Does the Bible say anything about Purgatory?

Most Christians would claim that after death, a person has two possible destinations - Heaven or Hell. But many Catholics are taught about a third option - Purgatory. Unfortunately, while Purgatory may sound like a good idea, I believe it is a dangerous teaching which distorts the truth about the afterlife, offers a false hope, devalues Jesus' death on the cross, and ultimately may put people in danger of going to hell. Let's take a look at what the Bible says about Purgatory.

What is Purgatory?

According to Catholicism, Purgatory "is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God's grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions."[1]. Catholics claim Purgatory is necessary because "the fact that some die with smaller faults for which there was no true repentance, and also the fact that the temporal penalty due to sin is it times not wholly paid in this life".[1].

What does the Bible say about Purgatory?

The Catholic teaching of Purgatory is mostly not based on the Bible. They only quote a few verses as supposed "proof" of Purgatory, and the rest is all derived from tradition and various Catholic writers and non-Biblical sources. If it's not in the Bible, it is not infallibly correct. Teachers, Pastors, and even the Pope can make many mistakes and not everything they say is correct, and should not be trusted if what they say is not backed up by the Bible. Therefore I will ignore what Catholic tradition and writers claim unless I can find proof of it in the Bible itself.

The one Bible verse that is often used to support Purgatory is: "But we must each be careful how we build, because Christ is the only foundation. Whatever we build on that foundation will be tested by fire on the day of judgment. Then everyone will find out if we have used gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and straw. We will be rewarded if our building is left standing. But if it is destroyed by the fire, we will lose everything. Yet we ourselves will be saved, like someone escaping from flames." (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

Source [1] claims that Catholics interpret the "wood, hay, and straw" as sins that people have died without repenting from, and must be burned off. However, most Protestants interpret this verse differently - the wood, hay, and straw are acts in life that were useless to Jesus, whereas the gold, silver, and gems are good acts of love or service done for Jesus. Someone can be a Christian, yet most of their life may have been lived doing what they want and never doing anything to serve others, help the Church, or advance God's kingdom. Yet they will be saved because they did accept Jesus' sacrifice for their sins. When this person gets to heaven they will have to endure knowing that everything they did in life was worthless, and probably have minimal heavenly rewards I believe this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 is much more obvious and requires less stretching of the Biblical text than the Catholic interpretation.

The Thief on the Cross

An excellent piece of Biblical proof that Purgatory does not exist is the thief on the cross. As Jesus was being crucified next to a thief, the thief said "Remember me when you come into power", and Jesus replied "I promise that today you will be with me in paradise". (Luke 23:42-43). Jesus said the thief would be in paradise today. Jesus didn't say "Ok, well, maybe in a thousand years after you've suffered in Purgatory for the sins you've committed, then I'll see you in paradise". If even the thief on the cross will go immediately to paradise, why should Christians who have loved and served God have to go through Purgatory? Granted, the thief is probably one of those people referred to in 1 Corinthians 3:1-15 who will not have any reward and barely escaped from hell, but at least he makes it into heaven.

Catholic Idea of Penitence

Additionally, Catholic teaching says "In the New Testament as well as in the Old, almsgiving and fasting, and in general penitential acts are the real fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:8; Luke 17:3; 3:3). The whole penitential system of the Church testifies that the voluntary assumption of penitential works has always been part of true repentance and the Council of Trent reminds the faithful that God does not always remit the whole punishment due to sin together with the guilt. God requires satisfaction, and will punish sin, and this doctrine involves as its necessary consequence a belief that the sinner failing to do penance in this life may be punished in another world, and so not be cast off eternally from God."[1].

Penitence is not a Biblical Concept

Protestant Christians do not believe any acts of penitence must be performed before we are forgiven. Whenever Jesus forgave someone's sins, he simply said "Your sins are forgiven" (Luke 5:20, Matthew 9:2, Mark 2:5) and in some cases told people not to sin anymore (John 5:14, John 8:11). He did not demand people to go pay money to the temple or do penitence to be forgiven. Jesus said "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father"(John 14:9). So it is unlikely that God the Father will forgive sins in a different way than Jesus did. One interesting example is the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9). Zacchaeus dines with Jesus, feels the need to repent, and gives half his property to the poor and pays back people who he cheated. Then Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he is saved. However, tax collectors back then were notoriously corrupt, and so Zacchaeus' decision to give away property shows he is truly sorry and wants to restore what he wrongly took from others. Jesus did not require it of him in order to be forgiven, but Zacchaeus did it willingly from his own heart.

Jesus said "If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don't forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus also said "Correct any followers of mine who sin, and forgive the ones who say they are sorry. Even if one of them mistreats you seven times in one day and says 'I am sorry', you should still forgive that person." (Luke 17:3-4). Jesus does not instruct us to require people to perform penitence - we are to forgive them even if they only say they are sorry (which might be a lie, but we still have to forgive them). (Note: forgiveness does not mean you have to ignore the knowledge of what they have done - if someone stole from you seven times in one day, maybe it would be prudent to keep them out of your store as a precaution, even if they said they're sorry - but you should not hate them for their sin of theft).

Additionally, Jesus taught people to pray "Forgive our sins as we forgive everyone who has done wrong to us" (Luke 11:4). Forgiveness is the opposite of justice - we can demand that people pay for their crimes against us (e.g. sue them for money) or we can forgive them, which does not demand any payment. We don't demand a small payment and then forgive - that's not true forgiveness. We are commanded to forgive others as we are forgiven by God (Matthew 18:33-35), and so since we do not demand people to pay before forgiving them, why should people have to pay for sins before God forgives us?


The Bible clearly teaches that penitence is not necessary for forgiveness. Yet if we are truly forgiven, we may wish to make amends for our sins towards others out of the love that God has put in our hearts (as Zacchaeus did). It is not a punishment or payment for our sin, but a change of heart because of God's forgiveness and a wanting to make things right towards those who have been wronged. The idea of having to do penitence to punish ourselves for sins is not Biblical. So if we don't have to do penitence in this life, then why should we have to do it in Purgatory in the next? It makes no sense and is not supported at all in the Bible.

Purgatory Would Make Jesus' Death Unnecessary

The Bible says "God treats everyone alike. He accepts people only because they have faith in Jesus Christ. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. But God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins" (Romans 3:22-24). Also "But you cannot make God accept you because of something you do. God accepts sinners only because they have faith in him."(Romans 4:5). All of these verses make it absolutely clear that our only way to have our sins forgiven and be accepted by God is by faith in Jesus. We cannot do anything to earn salvation - even being punished in Purgatory would never make anyone more worthy of heaven than they were at the instant they accepted Jesus as their saviour. Jesus is the one who makes us holy (Hebrews 2:11), we do not have to earn it on our own by good deeds or by penitence or by punishment in Purgatory!

Additionally: "When Christ died, he died for sin once and for all."(Romans 6:10), and "So Christ died only once to take away the sins of many people"(Hebrews 9:28). This is the entire message of the Bible - we are free from sin because Jesus paid for all sin. This means that when we die, if we have put our faith in Jesus, there is no sin left that we must pay for! When we die, we can be assured that we will not be punished in Purgatory because "Now that God has accepted us because Christ sacrificed his life's blood, we will also be kept safe from God's anger."(Romans 5:9).

In source [1], it never even mentions anything about Jesus' death for sin. This is absolutely insane! I have no idea how the Catholic Church can ignore this fact when teaching about the afterlife. No one can ever earn heaven, by good works or punishment. If we could, then we could do penance for every sin we know of during our lives, and pay for the ones we didn't know about in Purgatory, and Jesus would be completely unnecessary - it would be like we had earned our salvation ourselves. Yet the Bible says the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23 NIV) - not just punishment or temporary suffering. No amount of human suffering in this life or the next can pay for sins - this is why hell is eternal (Revelation 20:10) and no one can cross from Hell to Heaven (Luke 16:26). Before Jesus was crucified, he asked God if there was any possible way for him to not have to be crucified (Matthew 26:39). If people could merely be "good" and pay for sins in Purgatory, then Jesus would not have had to die, and his death was just an unnecessary tragedy.

So as we have seen, Jesus death pays for all sin, and there is nothing left to pay if we accept Him as our saviour. Yet if we do not, then no amount of suffering in hell can pay for our sins, and people will be in hell forever if they do not accept Jesus as saviour in this life. Therefore, Purgatory is unnecessary and the Catholic church should not be teaching such a horribly non-Biblical concept. It distorts the method of salvation and deprives Jesus of worship for his death on the cross. I have seen people crawling up the steps of various Catholic churches, trying to do penance, and it makes me feel extremely sorry for them that they do not know the freedom from sin that we have from Jesus' death on the cross. If the Jesus gives us freedom from sin, then we are truly free! (John 8:36).

But What about Good Non-Christians?

But wouldn't Purgatory be a good place for people who were good but were not Christian? Unfortunately, all of the Bible points to faith in Jesus being the only way to heaven. In fact, even many supposed "Christians" who did good works may end up in hell (Matthew 7:21-23). If even these pseudo-Christians are rejected by Jesus, normal good people who never even cared about Jesus will also be rejected.

What About People who Never Heard About Jesus?

Purgatory is still unnecessary, even when we consider the idea of people who have never heard about God. These people will be fairly judged at the Great White Throne judgement (Revelation 20:11-15). This judgement is for all people who ever lived who were not Christians, Tribulation Saints, or Old Testament Jewish believers in God. You would expect that all of these people would go to Hell by default. However, that is not the case. The Bible only says that "anyone whose name wasn't written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15). There would be no point of having this judgment if the only option was Hell for everyone. I believe some people will pass this judgement and will be allowed to live on the New Earth (Revelation 21), although they will not have all the benefits and privileges of Christians. God knows our hearts, and can judge perfectly. I believe he may judge some by how they would have reacted if they had the chance to hear about God.

Additionally, anyone who died before they could be accountable for their actions most likely goes to Heaven. The Old Testament Jewish system made any parents responsible for the sins of the child until the child was old enough to be responsible for their own sins [2]. Additionally, Jesus said "Let the children come to me, and don't try to stop them! People who are like these children belong to God's kingdom" (Matthew 19:14). Most likely Jesus can apply his payment for sin to them since they were not old enough to decide to follow Jesus on their own. This is probably also the case also for mentally disabled people who cannot understand the Bible, and for the millions of children who are aborted each year.

So as we have seen above, there is already proof in the Bible for various forms of judgement for Christians, non-Christians, and people who never heard about Jesus. Therefore, Purgatory is still unnecessary. I do not believe there is any category of people who would need to go to Purgatory. Either a person's sins are completely forgiven by accepting Jesus, or they are given God's grace to enter Heaven since they did not ever learn about Jesus, or they are put into Hell.

Why is Purgatory a Dangerous Concept?

As we have seen, Purgatory is not only an unnecessary, non-Biblical concept, but I believe it is a dangerous idea to teach to people. It gives hope that people will get a second chance to get into Heaven after death if they have lived a decent life. This can make people complacent about their lives here on Earth, and make them put off a decision for Jesus because "Oh, I'll just go to Purgatory for a few thousand years, and get into Heaven later. So now I can live like I want and not care about Jesus or Church.". Plus, it removes the absolute freedom we have in knowing that our sins are completely paid for by Jesus, and instead keeps Catholics forever stuck in the cycle of having to do penitence.

I believe the idea of Purgatory may come directly from Satan, as this is exactly the sort of lie he would love people to believe. When in fact, as soon as you die your destiny is sealed, and there is no way to change it: "We die only once, and then we are judged." (Hebrews 9:27). Also, it allows people to not worry about the salvation of others, since they might just go to Purgatory instead of hell. So not only does it make one slack off in one's personal spiritual life, but it removes the need to tell others about Jesus. Christians and Catholics need to learn about the absolute truth of Hell so that it will motivate us to evangelize to our friends and family, since there is only one way to Heaven and all other paths go to Hell (Matthew 7:13).

In this article I have not even discussed the incorrect concepts of Catholic prayers for the dead, and indulgences, which are also mentioned in [1]. However, I feel that since both of these are related to the concept of Purgatory, since I have already demonstrated that Purgatory is a non-Biblical concept, it is a waste of time to discuss these other issues.


Purgatory is a completely non-Biblical concept which is taught and promoted by the Catholic church. This teaching contradicts everything the Bible teaches about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone. If Jesus' death on the cross pays completely for our sins, then Purgatory is unnecessary. Additionally, there is already Biblical proof for how non-Christians and people who never heard about Jesus will be judged.

Purgatory is a dangerous concept because it may cause people to slack off in their personal spiritual lives and it also removes the sense of urgency that the Bible teaches Christians should have about witnessing to unsaved people. If you know of people who are putting faith in Jesus off until later, hoping that they can get into Heaven through Purgatory, please warn them that Purgatory does not exist. The afterlife is forever, and so we must make sure that it is carefully planned for, and that our destinies are secure today. "That time has come. This is the day for you to be saved." (2 Corinthians 6:2), because any of us could die tomorrow. Your next breath or heartbeat is not guaranteed, and so please consider carefully your eternal destiny. It's easy to ignore the word "eternity" or "forever", but put in numerical terms: What about 10,000 years in Hell? 1,000,000? 1,000,000,000,000,000? If we accept Jesus death as payment for our sins, life for Him and develop a personal relationship with Him, we can be guaranteed to go to Heaven immediately after we die (2 Corinthians 5:8).


[1] Catholic Encyclopedia - Purgatory
[2] Coming Full Circle by Jack Kelley