 NKJV


26     Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.


The context of this verse in Matthew's Gospel makes it clear that this is talking about a man being thrown into prison on earth.  It concerns the payment of a financial debt in this life, not the payment of a spiritual debt in purgatory.


2.      Matthew 18:34 NKJV


34     And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.


In the context of this parable about forgiving others, the torture mention is in this life, not the life to come.  And the one who fails to forgive others is turned over to torture and anguish of his own unforgiving heart.


3.      1 Corinthians 3:13-15 NKJV


13     each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is.

14     If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.

15     If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.


The Catholic Catechism interprets "the fire" as cleansing and purifying.  In other words, according to Catechism, paragraph 1031, the soul suffers to make expiation for sins.


The context of this passage is the local church in the city of Corinth.  Paul and others had laid the spiritual foundation of the church, which was Jesus Christ.  Now others at Corinth were building the church on that foundation.  Paul instructs these leaders to continue the work of God with pure motives.  They were not to be prideful, for it is God who gives the increase of what was planted.


Then Paul instruct them that one day God will examine the motives of those who continued to build on the foundation of Christ.  And in the verses prior to the one we just read, Paul tells them that if their deeds are like gold, silver, and precious stones, things of value that will survive the fire, they would receive a reward from God.  But if their works are like wood, hay or straw (worthless things that will not last), their works would be burned up when tested by fire..  And when they stand before God, they would suffer loss.  But they would still be saved and go to heaven.  It is the worthless works that would be burned up, not the person.


The apostle Paul is speaking about the testing of works and says nothing about the suffering of souls.  He is simply teaching that in the Day of Judgment, the works of every Christian will be tested.  It reads, "The fire will test each one's works," and everyone will be rewarded accordingly.


Two things trouble me about the idea of a purgatory.  For one, none of us can ever endure what our sins deserve.  For another, Jesus already has.  The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death – not purgatory.


When Jesus died on the cross, He said “It is finished” (John 19:30).  Jesus completed the work of redemption at the cross.  In His high priestly prayer to the Father, Jesus said: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).


Hebrews 10:14 emphatically declares: “By one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.”  Therefore, because those who believe in Christ are “made perfect” forever no further “purging” is necessary.


1 John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”  The blood of Christ is thoroughly effective and purifies from all defilement.  His blood really and actually cleanses from all sin.


Two verse later, the familiar 1 John 1:9 says we are not only forgiven, but He “cleanses us from all unrighteousness.”  No more cleansing in purgatory is necessary.


When we are saved, we are not saved half way.  Rather, we are saved completely.


2 Corinthians 5:17  (NKJV)


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.


All of the old sinful life have passed away, and all things are immediately made new.  No more purging is necessary.


And in Romans 8:1, it says


         “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”


Let me emphasize once again, when a Christian dies, our fully conscious spirits are immediately ushered into the presence of Jesus by his holy angels 


2 Cor. 5:8       “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”


         There is an immediate change of location into the Lord’s presence.


Once death occurs, our destiny – whether heaven or hell – is permanently fixed.  There will be no other chance to have our sins dealt with so we can finally go to heaven.  And no amount of donations to the church or prayers on behalf of the one who died, will ever change the state a person was in at the moment of death.


I believe the Bible is clear that at the moment of death, our souls pass immediately into a conscious existence in eternity either in heaven or in Hades.


There is no kind of “holding tank” in which we are punished for our sins, where, for an undetermined time, we receive what our sins deserve so that when they are finally purged, we can then rightly receive what God has prepared.


The Bible teaches that Jesus became our purgatory and took our punishment.


Hebrews 1:3 (NEB)


         When he had brought about the purgation of sins, he took his seat at the right hand of Majesty on high.


                   Jesus Christ, and nothing else, is our purification, our purgatory.


Again, I want to emphasize that the Bible says when a Christian dies, they are immediately ushered into the presence of his Lord.  And when an unsaved person dies, they immediately arrive at a place of torment.  And that place of torment is not purgatory, but hell (Hades).


These thoughts are expressed in a Passage I mentioned in an earlier lesson.  In Luke 16: 19-31, Jesus gave us probably the most detailed picture of what happens when we die.  Here we find the story of a beggar named Lazarus and a rich man.


Look at the wording in verses 22-23 NKJV


22     So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.

23     And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus by his side.


Did you notice as we read, one small word that follows each account of their deaths.


                   •   “….the beggar died, and……”


                   •   “The rich man also died and was buried.  And……”


Notice the word “and.”




                            It is called a “conjunction.”


It is used to link two thought or ideas together.  In the case of our Passage in Luke, the word “and” links each person's death, with what happens to them immediately following their death.


That is the way I view death.  It is a conjunction.  It is the passageway that links this life with the next.


Both the rich man and Lazarus died.  Jesus said that Lazarus was carried to “Abraham’s bosom.”  This is a term for heaven or paradise.  On the other hand, the rich man found himself in a “place of torment (Hades),” which, in the King James Version is usually translated “hell.”  We will discuss this further in another lesson later on heaven and hell, so they will not be covered today.




In the bookkeeping of heaven, when Christ died on the cross, all our sin was imputed to Him, or credited to His account.  God is the Master Certified Accountant.  When we trust Christ as our Savior, God transfers our sin from our debt column and places it in Christ's debt column.  And then Christ's righteousness is placed in our credit column in the books of heaven.


2 Corinthians 5:21 says it best:


"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."


                   What a transaction!  He took my sin and I get His righteousness.


For this reason, there is absolutely no reason for any true Christian to ever spend one second in a place called purgatory.  All our sins have been washed away, and we have a perfect standing before God in Jesus Christ.  There is absolutely "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).  We are already totally prepared for heaven from the very moment we trust in Christ.  We are never prepared in ourselves - and never could be.  Our perfect standing before God is in Jesus Christ.


According to Philippians 3:20, every believer is already a citizen of heaven - right now!  It reads: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."


For all who have come to Jesus in simple faith, trusting Him alone for salvation, death will usher us immediately into the presence of the Lord.  We will see Him face-to-face.  What a comforting promise!