What is purgatory, and is it in the Bible?
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, 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.” To summarize, in Catholic theology Purgatory is a place that a Christian’s soul goes to after death to be cleansed of the sins that had not been fully satisfied during life. This doctrine of Purgatory is not in agreement with the Bible by any stretch of the imagination.
Jesus died to pay the penalty for all of our sins (Romans 5:8).
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” Isaiah 53:5
Jesus suffered for our sins so that we could be delivered from suffering. To say that we must also suffer for our sins is to say that Jesus’ suffering was insufficient. To say that we must atone for our sins by cleansing in Purgatory is to deny the sufficiency of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus (1 John 2:2). The idea that we have to suffer for our sins after death is contrary to everything the Bible says about salvation.
The primary Scriptural passage Catholics point to for evidence of Purgatory is in 1 Corinthians 3.
“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-15
The context of this passage (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) is an illustration of ones works being done purely in the service of the Lord or for self promotion, it is the heart of a person in whatever service they do that is tested, if you need people to know what good you have done, if you give to get in return is self promotion. This type of service done under the auspices of service to Lord is an abomination to the Lord. For your service or work to go through fire, is a description of believers’ works being judged. If our works are of good quality “gold, silver, costly stones,” they will pass through the fire unharmed, and we will be rewarded for them. If our works are of poor quality “wood, hay, and straw,” they will be consumed by the fire, and there will be no reward. The passage does not say that believers pass through the fire, but rather that a believer’s works pass through the fire. 1 Corinthians 3:15 refers to the believer “escaping through the flames,” not “being cleansed by the flames.”
Purgatory, like many other Catholic dogmas, is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. Catholics view the Mass / Eucharist as a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice because they fail to understand that Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice was absolutely and perfectly sufficient (Hebrews 7:27). Catholics view meritorious works as contributing to salvation due to a failure to recognize that Jesus’ sacrificial payment has no need of additional “contribution” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Similarly, Purgatory is understood by Catholics as a place of cleansing in preparation for heaven because they do not recognize that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are already cleansed, declared righteous, forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and sanctified.
The very idea of Purgatory and the doctrines that are often attached to it (prayer for the dead, indulgences, meritorious works on behalf of the dead, etc.) fail to recognize that Jesus’ death was sufficient to pay the penalty for ALL of our sins. Jesus, the Son of God incarnate (John 1:1, 14), paid an infinite price for ma sin. Jesus died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for sins of mankind (1 John 2:2). To limit Jesus’ sacrifice to atoning for original sin or sins committed before salvation is an attack on the Person and Work of Jesus the Christ. If we must, in order to be saved, pay for, atone for, or suffer because of our sins, then Jesus’ death was not a perfect, complete, and sufficient sacrifice.
For believers, after death is to be "away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23). Notice that this does not say "away from the body, in Purgatory with the cleansing fire." Because of the perfection, completion, and sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are immediately in the Lord’s presence after death, fully cleansed, free from sin, glorified, perfected, and ultimately sanctified.