Does Purgatory Exist?

HomeReligion, Atheism, and Odd TheologyDoes Purgatory Exist?

Because of the massive influence of Catholicism on the general theology of the world, a lot of people believe in something called purgatory. Before we can talk about whether purgatory exists, we need to first understand what it is, and where the idea came from.

What is purgatory?

Catholics aren’t the only ones who believe in something like purgatory. In Catholic doctrine, purgatory is either a place or a state of being in which a person who has died in good standing with God will be punished for their own unforgiven sins.

A little more detail will help. Catholics practice confession, by which a person is said to have their sins forgiven by a priest. After confessing their sins, a priest will often prescribe penance for forgiveness… that is, some restitution or effort that will compensate for sin. If someone dies with unforgiven (unconfessed) sin, or if they die before their penance is complete, they are said to go to purgatory to complete their penance. In purgatory, they will suffer for their sins for a time, and then be allowed to enter Heaven.

The basic idea behind the doctrine of purgatory is sound: that God requires payment for sin. We see this in the sacrifices of the Old Testament, by which Israel’s sins were covered. We also see this in the final sacrifice of Jesus, who died on the cross in payment for the sins of all humanity. The problem with the doctrine of purgatory is that it’s both non-biblical and unbiblical.

Where does the doctrine of purgatory come from?

Purgatory isn’t found in the Bible. It’s based primarily on a passage in 2 Maccabees 2:46: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” Maccabees may be considered part of the Bible by Catholics, but neither the ancient Jews nor the early church considered them inspired Scripture.

You may notice that this passage doesn’t actually talk about purgatory directly, but about praying for the dead. The doctrine of purgatory was laid out in detail, officially, in 1431 at the Council of Florence. The official Catholic position is that the temporal penalty due to sin is at times not wholly paid in this life.

Jesus’ sacrifice vs purgatory

The doctrine of purgatory says that people suffer to pay for for their own sins. The Bible tells an entirely different story.

The sacrifices of the Old Testament were temporary, and had to be repeated again and again to repeatedly cover sin. They did not accomplish the forgiveness of sins. Jesus was called the Lamb of God because His death on the cross was the last sacrifice that the world would ever need. His death accomplished the forgiveness of sins by paying the penalty for all sin.

Here’s the unbiblical implication: if sinners need to pay for their own sins in purgatory, then Jesus’ death is insufficient. According to this doctrine, to gain forgiveness – and go to Heaven – one must add their own suffering to Jesus’ suffering. This is entirely unbiblical.

Catholics will usually respond that Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient… that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s 1 John 1:9, and it’s true. The problem with using this verse in that way is that it’s too limiting. In Catholicism, our sin debt is only applied to our account when we confess our sins (to a priest, of course).

This is contradicted by a number of passages in the New Testament, including 2 Peter 2:1.

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.

Do you see? Jesus’ death paid the debt for even false teachers. That doesn’t mean that false teachers will go to Heaven, of course… but it does mean that false teachers won’t be suffering in purgatory or in Hell to pay for their own sins. Jesus paid for their sins. We also see this in 2 Corinthians 5:14.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

The penalty for sin is death, and Jesus died in everyone’s place. Nobody will die to pay an additional penalty because, in Christ, everyone has already died for sins. His one death took the place of our billions of individual deaths.

Because this is so, the doctrine of purgatory contradicts what we read in the New Testament. It is unbiblical, and should not be taught… or believed.

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4 responses to “Does Purgatory Exist?”

  1. Nancy says:

    Should I baptize my children (babies)? Shouldn’t they have a say in this matter?

    • Tony says:


      You’ll get different opinions on that question. I’m not qualified to speak on infant baptism, having not spent much time on it. I’m critical of infant baptism for two reasons, but those reasons don’t seem very important to some mature, wise believers I know who practice infant baptism. This is a secondary matter, I’d say… one where we are gracious toward those who believe differently, and not worth dividing over.

      As I understand infant baptism, many consider it a kind of dedication ceremony. That seems fine, but I see no need for water. Others have an unbiblical view that goes like this: when you’re baptized, you become part of the church. When you become part of the church, you’re going to Heaven. Clearly, baptism does NOT save anyone… and one only becomes part of the church – the Body of Christ – when they are born again, which doesn’t happen to infants.

      As I understand baptism in a biblical context, it’s a public ceremony where one expresses to the community of faith that you have come to believe as they do, and want to be part of the community. The ancient Jews baptized converts to Judaism in this way, and the early church followed suit. This only makes sense when one has been born again, and can express that faith to others.

      So, I will share with you my opinion: the New Testament isn’t clear on whether one can or should baptize infants, but it’s very clear on baptizing converts to Christianity. I would not baptize a child… not because I think it’s wrong to do so, but because I believe it sends the wrong message about salvation, about the nature of the church, and about God’s intentions for each individual person.

      Does that make sense?

  2. Tom Carpio says:

    Hello once again, Tony. I sent your article about Purgatory to a friend who is a Catholic. She replied with a Youtube video of Karlo Broussard about catechesis on the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory and dispels the common misconceptions that surround this doctrine among both Catholic and Protestant circles. Here is the link: What do you think? I could not watch it because I don’t want to clutter my brain. I was a Catholic for 33 years. I had lots of questions and once I gave my heart to Jesus and started reading the bible since 1986, I cannot agree with what he’s about to say in that video. I trust that you have a comment on these and I pray to God to grant us wisdom about this matter. God bless you, brother.

    • Tony says:


      Thanks. I’m ‘live blogging’ my response, as I watch. I don’t want to be nitpicky, but I’ll highlight stuff I think that shows why I don’t consider Catholic theology very biblical.

      • ‘Faith dwelling in our souls.’ Lots of people say things like this. I find it silly. Faith does not dwell in our souls. Faith is, biblically speaking, an act of trust. We become convinced by the evidence that God is trustworthy, and we act accordingly. Faith is not a thing or an entity that can dwell anywhere. Some would suggest that we take this poetically, of course. I think that’s equally silly, and more than a little dangerous. People have enough trouble understanding God well enough to trust Him without churchy phrases like things confusing them further.
      • ‘Faith dwelling in our souls by virtue of our baptism.’ This is a major difference between Catholics and non-Catholics. For Catholics, you are baptized (with faith, of course) INTO the Body of Christ. Getting dunked is a means of grace. This is the opposite of both history and Scripture. Baptism – for Jews and Christians alike – is a public ceremony declaring your faith to your community. We don’t have faith because of our baptism. We get baptized because we have faith.
      • I appreciate his approach: he wants to explain the doctrine to others, but first for Catholics… so they can understand their own faith better. While I disagree with his conclusions about purgatory, I appreciate the fact that he recognizes the need for education among the believers.
      • Unfortunately, he draws his first information from Catholic catechism and other magisterial texts. This is a gigantic mistake for someone who wants to find agreement with Protestants. If non-Catholics agreed with the RCC, they would simply BE Catholics. There’s no common ground between Protestants who reject the RCC catechism and Catholics who teach them from it.
      • ‘the remaining temporal punishment due for sin.’ This is really the whole thing, right there. Jesus died already. He took on Himself the punishment due for sin… all sin, for all people, for all time. He is the final sacrifice, taking away the sins of the world. There can be no remaining punishment for sin.
      • ‘Venial sin weakens God’s grace.’ This is another silly saying. God’s grace is not a THING that can be weakened or strengthened. My Reformed brothers and sisters talk a lot about grace, using similar language… they say silly things like “God’s grace be upon you.” It’s not a hat. God’s grace is simply this: God acts graciously toward us. When we talk about such things, the words we use often confuse people… and then that confusion becomes doctrine over time. God’s grace cannot be weakened. It can be accepted, ignored, given in vain, and so on… but it’s not an object. It’s an action.
      • ‘Unhealthy attachment must be purified.’ This isn’t a bad concept. We who are saved but alive on earth do have a lingering attachment to sin. The question is what to do about it, and the New Testament addresses that more than sufficiently. There’s nothing in the New Testament to suggest that we accept our sinfulness as something that can’t be remedied in this life. The idea that Purgatory is purifying this unhealthy attachment sounds enticing, but lacks support from the Bible.
      • ‘This purification frees one from the temporal punishment of sin.’ Again: Jesus already did that.
      • He suggests that sin’s consequences are separate from God’s judgment. That’s nonsense! Sin would have no consequences if God did not create them.
      • He claims that Jesus wipes away the eternal consequence of sin through repentance. This is a common idea, but Peter says otherwise. He describes false teachers, doomed to destruction, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them. Jesus’ death redeemed all sinners, period. Not all sinners are reconciled to God, but the eternal consequence for all sin was paid on the cross.
      • ‘I have sinned, and so therefore there is something I must do to repair, or make up for, sin.’ Again: this is the crux of the argument. Catholics believe we pay for our own sins, but the New Testament teaches the opposite. This amounts to salvation by works, as one cannot go to Heaven – they say – until they have been fully purified. So, without paying for your own sins, you could not enter Heaven.
      • Again he says that the temporal punishment for sin comes not from God, but from the nature of sin itself. This is pretty bad… suggesting that something in the universe just IS, without God having decided that it should be that way. There is nothing in this universe outside of God’s control, and there are no rules that He did not create.
      • ‘I wanted to share with you what our Catholic faith teaches.’ This commonly-used phrase exposes the difference between Catholics and non-Catholics. They follow what the Catholic church teaches. I do not. I follow what the Bible teaches. Catholics put their own traditions and (claimed) authority on par with Scripture, and even above it. I recognize that Catholics, including popes, are human and fallible… and that some have been VERY fallible. The only truly reliable sources for theological information are the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, who will never contradict the Scriptures.
      • ‘It’s at least biblically reasonable.’ With respect, it’s not biblically reasonable to suggest that the full penalty for sin has not been paid. In Romans we read that the wages of sin is death. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5, points out that Jesus died for all, and therefore all died. This is indisputable.
      • ‘[Sheol] shows the reasonableness of the existence of purgatory.’ He admits that the RCC doesn’t claim that Sheol IS purgatory, so this is irrelevant. In Sheol, the righteous and unrighteous are separated. The righteous are at ease while the unrighteous suffer. This isn’t like purgatory, and suggesting the existence of one doesn’t establish the existence of the other. He admits this bit of ‘evidence’ is only a building block in the dialogue, but the PURPOSE of each place is the issue. Sheol was simply a waiting place. Purgatory is where we suffer for our own sins, which is unbiblical.
      • 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. This isn’t purgatory, clearly. This isn’t about punishment for sins, but rewards for works. Also, this idea contradicts his earlier statement that the temporal punishment for sins comes not from God’s judgment, but from the natural consequences for sin. In the passage, judgment is clearly being exercised.
      • Matthew 5:25-26. This is pretty silly.
      • Matthew 12:32. Purgatory isn’t ‘an age to come.’ If it were, that would contradict his earlier statement that Purgatory ends at the judegment. The judgment comes at the end of this age.

      In the end, no amount of theological wrangling can get anyone past this single point of conflict: either Jesus paid the penalty for all sins by His death, or He did not. The New Testament is clear that He did, so Purgatory is not biblical… it’s contrary to Scripture, which makes it false.

      Your thoughts?

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