Is There Purgatory?

PurgatoryStripAccording to the Catholic Encyclopaedia by, purgatory is “a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.” By the Decree of the Union drawn up by the Council of Florence and the Decree of the Council of Trent, “the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful.” Thus the belief is held that prayer for the dead contributes to afterlife purification. There are two types of sin in Catholic dogma. The first is venial sin or forgivable sin. It is a lesser sin and does not result in a complete separation from God or lead to eternal damnation in Hell. It does not break one’s friendship with God, but rather injures it. The second type of sin is mortal or unforgivable sin. Mortal sin “does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God” the dogma says. The distinction between the two types of sin can be blurry however. According to “deliberate hatred can be venial sin or mortal sin depending on the seriousness of the hatred.” Masturbation is also said to be an example of venial sin. It is “serious enough to be gravely immoral,” but it lacks one of the three essential elements of mortal sin: the matter must be a grave matter; it must be committed with full knowledge, and there must be deliberate consent.” There are also considerations of mitigations like “immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological and social factors.” The doctrine is convoluted to say the least, being dependent on a gradient of severity of sin. Wikipedia will on its own define purgatory as “an intermediate state” after physical death in which those destined for heaven “undergo purification, so as to achieve holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. But the use of “Purgatory” as a noun appeared perhaps just between 1160 and 1180AD. It is argued however that the concept dates back even before Jesus Christ, to “the worldwide practice of caring for the dead and praying for them, and to the belief, found also in Judaism, which is considered the precursor of Christianity, that prayer for the dead contributed to their afterlife purification.” It’s even traced to “medieval Chinese Buddhist practice of making offerings on behalf of the dead, who are said to suffer numerous trials.” Since we’re talking Christianity however, our authority must be the Bible, not culture.

The Biblical parapet upon which the doctrine of purgatory is anchored is 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. The passage is cited as “evidence for the existence of an intermediate state in which the dross of lighter transgressions will be burnt away, and the soul thus purified will be saved.” Matthew 12:32 is also cited in support of existence of mortal sin. Do these passages support the doctrine of purgatory? Let’s look at the main passage, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Here’s the background.

The Corinthian church had all sorts of problems. It was an incredibly endowed but immature church. There were problems of envy, and there were factions and wrangling. So divided was the church that some claimed to belong to Paul while others said they followed Apollos, the oratorically gifted preacher (though not on Twitter!). Paul needed to sort out a lot of things in that church and so he sent a letter ahead of his visit. Both he and Apollos are no more than servants, he wrote in his letter, God is the One that matters: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters that is at the centre of this process but God, who makes things grow.” So we see Paul using a horticultural analogy to drive home his point. “You happen to be God’s field in which we’re working.” Thus he likened the people to a planted field. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9 MSG) It will be remiss of us to imagine that Paul was speaking literally, calling the people vegetables and produce for instance. He was just using a figure of speech.

Then he proceeds to use another analogy, this time building construction: “Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful… For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11 NLT, AMP) But then Paul extends and progresses the building construction analogy, stating that those who choose to build on the foundation also have to be careful about the quality of materials used because God will do material inspection: “If you use cheap and inferior materials, you’ll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous.” (1 Corinthians 3:12) The materials used must be fire retardant because fire will be used for the test: “Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials – gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgement day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone escaping through a wall of flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NLT) Note he didn’t state the builder will escape fire. He said the builder will be LIKE someone escaping fire. This passage is not talking about physical fire. Fire is just used analogically to drive home a point since different types of building materials are employed to drive home the illustration. God’s scrutiny is actually the “fire.” But what is the work of building Paul was talking about? It’s actually doctrinal teaching. We find this answer a few verses down in 1 Corinthians 3:17 (AMP) and 1 Corinthians 4:1. To set off the answer Paul resorts to the use of an architectural analogy – a temple. He likens the Corinthian church as a collective to a temple (1 Corinthians 3:16): “If anyone does hurt to God’s temple or corrupts it with false doctrines or destroys it, God will do hurt to him and bring him to the corruption of death and destroy him.” (1 Corinthians 3:17 AMP) In other words, those who preach false doctrines are in danger of physical harm or ailment leading on to death. It’s why he goes on to admonish preachers not to use “worldly discernment.” (I Corinthians 3:18) “For this world’s wisdom is foolishness, absurdity and stupidity with God.” (1 Corinthians 3:19 AMP) So we do know from the foregoing that there’s a reward system for preachers, that doctrinal teachings will be scrutinised and judged by God, to determine the soundness. What parameters will God use to judge soundness of teaching? Paul gives us the answer. Ministers, he wrote are nothing but “guides into God’s sublime secrets… The requirements for a good guide are reliability and accurate knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 4:2 MSG) In other words the reliability and accuracy of the teaching of a man of God is what will determine his reward. A teacher of the word must be exact, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. Which is why Paul admonished Timothy, “Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analysing and accurately dividing, rightly handling and skilfully teaching the Word of Truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 AMP) In this regard, Hymenaeus and Philetus “missed the mark and swerved from the truth by arguing that the resurrection has already taken place.” In other words, there would be no future resurrection when the dead will hear the voice of God and rise from the grave. (John 5:25, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Their teachings will spread like cancer and gangrene Paul predicted, “undermining the faith of some.” (2 Timothy 2:17-18) And they violated their consciences. Their teachings were not backed by godly lifestyle. Exercising his apostolical authority Paul handed them over to Satan so they learn not to blaspheme God, for “all who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.” (1 Timothy 1:19-20, 2 Timothy 2:19)

Clearly, using Paul’s analogy Hymenaeus and Philetus built with hay, wood and stubble. They will suffer loss. But God not only judges the quality of teaching, he also judges motivation of the heart of the preacher: “Don’t get ahead of the Master and jump to conclusions with your judgments before all the evidence is in. When he comes, he will bring out in the open and place in evidence all kinds of things we never even dreamed of – inner motives and purposes and prayers. Only then will any one of us get to hear the “Well done!” of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5 MSG)

The doctrine of “purgatory” is based on a wrong interpretation of scriptures. An analogy was taken literally. The passage is one of three analogies used by Paul in that chapter. The passage is talking about the quality of teaching of ministers, not the judgment of the lives of Christians in general. It’s not talking about the sins of the saints. Neither is it talking about purification of saints in the afterlife. According to Bible every Christian is a saint, be he dead or alive. Paul referred to the Corinthians as saints. They weren’t dead. (Cf. 1 Corinthians1:2) The word “saint” is derived from the Greek word “hagiazo,” meaning to set apart or sanctify, or make holy.

The doctrine of purgatory therefore rests on a false foundation. It cannot stand.

But the doctrine also runs into other theological challenges. These are the implications of the doctrine:

1. Holiness can be attained after death
2. The prayers of the righteous can help the saints undergo purification so they enter into Heaven
3. Man is saved by works and morality
4. Sin has gradations

These derivatives butt against the foundational doctrines of Christianity:

1. There is nowhere it is taught in scriptures that holiness can be attained after death, or that there is purification after death. Hebrews 9:27 states, “Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences.” And the story of Lazarus and the rich man negates the doctrine. (Luke16: 19-31) Some quote 2 Timothy 1:18 as justification for praying for salvation or purification of the soul of the dead. In that passage Paul had expressed a sentiment that God show mercy to Onesiphorus for all the kindness the gentleman bestowed on him. He even visited him in jail. But Onesiphorus was already saved according to Romans 10:9-10, therefore Paul couldn’t be praying for the salvation of his soul, or he contradicts his own doctrine of salvation. It was just a sentimental expression. Scholastic honesty demands we hold it so. Paul didn’t know he was writing the Bible. He wrote a letter, expressing basic human sentiments. And by the way, there is nothing in 2 Timothy 1:18 that says Onesiphorus was dead, so we can’t infer that Paul was praying for the dead. Those who preach the doctrine of purgatory recourse to the Apocrypha – books written primarily in the time between the Old and New Testaments, as well as additions to the books of Esther and Daniel. These books are contested as canonical scriptures. The New Testament quotes the Old Testament hundreds of times but nowhere quotes or alludes to the Apocrypha. The only instrumentality of salvation is personal faith in Christ Jesus expressed while alive: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

2. Man cannot be saved by works or by morality. Salvation is by grace. “It is by free grace – God’s unmerited favour – that you’re saved, delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation through your faith. And this salvation is not of yourselves, of your own doing, it came not through your own striving, but it is the gift of God; not because of the Law’s demands, lest any man should boast. It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 AMP) The theology of salvation is that we’re sinners because we came from the genetic stock of Adam not because of what we do. (Romans 5:12) We sin because we have a sin nature. Jesus died to redeem us from that nature. It’s why the Bible says, “If any person is ingrafted in Christ the Messiah he is a new creature altogether; the previous moral and spiritual condition has passed away. Behold the fresh and new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 AMP) We’re saved not by our own morality or good works but by what Jesus did on the cross.

3. Lastly, the Bible does not teach gradation of sin for determination of venial or mortal sin. Sin is sin before God. “For whosoever keeps the Law as a whole but stumbles and offends in one single instance has become guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10 AMP) Because there’s no gradation of sin, there are no degrees of salvation. Unforgivable sin is the sin of rejecting the witness of the Spirit concerning the sacrifice of Jesus the Son of God. (John 1: 32-34, 1 John 4:2-3) If the sacrifice of Jesus is rejected, clearly his blood can’t cover you, hence “unforgivable sin.” There’s no other instrument of redemption.


If you’ll like to give your life to Christ please pray this prayer: “Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I know that I am a sinner. I believe Jesus died for me and that you raised him from the dead. I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Christ is Lord and I receive him as my Lord and my Saviour. I am now born again. Amen.”

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