Is Purgatory in the Bible?

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America is predominantly Protestant, which doesn’t adhere to the concept of purgatory. Catholicism, Eastern orthodoxy, and a few others do believe in purgatory, but you might be surprised to learn that it’s a concept Jews, Jesus, and the apostles believed, too.

What is purgatory?

The first thing to know about purgatory is that it is not a word you will find in the Bible, as it is referred to by other names. Purgatory is a concept of an intermediary place human souls go after death before going to heaven or hell.

Simplifying, purgatory is a place where human beings make up for their sins. Purgatory is a place where souls are cleansed.

Only the righteous and holy can enter heaven (Revelation 21:27), it logically follows that a place and procedure of cleansing must occur before a soul can enter heaven.

Lost in translation

Another problem that has confused the matter is the King James translation, which many times, incorrectly according to scholars, translated the Greek word Hades and Hebrew word Sheol as Hell, which theologians argue was not the intention.

For example, commenting on Luke 16:23, Scholar Ellicott says “Hades” is “the unseen world of the dead, not the final prison of the souls of the lost.”  (See Note on Matthew 5:22).

To the Jews, Sheol was the abode of the dead, not a place like our modern concept of Hell. The Jews believed every person, righteous or unrighteous, went there at death.

The place the Jews called Sheol was what Christians eventually called purgatory.

Jesus and the apostles believed in purgatory

The concept of purgatory is one inherited from Judaism by Jesus and the apostles, as well as the early Christian church.

It’s important to remember, that in Jesus’ time, there was no New Testament. Jesus and the apostles were Jews and their book of Scripture was the Old Testament. Jesus and the apostles quote 340 places in the New Testament that quote the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Old Testament, which had 7 additional books Protestant-based Christian Bibles today do not. This is important to know because those books supported the concept of purgatory.

The idea of purgatory is clear in the parable Jesus gives of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16. We see that the dead wealthy man and the dead poor man, Lazarus, can see one another, as well as the patriarch Abraham. They are divided by a chasm that can’t be crossed. Note, nowhere in the Bible do we see examples of any person or angel in actual Hell being able to communicate with heaven or earth. It follows logically, that in this parable, Jesus is identifying purgatory.

In another example, the well-known words Jesus said to the thief who was also being crucified alongside him, speak to purgatory.

“Jesus answered him, “‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”

-Luke 23:43

Many make the jump that “paradise” means heaven. But according to scholars, Jesus used the Greek word paradeiso, which referred not to heaven but signifies a park or God, and to the Jews of the time, the “Garden of Eden,” or “Abraham’s bosom.” This is the “paradise” we see Lazarus with Abraham in Jesus’ aforementioned parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man from Luke 16.

Why don’t all Christian faiths support purgatory?

The Christian reformist Martin Luther is the key figure who eliminated the concept of purgatory as a teaching, and it continues today in most Protestant-based religions.

Luther focused on the doctrines of sola fides (faith alone), sola scripture (Scripture alone), and no purgatory.

To do this, Luther changed the Bible and removed eight books out of the old and new Testaments, seven books that were originally in the first version of the Old Testament in Greek, the Septuagint.

These books are called the Apocrypha by Protestants and Deuterocanonical by Catholics.

The removed books are Tobias, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, first and second Maccabees, and portions of Esther and Daniel.

With the removal of these books, it diminishes the argument for purgatory, particularly without having either book of Maccabees. Nonetheless, there are still Scriptures remaining in the Bible today that support the purgatory concept.