What Is Purgatory?

The Roman Catholic church teaches about place of punishment after death called purgatory. The Protestant church doesn’t teach it. Where did purgatory come from? The doctrine developed during the Middle Ages and was cemented into the official teachings of the Catholic Church during the reformation when the reformers protested it's teaching because it wasn’t found in the Bible. At the council of Trent, which culminated in 1563, the Catholic church declared the existence of purgatory an official teaching of the Catholic church and those who reject the doctrine of purgatory were accursed.

What is purgatory? The Catholic church teaches that those who die at peace with the church, but who are not yet perfect, (which is everyone) must undergo a time of purifying suffering before entering heaven. Because some sins are more grievous than others, the length of time and the degree of punishment people experience in purgatory varies with each person. The Catholic church teaches that gifts to the church (Isn’t that convenient!), prayers by priests, masses offered in memory of relatives or friends can shorten or eliminate time in purgatory. Of course, the pope has a “get out of purgatory free card” which he can use at any time. I don’t know why he doesn’t use it for everyone and just eliminate all that pain and suffering but that is beyond the scope of this message.

There is an interesting story about purgatory that took place in the middle ages. It involved a man named Johann Tetzel who went around the country side selling something called indulgences. These are the rough equivalent of “get out of purgatory free passes” for dead relatives. It was his way of raising money for a church building project. He had a little catch phrase he used to snooker people out of their cash and it went like this, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings; the soul from purgatory springs.” Pretty catchy!

The question to ask about purgatory is, “Does the Bible say anything about it?” and for Tetzel “Does the Bible say you can buy your way out of it?” The answer is a resounding, “No!” Not one verse in the Bible supports teaching purgatory. The only supportive text is found in the Apocrypha, which are some extra books the Catholic church added to the Bible!
The apocryphal passage the Catholic church uses to support purgatory is 2 Maccabees 12:43-45. In the context, Judas Maccabaeus leads his Jewish army against an enemy army. A few of the Jewish soldiers were killed in the conflict. As Judas’ troops recover the bodies for burial they discover that each of the dead men concealed a small idol under his tunic. Judas believes that is the reason they lost their lives. In what looks like a noble gesture, Judas urges some of his soldiers to take an offering to Jerusalem and offer a sacrifice for their sin. The passage concludes with these words.

This is why he had this atonement sacrifice offered for the dead, so that they might be released from their sins.” 2 Maccabees 12:45 (NJB)

There are two serious problems. First, the book of Maccabees is not accepted as Scripture. It is only accepted in the Catholic church as Scripture and then only 1,500 years after the Bible was established. That makes it very shaky ground on which to establish such a major doctrine.

Secondly, even if Maccabees was Scripture, the men killed in the battle were guilty of idolatry, which in Catholic theology is a mortal sin and sends people directly to hell, not purgatory.

Another obvious problem is the very concept of purgatory completely denies everything the Bible teaches about what Christ did for us.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25 (ESV)

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7 (ESV)

Purgatory doesn’t purify, Christ’s blood purifies what we could never do with our own efforts.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)

We don’t have to work off our sins to get to God; Christ’s death tore down the wall that separates us from the Father.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 (ESV)

No condemnation! No charge of accusation! Christ paid for all of our sin. The belief in purgatory arose when leaders in the Roman Catholic Church couldn’t grasp the greatness of salvation itself. I think I feel a song coming on. Let me tell you the words. Jesus paid it ALL. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow!

Thank goodness there is no purgatory!