Purgatory Bible Verses to Prove the Catholic Churchs’ Teaching on Purgatory
Many Protestants reject the Catholic Church’s teaching on Purgatory (a state of spiritual purification after death, prior to one’s entry into Heaven), claiming that it isn’t scriptural.
One of the most direct references to Purgatory in the Bible is in 2 Maccabees 12:43-46, which describes how the great Jewish leader Judas Maccabaeus “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; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.
But 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. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.”
If it is an “excellent and noble” thing to pray for the dead, this must refer to persons experiencing what the Catholic Church calls Purgatory—for those in Heaven do not need our prayers, and those in Hell are beyond the help of our prayers.
It should be noted, however, that many Protestants reject this argument for the simple reason that they consider 2 Maccabees (and six other Old Testament books) apochryphal—that is, not an authentic part of the Bible.
CATHOLIC RESPONSE: According to the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but [are] 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).
All sins do spiritual harm to the sinner, and this harm has to be completely healed before one enters into Heaven.
Our acts of love and our freely-chosen good deeds and sacrifices here on earth can begin and perhaps even finish this process during our earthly lives, but if this experience of healing and purification is not complete by the time we die, it must continue in the world to come. This is what the Church refers to as Purgatory (which comes from the word purgatio, which means cleansing or purging—for in Purgatory we are cleansed of the effects of our sins).
Here are some bible verses supporting the Catholic view.
Revelation 21:27 — “Nothing impure will ever enter it [the new Jerusalem—God’s heavenly kingdom], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Comment: Anyone touched by sin is unworthy and unable to enter into Heaven—and since this includes everyone except Jesus and the Virgin Mary, obviously there must be some way in which sinners can be cleansed so as to enter the Kingdom (including those whose lives are not long enough to complete this process while on earth).
1 Corinthians 6:9 — “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” Comment: Heaven is not guaranteed to everyone, but only to those who are made worthy of it.
Matthew 18:34 — In the parable of the royal official who refused to forgive a small debt owed to him, even though his master at first forgave his much larger debt, “his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”
Comment: Jesus is obviously speaking symbolically, for no one can earn money to repay a financial debt while in prison. In giving this lesson on the need to forgive others, Our Lord is actually referring to Purgatory.
Luke 12:58-59 — “As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconc iled with him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Comment: Again, Jesus is speaking symbolically (for merely spending time in jail will not repay a financial debt). Trying to settle accounts while on the way to court here means making amends for our sins while still on earth before facing God’s judgment (and the prison cannot refer to Hell, as no one ever leaves there).
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 — “If any man builds on this foundation [Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day [of Judgment] will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flame.” Comment: Purgatory is often described as a purifying fire (through which, if necessary, we enter Heaven).
Philippians 2:10 — “At the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Comment: “Under the earth” can be understood as a reference to Purgatory (whose inhabitants, unlike those of Hell, do give their allegiance to Jesus).
Jude 23 — “Snatch others from the fire and save them.” Comment: Only Christ can save people from the fires of Hell, but our prayers and offerings can help those who are suffering in Purgatory.
Revelation 6:9-11 — “When he [the Lamb] opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar [in Heaven] the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. The called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer….”
Comment: Even just persons may need to be purified of certain faults, such as a desire for revenge (which is contrary to Christ’s teaching on forgiveness).
That these persons are under the altar indicates that they have not yet achieved full membership in the Kingdom.
A few final thoughts
St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) wrote, “Let us help and commemorate them [the dead]. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”
Love’s power extends beyond death—and so our prayers are in some way able to help persons in Purgatory, and our efforts on their behalf are surely pleasing to God.
“Eternal rest grant unto them, 0 Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”
Fr. Joseph Esper is pastor of Immaculate Conception Ira Twp., Michigan and a Marian Conference regular.