The Bible does not mention the exact word “purgatory,” but instead it makes reference to a place which can be understood as what is referred to as purgatory. To claim that purgatory does not exist because the exact word does not appear in Scripture is a failure to understand Scripture.
The Bible contains references to many Christian doctrines, but fails to call them out by name. One might as well even deny that there is something called the Bible because no such name is found in the Bible. Furthermore, one might as well deny the Trinity, Incarnation, and so forth because these exact words are not found in the Bible.
The name does not make the place; the place must exist first, then we give it a name. We call this place “purgatory” because it means “a cleansing place.” Therein souls are purged from the small stains of sin, which prevent their immediate entrance into Heaven.
In the Old Testament
The first mention of Purgatory in the Bible is in 2 Maccabees 12:46: “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from sin.”
Some people do not accept Maccabees as book of the Bible. This is unfortunate since it is that their Bibles have been edited and are missing books. (Find out Why Catholic Bibles Are Different) Even if a person does not accept the book of Maccabees, it at least has historical value for we can learn what the pre-Christian community believed.
In Chapter 12 of Second Maccabees we read Scriptural proof for Purgatory and evidence that the Jews had sacrifices offered for those of their brothers who had lost their lives in battle. That the Jews prayed for the dead shows that they believed in a place where they could be helped (which we now call purgatory) and that the prayers of their living brothers and sisters could help them in that place. This is closely related to the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints.
During the Reformation in the 15th century, when Martin Luther was deciding to remove books from the Bible, these words in the book of Maccabees had so clearly favored Catholic teaching, that the whole book was removed from the Protestant Bible. Unfortunately for Protestants, even if they feel that the book was not inspired, it still tells us of the practice of God’s chosen people.
In the New Testament
In Matthew 5:26 and Luke 12:59 Christ is condemning sin and speaks of liberation only after expiation. “Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” Now we know that no last penny needs to be paid in Heaven and from Hell there is no liberation at all; hence the reference must apply to a third place.
Matthew 12:32 says, “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Here Jesus speaks of sin against the Holy Spirit. The implication is that some sins can be forgiven in the world to come. We know that in Hell there is no liberation and in Heaven nothing imperfect can enter it as we see in the next part. Sin is not forgiven when a soul reaches its final destination because in heaven there is no need for forgiveness of sin and in hell the choice to go there is already made.
Revelation 21:27: “…but nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who does abominable things or tells lies.” The place that is to be entered (the place to which this passage refers) is heaven (read the text around it for context).
The Bible clearly implies a place for an intermediate state of purification after we die in the many passages which tell that God will reward or punish according to a person’s life.
What if purgatory really doesn’t exist?
Ponder the following example. Imagine a Christian man, justified by the Lord, loses his temper and yells at his next door neighbors for letting their dog dig a hole in his yard. We can see that the man treated his neighbors rudely, albeit the neighbor’s behavior was also reprehensible. His actions would be considered a light sin (called venial sins by the Catholic Church). It’s not of the same moral weight as theft or murder, but it’s still a sin.
After shouting at the neighbors, with all the anger and stress in his body the man walks into his house, has a heart attack, and dies having just committed a small sin in the final moments of his life. Remember, this man is Christian and justified by the Lord, yet has committed a sin. Does he go to heaven or does he go to hell? Are all sins created equal? No, all sins are not equal and even justified men of the Lord can make mistakes and sin.
If purgatory didn’t exist, the man would go to hell for his small sin. God’s mercy is so great and our God is a just God that it seems unfathomable that he would condemn a justified man to hell for a small, yet unrepented sin. The man’s soul is dirty. His actions have defiled his soul, but not the point where he has cut himself off from God. Only mortal sins cut off a person from God’s grace. So, the man, having been justified by the Lord, is destined for heaven, yet his soul is defiled by his sin (Matthew 12:36, 15:18). His soul is in need of cleansing because nothing defiled can enter heaven. This is the purpose of purgatory. Out of mercy and love God sends the man through purgatory on his way to heaven so that his soul can be purified to be able to join God in heaven.
Remember, purgatory is not a second chance for conversion; the man is already justified. If there is no place of intermediate state of purification, the man would be damned to hell! Who would be saved? Those who teach against purgatory teach an unreasonable doctrine. Will Catholics go to heaven?
So, why do non-Catholics reject a teaching so full of consolation? My guess is that they want to believe that the merits of Christ applied to the sinner who trusts in Him, will remove all sin past, present, and future abdicating all responsibility for sin after justification. Yet this is also unreasonable. Only Jesus’ death on the cross makes us worthy before God the Father. We cannot stand before him on our own merits. We need Jesus Christ. Yet we also have personal responsibility in our justification before the Lord.
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.
If we accept Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, confess him as Lord, yet commit bad actions, God judges accordingly.
By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
Our acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross does not abdicate our responsibility live the Gospel. Salvation is not assured. Salvation is not by faith alone for the Bible says that we will be held accountable by our words and that much will be entrusted to us! Nowhere in the Bible does it say salvation is by faith alone. This teaching is un-Scriptural. Rather the Scriptures say that faith without works is dead (James 2:26).
While Jesus can be the only acceptable sacrifice to God for our sins, it doesn’t give us a license to sin. Nor does justification by the Lord preserve us from sin. Even a justified man can commit a sin. Therefore, even though Christ’s blood on the cross makes us right before God, God still requires much from us in return. He requires us to die to ourselves each day and to choose him in everything we do. It simply doesn’t fit with God’s justice for a person to be off the hook simply because at some point in the past they became justified. We have a duty to God to obey him for if we do not obey God we will be punished according to his justice. Purgatory is part of God’s justice.
Read Explaining Purgatory.