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Purgatory - Biblical or Not 

The teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church presents this laconic statement regarding its doctrine of "purgatory:"

"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" (paragraph 1030).
And the Second Vatican Council had this to say about this grave matter:
"The truth has been divinely revealed that sins are followed by punishments. God's holiness and justice inflict them. Sins must be expiated. This may be done on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and trials of this life and, above all, through death. Otherwise the expiation must be made in the next life through fire and torments or purifying punishments" (pg. 63).
Karl Keating, founder of "Catholic Answers," a Roman Catholic apologetics organization, admitted in his "E-Letter, dated April 8, 2002, that the word "purgatory" was not to be found anywhere in the Bible; although he goes on to justify the doctrine by saying: "...but that proves nothing. The words "Incarnation" and "Trinity" don't appear in Scripture either, but every Christian believes in them."

And on that point I must agree. However, both "Trinity" and "Incarnation" are words that codify what the Bible itself explicitly teaches about the nature of God and the Person of Jesus Christ. But can the same be said for the word "purgatory?"

To prove his point that though the word purgatory is found nowhere in the Bible but the concept is, Mr. Keating cites a passage in 1 Peter and writes:

"At his death, our Lord "preached to the spirits in prison" (1 Pet. 3:19). Who were these folks, and where were they? They were those who died before the Redemption was effected and who were bound for heaven--but who were not yet there because heaven was not opened to anyone until after the Resurrection. These people were not in the hell of the damned, since we are told that Christ ended up taking them along with him to heaven (Eph. 4:8-10). Those in hell weren't going anywhere. It would have made no sense for him to preach to them."
However Mr. Keating makes some unsubstantiated assertions in his commentary above.

(1) This passage in 1 Peter is somewhat obscure and many scholars and students of the Bible have debated over just who these "spirits" might be. Yet Mr. Keating seems to know without a doubt their exact identity: Pre-redemption, heaven-bound souls who were waiting for Christ to open the gates of heaven and allow them entrance.

(2) He asserts that the imprisoned "spirits" in 1 Peter 3:19 are the same in identity as the host "led captive" when Christ ascended on high mentioned in Eph. 3:8 (another somewhat obscure passage having various interpretations). Yet, in context, those spirits in 1 Pet. 3:19 are not described as patiently waiting heaven-bound souls at all, but instead once "disobedient," imprisoned "spirits" who tried the patience of God prior to the flood in Noah's day.

(3) He asserts that after His death Christ "preached" good news to these rebellious, imprisoned spirits. However the Greek word here is not "euangelizein," which means to proclaim good tidings (i.e., good news: "gospel"), but "kerussein," which means to "herald" or to "proclaim." More likely the passage suggests that Christ proclaimed His triumph over evil through the cross which, for those imprisoned, disobedient spirits, was not an announcement of good news, but bad. By description those disobedient "spirits" could not have been waiting for heaven's gates to be opened for them, but instead divine judgment.

Hence, based on the context of these two passage the disobedient, imprisoned "spirits" from the days of Noah, revealed in 1 Pet. 3:19, and the "host" led captive by Christ, revealed in Eph. 3:8, can not be considered identical. Nor can the two passages be contrived as parallel.

Mr. Keating then asserts this conclusion:

"I think it was purgatory itself, but it may have been altogether separate. Even if it were, so what? Scripture still would prove that there was something other than heaven and hell. If this third state could exist prior to the Resurrection, why not afterward? If the pre-Christians who died bound for heaven had to pause in this "prison" until heaven was readied for them, why couldn't there be a comparable condition for those who die today in the state of grace but need to be spruced up before getting their final reward?"
(4) Based on absolutely nothing but his own opinion he declares that the prison which incarcerated those "spirits" was none other than "purgatory" itself.

(5) He inserts into these two obscure passages the whole Romanist doctrine of "purgatory." Implanting the idea that these disobedient-imprisoned spirits had been, since the time of their death, locked up in some penitentiary-of-suffering in order to purify themselves of personal sins, thereby, through their own sufferings, making themselves suitable for heaven to which Jesus transports them. This of course begs the question: Of what benefit then was the cross of Christ? Was it merely a divine means to provide a shuttle bus to heaven?

(6) He then asserts that this same penitentiary-of-suffering continues to exist today and is in full operation for almost all heaven-bound believers, since we too (according to Mr. Keating's wording) are also in need of being "spruced up" before being allowed to enter heaven's gates.

Mr. Keating's final stab at trying to make the abstract concept of "purgatory" Biblical is an appeal to the Book of Revelation:

"Revelation 21:27 tells us that "nothing unclean shall enter" heaven. To die with any inclination to or affection for sin, even the smallest sin, is to die with a blemish. It is to die not entirely clean. The repentant sinner, dying in the state of sanctifying grace, still needs a final polishing. He doesn't get that in heaven itself--and certainly not in hell. The only option is a place of cleansing or purgation, which is to say purgatory, a short-term "prison."
(7) Again he anachronistically dumps into this one verse the whole concept of Rome's extra-biblical, time-developed, doctrine of "purgatory." In context the passage says absolutely nothing about a final "polishing" of saints, but emphatically states that in the New Jerusalem to come no one who practices (i.e., by nature) abomination and lying, shall ever enter it. The passage itself says absolutely nothing of purgatory-polished saints, but rather "only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."

As you can see the Romanist doctrine of "purgatory" can not be even remotely compared to the Biblically based doctrines of the "Trinity" and the "Incarnation." Both the word "purgatory" and its concept are completely foreign to Scripture. Not only is the doctrine extra-Biblical, but it is anti-Biblical as well. A blasphemous doctrine that militates against the truth laid out in Scripture regarding the sufficiency Christ's, "once for all" sacrificial work on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and cleansing of the saints (Heb. 10). A finished work where by His propitiatory sacrifice of Himself satisfied, once for all time, the offended holiness of God because of the sins of men (Rom. 3:23-26; 1 Jn. 2:2; Heb. 2:17). A finished work by which He, once for all time, redeemed men from their sins (Rom. 3:23-24) and, once for all time, reconciled them to God through faith in Him (Rom. 5:9-11; 2 Cor. 5:18-21).

The Word of God clearly teaches that when a sinner puts his faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, he is at the time of personal belief justified before God as a free gift (Rom. 3:26-30), having entered into peace with Him through faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1-2).

The Apostle Paul agrees with the writer of Revelation that nothing unclean, or no one who practices abomination or lying will enter the presence of God (which actually is not a description of believers, but unbelievers). However the Apostle does not agree with Mr. Keating's statement in regards to a "place" for the believer's cleansing: "The only option is a place of cleansing or purgation, which is to say purgatory, a short-term "prison." Pauline (or Biblical) theology never refers to a "place" for the believer's cleansing, but to a Person: The Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on the cross for us:

"And such were some of you; but you were WASHED, but you were SANCTIFIED, but you were JUSTIFIED in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11)
In truth, the Bible teaches no such place or purpose as "purgatory." It simply can not since the existence of such a place would brazenly contradict what it reveals in respect to the sufficiency of the shed blood of Christ to cleanse men of all their sins (Heb. 9:14). The blasphemous notion that sinful men are able to suffer themselves for an expiatory cleansing of their own sins speaks to heresy. In fact, within the context of 1 Pet. 3:19-20 (the main passage Mr. Keating sites as his Biblical proof-text for Rome's doctrine of "purgatory") the Apostle Peter, whom the Roman church considers to be its first pope, writes:
"For Christ also died for sins, once for all, the JUST for the UNJUST, in order that HE might bring us to God..." (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Jn. 14:6).
This one verse speaks volumes! It is impossible for sinful men to cleanse themselves of their own sins through their own suffering. Only the "Just" can deal with the sins of the "unjust." And this Christ accomplished on the cross, "once for all." And because of that finished work on our behalf He brings us to God.

That believers are not required to endure personal suffering after death for the purpose of self-cleansing in preparation for heaven is verified in Scripture by the two greatest teachers in the Scriptures: Jesus Christ and His Apostle Paul:

In the sixteenth chapter of Luke Jesus gives an account of two men after they had died. Both were sons of Abraham, but both were not of the "faith of Abraham." The rich man who trusted only in his riches died and went directly to a place of torment. While Lazarus, a believer in the God of Abraham, was carried away by the angels directly to a place called "Abraham's bosom" (Lk. 16:23) where he did not experience suffering of any sort, but instead, total comfort (Lk. 16:25).

And this side of the cross the Apostle Paul tells us that while we are in this body we are absent from the Lord, "for we walk by faith, not by sight;" but when absent from this body (i.e., death) we are immediately present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8; cf. Phil. 1:23).

Obviously, neither of the teachings of the Lord or the Apostle Paul even whisper of a place or purpose Roman Catholic dogma calls "purgatory."

Rome's non-biblical doctrine clearly reflects that religion's utter failure to grasp the GRACE a believer enters into because of the complete and perfect work Christ accomplished "for us" on the cross - to His glory (Rom. 5:1-2). The Church of Rome claims to preach the gospel (good news) of grace proclaimed in the Bible but, in reality, the doctrines that make Romanism, Romanism, present a "different gospel" altogether.

Rome rejects the soteriological significance of faith, understanding it (faith) simply as one's submission to Roman orthodoxy and a passport to baptism, which is believed to remit past sins only. An orthodoxy which enslaves its devotees to a life of probation under the sovereign rule and authority of that church heirarchy. An ecclesiastical jurisdiction that does not end with the death of its "subjects," but continues to assert its dominion over them during their time of detention in "purgatory."

What a dreadful distortion of the gospel (good news) of God's infinite grace by which He calls us into fellowship (even sonship) through faith in Christ. A divine grace plainly revealed in His written Word. In fact, so precise is this gospel of grace that the Apostle Paul warns the believers in Galatia of counterfeits and falling into the deception of a "different" (fraudulent) gospel:

"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gr. anathema) (Gal. 1:8-9).
And he scolds the Corinthians:
"I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully" (2 Cor. 11:1-4).

" For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face" (2 Cor. 11:20).

1 Corinthians 3:15

"If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire."
Though Mr. Keating does not point out this verse in this E-Letter, he has often appealed to it when trying to present a Biblical text to serve as proof for Rome's doctrine of "purgatory."

I think Rome's apologists especially like this verse because it contains the words that sound like their doctrine of "purgatory:" "suffer," "loss," "fire," "saved," etc. However, like any Biblical text, it must be examined and understood within its immediate and overall context, for "any text taken out of context is a pretext."

Even a cursory examination of the context discloses that the Apostle Paul is not describing a man imprisoned in a place where his sins are being purged through personal suffering and by cleansing fire. In fact, Paul is not addressing sins in this passage at all, but a Christian workman's labor and subsequent rewards.

Paul metaphorically points out that according to the grace of God given to him, as a wise master builder he laid the foundation of Christ in Corinth, and another subsequently builds upon that foundation with valuable, noncombustible materials such as gold, silver and precious stones, or, worthless combustible materials such as wood, hay or straw (3:8-12). The value of the building materials is analogous to the value of the workman's labor, and it is the value of this "work" that "will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work" (3:13). If the work by which he built upon the foundation remains he receives a reward (vs. 14). If any of the man's work is burned up, he suffers loss (of reward, vs. 15).

When read in context it becomes very clear that Paul is not speaking of a future stint for believers in a place called "purgatory." But a future judgment when a Christian worker's labor will be tested (i.e., appraised), and if found valuable, rewarded. There is absolutely no mention of personal sins in the context of this passage, and the fire here is not a means of purging but revealing (vs. 13).

Rome's doctrine of "purgatory" does not comply at all with the Biblical teachings of God's grace toward us through Christ Jesus. And the amazing irony is that those who teach this valueless, totally non-Biblical doctrine, will at that future judgment themselves, if saved, suffer loss as by "fire."

Written by: Gary Nystrom

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