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?

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    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 Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 3:36
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    Please consider not using arguments like "Protestants reject the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory because salvation can't be incomplete", because that doctrine states that the people in Purgatory have been fully saved. So to speak, they're not sick any more, they don't need a doctor any longer, they're just doing some (painful) rehabilitation exercises. Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 12:22

9 Answers 9


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.

  • +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
    – user5286
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 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
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 16:52
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    @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
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 18:18
  • @BenDunlap - I made a chat room: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/10116/purgatory
    – James T
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 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

  • 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
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 16:05
  • I didn't mean to, but does this come off as more of an argument for Purgatory?
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 17:01
  • @Drew I didn't read it that way. However it makes it sound like only the protestants do not follow.
    – user1054
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 18:27
  • Should I change it to say "non-Catholic" where protestant is used?
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 19:42
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    @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. Commented Jun 15, 2014 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.


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.


The Roman Catholic doctrine also faces the charge of incoherence. I mean this : if we cannot enter heavenly perfection until our own short-comings are 'purged' away or duly punished ( through further pain or not , but what is painless punishment?!) then the whole concept of Indulgences by which the merits of others - supplementing Christ's inadequate Atonement!- does not logically cohere with this. As Romans decisively states DEATH cannot separate the Elect from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. Full Stop, no separation whatsoever. That is the essence of the Gospel and purgatory is a cruel undermining of this.

  • A Catholic would consider the fire of Purgatory to be the fire of God's love. So, to be in Purgatory is to be in God's love. Considering this, does Purgatory still undermine the verses of Romans to which you're referring?
    – qxn
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 15:43

What is the Protestant argument against the doctrine of Purgatory?

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

If salvation is partial, incomplete, or in need of some additional work, what Jesus did on the cross is insufficient.

To the extent that we need to perform some penance, endure some difficulty, earn some extra credit, get additional prayers, or purchase some indulgences, we start to earn our salvation.


Purgatory as a Roman Catholic doctrine is not a biblical understanding of the term. One must be born-again of the Spirit(see John 3:3 & 3:16-17), not water baptism, which does not save...Martin Luther struggled with that, but as he grew in Christ knew that infant or water baptism does not save. In brief: Christ Jesus IS our purgatory. One is personally saved by grace through faith as someone here has alreaady pointed out from Ephesians 2:8,9. Apostle Paul speaking against heresy of the Judaizers in Galatians 3:1 says, ..."who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth crucified among you?" Paul is saying that Christ is crucified for our sins-past, present, future. That is the glorious gospel, one must accept it, cannot work for it to receive it. Hebrews 1:3......(Christ) he by himself hath 'purged our sins,'sat down by the right hand of the Majesty on High; and Hebrews in 10:2..when worshippers once 'purged' should have no more conscience of sin. Then Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:24...who his own self (Christ) bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins, should live unto righeousness: by whose stripes ye are healed. (no flogging, he took your pain and suffering!) and finally Peter says in 2 Peter 1:9..."But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was 'purged' from his old sins." Jesus Christ is our Purgatory. When our Lord said on the cross Tetelesti "it is finished!" He paid it ALL.


Calvin devoted a section of the third volume* of his Institutes of Christian Religion to refuting the doctrine of purgatory, his method was to examine the scriptures used in support of the doctrine and explain why they had been incorrectly interpreted. The relevant passage is lengthy, but I reproduce it here in it's entirety, and the linked source gives the whole chapter that it is taken from which argues against indulgences as well.




(7.) ... We are bound, therefore, to raise our voice to its highest pitch, and cry aloud that purgatory is a deadly device of Satan; that it makes void the cross of Christ; that it offers intolerable insult to the divine mercy; that it undermines and overthrows our faith. For what is this purgatory but the satisfaction for sin paid after death by the souls of the dead? Hence when this idea of satisfaction is refuted, purgatory itself is forthwith completely overturned. But if it is perfectly clear, from what was lately said, that the blood of Christ is the only satisfaction, expiation, and cleansing for the sins of believers, what remains but to hold that purgatory is mere blasphemy, horrid blasphemy against Christ? I say nothing of the sacrilege by which it is daily defended, the offenses which it begets in religion, and the other innumerable evils which we see teeming forth from that fountain of impiety.

Those passages of Scripture on which it is their wont falsely and iniquitously to fasten, it may be worth while to wrench out of their hands. When the Lord declares that the sin against the Holy Ghost will not be forgiven either in this world or the world to come, he thereby intimates (they say) that there is a remission of certain sins hereafter. But who sees not that the Lord there speaks of the guilt of sin? But if this is so, what has it to do with their purgatory, seeing they deny not that the guilt of those sins, the punishment of which is there expiated, is forgiven in the present life? Lest, however, they should still object, we shall give a plainer solution. Since it was the Lord’s intention to cut off all hope of pardon from this flagitous wickedness, he did not consider it enough to say, that it would never be forgiven, but in the way of amplification employed a division by which he included both the judgment which every man’s conscience pronounces in the present life, and the final judgment which will be publicly pronounced at the resurrection; as if he had said, Beware of this malignant rebellion, as you would of instant destruction; for he who of set purpose endeavors to extinguish the offered light of the Spirit, shall not obtain pardon either in this life, which has been given to sinners for conversion, or on the last day when the angels of God shall separate the sheep from the goats, and the heavenly kingdom shall be purged of all that offends. The next passage they produce is the parable in Matthew: “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost earthing,” (Mt. 5:25, 26). If in this passage the judge means God, the adversary the devil, the officer an angel, and the prison purgatory, I give in at once. But if every man sees that Christ there intended to show to how many perils and evils those expose themselves who obstinately insist on their utmost right, instead of being satisfied with what is fair and equitable, that he might thereby the more strongly exhort his followers to concord, where, I ask, are we to find their purgatory?

(8.) They seek an argument in the passage in which Paul declares, that all things shall bow the knee to Christ, “things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth,” (Phil. 2:10). They take it for granted, that by “things under the earth,” cannot be meant those who are doomed to eternal damnation, and that the only remaining conclusion is, that they must be souls suffering in purgatory. They would not reason very ill if, by the bending of the knee, the Apostle designated true worship; but since he simply says that Christ has received a dominion to which all creatures are subject, what prevents us from understanding those “under the earth” to mean the devils, who shall certainly be sisted before the judgment-seat of God, there to recognize their Judge with fear and trembling? In this way Paul himself elsewhere interprets the same prophecy: “We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God,” (Rom. 14:10, 11). But we cannot in this way interpret what is said in the Apocalypse: “Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever,” (Rev. 5:13). This I readily admit; but what kinds of creatures do they suppose are here enumerated? It is absolutely certain, that both irrational and inanimate creatures are comprehended. All, then, which is affirmed is, that every part of the universe, from the highest pinnacle of heaven to the very centre of the earth, each in its own way proclaims the glory of the Creator.

To the passage which they produce from the history of the Maccabees (1 Macc. 12:43), I will not deign to reply, lest I should seem to include that work among the canonical books. But Augustine holds it to be canonical. First, with what degree of confidence? “The Jews,” says he, “do not hold the book of the Maccabees as they do the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, to which the Lord bears testimony as to his own witnesses, saying, Ought not all things which are written in the Law, and the Psalms, and the Prophets, concerning me be fulfilled? (Luke 24:44). But it has been received by the Church not uselessly, if it be read or heard with soberness.” Jerome, however, unhesitatingly affirms, that it is of no authority in establishing doctrine; and from the ancient little book, De Expositione Symboli; which bears the name of Cyprian, it is plain that it was in no estimation in the ancient Church. And why do I here contend in vain? As if the author himself did not sufficiently show what degree of deference is to be paid him, when in the end he asks pardon for any thing less properly expressed (2 Macc. 15:38). He who confesses that his writings stand in need of pardon, certainly proclaims that they are not oracles of the Holy Spirit. We may add, that the piety of Judas is commended for no other reason than for having a firm hope of the final resurrection, in sending his oblation for the dead to Jerusalem. For the writer of the history does not represent what he did as furnishing the price of redemption, but merely that they might be partakers of eternal life, with the other saints who had fallen for their country and religion. The act, indeed, was not free from superstition and misguided zeal; but it is mere fatuity to extend the legal sacrifice to us, seeing we are assured that the sacrifices then in use ceased on the advent of Christ.

(9.) But, it seems, they find in Paul an invincible support, which cannot be so easily overthrown. His words are, “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire,” (1 Cor. 3:12-15). What fire (they ask) can that be but the fire of purgatory, by which the defilements of sin are wiped away, in order that we may enter pure into the kingdom of God? But most of the Fathers give it a different meaning—viz. the tribulation or cross by which the Lord tries his people, that they may not rest satisfied with the defilements of the flesh. This is much more probable than the fiction of a purgatory. I do not, however, agree with them, for I think I see a much surer and clearer meaning to the passage. But, before I produce it, I wish they would answer me, whether they think the Apostle and all the saints have to pass through this purgatorial fire? I am aware they will say, no; for it were too absurd to hold that purification is required by those whose superfluous merits they dream of as applicable to all the members of the Church. But this the Apostle affirms; for he says, not that the works of certain persons, but the works of all will be tried. And this is not my argument, but that of Augustine, who thus impugns that interpretation.382 And (what makes the thing more absurd) he says, not that they will pass through fire for certain works, but that even if they should have edified the Church with the greatest fidelity, they will receive their reward after their works shall have been tried by fire. First, we see that the Apostle used a metaphor when he gave the names of wood, hay, and stubble, to doctrines of man’s device. The ground of the metaphor is obvious—viz. that as wood when it is put into the fire is consumed and destroyed, so neither will those doctrines be able to endure when they come to be tried. Moreover, every one sees that the trial is made by the Spirit of God. Therefore, in following out the thread of the metaphor, and adapting its parts properly to each other, he gave the name of fire to the examination of the Holy Spirit. For, just as silver and gold, the nearer they are brought to the fire, give stronger proof of their genuineness and purity, so the Lord’s truth, the more thoroughly it is submitted to spiritual examination, has its authority the better confirmed. As hay, wood, and stubble, when the fire is applied to them, are suddenly consumed, so the inventions of man, not founded on the word of God, cannot stand the trial of the Holy Spirit, but forthwith give way and perish. In fine, if spurious doctrines are compared to wood, hay, and stubble, because, like wood, hay, and stubble, they are burned by fire and fitted for destruction, though the actual destruction is only completed by the Spirit of the Lord, it follows that the Spirit is that fire by which they will be proved. This proof Paul calls the day of the Lord; using a term common in Scripture. For the day of the Lord is said to take place whenever he in some way manifests his presence to men, his face being specially said to shine when his truth is manifested. It has now been proved, that Paul has no idea of any other fire than the trial of the Holy Spirit. But how are those who suffer the loss of their works saved by fire? This it will not be difficult to understand, if we consider of what kind of persons he speaks. For he designates them builders of the Church, who, retaining the proper foundation, build different materials upon it; that is, who, not abandoning the principal and necessary articles of faith, err in minor and less perilous matters, mingling their own fictions with the word of God. Such, I say, must suffer the loss of their work by the destruction of their fictions. They themselves, however, are saved, yet so as by fire; that is, not that their ignorance and delusions are approved by the Lord, but they are purified from them by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. All those, accordingly, who have tainted the golden purity of the divine word with the pollution of purgatory must necessarily suffer the loss of their work.

(10.) But the observance of it in the Church is of the highest antiquity. This objection is disposed of by Paul, when, including even his own age in the sentence, he declares, that all who in building the Church have laid upon it something not conformable to the foundation, must suffer the loss of their work. When, therefore, my opponents object, that it has been the practice for thirteen hundred years to offer prayers for the dead, I, in return, ask them, by what word of God, by what revelation, by what example it was done? For here not only are passages of Scripture wanting, but in the examples of all the saints of whom we read, nothing of the kind is seen. We have numerous, and sometimes long narratives, of their mourning and sepulchral rites, but not one word is said of prayers. But the more important the matter was, the more they ought to have dwelt upon it. Even those who in ancient times offered prayers for the dead, saw that they were not supported by the command of God and legitimate example. Why then did they presume to do it? I hold that herein they suffered the common lot of man, and therefore maintain, that what they did is not to be imitated. Believers ought not to engage in any work without a firm conviction of its propriety, as Paul enjoins (Rom. 14:23); and this conviction is expressly requisite in prayer. It is to be presumed, however, that they were influenced by some reason; they sought a solace for their sorrow, and it seemed cruel not to give some attestation of their love to the dead, when in the presence of God. All know by experience how natural it is for the human mind thus to feel.

Received custom too was a kind of torch, by which the minds of many were inflamed. We know that among all the Gentiles, and in all ages, certain rites were paid to the dead, and that every year lustrations were performed for their manes. Although Satan deluded foolish mortals by these impostures, yet the means of deceiving were borrowed from a sound principle—viz. that death is not destruction, but a passages from this life to another. And there can be no doubt that superstition itself always left the Gentiles without excuse before the judgment-seat of God, because they neglected to prepare for that future life which they professed to believe. Thus, that Christians might not seem worse than heathens, they felt ashamed of paying no office to the dead, as if they had been utterly annihilated. Hence their ill advised assiduity; because they thought they would expose themselves to great disgrace, if they were slow in providing funeral feasts and oblations. What was thus introduced by perverse rivalship, ever and anon received new additions, until the highest holiness of the Papacy consisted in giving assistance to the suffering dead. But far better and more solid comfort is furnished by scripture when it declares, “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord;” and adds the reason, “for they rest from their labors,” (Rev. 14:13). ...



There is No Interim State To Pay For Temporal Punishment.

Catholicism teaches that temporal punishment is not only payable on earth but also in purgatory (source). In other words, what Catholicism teaches is that a believer can pay temporal punishment on earth while being away from the earth.

However, Jesus Christ himself made distinction between earthly dues and heavenly dues.

Mark 12:17 (NASB)

And Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at Him.

What this shows is that we can only experience temporal punishment (the inexorable consequence of our sins) on earth and that any punishment in the afterlife is explicitly identified in scripture as 'hell fire' (Matthew 5:22 cf. Revelation 20:14).Thus, there is no temporal punishment in the an interim state in the afterlife.

Matthew 28:27 highly implies that God paid our temporal punishments. Therefore, there is no need for us to experience purgatory in the afterlife.

Matthew 28:23-27 (NASB)

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.“When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25“But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.


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