FAITH QUESTIONS: Is Purgatory real?
Purgatory is not real, and is a unfortunate invention that is not based on any biblical teaching.
Defining Purgatory: The word purgatory comes from the Latin word purgo, meaning “I cleanse”. The Roman Catholic Church maintains that purgatory is real and is a place where Christians are 'purged' or 'cleansed' of our sins so we can then enter heaven. According to this teaching, the length of suffering in purgatory is determined by the person’s degree of sinfulness. The time of suffering can be shortened by living Christians through the prayers, offerings, and masses offered to God for their souls. Catholics base the teaching of purgatory on church tradition and on the apocryphal work called 2 Maccabees (12:43-45, 46). The Council of Trent declared all who denied this doctrine to be anathema (that is, ‘accursed/unsaved’).
Three Reason Why Purgatory is Unbiblical:
First, it is not supported by any biblical teaching. The only hint of purgatory is found in a non-biblical work (2 Maccabees). It is not found anywhere in the Bible. However, Catholics do not base this doctrine on the Bible, but rather on tradition (which they view to be equally authoritative). However, only the Word of God is our authoritative guide in life and doctrine. Scripture actually contradicts the concept of purgatory. For example, the Apostle Paul tells us that believers who die are “absent from the body and present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8).
Second, it seriously misjudges the severity of sin. At the root of the doctrine of purgatory is the idea that we must be ‘purged’ of our sins. However, Scripture sees sin as something that is infinitely insulting to an infinite God. There is no such thing as a little sin that needs only a little punishment. If we commit only one sin against God, we would still deserve eternity in hell. Because of this, Christ came and paid our penalty.
Third, it distorts the Gospel. Scripture tells us that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. 1 Peter 3:18 states that “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” It is not our ‘punishment’ in purgatory that gets us into heaven, but Christ’s punishment on our behalf. The Catholic conception of salvation states that we must ‘assist’ Christ in the process of saving us. Though they maintain Christ is necessary for salvation, they say we must also do our part. But this is a clear violation of the Gospel, which presents salvation as a gift from God which we did not earn, assist in, or work for. Salvation is by Christ alone, through faith alone, and in grace alone.
When we (as believers) are brought before the throne of God, He will not see our own righteousness—it’s not there anyway. But, He will see the righteousness of Christ—which is our only hope of salvation. At its root, the concept of purgatory denies Christ’ ability to truly save us. It tempts us to futilely try to work for our own salvation, instead of trusting in Christ’s glorious work on our behalf.
Purgatory is not real. Rather, it is a false doctrine that distorts the glorious message of the Gospel.
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