Is Purgatory Scriptural? Let me count the ways!!!
First, we should note that the word “purgatory” is not found in Sacred Scripture. This is not the point. The words “Trinity” and “Incarnation” are not found in Scripture, yet these doctrines are clearly taught there. Likewise, the Bible teaches that an intermediate state of purification exists. We call it Purgatory. What is important here is the doctrine, not the name.
Now, let’s find the proof in the Bible:
Mt 12:32 “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.” Jesus implies that some sins can be forgiven in the next world. Sin cannot be forgiven in Hell. There is no sin to be forgiven in heaven. Any remission of sin in the next world can only occur in Purgatory.
1 Cor 3:15 “But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.” This cannot refer to eternal loss in hell, for there no one is saved. Nor can it refer to heaven, for there no one suffers. It refers, then to a middle state where the soul temporarily suffers loss so that it may gain heaven. This is essentially the definition of Purgatory.
1 Pet 3:18-20 “For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits imprison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water.”
1 Peter 4:6 “For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead that , though condemned in the flesh in human estimation, they might live in the spirit in the estimation of God.” Note that it is a prison for disobedient spirits, and yet they were saved when Jesus preached to them. This is not hell, because no one is saved from hell. This is probably not the “limbo of the fathers,” (often called “Abrahams bosom,” where the righteous souls of the OT waited until Christ opened the gates of heaven), because this is a place for disobedient spirits. One cannot imagine that St. Peter is describing the waiting place of such righteous OT saints as David and John the Baptist when he mentions disobedient spirits.
St. Peter is describing a temporary state for disobedient souls who were eventually saved. At the very least, it proves that a third place can exist between heaven and hell. At the very most, it proves the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.
The clearest affirmation of the existence of Purgatory comes from the Greek Septuagint: the Old Testament Scriptures used by Christ, all the NT writers, and the councils of Hippo and Carthage (which authoritatively determined the “canon” of inspired books of the Bible).
2 Maccabees 12:44-46 “…for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.” It is impossible to aid souls in heaven (they have no need), and equally impossible to aid souls in hell (they have no hope). Praying for the dead presumes souls in a middle state where atonement for sin can be made.
This passage from Maccabees is a PROOF text. It explicitly affirms an intermediate state where the faithful departed make atonement for their sins. 2 Maccabees was so contrary to the “justification by faith alone” theology of the Reformers that Martin Luther chose to remove it (along with six other books) from the OT. If you are Protestant it is unfair to you because you don’t have these books in your Bible (the Bible that a man named Martin Luther changed).
This takes us to a question of the canon of the Bible: How do you know which books really constitute the Bible? By whose authority do you trust that the books upon which you stake your eternal salvation really are inspired?
Do you rely on the private judgment of a renegade priest, Luther, who also wanted to throw out Esther, James and Revelation, and thought nothing of adding a word to his translation of Romans?
Or, do you accept the divinely-protected judgment of the Catholic Church who used her authority around the year 400 A.D. to determine the official canon of the Bible. This is the same Bible (less seven books) used by Protestants to attack the very authority of the Church who gave it to them.
Even if 2 Maccabees is rejected as Scripture, there can be no doubt that, as history , the book accurately reflects the religious character of the Jews of the second century BC. A little more than one hundred years before Christ, Jews prayed for their dead (and still do today).
In fact, some of the earliest Christian liturgies (worship services) include prayers for the dead. Ancient Christian tomb inscriptions from the second and third centuries frequently contain an appeal for prayers for the dead. This practice makes sense only if early Christians believed in Purgatory even if they did not use that name for it.
Tertullian, writing in the year 211 A.D., presents the practice of praying and sacrificing for the dead as an established custom: “We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthday anniversaries.” The practice of praying for the dead was universal among Christians for fifteen centuries before the Reformation.
Let’s look at the New Testament passages that refer to prayers and practices performed for the benefit of the deceased.
2 Tim 1:16-18 “May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus because he often gave me new heart and was not ashamed of my chains…May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day.” St Paul prays for his departed friend Onesiphorus, which makes sense only if he can be helped by prayer.
1 Cor 15: 29-30 “Otherwise, what will people accomplish by having themselves baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they having themselves baptized for them?” In his argument for the resurrection of the body, St. Paul mentions (without condemning or approving) the practice of people having themselves baptized for the benefit of the dead, who cannot be helped if there is no intermediate state of purification.
In short, if the Jews, St. Paul, and the early Christians prayed for the dead, we should have no fear of praying for them as well. Praying for the dead presumes an intermediate state of purification, whatever you may call it. Catholics call it Purgatory.
What are your thoughts on Purgatory? On what Martin Luther did? Please comment below.