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What the Bible says about it

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Bible passages which appear to support Purgatory:

There is no direct, unambiguous reference in the Bible to either the existence or the nature of Purgatory. Its existence has been inferred from a number of passages in the Bible: 1

  • 2 Maccabees 12:39-45: This passage is taken from the Apocrypha which is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church and a few Protestant denominations as an integral part of the official canon of scripture. It talks about living persons praying for the dead. One could reason that there is no need to pray for the deceased if they are in Heaven; they have already received their reward. If the deceased is in Hell, then prayer would again be meaningless because they would be beyond help. One might surmise that there must be an intermediate state or location where a person's soul could be helped by the prayer of others.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:15 discusses how each individual's good and bad works will be judged after death. This is probably the main text used by Catholics to support their belief in Purgatory. The passage refers to fire which will test the quality of each man's work. If it is burned up...he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. This passage could be interpreted as a reference to the purifying fires of Purgatory, which would eventually allow a person to escape. This reference cannot refer to Hell, because one cannot leave that place; it cannot refer to Heaven because there is no pain there; it must refer to some intermediate location.  The key word in the original Greek is "zemiothesetai" which is translated as "suffer loss" in many versions of the Bible. But the original word also can refer to punishment; this alternative meaning is suppressed in most translations.
  • Revelation 21:27 states that no impure person will enter heaven. "But nothing unclean shall enter it..." Some reason that if a person dies with some minor sins still on their record, then they are obviously not pure; they must go to some place to be refined until they can attain heaven.
  • Other passages include: Psalm 141:8; Daniel 12:10; Micah 7:9; Zechariah 9:11; Matthew 5:26; Matthew 12:32 & 36; Luke 12:47-48; Philippians 2:10; Hebrews 12:22b; James 3:1; 1 Peter 3:19; 1 Peter 4:18; 1 Peter 1:7; and Jude 23. 2
  • Passages which discuss "penitent mourning or concern for safe passage of the dead" are: Genesis 50:10; Numbers 20:29; Deuteronomy 34:8; 2 Maccabees 12:44-45; 1 Corinthians 15:29; 2 Timothy 1:16-18;  2 Timothy 4:19. These have been used to imply the existence of Purgatory. 2

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Bible passages which appear to oppose Purgatory:

  • Many conservative Protestants believe that various biblical passages on salvation indicate that a person would go to either heaven (if they were saved) or to Hell (if they were not) after death. Purgatory would thus have no function. Some of those passages are:
    • Romans 5:18: "...by the righteousness of one (Jesus) the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
    • Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Paul appears to have believed that the unsaved would simply be annihilated and exist no more in any form; the saved would attain eternal life in heaven). 
    • Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God."

However, it can be argued that these passages do not preclude the existence of Purgatory. One might argue that perhaps Heaven, the free gift from God, is not experienced immediately at death. There remains the possibility that the gift of heaven will be delayed until after a person is purified in Purgatory.

  • Others claim that Purgatory does not exist since the saved will avoid the wrath and condemnation of God:
    • Romans 5:9 states that: "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
    • John 5:24: "...He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Again, it could be argued that this verse does not preclude Purgatory. One could believe that the punishment in Purgatory comes from the loving chastisement of God, not from his wrath or condemnation. Thus, believers would have to experience Purgatory.

  • Many of passages do seem to indicate that a saved person has already been totally forgiven his/her sins -- past, present and future. 1 John is particularly clear on this point. Purgatory would thus not be needed, because the believers have already had their sins wiped clean. A few of these passages are:
    • Romans 3:24: "...Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
    • Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus..."
    • 1 Corinthians 6:11: "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus...
    • Titus 2:14: "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify onto himself a peculiar people..."
    • Hebrews 10:14: "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified."
    • 1 John 1:7: "...the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin."
    • 1 John 1:7: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness."
    • 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."


  1. Robert Broderick, Ed., "Catholic Encyclopedia," Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN (1987), Page 502.
  2. Robert A. Sungenis, "Purgatory," at: http://net2.netacc.net/~mafg/prgtry01.htm

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Latest update: 2008-DEC-08
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