The Lord be with you
Ten or fifteen years ago, I was asked about Purgatory from one of the members of Lamb of God. I prepared the following study for them. As time has passed, I have had occasion to share it every year or two with others. I thought I’d post it for anyone who might be interested. It is long for a post, so I considered breaking it up into several posts, but decided against is. If you take the time to read it, I hope it serves you well. One more thing; recently CPH has published The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes. I make no reference to this edition as it didn't exist when I wrote this study.
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert
It is the purpose of this study to examine the teaching of Purgatory as found in the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church acknowledges that the acceptance of Purgatory as a teaching of their church came about a number of centuries after the close of the New Testament era. The first obvious question I will therefore address is, “How did the Roman Catholic Church come to accept Purgatory as a confirmed doctrine of their church?” In answering this question I will include a description of what the Roman Catholic Church teaches concerning Purgatory. I will then look at a few of many quotes from Church Fathers that are overlooked by the Roman Catholic Church when discussing Purgatory. I will then present and examine the biblical evidence as cited both by Roman Catholic and Protestant sources. I will need to take an aside and examine the books the Protestants call the Apocrypha and Roman Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books. I will end up with a very short conclusion. Throughout this study I will endeavor to let the Roman Catholic sources speak for themselves.
The History of Purgatory
Purgatory and the Greeks
The concept of Purgatory is not a distinctively Roman Catholic thought. Plato, who lived about 400 years before the birth of Christ, wrote of a Purgatory that is very similar to the Roman Catholic tradition. Plato laid the full philosophical groundwork for Purgatory that was later absorbed into the Roman Catholic Church. Plato is reported to have said:
Those who, on account of the magnitude of their sins, such as temple robberies, unlawful killing, and similar things, appear to be incurable, these are cast into Tartarus, whence they can never escape. But those who are judged to have indeed perpetrated great sins yet to be capable of being cured or healed, if for instance they committed a murder in a fit of anger, or perpetrated some violent act against their parents, but spent the remainder of their life in penitence, these, according to the measure of their transgression, are cast into various rivers of fire to bum. Finally, after a year and more, they approach the Acherusian lake; there they shout to those whom they have injured, and beg as suppliants to be permitted to go out and be received. If they manage to persuade their adversaries of this, they come out and cease to suffer punishment. If not, they are cast about in these rivers of fire until they obtain this from those whom they injured Those, however, who live in outstanding holiness rise upward into the purest habitations, where in future they live without toil. But those who lived ordinary lives are conveyed through Acheron into the lake burning with fire; there they pay the penalties for their sins, and then, purified, cleansed or expiated, they are absolved or redeemed, if they have done anything wrong. Then they receive the rewards for their good deeds, ... 
Plato accepted and taught three states for the dead. First was the “isles of the blest.” To this locale went those who lived just and holy lives. These people live in complete happiness. The second state is in Tartarus. In this locale the souls of the departed who have lived ordinary lives suffer various punishments until they are purged from their sins. After this they receive the rewards for their good works. The third state for the dead is also in Tartarus. This is reserved for those who, on account of the atrocious nature of their transgressions, are incurable. For them there is no escape from the fire and torments of Tartarus. They serve only as an example to others.
Plato based this afterlife arrangement on two foundations. First is that he had received this from traditions then current among the Greeks. His second reason was that his arrangement makes sense. There are three types of people, really good ones, really bad ones, and the great majority that fall into the middle somewhere. The really bad people really deserve nothing but eternal punishment. The really good people really deserve nothing but eternal happiness. Those in the middle really don't deserve to be tormented for all eternity but also don't deserve to get a straight ticket to paradise. It only makes sense that there should be a way for this vast middle group to have their sins purged after death. Once these sins have been purged from the souls of those in the middle group it only makes sense that they be allowed out of Tartarus and begin to enjoy the fruits of their good works.
I do not wish to go into a great deal of detail concerning the Greek view of the afterlife. Everyone knows how influential Plato was. Suffice it to say that, by the dawn of the Christian Era, most every point of purgatory as described by Catholic writers had been discussed by pagan writers. Greek philosophy was in full intellectual force in the First Century, AD.
Purgatory and the Maccabees
Alexander the Great (356 BC - 323 BC) conquered a huge section of the known world, including Judah. One of Alexander’s goals was to spread Greek culture, religion and language. After his death, his empire split into three successor kingdoms. The Ptolemies and the Seleucids vied for Palestine, with the Ptolemies controlling the area until 98 BC and then the Seleucids taking over. Both of these empires continued to promote Greek culture, religion and language. During this time, the true faith was compromised again and again. The family of the Maccabees led a successful revolt against Seleucid rule which began in 167 BC. This led to the establishment of a Jewish kingdom that lasted as an independent state until Rome made it a vassal state in the First Century BC. Much of the history of this time can be found in 1 & 2 Maccabees.
As mentioned, the biblical faith of the Jews had been severely compromised during this time. This was one of the chief reasons for the Maccabean revolt. While the Maccabees sought to restore the historic faith of their fathers, they did not escape from their times nor the philosophical temperament of their times. So we see in 2 Maccabees 12:39-45 prayers for the dead. This is done without any example from the Old Testament, without a command from God, nor a promise from God. This passage will be examined closer later in this study. Here I only note that this practice was not followed by the Jews after this time and was certainly not done during the time of Christ. Judas Maccabee simply caved in to the pagan practices he had seen throughout his life. Other Jews may have shared his views but it never became part of the regular Jewish belief system.
Purgatory and the Church Fathers
When the Church jumped from Jewish to Pagan society, it entered an environment heavily influenced by Platonic philosophy. This included their views on the afterlife. The first Church Father to introduce the possibility of an after-death pardon was Clement of Alexandria (153-217 AD). Clement claimed no scriptural support for this idea but instead relied on “tradition.” Clement hated the idea that the great Greek philosophers might spend an eternity in Hell. Clement, therefore, suggested that “perhaps the punishments shall cease after this life.” What Clement suggested as only a “perhaps” his student Origen defended as a sure truth.
Origen (185-254) was an extremely influential theologian. One of Origen’s main concerns was to make Christianity acceptable to the intellectual people of his day and age in order to win them to the faith. To do this he accepted the allegorical approach to Scripture (a common approach of the well-educated Greeks to their own mythology in order to make them less absurd and more profitable reading). By doing this he could make the Bible say pretty much whatever he wanted it to say. Origen held to the pre-existence of souls, denied the resurrection of the body, and taught a purgatory that was so effective that eventually even the devil would be purged of his sins and return to heaven. All these views are in conflict with the Bible but sounded real good to the Greek philosophical mindset to which Origen was appealing. Origen was anathematized in 553 AD by the 5th Ecumenical Council (long after his death). This council rejected Origen’s unbiblical teachings, including Purgatory. To this day the Orthodox Churches, citing this council, reject the teaching of Purgatory.
The council, however, could not completely undo the damage Origen had done. The idea of Purgatory, fueled by Origen’s teaching and the Platonic philosophy that was greatly admired by both the masses and the leaders of the Church, continued to take root in the West. While the debate about Purgatory continued in the Latin Church, the lack of biblical support, the lack of a consistent witness among the Church Fathers, and the absence of any reference to Purgatory prior to Clement of Alexandria, continued to pose a problem for accepting Purgatory as church dogma.
It is claimed that Gregory the Great (Pope from 590 to 604) was the first to introduce ghosts as witnesses for the existence of Purgatory. Whether the writing attributed to Gregory that does this is authentic or not (many have claimed it isn’t) is not important here. What is important is that, in the absence of clear Scriptural evidence and in the absence of any consistent testimony from the Church Fathers, the testimony of ghosts was introduced to confirm the existence of Purgatory. (You may wish to consider what the Bible has to say about such practices in Deuteronomy 18:11-12 and Isaiah 8:19.) Once ghosts were allowed into the teaching office of the Church, Purgatory was quickly established as sacred truth. The Roman Catholic Church sets the date for the acceptance of Purgatory as official church dogma at 593.
Gregory explained that the reason ghosts were appearing in his lifetime to tell about the afterlife was because the end of the world was fast approaching. He argued that, much as light and dark mix at dawn, so the afterlife and the present life were mixing because it was just about the dawn of the Second Coming of Christ. It has been over 1400 years since Gregory so his simile proves nothing. Though the logic of Gregory was flawed, nevertheless, throughout the Medieval Age, many stories of ghosts were generated. They appeared pleading for release from Purgatory or claiming to have once been in Purgatory but having been released early because of the actions of the living. These ghosts often were willing to describe the torments of Purgatory and give directions concerning how the living could earn the ghost’s release. It is from these ghosts that the various means of acquiring indulgences first began to be accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.
Once Purgatory was accepted, teachers in the Medieval Church began to find evidence for it in the writings and practices of the Church before Clement of Alexandra. For example, when a person died the Church would pray something like, “Lord accept this departed saint into glory.” The Medieval Church said that such a prayer could only be prayed if the departed soul had not been accepted into heaven. Therefore, they maintained, the Early Church must have believed in Purgatory even if no mention of it was made. The prayer was interpreted as helping the departed saint enter heaven. Another example of this “reading backwards” can be found in memorials for the departed. Such memorials, the Medieval Church said, were performed to release souls from Purgatory and gain them entrance into heaven. Such interpretations are at odds with the historical record. The Early Church Fathers expressly state the departed are with the Lord, even in the prayers and memorials which they offer.
With Purgatory established as a sure doctrine, based on non-biblical sources, the Medieval theologians were also able to read backwards and find many biblical references that they felt supported the concept of Purgatory. The ones used by modem Roman Catholic sources will be examined later in this study. Those used historically, but not commonly used today, will merely be mentioned for the sake of being thorough.
Finally, aside from the prevailing Platonic view accepted by educated people and the general high regard for Greek philosophies, there is one other reason that Purgatory found fertile soil in the hearts of the people. That reason is the love people bear for others. With Christianity making heavy inroads into pagan regions, many of the converts knew and loved people who died without saving faith. It would be natural for these people to hope for some way that their loved ones might escape from Hell. Purgatory offered that hope and also a way for the people to have an influence on the fate of those loved ones.
By the time of the Reformation the following 7 points were the chief parts of the Roman Catholic teaching concerning the afterlife that impact on Purgatory They remain so today.
1. There is, after this life, a certain intermediate place beside the place of the damned and that of the blessed.
2. The souls of some who have died in true faith, by which they are members of Christ and heirs of God, are excluded from Christ and His kingdom for some time, and are tormented and tortured by “fire” after this life before they are transferred to rest and blessedness.
3. The pious works of the living, in place of satisfactions, come to the aid of the departed in order that through them and because of them they may after death be set free from the torments of purgatory.
4. After this life a person may find, in Purgatory, a place of mercy, indulgence, remission of sins, and reconciliation with God, which they did not accept while they were living.
5. Through faith on account of Christ only the guilt of sin is remitted. Eternal punishment, by grace, is changed, by virtue of the keys, into temporal punishment, for which we must make satisfaction, either in this or in a future life, either through ourselves or through others.
6. Unless a person possesses inherent righteousness, perfect and without spot, whole and perfectly clean, he cannot enter the kingdom of God but must go through purgatorial fire until the blots of sin are purged.
7. Venial sins are, after this life, expiated in believers by the punishments endured in Purgatory.
Roman Catholic Quotes Concerning Purgatory
“Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has, following the sacred writings and the ancient traditions of the Fathers, taught in sacred councils and very recently in this ecumenical council that there is a purgatory, and that the souls there detained are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar, the holy council commands the bishops that they strive diligently to the end that the sound doctrine of purgatory, transmitted by the Fathers and sacred councils, be believed and maintained by the faithful of Christ, and be everywhere taught and preached.”
(Note that no Scriptural support is given. This was because they could not agree on any specific Scriptural support. The footnotes also do not give any Scriptural support.)
“If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.”
[Speaking about the Lord’s Supper] “For, appeased by this sacrifice, the Lord grants the grace and gift of penitence and pardons even the gravest crimes and sins. For the victim [in the Sacrament of the Altar, that is, Jesus] is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different. The fruits of that bloody sacrifice, it is well understood, are received most abundantly through this unbloody one, so far is the latter from derogating in any way from the former. Wherefore, according to the tradition of the Apostles, it is rightly offered not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those departed in Christ but not yet fully purified.”
“If anyone says that the sacrifice of the mass is one only of praise and thanksgiving; or that it is a mere commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross but not a propitiatory one; or that it profits him only who receives, and ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities, let him be anathema.”
(The above quotes from Trent give the Roman Catholic position on Purgatory as a place, or state, a person who has “departed in Christ but not yet fully purified” enters before the “gates of heaven” are opened to them. In Purgatory, the departed are “purged” of “guilt” and pay “the debt of eternal punishment.” The living may make payment for themselves before they die and also for the departed in Purgatory, especially through the Mass. These payments are “for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities.” During the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Purgatory was depicted as a place of great torture for the departed Christian, often by a special fire that adhered to a person’s soul, over an extended period of time. During the 20th Century, while seeking to maintain the teaching of Purgatory, some in the Roman Catholic Church have sought to distance the Roman Church from the vivid depictions of souls burning for years, as the following quotes will demonstrate. However, the fires of Purgatory are not put out. Some just feel that they are a lesser part of Purgatory.)
“Purgatory has certainly not gone by the wayside. It is still very much a part of our faith, as every sacrifice of the Mass and every other prayer for the dead attests. . ..
“At least two things are clear in the Catholic tradition concerning purgatory. First, the church teaches that there is some condition or circumstance after death by which any temporal punishment remaining for sins committed during life is satisfied; and second, that by our prayers and good works on earth, we can assist those who are “in purgatory.” ...
“It is very possible that, in the burst of awareness of the reality of God and creation that might occur immediately after death, the pain that comes from our knowledge of our sins and shortcomings might be so acute and intense that an entire purgatory - or cleansing, which is what the word purgatory means - could occur in an instant.”
(Of course, a person could ask how any work performed by the living might benefit a person who has been “immediately” purged upon their death.)
“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, ... The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire ...
“This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead. .. From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”
“What, then, is the content of Catholic belief concerning the condition of the ‘poor souls,’ that is, those detained for a time in a state of purgation – ‘aided by the suffrages of the faithful,’ to cite Trent, ‘and chiefly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar’ - yet destined eventually for everlasting life with God? ...
“On the one hand, the order of justice requires reparation on the part of all who violate it. And if reparation is not made before death, then surely it must be made after, in the refining fire that burns away the accumulated dross of sin, whether unrepented venial sin and/or the temporal punishment due to mortal sin repented of and forgiven. ... suffering proportionate to the penalty of sin is necessary ...
[Purgatory] “is ... the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints.
“Purgatory follows by an inner necessity from the idea of penance ...
“In what does the pain of purgatory consist? Is it purely spiritual- or might there not be sensible suffering as well, redolent of the fire that Paul describes ... (1 Cor 3: 13, 15)?
“And the chief pain of souls consigned to purgatorial fire? Is it not simply the delay of that beatific vision for which man was first created?
“The sufferings of those in purgatory therefore are actually greater than any we can imagine in this life.”
“Naturally the question arises: if a man suffers penalty for his bad works [referring to 1 Corinthians 3: 13-15], will God still allow him to be saved? The answer is ‘yes,’ but it is a qualified yes. He can only be saved by going through the same fire that burned away his bad works. The bad works were his, not another’s and thus the responsibility is his. He is the source of the works; therefore the source must also be purified of evil. Hence, he. as well as his works, must pass through the fire. If all he is is evil, then the fire will consume him in eternal destruction. If his constitution is only partly evil, then the fire will purge him of any remaining evil in order to prepare him to be a member and builder of God’s eternal temple - a man of pure gold, silver, and costly stones who produces the same.
“In conclusion, we see that 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 specifies the three destinations that will be the ultimate outcomes of judgment day. Those in 3:14 whose work survives the fire receive their reward immediately .... Second, those in 3:15 who see some of their works burned and yet have not committed capital sins against God, must first pass through the purging fires both as a penalty for their sins and as a preparation for the eternal kingdom, ... Finally, those in 3:17 who, without repentance, have deliberately and maliciously destroyed the temple of God, will themselves be destroyed in the eternal and unquenchable fire of God, never to escape.”
Conflicting Statements by the Church Fathers
I have a high regard for the Church Fathers and do not wish to leave the discussion of the development of the doctrine of Purgatory by giving the impression that they all simply accepted this teaching in whole and without objection. Certainly the writings of the Fathers conflict, sometimes supporting a purgatory and sometimes denying it. In Christian charity, we should focus our attention mainly on their statements which are clearly in harmony with the Word of God, interpret their ambiguous statements in harmony with Scripture and overlook those statements which cannot be harmonized with Scripture as being human mistakes. What follows are a few quotes from the Fathers that demonstrate an understanding of the afterlife which excludes Purgatory. Many others could be added.
“Neither is there for anyone an intermediate place, so that whoever is not with Christ can be nowhere save with the devil. Therefore also the Lord Himself, wishing to take away from the hearts of the misbelieving this nebulous intermediate place, made a definite statement to stop these mouths when he said: ‘He who is not with Me is against Me’ [Matthew 12:30].”
“The first place the faith of Catholics believes on the basis of divine authority to be the kingdom of heaven, the second, gehenna; about a third we know nothing; in fact, we shall not find in the Holy Scriptures that it exists.” – Augustine
“After the soul has thrown off the burden of the flesh it has ascended to its Creator, and mounted up to its ancient possession after a long pilgrimage.” – Jerome
“Let the dead be mourned, that is, him whom gehenna has received; we, whose departure a multitude of angels accompanies, whom Christ comes to meet, are burdened all the more if we dwell longer in this tabernacle of death.” – Jerome
“Forgive me in order that I may be refreshed before I depart, and no longer be. For whoever has not received forgiveness of sins while he lives in this body, and departs thus from life, perishes to God and ceases to be, although for himself he exists in punishments.” – Jerome
“After the departure of the soul from the body a separation is made at once of the good and the bad. For they are led by angels to places of which they are worthy-the good to paradise, the wicked to the place of hell, where they are kept until the resurrection.” – Justin
“Discharge everything here, that you may behold the judgment seat without uneasiness. While we are here we have glorious hope, but once we have departed thither there is no longer a possibility for us to repent, nor to wash off what we have committed.” – Chrysostom
The Biblical Record
Argument from the Absence of a Biblical Testimony Concerning Purgatory
There is no clear biblical testimony in support of Purgatory. The weight of this is not always appreciated. The Examination does a fine job in presenting this information:
“Jacob, when about to die, sets down his testament; Joseph commands what he wants done after his death; the patriarchs diligently and religiously observed the last rites for the dead; but there is no mention at all of the things which belong to the vault of Purgatory. Through Moses God instituted various sacrifices for every kind of need, but never a word about sacrifices for the dead. Neither do the prophets, who were the interpreters of the divine law, have anything about a purgatory. There are in Scripture various threats, many promises, and also not a few mysteries which have been divinely revealed about things which are unknown to reason, but about a purgatory there is everywhere silence. Things which are to be asked for according to the will of God are explained in Scripture. Many and varied formulas of the prayers of the godly are found described, but about prayer for the dead in purgatory-nothing. The duties of love for the neighbor are diligently and specifically described, but intercessions for the dead are not read among them.
“Indeed, when Paul ex professo prescribes the consolation to be set before the living in their grief for the dead (1 Thess. 4:13-18), not one syllable refers to the opinions about purgatory, although the antithesis would have demanded this, where he says: ‘That you may not grieve as others do’ [v. 13]. ... Here certainly the subject would have demanded that he speak about purgatory and about intercessions for the dead, if this had been an apostolic tradition; otherwise Paul would both have misled the living in the church of the Thessalonians and cheated the dead when he said: ‘Comfort one another with these words’ [v.18] but was silent about the torments of the godly in purgatory from which they could have been freed by the intercessions of the living, ... And when there is shown to John in the Apocalypse by many and varied visions and revelations what is the state or condition of the faithful after this life, not only as it will be after the Judgment, but as it is also now after death before the resurrection of the flesh, there certainly would have been the time and place for the revelation of purgatory. But nothing at all is found there, neither prayer nor statement nor syllable nor letter, either about purgatorial punishments or about prayers for satisfaction and liberation after this life.”
This line of reasoning could be easily continued. The point is simply that God, in the Bible, has had many perfect opportunities to instruct us concerning Purgatory. That God does not tell us about Purgatory, even in passages that deal with death, is a powerful argument for the absence of Purgatory.
Argument from What Scripture Does Say About the Afterlife
When referring to the afterlife Scripture makes reference to only two possible destinations, Heaven or Hell. “The man who believes in it and accepts baptism will be saved; the man who refuses to believe in it will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). “Whoever believes in him avoids condemnation, but whoever does not believe is already condemned for not believing in the name of God’s only Son” and “Whoever believes in the Son has life eternal. Whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure the wrath of God” (John 3:18, 36). In the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), only two places are assigned to souls departing from the body prior to the Last Judgment. One was a place of comfort and the other a place of torment. Abraham even points out that it is impossible for people to cross from one local to the other.
David knows of only two distinctions in death, the precious death of the saints and the evil death of the sinners (Psalm 34:15-16; 116:15). Paul knows only of those who inherit the kingdom of God and those who don’t (Romans 8:17; Galatians 5:21). Jesus knows only of those who “find a place at the banquet in the kingdom of God with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” and those who are in the dark, wailing and grinding their teeth (Matthew 8:11-12).
In John 5:24 Jesus says, “I solemnly assure you, the man who hears my word and has faith in him who sent me possesses eternal life. He does not come under condemnation, but has passed from death to life.” Here Christ absolves all Christians from any afterlife punishments for we are without “condemnation” and have passed “from death to life.” Furthermore there are only two possible destinations for the deceased, “eternal life” or “condemnation,” or more simply stated, “life” or “death.”
Revelation 14:13 states, “‘Happy now are the dead who die in the Lord!’ The Spirit added, ‘Yes, they shall find rest from their labors, for their good works accompany them.’” Clearly, a person isn’t considered “happy” or at “rest” when they are in Purgatory. Christians are depicted as going straight to glory. Also notice that the works that “follow” a person to glory are the ones performed in this life, not in the afterlife, for after their death the believers “find rest from their labors.”
Stephen, in Acts 7:59, died with this prayer on his lips, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Clearly he expected no purgatorial stopover. In like manner, Jesus assured the repentant thief on the cross, “this day you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). If any man deserved to spend time in a Purgatory, this deathbed-conversion convict was the man. Jesus, though, knows only one locale for the future home of the believer, Paradise.
Catholic Evidence from the Apocrypha and Bible Examined
Throughout the centuries since the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church has put forth many passages to buttress the doctrine of Purgatory in response to the challenge from Protestant churches that claimed there is no evidence of Purgatory in the Bible. A partial listing of them include: 1 Samuel2:6; Job 14:13; Psalm 49:15; Psalm 66:2; Psalm 107:13-14; Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 54:8; Micah 7:8-9; Malachi 3:2-3; Matthew 3:11; Mark 13:34; Luke 16:19ff; Acts 2:24; 1 Corinthians 15:29; Philippians 2:10. None of the above are commonly used today. You will understand why if you look them up. There are five passages still commonly used today and it is these that we will consider. They are: 2 Maccabees 12:38-46; Matthew 5:25-26; Matthew 12:31-32; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; Revelation 22: 15.
2 Maccabees 12:38-46
38Judas rallied his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the week was ending, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the sabbath there. 39On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his men went to gather up the bodies of the slain and bury them with their kinsmen in their ancestral tombs. 40But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had been slain. 41They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. 42Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. 43He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; 44for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. 45But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. 46Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.
Footnote in The New American Bible for Catholics.
“12,42-46: This is the earliest statement of the doctrine that prayers (v 42) and sacrifices (v 43) for the dead are beneficial. The statement is made here, however, only for the purpose of proving that Judas believed in the resurrection of the just (2 Mc 7, 9. 14, 23, 36). That is, he believed that expiation could be made for certain sins of otherwise good men--soldiers who had given their lives for God’s cause. Thus, they could share in the resurrection. His belief was similar to, but not quite the same as, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory.”
Footnote in The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha, Expanded Edition, Revised Standard Version.
“12:39-45: Burial of the dead. The author believed that many had been killed because they wore sacred tokens of pagan gods which the law forbids (v. 40; Dt. 7.25-26), but Josephus says (Antiquities, XII. Viii. 6) this reverse befell them because they had disobeyed Judas’ instructions not to join battle before his arrival. This is the first known statement of the doctrine that a sin offering and prayer make atonement for the sins of the dead (v. 45), and it is justified by the hope that those who had fallen would rise again (vv. 43-44; 7.11; 14.46). Fall asleep, die (1 Cor.15.20).”
|The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes|
An Aside on the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament
Before we can consider this passage we must take an aside and consider the status of the book 2 Maccabees. This book is part of what Protestants identify as the Apocrypha.
The word “apocrypha” comes from the Greek and means “hidden.” In common Protestant usage, it refers to the 14 (or 15 depending on what you do with the Letter of Jeremiah) books or portions of books associated with the Old Testament that the Roman Catholics refer to as “Deuterocanonical.” They were written between 200 BC and 200 AD. These books are not found in any Hebrew manuscripts nor have the Jews ever accepted them. There are Greek manuscripts of these books and it is these Greek manuscripts that Jerome used in making the Latin Vulgate, placing them between the Old and the New Testament. Concerning these books Jerome said. “the Church doth read for example of life, and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” As you can see, while Jerome recognizes the value of these books he does not ascribe to them the same authority he does to those books found in the Hebrew canon. He surely doesn’t want any doctrines established by them.
Many Greek fathers (like Eusebius, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Amphilochius and Epiphanius) and Latin Fathers (like Gregory the Great, Walafrid Strrabo, Hugh of St. Victor, Hugh of St. Cher, and Nicholas of Lyra) also saw a difference between the Apocrypha and the 66 books received by all Christendom. During the early Christian centuries, most Greek and Latin Church Fathers, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Cyprian (none of whom knew any Hebrew). quoted passages from the Apocrypha as “Scripture,” “divine Scripture,” “inspired,” and the like. These early Fathers also accepted and quoted as “Scripture” other sources that no one receives as Scripture today. Words like “Scripture” and “inspired” have both a broad and a narrow sense. It seems best to understand these early Fathers as using a broad sense of these words.
During the Reformation, Protestants generally rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture but continued to hold many of the books in high regard. From a Roman Catholic point of view, the question was quite critical. The Protestants were saying that Purgatory had no Scriptural support. The best proof-text was from 2 Maccabees 12:38-46, which is found in the Apocrypha. The Council of Trent, on April 8, 1546, officially set the canon for the Roman Catholic Church and included most of the Apocryphal books. They also condemned to Hell all those who do not accept these books as equal in authority with the generally recognized 66 books in a Protestant Bible. Now they could claim Scriptural support for Purgatory.
When Protestants cried foul, the Roman Catholic Church claimed authority over the Scripture and that they had the right and responsibility to determine what was and was not Scripture. One common assertion was that if the Church declared Aesop’s Fables to be the Word of God, then they would be and should be included in the Bible. Typically, today the Roman Catholic approach is somewhat softer in tone. It is said that the Deuterocanonical books (Apocryphal books) are those books whose inspiration was not recognized at first, but, in time, the Church did recognize their inspiration and so included them in the Bible.
In light of the foregoing “aside,” it is clear that Protestants would not generally consider a passage from 2 Maccabees as Scriptural support for any doctrine, let alone Purgatory. In the history section of this study I covered how pagan Greek philosophy influenced the thinking of Judas Maccabee. However, even The New American Bible for Catholics realizes that this passage does not confirm the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. This is reflected in the footnote which claims that the 2 Maccabees passage is only “similar to ... the Catholic doctrine of purgatory.” Judas Maccabee performed this sacrifice without any command or promise from God and certainly without any biblical precedence. After this event, we have no record of Jews ever engaging in such practices again. Even the writer or 2 Maccabees stops short of endorsing the theology of Judas and simply says, “it was a holy and pious thought.” It should also be pointed out that nothing in this passage compels a person to think of Purgatory. Judas could easily have believed in “soul sleep.” “Soul sleep” is the belief that the soul of the departed “sleeps” until the Resurrection when they will be awakened and judged. Only if a person already believes in Purgatory can the thought be inserted into this passage. Surely a doctrine of faith needs stronger proof than this. Yet this is the best passage the Roman Catholic Church has ever offered.
25Lose no time; settle with your opponent while on your way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the guard, who will throw you into prison. 26I warn you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
The New American Bible for Catholics offers no footnote on this passage. The way some Roman Catholic writers have applied this to Purgatory is to say that the “prison” is Purgatory and that paying “the last penny” is a reference to the penalties suffered by those in Purgatory which must be completely paid before release is granted. The word “until” is said to force us to believe that a time of full payment and release must come. Because no one will escape from Hell, this prison must be Purgatory.
However, this argument proves too much, at least from a Roman Catholic perspective. Matthew 1:25 says, “and Joseph kept her [Mary] a virgin until she gave birth to a Son" (NASV). If the word “until” always demands a point in time when the condition ends, then the Roman Catholic Church would have to give up its position on Mary remaining a virgin after the birth of Jesus.
In fact, the word “until” does not demand a point in time when conditions will change. (Good news for those who believe Mary remained a virgin.) I’m reminded of the Motown song, I “Baby I'm Yours.” The songwriter writes: “Baby I’m yours, and I’ll be yours until the forest runs out of trees, until the mountains tumble into the sea, in other words, for all eternity. Baby I’m yours, and I’ll be yours until the stars fall from the sky, until the poets run out of rhymes, in other words, until the end of time. Baby I’m yours.” (Okay, so I’m not absolutely sure of all the words, but you get the idea.) Clearly the word “until” doesn’t mean that the writer is expecting a time when he will see these things, as the line “for all eternity” makes clear. There is nothing to make us think, in Matthew 5:25-26, that a person thrown into this “prison” will one day escape. Therefore this isn’t Purgatory. Hell is a much better interpretation.
31That, I assure you, is why every sin, every blasphemy, will be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32Whoever says anything against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever says anything against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
Many Roman Catholics have cited Matthew 12:32 to support Purgatory. The following footnote is in The New American Bible for Catholics, but it makes no reference to Purgatory:
“12,3lf: The Pharisees are said to attribute Jesus’ exorcisms to satanic power and thus to deny the unique presence of God in Jesus. They thereby assign his entire work and teaching to an evil principle, making it anti-God. This is the blasphemy against the Spirit that will not be forgiven, because it negates the evidence of God’s saving action in history. However, misunderstandings of Jesus’ teaching and misconceptions of his Person due to human error or prejudice will be forgiven (Acts 9,4f; 1 Tm 1, 13).”
The line of reasoning used to insert Purgatory into this text is to say it is implied by the phrase, “whoever says anything against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” If, the reasoning goes, it must be pointed out that the sin against the Holy Spirit isn’t forgivable in “the age to come,” then it stands to reason that some sins are forgivable in “the age to come.” However, this view doesn’t agree with the Roman Catholic position on Purgatory, for they maintain that our sins are forgiven before death. “Only” our punishment is paid for in Purgatory. Furthermore, if this line of logic is accepted, then all other sins are forgivable after death except this one, for all sins are set in opposition to the sin against the Holy Spirit. Again, Roman Catholic doctrine does not admit this. The best evidence for a proper understanding of this passage comes from the parallel passage found in Mark 3:28-29: “28 I give you my word, every sin will be forgiven mankind and all the blasphemies men utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. He carries the guilt of his sin without end.” The meaning of the Matthew passage is clear when we consider the Mark passage. There is no forgiveness for those who commit the “sin against the Holy Spirit,” ever.
Furthermore, “the age to come” is a reference to that time after the Second Coming of Christ. The coming of Christ will put an end to this age (Matthew 13:40-43; 24:29-35). When those who have done good go into eternal life, after the resurrection (John 6:38- 40), that time is called the future age (Mark 10:30). In Luke 20:35 the time of the resurrection is expressly called the time of the future age. Therefore, when Matthew speaks of the future, age he understands the final judgment, the resurrection of the dead and the age that follows these events. Yet, the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory ends Purgatory at the Second Coming of Christ, for it is clear from Scripture that all believers will join him at the Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Christ cannot be referring to Purgatory. The reason the footnote in the New American Bible for Catholics makes no reference to Purgatory is because the passage makes no reference to Purgatory.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15
10Thanks to the favor God showed me I laid a foundation as a wise maser-builder might do, and now someone else is building upon it. Everyone, however, must be careful how he builds. 11No one can lay a foundation other than the one that has been laid, namely Jesus Christ. 12If different ones build on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw, 13the work of each will be made clear. The Day will disclose it. That day will make its appearance with fire, and fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14If the building a man has raised on this foundation still stands, he will receive his recompense, 15if a man’s building burns, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as one fleeing through fire.
This passage is one of the most commonly referred to as a proof-text by Roman Catholics from the 66 generally received books of the Bible. The following footnote, from The New American Bible for Catholics, makes no reference to Purgatory:
“3,10-15: Paul’s work was to found the community on Christ (10f). The work of others for the spiritual good of the community is to be evaluated in terms of enhancing faith in Christ, and of this, God is ultimately the judge (12-15).”
First, as mentioned, this footnote makes no reference to Purgatory. It is correct in omitting such a reference, for the passage has nothing to do with Purgatory.
The reason this passage is cited concerning Purgatory is because of the reference to fire. However, the word fire must be understood symbolically. “Fire” is a figure of speech just as surely as the words gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw are. Paul even emphasizes that the word fire is part of a figure of speech when he says “as one fleeing through fire.” Our works are not tested by some real fire but only by something, which in some way, can be compared to fire.
We also note that it is works that Paul is talking about and comparing to gold, silver, etc. Purgatory, though, is for people. Moreover, Paul’s fire tests the works only of the builders but Purgatory is for people, not works.
To understand this passage we need to understand its context. The Church at Corinth was divided into different groups (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Paul is seeking to bring unity back to the church based on the foundation on which the church is built: Jesus. The various workers, that is, the teachers in the church (1 Corinthians 3:1-9) will “receive his wages in proportion to his toil.” So, this passage is aimed first at the teachers in the church and their teachings. Paul says that the true doctrine of the person, office, and benefits of Christ is the foundation, and that the other teachings are the work or building.
Now, they who either lay another foundation, or pervert and overturn the foundation, or build false, distorted, and wicked dogmas which are alien to the foundation or militate against it, they, he says later, profane the temple of the Lord. And he adds, “God will destroy him” (1 Corinthians 3:17).
Those who retain the foundation safely, and build upon that foundation, Paul says, differ in two ways. Some build a solid, pure, and precious work or building, namely teachings which are in harmony with the faith. These teachings have clear, sure, and firm testimonies from the Scriptures. They are altogether useful and necessary for the building of the faith and for living in the faith. These teachings he compares to gold, silver, and precious stones. Such a comparison of teachings to precious material is common in the Scriptures (Psalm 19:10; Psalm 119:72; Proverbs 8:19; Proverbs 16:16, etc.).
The second group are those who hold onto Christ as their foundation but build false, misleading, unnecessary, human, etc.; teachings on that foundation. These teachings Paul compares to useless and unprofitable building material such as wood, hay and straw. These are teachings which, while being born of good intentions and maybe having a certain show of piety, are nonetheless not based solidly on the Word of God. Such work does not make it to heaven.
Paul here also is using a common figure of speech. In Isaiah 40:6-8, mankind is juxtaposed to the “word of God” which stands forever. Therefore, the reference is to the word of mankind, or his teachings. These are called grass and withered flowers. In Isaiah 1:31 people’s opinions outside the Word of God are compared to stubble, in the Vulgate translation. Whatever does not bear useful fruit is compared to a dry tree in Isaiah 56:3. Paul, again, contrasts vessels of wood in the house of the Lord with the vessels of gold and silver in 2 Timothy 2:20.
Therefore, the primary focus of the 1 Corinthians passage is teachers and their teachings. However, because works are based on what a person is taught and believes, in a secondary way, this passage can be interpreted in reference to works in general. Those works that are based on and flow from Scriptures are gold, silver, etc. Works that flow from simply pious thoughts, traditions, etc., but the person still clings to Christ alone for salvation, are called hay, stubble, etc. These works do not survive the “fire,” but the person himself does.
Now we need to understand what the word “fire” refers to. Verse thirteen makes it clear. “The work of each will be made clear. The Day will disclose it. That day will make its appearance with fire, and fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” “The Day” and “That day” are clearly references to the Second Coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:2; Hebrews 10:25; 2 Peter 3:10; etc.). The “fire,” therefore, cannot be a reference to a preSecond Coming purgatorial fire. Nor is it a reference to a post-Second Coming Hell. (Hell is, however, referred to in verse seventeen.) The use of the image of fire in reference to the Second Coming of Christ is also common (Joel 2:30; 2 Thessalonians 1:7- 8; 2 Peter 3:7,10,12; Revelation 20:9). Because this fire is associated with the Last Day, it is a fire of judgment; one which destroys, consumes, etc. all vain and foolish human works, but leaves that which is pure and precious to be transferred to a persons’ credit in glory
As the footnote in the New American Bible for Catholics correctly notes, “Paul’s work was to found the community on Christ.” (Paul laid the foundation on the atoning work of Jesus.) “The work of others for the spiritual good of the community” (what people like Apollos taught and did) “is to be evaluated in terms of enhancing faith in Christ.” (That is, did they teach accurately from the Scriptures about our faith and life in Christ?) “And of this, God is ultimately the judge” (on the Last Day, especially).
Revelation 22: 15
13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End! 14Happy are they who wash their robes so as to have free access to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates! 15Outside are the dogs and sorcerers, the fornicators and murderers, the idol-worshipers and all who love falsehood.
While many Roman Catholics have cited Revelation 22:15 to support Purgatory, The New American Bible for Catholics offers no footnote on this verse. The argument goes this way: It is clear that nothing impure is allowed into heaven (Revelation 21:27). The impure are kept outside and are described as dogs, sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idol-worshipers and all who love falsehood. Because it is manifestly certain that sin clings to people, even good Christians, right up to the point of death (1 John 1:8), people are not ready to enter heaven. They must first have the impurities cleansed away. Purgatory, it is then maintained, is a necessary implication of this passage, so that the impurities may be purged before entering heaven.
In the quote above I included verse 14. From this verse, it is clear who those who enter heaven are. It is those who ‘wash their robes so as to have free access to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates!” The washing of robes is a reference back to Revelation 7:14. “These are the ones who have ... washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The blood of the Lamb, that is, Jesus Christ, provides us “free access to the tree of life” and allows us to “enter the city through its gates” (that is, heaven.) There is no hint of Purgatory here. The blood of Christ opens heaven’s doors. It is his blood that covers our sins. There is no reference to additional penalties we must pay before entrance; in fact, the exact opposite is stated. Faith in the meritorious death of Christ is the only requirement God lists to make us pure
Revelation 21:27, which says “nothing profane [or impure] shall enter” heaven, also makes no reference to a Purgatory to clear away the impurities. Entrance is determined by having your name “inscribed in the book of the living kept by the Lamb.” We are not the ones who do the inscribing; Christ does it. Indeed, those who have washed their robes are the ones who have had their names written in the Book of Life
Well, so ends this study on Purgatory. It, no doubt, has raised many other questions. Nonetheless, I have endeavored to remain focused solely on Purgatory. I feel the evidence does not support this teaching. Surely, in light of the tenuous evidence advanced, the harsh words of the Council of Trent condemning to hell those who do not believe that our works aid souls in Purgatory is out of place. In fact, the doctrine of Purgatory tends to lead us to trust on our own merits instead of the merits of Christ for our salvation. Such reliance, indeed, is dangerous to a person’s salvation. The Bible says concerning Jesus that “there is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).
 This quote is taken from the Examination of the Council of Trent. Part III. page 231/2, by Martin Chemnitz, translated by Fred Kramer, hereafter referred to as “The Examination.” Chemnitz is quoting Eusebius, De pareparatione evangelica, Book 1, the last chapter. Eusebius was quoting from Plato’s book De Anima.
 The word “ghosts” is not to be understood in a pejorative way. I use it for two reasons. First, the sources I checked used this word Second the primary definition of “ghost” is a “disembodied soul” especially that of a dead person. The word “spirit,” which could also be used, might be confusing. A “spirit” is not necessarily associated with a person’s soul but could be a demon. Gregory would not knowingly take instruction from a demon. He felt he was getting information from departed people.
 Gregory never claimed to have seen a ghost himself, he simply accepted as true stories told to him.
 “The doctrine [of Purgatory] was given definitive ecclesial expression at the First Council of Lyons (1245), the Second Council of Lyons (1274), and the council of Florence (1438-1445).” Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, hereafter referred to as the Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine. This encyclopedia has received the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur from the Roman Catholic Church. The Council of Trent, which glossed over many of these points but didn’t want to deny them, referred to these councils with favor and reasserted their teachings.
 “Satisfactions” are works prescribed by a priest to a penitent so they may atone for their sins. “The priests of the Lord must ... impose salutary and suitable satisfactions ... But let them bear in mind that the satisfaction they impose be not only for the protection of a new life and a remedy against infirmity, but also for the atonement and punishment of past sins ... “ Council of Trent. 14th Session, Chapter 8, Sacrament of Penance, The Necessity and Fruit of Satisfaction. “It [the council] teaches furthermore that the liberality of the divine munificence is so great that we are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken by ourselves to atone for sins, or by those imposed by the judgment of the priest according to the measure of our offense, but also, and this is the greatest proof of love, by the temporal afflictions imposed by God and borne patiently by us”" Council of Trent, 14th Session, Chapter 9, Sacrament of Penance, The Works of Satisfaction.
 “Temporal” punishments are punishments that have a time limit, that is, they will come to an end. The main difference between temporal punishments and eternal punishments according to the Council of Florence is that the temporal ones eventually end.
 Venial sins are sins that are not against the law of God.
 The Council of Trent, 25th Session - Decree Concerning Purgatory
 Council of Trent - 6th Session - Chapter 16 - The Fruits of Justification, that is, the Merit of Good Works, and the Nature of that Merit - Canons Concerning Justification - Canon 30
 Council of Trent - 22nd Session - Chapter 2 - The Sacrifice of the Mass is Propitiatory Both for the Living and the Dead
 Council of Trent - 22nd Session ~ Chapter 9 - Cannons on the Sacrifice of the Mass - Canon 3
 The New Question Box, Answers for Today’s Catholic, by Father John J. Dietzen. This book, copyrighted in 1981, has received the Nihil Obstat and the Irnprimature from the Roman Catholic Church.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, copyright 1994. This book has received the Irnprimi Postest from the Roman Catholic Church.
 Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine. the article on Purgatory.
 How Can I Get To Heaven. by Robert Sungenis, copyright 1998. This book has received the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur trom the Roman Catholic Church.
 The translation used throughout this study unless otherwise noted is The New American Bible for Catholics, a Bible sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. It has received the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur from the Roman Catholic Church.
 The Roman Catholic Church has not approved this translation and footnote.
 Council of Trent - 6th Session - Chapter 16 - The Fruits of Justification, that is, the Merit of Good Works. This was quoted earlier in the paper. “Anathema” means condemned to hell.