4 Biblical Principles That Show the Reality of Purgatory

The Catholic belief in Purgatory is indeed scriptural, and here's the proof.

Detail from the Waldenburg Prayer Book, WLB Stuttgart, Cod. Brev. 12, fol. 84r (1486)
Detail from the Waldenburg Prayer Book, WLB Stuttgart, Cod. Brev. 12, fol. 84r (1486) (photo: Screenshot)

Q. I have an Evangelical friend at work who claims that the Catholic belief in Purgatory is not scriptural. What should I say to him?

A. I want to answer that question by first using Scripture and then by using some common sense.

From the perspective of Scripture, the word “Purgatory” never appears in the Bible. Does that mean Purgatory isn’t in the Bible? Not at all. The word “Incarnation” is not in the Bible, but all Christians believe the Incarnation is a scriptural belief. The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, but all Christians believe the Trinity is a scriptural belief. So, the mere fact that the word “Purgatory” does not appear in the Bible does not mean Catholics have to admit that Purgatory is a non-scriptural teaching, as we will see.

To demonstrate the very scriptural nature of the doctrine of Purgatory, let's first establish some Catholic scriptural principles, starting in the Old Testament. In 2 Samuel 12:13-18, it states, “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.’ And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became sick…On the seventh day the child died.”

What do we see here? David sins. David realizes he has sinned. David repents.  David is forgiven — the Lord “put away” his sin. Yet, David receives punishment for his sin after he has been forgiven — his child dies.

Catholic Scriptural Principle #1 – there is the possibility of punishment for sin even after one has received forgiveness.

Let’s move now to the New Testament. Revelation 21:27 says, “But nothing unclean shall enter it…” This is referring to the New Jerusalem – Heaven.

Catholic Scriptural Principle #2 – nothing unclean - nothing, in other words, with the stain of sin — will enter Heaven.

More Scripture. Hebrews 12:22-23, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem...and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect…”  Notice, it speaks of the “spirits” of just men (who, as Catholics would say, are those that died in a state of grace), who are in Heaven, and who have been “made perfect.”

Catholic Scriptural Principle #3 – there is a way, a process, through which the spirits of the “just” are “made perfect.”

And finally, read 1 Corinthians 3:13-15: “…each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day [judgment day] will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation [Jesus Christ] survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

Where is this place that a man, after he dies, has his works tested, and could suffer loss, as through fire, but still be saved? Hell? No, once you’re in Hell, you don’t get out. Heaven? No, you don’t suffer loss as through fire in Heaven. It must be somewhere else.

Catholic Scriptural Principle #4 – there is a place, or state of being, other than Heaven or Hell.

Now, let’s summarize these four scriptural principles: There is the possibility of punishment for sin even after one has received forgiveness. Nothing with the stain of sin will enter Heaven. There is some way, or process, by which the spirits of the just are made perfect. And there is a place besides Heaven or Hell where you can suffer loss, yet still be saved, but only as through fire. We’ve just, in essence, described Purgatory. Conclusion: Catholic teaching on Purgatory is indeed scriptural.

Now, what about the common sense perspective on Purgatory that I mentioned earlier?

Well, think about this: Are you perfect right now? In every single way — physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually — are you perfect? Do you have any attachment to sin? Do you never have a bad thought, say a bad word, do something you shouldn’t, or don’t do something you should? Do you ever get sick? I have asked a whole lot of people that question and I have never had anyone say to me that, yes, they are perfect.

So, you’re not perfect. But, God forbid, let’s say you were to die this very instant and you were to go to Heaven. Would you be perfect in Heaven? Yes, you would be. You would be perfectly united to the Body of Christ, no more sin, no more pain, no more anguish, no more illness. Your soul would be free from sin and your body — after the Resurrection of the Dead — would be in its glorified state. You would be perfect in Heaven.

Well, think about that. You die imperfect; but you enter Heaven perfect. How did that happen? There was some process by which the spirit of the just was made perfect. Your imperfections were “purged” from you. Call that whatever you want, but that process is what we Catholics call “Purgatory.” 

a young parishioner prays inside St. Thomas Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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