Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches the idea of Purgatory, which is defined by Wikipedia as follows:

Purgatory is, according to Catholic teaching, the state or place of purification or temporary punishment by which those who die in a state of grace are believed to be made ready for the Beatific Vision in Heaven. Only one who dies in a state of grace can be in Purgatory, and therefore no one who is in Purgatory will remain there forever or go to Hell. Wikipedia

However, Protestant theology typically rejects the idea of Purgatory entirely.

What, then, is the Protestant argument against the doctrine of Purgatory?

share|improve this question
There is actually somewhat of a growing Protestant movement in favor of some kind of purgatory, but not the Roman Catholic brand. See for example rethinkinghell.com –  david brainerd Jun 15 at 3:36

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Protestants would consistently reject certain things connected to the doctrine of Purgatory. Regarding justification by faith alone: the fate of the dead should not be affected by their own suffering (Christ's atonement being sufficient) nor by the prayers and other works of the living. Moreover, Protestants would not believe in a role for the Church here - in granting indulgences and so forth. All of this comes from the "usual" Biblical basis for those Protestant doctrines, without specifically addressing Purgatory.

If Purgatory is seen only as a place where post-mortem sanctification happens, things are a bit murkier. That is, if we imagine it as merely a necessary cleansing step before dead people can enter heaven, then is there any Biblical argument against it? (Other than the lack of an explicit argument in favour, of course, as the Articles of Religion say: "a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture.")

Protestant thinkers have tended to argue that sanctification is completed or consummated by the moment of death. John Wesley, for example, taught that the perfection we seek in life is completed at "the instant of death, the moment before the soul leaves the body" (Brief thoughts on Christian perfection, 1767). If this is so, then there may be a "very brief transition from death to paradise" (The Last Things, Donald Bloesch, 2004) but not a prolonged period of transformation.

This is backed up by such Biblical references as 1 Corinthians 15, where the raising of the dead in their already-perfected bodies is essentially instantaneous, and Jesus' words to the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). N T Wright points to Romans 6:6 as indicating that the death of the body entails the death of sin (For all the saints? Remembering the Christian departed, 2004), and, more importantly, to Romans 8:38-39 for the vivid statement that nothing, even death, "can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord". Surely, he says, there is no separation for the saved after death.

However, these Biblical texts are not absolutely decisive about timescale. Perhaps time is not even a sensible concept here, as in more recent Catholic thought where specific periods of time are not mentioned (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 1967). But the objections to Purgatory as a place of punishment, and to indulgences remitting punishment, remain even if some kind of post-mortem transformative sanctification process is accepted.

share|improve this answer
+1 Excellent answer. In what way do Protestants argue against how the Early Church Fathers (paricularly Augustine/John Chrysostom) believed and taught the doctrine of Purgatory early on in the Church? cin.org/users/jgallegos/purg.htm scripturecatholic.com/purgatory.html –  Charles Alsobrook Aug 13 '13 at 16:34
@CharlesAlsobrook a representative passage is from Calvin's Institutes 3.5.10, "Whatever we meet with on this subject in ancient writers, was in deference to public custom and the ignorance of the vulgar. I admit they were themselves also carried away into error, the usual effect of rash credulity being to destroy the judgment. Meanwhile the passages themselves show, that when they recommended prayer for the dead it was with hesitation." –  James T Aug 13 '13 at 16:52
@JamesT gosh I wonder what passages Calvin had in mind? It takes only a moment with Google to find enthusiastic references to prayer for the dead in Augustine, and of course it is presented by Augustine as a practice "handed down by the Fathers". (I realize this comment thread is not an ideal forum for this discussion and would be happy to take it to chat, although I'm not entirely sure how to do that...) –  Ben Dunlap Aug 13 '13 at 18:18
@BenDunlap - I made a chat room: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/10116/purgatory –  James T Aug 13 '13 at 19:54

The main books of the Bible that support Purgatory are in, what protestants term, the Apocrypha, which means, to protestants, they are not considered Sacred Scripture, specifically 2 Macc 12:41-46, making atonement for the dead.

The fact that there is no direct reference to praying for the dead in the protestant bible, and drawing from what Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead," the conclusion is drawn that after death, if you have been saved, you are going to heaven, else, hell.

The basis of Purgatory from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 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:607 (954, 1472)

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.608

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: (958, 1371, 1479)

Let us help and commemorate them. 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.611

share|improve this answer
I want to give you the +1. But, I'd like to see a couple examples from the Apocrypha that support purgatory. Or perhaps the note(s) in the Catechism, Catholic Encyclopedia, or some Church document referring to Apocryphal books as primary source for the belief. –  svidgen Jan 3 '13 at 16:05
I didn't mean to, but does this come off as more of an argument for Purgatory? –  Drew Jan 3 '13 at 17:01
@Drew I didn't read it that way. However it makes it sound like only the protestants do not follow. –  user1054 Jan 3 '13 at 18:27
Should I change it to say "non-Catholic" where protestant is used? –  Drew Jan 3 '13 at 19:42
@Drew: I think the most important text that Catholics use to justify Purgatory is actually 1 Cor 3:10-15, which I have not seen discussed here. Paul seems to suggest that there is a purification after death based on the actions done in the present life: "If any man’s work is burned up [because it is not made of enduring materials], he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." Also, they would say, whether or not 2 Maccabees is canonical, it is a witness to the fact that mainstream Jews in the 2nd Century B.C. believed in a purification after death. –  AthanasiusOfAlex Jun 15 at 9:05

This doctrine of purgatory makes Jesus' sacrifice a failure. The scriptures say Jesus' atonement on the cross was complete for the atonement of sin.

1 John 1 says if we confess to Jesus we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. Not some but all - we do not need to be purified in purgatory! It blasphemy... salvation is not completed of yourself, your action or deeds.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to the site! This next has nothing to do with the quality of your answer, it's just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": the help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Jan 8 at 4:25

The reason that Protestants reject the concept of Purgatory lies in the fact that it is put forth in one of the books of the Apocrypha which is not a part of the King James, or most other protestant translations.

As a Protestant myself I cannot ascribe to any extra biblical concept, and I have an exceedingly hard time in paralleling that concept with many other Scriptures in the Protestant translations.

As far as which is the truest translation, and the one which is the primal authority, I leave that up to God.

It is my basic belief that the God I serve would not deny a place in Heaven; to anyone who truly believes that Jesus death on the cross gave them salvation, simply because they read the Bible differently than some others or that they decided to worship him in a different church.

As near as I can understand God is that he desires us to worship him, and no other God, but in that same spirit other than the model prayer, I find no specified ritual for worshipping him.

I sincerely expect that there will be mansions in Heaven for all denominations, otherwise I might be in the wrong one.

share|improve this answer

God purifies his sons and daughters (i.e. Christians)for them to continue in holiness (i.e.sanctification).This purification done by God and experienced by Christians is only for the present life and afterwards, the result of it which is peace ( fruit of righteousness) not pain ( for there is no more purification afterwards but only the result of it).

HEBREWS 12:4-11 (KJV) 4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. 5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: 6 for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

In fact, purification of all sins was done and experienced by only one person and his name is JESUS and that is why Christians can experienced the purification from God our Father(Hebrews 12:4-11). All of these is based on Hebrews 1:3. Also notice that the word "purgatory" came from this verse.

Hebrews 1:3(ESV) 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins^, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

^ Latin: purgationem peccatorum (purification for sins)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.