Where Do We Find Purgatory in the Bible?

Have you ever had anyone ask you why Catholics believe in Purgatory when, as that same person will gladly point out to you, Purgatory is nowhere to be found in the Bible? “How can you Catholics believe in Purgatory when nowhere is the word ‘Purgatory’ found in the Bible?”

And that person is right—nowhere is the word “Purgatory,” found in the Bible. So, how do you, as a Catholic, answer that question? I answer it in three steps: 

Step #1. Take the questioner’s logic and use it against them.  

The underlying assumption in the question is that if something is not found directly in Scripture, then we, as Christians, should not believe it. This kind of thinking is a result of the Protestant dogma of Sola Scriptura—the belief that the Bible alone is all the Christian needs to determine correct doctrine and dogma. Which makes Catholics wrong for believing in Purgatory since, again, the word “Purgatory” is not in the Bible.  

So, how do I turn their logic against them? I ask them if they ever have altar calls in their church. If they say yes, I ask them to show me where altar calls are mentioned in the Bible. They can’t. They aren’t.  Then I ask them if they go to church on Wednesday nights. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in the South, Wednesday night is church night for Protestants. If they say yes, they go to church on Wednesday nights, I ask them to show me where that practice is mentioned in the Bible. They can’t. It isn’t. Finally, I ask them if they believe in the Trinity? Of course they believe in the Trinity is the answer I get 100% of the time. So, I ask: “Can you show me where the word ‘Trinity’ is in the Bible?” They can’t. It isn’t.  

However, they will inevitably tell me that the Trinity is indeed in the Bible. The Father is mentioned. The Son is mentioned. The Holy Spirit is mentioned. At Jesus’ baptism, all three persons of the Trinity were present. “So,” I will say, “what you’re saying is that even though the word ‘Trinity’ is not mentioned in the Bible, the concept of the Trinity is in the Bible, which makes it okay for Christians to believe?” To which I always get an affirmative answer. That’s when I go to work showing them the concept of Purgatory in Scripture. 

Step #2.  2 Samuel 12:13-18

I like to start in on 2 Samuel 12:13-18, which states, 

“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 that is born to you shall die.’ And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became sick…On the seventh day the child died.”

What do we see here? David sins—adultery and murder. King David realizes he has sinned. David repents and is forgiven — the Lord “put away” his sin. Yet, David receives punishment for his sin after he has been forgiven — his child dies.

Catholic Scriptural Principle #1—there is the possibility of punishment for sin even after one has received forgiveness.

Let’s move now to the New Testament. Revelation 21:27 says, “But nothing unclean shall enter it…” This is referring to the New Jerusalem—Heaven.

Catholic Scriptural Principle #2—nothing unclean – nothing, in other words, with the stain of sin — will enter Heaven.

More Scripture. Hebrews 12:22-23, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect…” Notice, it speaks of the “spirits” of just men (who, as Catholics would say, are those that died in a state of grace), who are in Heaven, and who have been “made perfect.”

Catholic Scriptural Principle #3—there is a way, a process, through which the spirits of the “just” are “made perfect.”

And finally, I take them to 1 Corinthians 3:13-15: “…each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day [their judgment day] will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation [Jesus Christ] survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

Where is this place that a man, after he dies, has his works tested, and could suffer loss, as through fire, but still be saved? Hell? No, once you’re in Hell, you don’t get out. Heaven? No, you don’t suffer loss as through fire in Heaven. It must be somewhere else.

Catholic Scriptural Principle #4—there is a place, or state of being, other than Heaven or Hell.

Now, let’s summarize these four Catholic scriptural principles: There is the possibility of punishment for sin even after one has received forgiveness. Nothing with the stain of sin will enter Heaven. There is some way, or process, by which the spirits of the just are made perfect. And there is a place besides Heaven or Hell where you can suffer loss after you die, yet still be saved, but only as through fire. You put all those principles together, and you have, in essence, just described Catholic teaching on Purgatory. Conclusion: Purgatory is in the Bible.

Step #3 “Are We Perfect Right Now?”

And, going beyond Scripture, you could add in what I call the common sense perspective on Purgatory—Step #3. It goes like this: Ask the question, “Are you perfect right now? In every single way — physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually — are you perfect? Do you have any attachment to sin? You never have a bad thought, say a bad word, do something you shouldn’t, or don’t do something you should? Do you ever get sick?” I have asked a whole lot of people that question and I have never had anyone say to me that, yes, they are perfect.

“So, you’re not perfect. But, God forbid, let’s say you were to die this very instant, and you were to go to Heaven. Would you be perfect in Heaven?” Always, always they answer, “Yes, I would be perfect in Heaven.”  

“Absolutely, you would be. You would be perfectly united to the Body of Christ, no more sin, no more pain, no more anguish, no more illness. Your soul would be free from sin and your body — after the Resurrection of the Dead — would be in its glorified state. You would be perfect in Heaven.”

Then I ask them to think about what they just admitted to. You die imperfect; but you enter Heaven perfect. How did that happen? Between dying and then entering Heaven, there must have been some process by which the spirit of the just was made perfect (Heb 12:23). Your imperfections were “purged” from you. And I tell them to call that process whatever they want, but that process is what we Catholics call “Purgatory”. 

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Mr. Martignoni’s latest book, Blue Collar Apologetics: How To Explain and Defend Catholic Teaching Using Common Sense, Simple Logic, and the Bible. It is available through your favorite bookseller and online through Sophia Institute Press.

image: Relief of the souls of purgatory. Facade of the Chapel of Las Animas. Santiago de Compostela, Galicia.

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John Martignoni is the founder and president of the Bible Christian Society, an apologetics and evangelization apostolate that reaches hundreds of thousands of people with the truths of the Catholic Faith. For seventeen years, he hosted EWTN Radio’s Open Line and he has founded and run Catholic radio stations in Alabama. He is currently the director of evangelization for the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama. Check out Mr. Martigoni's latest book, Blue Collar Apologetics, at Sophia Institute Press.

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