“The idea of a Purgatory is nowhere mentioned in the Bible.” This claim, often put forward in (online) discussions, is what I’m here to “tackle.” But in order to understand what Purgatory is, one must understand the underlining premises of this doctrine. I will here put forward four premises, and show 1) how this (can) form the doctrine of Purgatory, and 2) that these premises can be found in the Bible.

  • Premiss 1: Salvation is a process in which we are remade in the image of God
  • Premiss 2: Sin can be punished even after forgiveness is received
  • Premiss 3: Nothing unclean can enter heaven
  • Premiss 4: Before we enter into the full Glory of heaven, our work is tested, we are purged, and made perfect
  • Conclusion: On our way to Heaven, we must enter through Purgatory

If not otherwise mentioned, the translation used is the English Standard Version, ESV.

Premiss 1: Salvation is a process in which we are remade in the image of God

The major premise in my argument, is that salvation is a process, and that Purgatory is “the last stop” on the Way to heaven. Not that I write “Way” with a capital letter, in line with what the early Christians called our religion. “About that time,” it is said in Acts, “there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.” (19:23)(1) “But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way…” (24:22) Bishop Kallistos Ware comments that this is “a name that emphasizes the practical character of the Christian faith.” And further that our religion is “more than a theory about the universe, more than teachings written down on paper; it is a path along which we journey—in the deepest and richest sense, the way of life.” (Ware: 1995: 7-8) With this in mind, we must also read what is written in the epistles — and in Revelation. Let me quote some verses.

2. Corinthians 3:18:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

James 2:22-24:

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”— and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

2. Peter 1:3-4:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Revelation 20:11-12:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.

This shows us that salvation is not a “one time event” where we are declared righteous, but a process in which we are “transformed into the same image,” through the Spirit. And through Him the Love of God is “poured into our hearts.” (Romans 5:5) Now, let us take a quick look at the minor premises.

Premiss 2: Sin can be punished even after forgiveness is received

Let’s take a quick look at 2. Samuel 12:13-15.18a:

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house. And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick… On the seventh day the child died.

This shows us that temporal punishment for sin can be induced even when the actual sin is forgiven. James (Jimmy) Akin explains that protestants “often deny that temporal penalties remain after forgiveness of sin,” but that they still practice it, “for instance, when they insist on people returning things they have stolen. Thieves may obtain forgiveness, but they also must engage in restitution.” He also adds that “while Jesus paid the price for our sins before God, he did not relieve our obligation to repair what we have done. They fully acknowledge that if you steal someone’s car, you have to give it back; it isn’t enough just to repent. God’s forgiveness (and man’s!) does not include letting you keep the stolen car.”

Premiss 3: Nothing unclean can enter heaven

This is fairly simple. Since, heaven is a perfect place, since it is where God resided, “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27)

Premiss 4: Before we enter into the full Glory of heaven, our work is tested, we are purged, and made perfect

In Hebrews 12:22-23, it is said of heaven that it is “Mount Zion,” “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” where we find “the assembly [or Church] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

But how are we made perfect? This I believe, is shown us in 1. Corinthians 3, and in the last verses of Hebrews 12. 1. Cor. 3:11-15 tells us that,

no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

And Hebrews 12:29 tells us that our God “is a consuming fire.”

What we can derive from this is that no one can save us but Christ, that we can — and shall — build on this foundation (James 2:18-26), that our “building” consist of “gold, silver, precious stones,” which I believe is symbols for virtues, good deeds, prayers, etc. that can stand fire, and “wood, hay, straw” that I believe is bad things like vices, sin, etc. The point is that if we have the foundation of Christ,* we are saved, even if it is “as through fire.”

This I believe makes the foundation of Purgatory, as put foreward in the Catechism of the Catholic Church; # 1030,1031:

1030 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.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

Notes:

1. To have “the foundation of Christ” is a term not easily defined. Who have this foundation? Nobody knows, but I believe that people like Socrates have it, because they are seekers, seeking truth for its own sake. And as Christ says it, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

References:

Ware, Kallistos, The Orthodox Way (Revised edition). St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995

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