Crosswalk.com

Is Purgatory Mentioned in the Bible?

Clarence L. Haynes Jr.

You have probably heard of heaven and hell but what about purgatory?

We usually don’t think about whether heaven and hell exist because they are clearly mentioned by name in the Bible. But is purgatory in the Bible? Honestly, you will not find the word purgatory mentioned in the Bible but that alone is not proof that it exists or doesn’t exist.

What we need to do is look at the Bible to learn what it teaches about what happens after you die and see if purgatory is one of those options.

What Is Purgatory?

Purgatory is a belief that is taught primarily as a doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church and not within traditional orthodox or evangelical doctrines. This is how it is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

All who die in God’s grace, 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. 

In studying this it is important to recognize that purgatory is not a place for those who are eternally condemned but it is a place for those who will eventually end up in heaven. They are on the road to purification, but they are not quite there yet. They need to go through a final purification process, which is unclear how long that will last, and when that process is complete at that point they will be ready for heaven. 

This place of purgatory is not heaven nor is it hell, but in my words, it is like a pre-heaven that prepares you for final arrival. Some will say this is the final purification of the elect before they are allowed to enter into heaven.

Where Did the Belief in Purgatory Come From?

The foundational belief of purgatory comes from the books known as the apocrypha, primarily coming from 2 Maccabees. These books are included in most Catholic Bibles, however most orthodox and evangelical faiths do not see these books as being inspired and are not included as part of the Biblical canon. Because the teaching developed from these books we need to see if the teaching of purgatory is mentioned or even found within the traditional canon of scripture.

Is Purgatory in the Bible?

When attempting to answer the question is purgatory in the Bible, I want to turn to one passage that gives us a vivid picture of life after death. That story is the rich man and Lazarus. In this story, there was a wealthy man who despised God and Lazarus who was a beggar who longed to eat the scraps that fell off the table of this wealthy man. Both men died, and we get a glimpse into what happened to them after their deaths.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’" – Luke 16:22-26

As Jesus was telling the story notice he only mentions two destinations for people after they die. The first was Abraham’s bosom, which represented a place where the spirits of the righteous went after death. The other is a place known as Hades, which is where the spirits of those who are unrighteous, who have rejected Christ go.

Since Jesus was the one telling the story you would expect him to paint an accurate picture of life after death which he does. So, is purgatory in the Bible? Surprisingly, or maybe not, purgatory is not mentioned in this Bible story neither is the concept.

If there was such a place this would have been the perfect opportunity for Jesus to make it known and he didn’t do it. I want you to also notice that there was no ability to cross from one side to the other. In the story Abraham said there is a great chasm that prevents this from happening so once you enter eternity you are either in comfort or torment and that destination is final.

This is a sobering reminder that your eternal destination is determined before you die, and you cannot change it after you die.

Some Problems with the Belief in Purgatory

Let’s return to this definition of purgatory and consider some challenges I see with this teaching. 

All who die in God’s grace, 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 first problem with this statement is that all of us are imperfectly purified. As long as we live in this human body we will deal with the effects of our sinful nature. Even though we are justified and made righteous we are imperfect because we still sin. Now we don’t live in sin, but we can still fall victim to sin. So according to this definition of purgatory none of us would be perfectly purified when we die and would therefore require a place to clean ourselves up to get ready for heaven.

This goes against what Paul said in 2 Cor. 5:8, that to be absent or away from this body is to be present with the Lord. This is not just true for the apostle Paul this is true for all who have put their faith in Christ.

There is one other big glaring problem with the teaching of purgatory. I hope it jumped out at you when you read what purgatory is. The other glaring problem is that purgatory makes the sacrifice of Christ insufficient to remove and deal with our sinful condition. If purgatory is a valid place, then the sacrifice of Jesus was not enough and if it is not enough then it is not enough for you and me as well.

Either Jesus’ death and resurrection was a sufficient sacrifice and atonement for our sins, or it was not. If you believe in purgatory, then you are saying that his sacrifice was not enough for all. This is contradictory to what the Bible teaches because even Jesus himself declared on the cross, “It is finished.” (John 19:30).

Here are some other verses that speak to the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.

But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. – Hebrews 10:12-14

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 3:18

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:18-19

There are many other scriptures that all point to the same thing. Christ’s death and sacrifice for sin is enough and is the only reason for our righteousness. There is nothing else that has been done and can be done. The moment you place your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation at that point you are justified, and you are made ready for heaven. There is nothing else that can be done or needs to be done.

Final Thought

If you are Catholic or you believe in purgatory and you are reading this article, this is not meant in any way to discredit you. I just simply believe that according to God’s Word that the sacrifice Jesus made was enough to cover all our sins and to offer us righteousness.

Hope in his sacrifice is enough to make you worthy or entering heaven. It’s not because of what you do but because of everything he has done for you.

Related Resource: Listen to our FREE Bible podcast, The Bible Never Said That. All of our episodes are available at LifeAudio.com.

The Bible Never Said That podcast ad

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Orla


Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.