By Keith Thompson
Rome’s doctrine of purgatory asserts that when a Catholic dies and they have committed venial sins or still have temporal punishments for sin, they are purified in the fires of purgatory so they can enter heaven, which requires absolute perfection. The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church says,
“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before Final Judgement, there is a purifying fire” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, [DoubleDay, 1994], par. 1031 p. 291).
Catholic scholar John Hardon also explains:
“there exists purgatory, in which the souls of the just who die with the stains of sins are cleansed by expiation before they are admitted to heaven. . . . ‘stains of sins’ . . . means the temporal punishment due to venial or mortal sins already forgiven as to guilt but not fully remitted as to penalty when a person dies. It may also mean the venial sins themselves, not forgiven either as to guilt or punishment before death” (John A. Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, [DoubleDay, 1981], p. 274).
The medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas mentions, prior to the resurrection, the “separated souls [in purgatory], and the punishment inflicted on them by fire” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, [Christian Classics Ethereal Library], Sup, Qu. 69, p. 6370 brackets mine). This is an important issue which must be addressed, since, not only is it unbiblical and ahistorical, but Pope Francis actually offered time off purgatory to those who “follow him” on twitter. The blasphemous idea that you can click a button on a keyboard and follow the pope on twitter in order to go to heaven faster is utterly opposed to the biblical teaching concerning the sufficiency of Jesus’ once-for-all atonement bringing men to heaven.
Biblical Response to Purgatory
Holy Scripture knows nothing of a place called purgatory. After examining the various arguments put forth by Roman apologists in order to try to prove the teaching, Catholic scholar Richard P. McBrien admitted, “There is, for all practical purposes, no biblical basis for the doctrine of purgatory” (Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism: New Edition, [HarperOne, 1994], p. 1166).
2 Corinthians 5:6, 8 demonstrates that once a believer dies they, as a set norm, then immediately enter God’s presence. This refutes the Roman idea that a great number of believers instead enter purgatory at death: “6So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. . . . 8Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6, 8). New Testament scholar Murray J. Harris argues,
“The corollary of ‘residence in the body = absence from the Lord (v.6) is ‘absence from the body = residence with the Lord (v.8). That is, what is implied in v. 6 is stated positively in v.8: as soon as departure from mortal corporeality occurs (v.8a), residence in the Lord’s presence begins (v.8b). This means that the same moment of death that marks the destruction of the transitory earthly tent-dwelling (v.1) also marks the taking up of permanent residence ‘with the Lord’ (v.8)” (Murray J. Harris, 2 Corinthians, [Zondervan, 1976], p. 348).
Hebrews 12:22-24, in speaking to the issue of the entire congregation of saints in heavenly Jerusalem, shows they will be there with God and not in purgatory:
“22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
Notice when discussing the congregation of saints here, there is no mention of many being in purgatory at this time as there should be if Romanism is true. Instead, all God’s people are represented as being with Him.
John 5:24 has the Lord Jesus affirming, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Notice that true believers have passed from death to life. Hence, since this is case, when they die it would not make sense for them to pass from death to purgatory. It only makes sense, according to this text, for them to pass from death to life.
Rome’s idea that Christians will have to be purified by having the guilt of their venial sins expiated in the fires of purgatory is refuted by the clear biblical teaching on the sufficiency of Jesus’ atonement to expiate all the sins of those who repent and believe in Christ and His gospel unto salvation. Jesus’ death on the cross perfectly expiates all sin of the believer, that is, removes the sinner’s guilt for all their sins.
Colossians 2:13-14 says, “13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). The Greek says charisamenos hēmin panta ta paraptōmata which literally means “having forgiven us all the transgressions”. Notice all the transgressions are forgiven by Christ’s atonement on the cross, not some transgressions; the rest of which need to be expiated in purgatory.
Hebrews 1:3 says “. . . he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). The word “purged” in the original Greek is katharismon which refers to the removal of sin. And as Leon Morris notes, “The verb ‘provided’ is in the aorist tense; the cleansing in question, being based on a past action, is complete” (Leon Morris, Hebrews, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, [Zondervan, 1981], p. 15). Hence, Jesus fully completed the removal of the believers’ sin at his crucifixion. There is thus no need for any to be purged in purgatory.
1 John 1:7 “. . . the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The phrase “from all [pasēs] sin” is taken in two different ways by scholars. First, it is taken to refer to all kinds of sin. Second, it is seen to refer to every single sin of the individual. Either way, the sufficiency of Jesus’ atonement to wipe away the believer’s sins is evident. However, Robert Yarborough notes that there is a similar phrase used in the same letter which must be understood as referring to “every sin.” He notes, “At least once in 1 John a similar construction demands to be translated in the latter sense (2:1)” (Robert W. Yarborough, 1-3 John, ed. Robert W. Yarborough, Robert H. Stein, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 2008], p. 58). He also notes that New Testament textual critic and Greek specialist Daniel B. Wallace affirms the text should read “from every sin.” Lastly, “from every sin” in this text corresponds with “at all” in v. 5, where it is said that “in him is no darkness at all.” In other words, just as there is absolutely no darkness in God “at all,” period, Jesus’ blood likewise cleanses us from “all sin,” period (Robert Gundry, Commentary on the New Testament, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2010], p. 969). Hence, since Jesus’ sacrifice totally cleanses believers from every sin, there is no room for saying venial sins are nevertheless expiated or cleansed by purgatory.
Roman 4:8 says, “blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:8). When the believer is justified and thus acquitted by faith which appropriates Jesus’ perfect atonement and righteousness, God does count the believer’s sins against him. This is echoed in Psalms 103:12 which says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:12). Jesus’ sufficient sacrifice is the basis for sins not being counted against true believers, not purgatory.
Hebrews 9:26 says Jesus “. . . put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Leon Morris comments on the strength of this text: “The purpose of Christ’s coming was ‘to do away with sin.’ Here the expression eis athetēsin is a strong one, signifying the total annulment of sin. The word ‘is used in a technical juristic sense’ (Deiss, BS, pp. 228-29) with the meaning ‘to annul’ or ‘cancel.’ Sin, then, is rendered completely inoperative and this was done ‘by the sacrifice of himself’” (Leon Morris, Hebrews, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, [Zondervan, 1981], p. 93). Again, since Jesus completely annulled or cancelled the sin of the believer with his precious substitutionary sacrifice, Rome’s insistence that believers must be purified in the flames of purgatory from their venial sins is shown to be incorrect.
Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). The verb teteleiōken (“he has perfected”) is in the perfect indicative active which refers to a past completed action, the results of which are continuing on or in full effect. In other words, although believers are growing in holiness or sanctification in real time day to day, they are nevertheless perfect in God’s sight based on Jesus’ atonement (i.e., positionally perfect). Thus, since believers have been perfected in God’s sight in this way based on Jesus’ finished work being applied to their account, it is erroneous for Rome to assert that due to the alleged positional imperfection of believers, they must have their venial sins expiated in purgatory. There is no need since they are already perfect in God’s sight if in fact they have Jesus’ perfect atonement applied to them by faith (e.g. Luke 18:12-14; John 3:16; 5:24; Romans 3:25, 28; 4:1-6; 5:1, 10; 10:3-4; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 1:21-22; Hebrews 7:23-25, 27; 8:12-13; 9:12, 26; 10:9-14, 17; 13:12; 1 Peter 3:18).
Historical Examination of Purgatory
Apostolic Fathers. The doctrine of purgatory is not only unknown to and contradicted by the biblical writers, but the same is the case with the apostolic fathers and the fathers after them. As Herman Bavinck observed, “The Apostolic Fathers still had no doctrine concerning the intermediate state and in general believed that at death the devout immediately experience the blessedness of heaven and the wicked the punishment of hell” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, Volume 4, [Baker Academic, 2008], p. 607). That the students of the apostles were not teaching Romanism’s later teaching of purgatory is compelling evidence that (1) they did not understand Scripture to teach the doctrine; and (2) the Apostles did not hand on such an oral teaching to them. When speaking of what happens once a believer escapes the evil one and departs this life, the first century writer Ignatius of Antioch does not affirm the existence of purgatory. Instead he says, “if we endure all the assaults of the prince of this world, and escape them, we shall enjoy God” (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, 1). The Epistle of Barnabas written about A.D. 100 says, “For he who keeps these shall be glorified in the kingdom of God; but he who chooses other things shall be destroyed with his works. On this account there will be a resurrection, on this account a retribution” (Epistle of Barnabas, 21). This epistle teaches that saints who die will be resurrected and that the damned will go to perdition. Not only is there no mention of purgatory, but there is actually the implicit denial of it by way of affirmation of resurrection after death for the believer instead of purgatory.
Second Century Apologists. In regards to the second century apologists, Justin Martyr, when speaking to what happens to the believer after death, does not mention purgatory ever. Instead he says: “And the Word, being His Son, came to us, having put on flesh, revealing both Himself and the Father, giving to us in Himself resurrection from the dead, and eternal life afterwards” (Justin Martyr, On the Resurrection, 1). After the death of the believer comes resurrection and then eternal life, not purgatory. To be sure, in another work Justin affirms there are only two destinations after death, a good place for the pious, and a bad place for the wicked. There is no bad place for the pious whereby they are purged of sin in a metaphorical fire: “The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 5). Clearly at this time the church was not teaching purgatory was a valid Scriptural teaching handed on by the apostles orally. Irenaeus affirmed that after death all believers go to a place allotted to them by God where they wait until resurrection. He does not teach many go to purgatory whereby their sins are expiated: “it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event; then receiving their bodies, and rising in their entirety” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.31.2). Irenaeus never mentions some going to a place to be purged of sin having sin expiated. Again, he instead mentions all believers waiting for resurrection. Tertullian held the same view (Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, 55). Though martyrs were exempted and went straight to heaven according to both Irenaeus and Tertullian (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, Volume 4, [Baker Academic, 2008], p. 608).
Early Prayers for the Dead. Although various writers like Tertullian along with catacombs and burial inscriptions give evidence of prayers to God on behalf of the dead, this does not prove they believed these prayers would benefit them in purgatory, contra certain Roman writers (e.g. Patrick Madrid, Why is That in Tradition?, [Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2002], pp. 91-92). The fact is none of these sources state the dead saints are in purgatory being punished or having sins expiated. On the contrary, the deceased believers were thought to be in a pleasant intermediate place simply awaiting resurrection. The prayers were meant to help safeguard their transition from a neutral to a better place (i.e., paradise). As William Webster remarks,
“. . . the early church believed deceased Christians to be residing in peace and happiness and the nature of the prayers offered for them were that they might have a greater experience of these . . . these prayers often used the Latin term refrigerium as a request of God on behalf of departed Christians, a term which means ‘refreshment’ or ‘to refresh’ and came to embody the concept of heavenly happiness. So even though the early Church prayed for the dead, it does not support the concept of a purgatory for the nature of the prayers themselves indicate the Church did not believe the dead to be residing in a place of suffering” (William Webster, Roman Catholic Tradition: Claims and Contradictions, [Christian Resources Inc., 1999], pp. 63-64).
Although Tertullian (A.D. 160-220) for example affirmed prayers to God on behalf of the dead, this was not because he believed they were in purgatory being punished or having sins expiated, but because they were “detained in safe keeping in Hades until the day of the Lord” (Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, 55), that is, in “. . . the bosom of Abraham [which] . . . offers the souls of the righteous an interim refreshment [refigerium interim] until the end of all things brings about the great resurrection and the final reward” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.34). Hades is not purgatory, but a place where both the damned and saved go (it had two compartments: Abraham’s Bosom and the bad place for the damned). There the saints wait for final resurrection after death. Tertullian believed the saints enjoyed a time of refreshment in Abraham’s bosom before resurrection and heaven, not punishment and suffering in purgatory (Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, [University of Chicago Press, 1986], p. 47). His concept of prayers for the deceased, though it does not serve as proof for purgatory according to context contra Romanists, did nevertheless contribute to modern Rome’s later doctrine of purgatory when it did finally emerge in church history, since, later men who held to that doctrine offered prayers and things of this nature for loved ones they believed to be there.
Origen and Beyond. Origen (A.D. 185-254) was an ecclesiastical writer whose views on universal salvation were condemned and deemed heretical by the church in A.D. 534 at the provincial council of Constantinople, a judgement which was confirmed by Vigilius, bishop of Rome (d. A.D. 555). However, Origen’s writings were nevertheless essential in regards to the invention of purgatory. As French award-winning historian and medievalist Jacques Le Goff notes, “it was Origen who clearly stated for the first time the idea that the soul can be purified in the other world after death” (Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, [University of Chicago Press, 1986], p. 57 italics mine). Origen asserted that everyone would end up saved. However a purification of each individual would first be required after death. Following the pagan Plato and other pagan works such as Virgil’s Aeneid, Origen taught punishments were medicines which would remedy the remaining stains of the soul in the afterlife (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 2, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2011], p. 605; William Webster, Roman Catholic Tradition: Claims and Contradictions, [Christian Resources Inc., 1999], p. 64; Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, Volume 4, [Baker Academic, 2008], p. 609). Gregory of Nissa erroneously followed this sort of thinking (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, [HarperOne, 1978], pp. 483-484). Origen’s heretical idea of everyone ending up saved due to cleansing from sin in the afterlife is the first resemblance of Rome’s later teaching in history. Later church writers then began to affirm that in the afterlife, prior to heaven, believers would be cleansed of sins and stains of sins (e.g. Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory I). It then picked up steam following its affirmation from these influential writers. However, since it is not until these later writers, with the help of the heretic Origen, that we see historical attestation to a doctrine similar to modern Rome’s, one is not justified in asserting it to be primitive or God-ordained. The Scripture, apostolic fathers, and apologists and writers after them do not affirm it (in fact they held contrary views as we showed). If purgatory was a revealed doctrine from God to Jesus and the apostles, we would not expect this. Purgatory is another example of later men asserting a teaching which has no primitive God-ordained basis. The full doctrine of purgatory would be declared Catholic doctrine by the Council’s of Florence in the fifteenth century and Trent in the sixteenth. Jacques Le Goff notes that “Until the end of the twelfth century the noun purgatorium did not exist: the Purgatory had not yet been born” (Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, [University of Chicago Press, 1986], p. 3). In other words, people were not speaking of a place or state designated as “purgatory” until the twelfth century, though the tenets of this doctrine are earlier.
Roman Misuse of Cyprian. Roman apologists will sometimes try to read into earlier fathers the notion of purgatory when it is not actually there. For example, the Romanist Patrick Madrid quotes Cyprian (A.D. 200-258) as allegedly advancing purgatory in his work Letter 51, To Antonianus, 20 where he wrote,
“It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory; it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgement; another to be at once crowned by the Lord” (Cyprian, Letter 51, To Antonianus, 20).
However, Jacques Le Goff notes that in regard to the common Catholic misuse of this text, “nothing could be further from the historical truth” (Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, [University of Chicago Press, 1986], p. 58). In fact he approvingly mentions Pierre Jay’s studies and notes, “According to Jay, what is being discussed in the letter to Antonian is the difference between Christians who did not stand up to persecution (the lapsi and apostates) and the martyrs. It is not a question of ‘purgatory’ in the hereafter but of penitence here below. The reference to imprisonment has to do not with Purgatory, which in any case did not exist, but rather with the penitential discipline of the Church” (Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, [University of Chicago Press, 1986], p. 58). Hence, the Roman anachronistic abuse of Cyprian must be abandoned by the honest person.
Response to Rome’s Biblical Arguments for Purgatory
Matthew 12:32 is commonly misused by Rome in order to advance her novel doctrine of purgatory. It 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” (Matthew 12:32). Catholics argue this text supports the idea that it is possible for people to be forgiven in purgatory. As Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis argues,
“Such forgiveness, however, only applies to venial sins, not mortal sins. Historically, the Catholic Church has used Mt 12:32, among other passages, to support the doctrine of Purgatory. Since Jesus says there is an equal opportunity for forgiveness in the age to come as in the present age, then there must be some opportunity of forgiveness in both ages, otherwise Mt 12:32 is contradictory. Unconfessed venial sin that has not been forgiven on earth must then be forgiven in Purgatory before one can enter Heaven” (Robert Sungenis, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Volume 1, [Catholic Apologetics International Publishing, Inc., 2007], p. 189).
Yet, as Gundry notes, “‘Either in this age or in the coming [age]’ underscores the eternality of unforgiveness” (Robert Gundry, Commentary on the New Testament, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2010], p. 52). Christ’s point is not that sins can be forgiven in the next age (he never once says that), but that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is so severe that it can be described as an eternal sin. This is why in the parallel passage in Mark 3:29 we read: “but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’” (Mark 3:29). As Robert Zins states, “We discount this fantastic assumption with the parallel passage of Mark 3:29 which takes the sense of ‘. . . neither in the [world] to come’ as meaning never!” (Robert Zins, Romanism, [A Christian Witness to Roman Catholicism, 2010], p. 121). Moreover, the Roman concepts of punishment and satisfaction involved with purgatory are nowhere present in Matthew 12:32; only forgiveness is. So this text can not be used as proof for the actual doctrine.
Revelation 21:27 is put forth by certain Catholics as support for the need of purgatory: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it [the Holy City], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:27). In light of this text, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong proposes purgatory is a “. . . necessary and, indeed, ultimately desirable process for all of us imperfect sinners to undergo, in order to approach God properly in his unfathomable majesty and holiness. . . . The relevance of this biblical data in terms of its analogy to the idea of Purgatory is very clear” (Dave Armstrong, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, [Sophia Institute Press, 2003], p. 144). On the contrary; it is not clear. Purgatory is not even mentioned here! Revelation 21:27 is not stating one must literally be made perfect or absolutely sinless in purgatory in order to enter the Holy City, that is, the New Jerusalem. When it says no unclean person will enter, the word “unclean” is koinon and it refers to “ceremonial impurity” (Alan F. Johnson, Revelation, [Zondervan, 1981], p. 598). The following texts which use the word demonstrate this: Mark 7:2, 5; Acts 10:14-15, 28; 11:8-9; Romans 14:14. When it says no one who does “detestable” or “abominable” things, the word is bdelygma which, according to Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, refers to severe idolatry and self-justification (William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, [Zondervan, 2006], p. 2), the very things Catholics engage in (see LXX of Daniel 12:11; Matthew 24:15; Luke 16:15; Revelation 17:4-5 for proof of this meaning of bdelygma). Finally, when it says those who do that which is “false” or “lie,” the Greek means just that. In the very next chapter, namely Revelation 22:15, we see mention of a people that “loves and practices falsehood.” This is in view in the text in question. Thus, no one will enter the Holy City with God if they are ceremonially unclean, into abominable idolatry, self-justication, and love and practice deceit. Christians do not do this because of their changed nature by God’s grace. Catholics, i.e., unsaved people who think they are Christian but are not, however, do. Thus there is no need to appeal to the need for purgatory based on this text. The Christian is born again and escapes wrath and enters paradise based on the perfect merit of Jesus Christ applied to their account. As Romans 5:9-10 confirms: “9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:9-10).
Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Romanists cite this text and argue since there is a holiness without which no one will see the Lord, purgatory is necessary in order to attain it (Dave Armstrong, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, [Sophia Institute Press, 2003], p. 143). However, the problem with arguing from this text is that it does not provide purgatory as the solution for holiness being required to see the Lord. Instead, in the preceding context it presents as a solution God chastening and conforming the believer to become holy during their life-long process of sanctification. Hebrews 12:4-11 says,
“4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ 7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. . . . 10 . . . but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:4-8, 10-11).
Therefore, rather than purgatory being the solution of the requirement of holiness in order to see God, the text says God’s discipline during our life which conforms us to the required holiness is. This is a clear example of Catholics reading into the text something that is not there while ignoring what the context actually states.
Matthew 5:20 is also quoted by papists in order to establish the need for purgatory. It says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). However, this text does not affirm purgatory is the basis for the righteousness required to enter the kingdom. Jesus has in mind doing and teaching the Old Testament commands as fulfilled and properly expounded in Jesus’ teaching and rules. Jesus’ teaching fulfills or properly explains Old Testament Revelation and so by following Jesus one is properly obeying it (vv. 17-20). However, purgatory is not affirmed as the way in which the righteousness of the believer exceeds that of the Pharisees. Instead, Scripture present God’s grace, strength and Spirit as sufficiently able to persevere the believer in the holiness of life God asks of us. Jude 1:24 says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24). Purgatory is not the biblical answer in regards to our righteousness exceeding that of the evil Pharisees, God’s grace and help through His Spirit is. Romans 8:13 says it is by the Spirit which men put to death the deeds of the flesh and live. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 says God causes believers to increase in love for one another and establishes holiness in the heart. Ezekiel 36:25-27 also confirms the sufficiency of God’s grace and enablement in regards to man’s obedience, as opposed to the need of purgatory: “25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Matthew 5:25-26 says, “25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:25-26). In arguing for purgatory, Catholic scholar Ludwig Ott asserts these words “threaten, in the form of a Parable, the person who does not fulfill the commandment of Christian brotherly love, with just punishment by the Divine Judge” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, [TAN Books and Publishers, 1960], p. 484). However this text does not concern purgatory. The point is people should settle disputes with offended parties before the day of judgement instead of being malicious. Just as debtors in the ancient world were imprisoned until they paid the money due, a person who perseveres in not settling disputes with those they offend will, in a similar way, experience God’s judgement. The mention of paying the last penny in v. 26 is thus, as D. A. Carson Observes, “part of the narrative fabric and gives no justification for purgatory. . .” (D. A. Carson, Matthew, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, [Zondervan, 1984], p. 150). In other words, debtors being punished in worldly prison systems is a first century analogy to being judged by God on the day of judgement for being malicious to and not reconciling with people you offend. The reason Jesus mentions punishment in prison until the last penny is paid (a penny or quadrans being the smallest Roman coin) is because God’s judgement towards the wicked, as R. T. France notes, likewise “knows no half measure” (R. T. France, Matthew, ed. Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Volume 1, [InterVarsity Press, 1985], p. 126). In the immediate context Jesus is speaking about judgement by way of hell, not purgatory (vv. 21-22, 29-30).
2 Maccabees 12:39-45 is part of the apocrypha Christians reject as uninspired, along with many early church writers, but which Roman Catholics regard as inspired Scripture. Rome argues that it teaches purgatory. It reads:
39And the day following Judas came with his company, to take away the bodies of them that were slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen, in the sepulchres of their fathers. 40And they found things consecrated to the idols of the Jamnites, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain. 41Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden. 42And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain. 43And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. 44(For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,) 45And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them” (2 Maccabees 12:39-45).
Catholic John A. Hardon claims, “The description of what happened and the sacred writer’s commentary on its meaning show that the Jewish priests and people believed that those who died in peace could be helped by prayers and sacrifices offered by the living” (John A. Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, [DoubleDay, 1981], p. 276). However, there are a few problems with asserting this text teaches purgatory. First, 2 Maccabees, which was written around 124 B.C., is not Holy Scripture. So even if it did teach something similar to purgatory, the text is not binding. Moreover, in 2 Maccabees 14 the author praises a Jew named Razias for committing suicide (vv. 41-42) calling him “of good report” (v. 37), “pure” (v. 38), and his suicide “noble” (v. 42). Approving of suicide is not something Holy Scripture does (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 where Paul says the body is God’s temple and that those who destroy the body will be destroyed by God). Those who commit suicide are always noted for their wickedness, not their nobility or purity (e.g. Abimelech in Judges 9:54; Saul in 1 Samuel 31:4, Ahithophel in 2 Samuel 17:23, Zimri in 1 Kings 16:18, and Judas in Matthew 27:5). Second, this text can’t be used as proof for purgatory because God killed these slain soldiers for idolatrous theft of “things consecrated to the idols of the Jamnites” (v. 40), which Catholic scholar John A. Hardon says were “amulets of the idols of Jamnia” (John A. Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, [DoubleDay, 1981], p. 275). This is mortal sin according to Catholic teaching. As The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 says “Considered in itself, idolatry is the greatest of mortal sins” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. Charles George Herbermann, [Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1913], p. 636). Also the Catholic Saint and Doctor Thomas Aquinas stated, “But theft is a means of doing harm to our neighbor in his belongings . . . Therefore theft, as being opposed to charity, is a mortal sin” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 2.2, Qu. 66, [Christian Classics Ethereal Library], p. 3353). These soldiers did harm to their victims when stealing from them and what they were concealing was idolatrous. Hence they sinned mortally according to Catholic standards. Since those who die in mortal sin are damned and do not go to purgatory according to Rome, it is erroneous to say these idolatrous thieves whom God killed went to purgatory. Third, the text does not say the people prayed for the soldiers that their sins might be forgiven while they were in purgatory. Jews at this time believed in Sheol which had two sections (see Deuteronomy 32:22; Genesis 37:35; Job 26:5-6): one section for the saved and the other section for the eternally damned which involved torture. For Catholics to claim these soldiers went to purgatory as opposed to the bad part of Sheol for the damned is completely anachronistic.
1 Peter 3:18-20 is another texts Catholics misuse in order to support purgatory. It says after His death, Christ was
“18. . . made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water” (1 Peter 3:18-20).
Although the Catholic scholars Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch do not argue this text refers to purgatory or humans, but instead to Jesus descending to Hades to proclaim to the fallen angels who were locked up there (Scott Hahn, Curtis Mitch, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, [Ignatius Press, 2010], p. 456), other Catholics nevertheless understand this text as referring to purgatory. For example, Patrick Madrid cites this text as proof for purgatory on page 86 his book Where is That in the Bible? However, this is incorrect. What the text is actually saying is that after His crucifixion Jesus was made alive in the Spirit in the same way He was when He, through Noah and his ministry, proclaimed the truth to those alive then. In other words, through Noah, Jesus, in the time of the flood, preached repentance to the lost world. And these people are now in Hades or the prison. Jesus did not go to Hades and proclaim to spirits there. Instead the spirits of men which are there now (or there at the time of Peter’s writing) were people Jesus proclaimed to while they were alive at the time of Noah. As John Gill explains:
“The plain and easy sense of the words is, that Christ, by his Spirit, by which he was quickened, went in the ministry of Noah, the preacher of righteousness, and preached both by words and deeds, by the personal ministry of Noah, and by the building of the ark, to that generation who was then in being; and who being disobedient, and continuing so, a flood was brought upon them which destroyed them all; and whose spirits, or separate souls, were then in the prison . . . when the Apostle Peter wrote this epistle; so that Christ neither went into this prison, nor preached in it, nor to spirits that were then in it when he preached, but to persons alive in the days of Noah” (John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, 1 Peter 3:19)
This view was affirmed by Augustine in his work Letters, 164 and is backed up by 1 Peter 1:10-11 which, concerning Old Testament times, speaks of the Spirit of Christ being in the prophets prophesying about grace and the sufferings of Jesus. 1 Peter 4:6 also says “the gospel was preached even to those who are dead” (1 Peter 4:6) thus supporting our case.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 is probably the most often cited text by Catholics in regards to trying to show purgatory is biblical. It states,
“10According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—13each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
Commenting on this text the Roman apologist Dave Armstrong asserts, “This is a clear allusion to Purgatory, or at least, even for the most sceptical person, something exceedingly similar to it” (Dave Armstrong, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, [Sophia Institute Press, 2003], p. 135). He then quotes Catholic Francis de Sales who claimed the fire out of which the builder escapes is Purgatory and that the fire he escapes refers not to final judgement (Dave Armstrong, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, [Sophia Institute Press, 2003], pp. 136-137). However, to understand this text and see that it is not referring to purgatory, one must closely examine it line by line. It will be demonstrated the text refers to the Corinthian church leaders (or Christian church leaders in general) and not to all believers. And it refers to the validity of their work in church building being tested at the time of the final judgement on the Day of the Lord as opposed to them spending time in purgatory. It’s referring to, as Ciampa and Rosner note, how “God holds Christian leaders accountable for how they build” (Roy E. Ciampa, Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010], p. 150).
Paul says he laid a foundation (v. 10), that is, by planting the Corinthian Church (see 1:2). Paul then says someone else then builds on it (v. 10), which refers to Apollos (see 3:6). This means Apollos evangelized or preached to this already planted church. Verse 10 then exhorts Christian leaders to watch out how they build up the church in their gospel preaching and evangelism. The reason is given in v. 11 which is “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” In other words, Christian leaders must keep their preaching in line with Jesus and His gospel concerning the cross since Jesus is the foundation. Church building can not be based on anything other than the message of Jesus and His gospel. As Ciampa and Rosner note, “This warning is similar to the one in 1:18-25, where a style of public speaking that did not suit ‘the message of the cross,’ threatened to ‘empty it of its power’” (Roy E. Ciampa, Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010], p. 153). In v. 12 the way in which church leaders build is compared either to “gold, silver, [and] precious stones” which endure or withstand the metaphorical flame of God’s scrutinizing judgement on the great Day, or to “wood, hay, [and] straw” which do not. This type of building involves both content and intent of the heart. If church leaders have wrong intentions or build the church without centralizing Jesus and His gospel, this is not good. However, if one’s intentions were good and their building up of the church was based on Jesus and His gospel then “he will receive a reward” or prize (v. 14). Verse 13 explains that the quality or validity of the work of building will become manifest on the “Day.” This “Day” refers, again, to the Day of the Lord Paul mentions by name twice in this letter (see 1:8; 5:5). The Day of the Lord is when Jesus Christ returns to earth at His second coming, His conquering of His enemies and His subsequent judgement of mankind (Zechariah 14:1-7; Acts 1:11-12; Revelation 6:12-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-9; 2 Peter 3:10-12). However, in the context of our text Paul is not saying any of these builders will be judged to hell. Instead, as vv. 13-15 indicate, the Christian leaders will have their works in building tested or judged on that Day by God’s fiery scrutiny. Some of the works (those done by leaders who build with “gold, silver, [and] precious stones”) will pass God’s fiery test and the worker will be rewarded accordingly (v. 14). These are people who build up churches with solid Christ and gospel-centered preaching. However, those whose works fail the fiery test (those who built with “wood, hay, [and] straw”), though they will “suffer loss” of reward (v. 15) in that they won’t receive certain prizes in heaven like the others, will nevertheless still be saved as yet through fire (v. 15). In other words, they will be saved by the skin of their teeth, so-to-speak. They will escape from this metaphorical burning building they created just in time. Nowhere does the text ever state unwise builders will actually be in the flames or experience them as if they were suffering in the “fires of purgatory,” as later Rome claims.
Notice that sins, punishments and satisfactions for sins are not here mentioned at all. These are all parts of Rome’s false doctrine of purgatory. Some Catholics argue v. 15’s statement that “he will suffer loss” refers to men being punished in purgatory. But as Ciampa and Rosner note: “The verb ‘to suffer loss’ does not mean ‘to punish’ but to be ‘deprived of a thing.’ The issue then is not reward or punishment, heaven or hell, but reward or no reward. It is the builder’s ‘work’ (3:13) that will be burned up, not the builder himself” (Roy E. Ciampa, Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010], pp. 156-157). Proof “to suffer loss” in v. 15 refers to being deprived of prizes as opposed to being punished in purgatory as Catholics claim, is seen in the way Paul uses the term elsewhere. The Greek word is zēmioō and in Philippians 3:8 Paul uses it when he says he “suffered the loss of all things” in regards to forfeiting his Judaic ways and thought in order to follow Jesus. In the context there is no hint of punishment. Moreover, instead of asserting this word, when used in 1 Corinthians 3:15, refers to punishment such as we would expect in purgatory, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words notes that it instead means “suffer loss” (W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, [Thomas Nelson Inc., 1996], p. 380). As the eminent scholar Gordon Fee states in his masterful commentary:
“. . . Paul adds a final quasi-proverbial note: ‘He himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.’ This sentence is often seen as expressing a purifying element to the judgement, and has served as the NT support for the concept of purgatory. But that is to miss Paul by a wide margin. This is metaphor, pure and simple, probably reflecting something like Amos’s ‘firebrand plucked from the burning’ (4:11). The implication is that the person persisting in his present course of ‘worldly wisdom’ is in grave danger, and he ‘will be pulled out his rubble heap just in the nick of time” (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987], p. 144).
Moreover, some Catholics argue that although at first in v. 10 Paul speaks of himself and other church leaders planting or building churches, he allegedly switches referents and starts to refer to all believers when in v.12 when he says “if anyone builds on the foundation;” or in v. 13 when he says “each one's work will become manifest.” Hence, certain Catholics will claim both the church leaders and regular Christians will be tested in their building of the church and supposedly suffer in purgatory. However, this is false. The “anyone” of v. 12 and the “each one” of v. 13 still refer to the church leaders. There is no reason to assume Paul changes the referents. It is entirely possible for someone to address a specific group or class of people and then address them with these kinds of universal terms laters on. For example, if a general summons his soldiers to line up and listen to him, he can then say “each one grab your weapon” or “if anyone is injured he does not get left behind.” This makes sense. One does not have to assume the referents are changing just because more universal language emerges during in the ensuing discourse.
A final problem has to do with Catholics claiming the testing of works by fire in v. 13 is purgatory. The problem is even the church leaders who built wisely and received certain prizes in heaven had their works tested by this fire, not just the bad builders. So how can wise builders who did good and received prizes for their works in church building also get punished in purgatory for their church building (i.e., Rome’s view of works being tested by fire)? It can’t be both ways. Either the wise builders go to purgatory to have their works tested by fire which means they did bad, or they receive prizes in heaven for doing good and thus do not need to go to purgatory for their works in church building. The solution is this text does not refer to purgatory at all.