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The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory Is Unbiblical

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         -This article serves as a rebuttal to a Roman Catholic publication defending Purgatory, and provides some historical background information as to how the doctrine came to be in its present form. The first three quotations found in this article are from the post being critiqued.

        "The first mention of Purgatory in the Bible is in 2 Maccabees 12:46: “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from sin.”

        First of all, this passage does not actually say anything about the Roman Catholic dogma of Purgatory. It is simply the recording of a historical event. The author of the article being critiqued has to superimpose an interpretation on to the apocryphal text. Furthermore, 2 Maccabees 12:39-46 contradicts itself. How could the warriors spoken of in context die in a state of godliness when they were struck down by God because of their idolatry?

        "In Matthew 5:26 and Luke 12:59 Christ is condemning sin and speaks of liberation only after expiation."

        The context of both passages warns against pride and hypocrisy. The context plainly shows that eternal condemnation is in view here. Jesus Christ was addressing the religious leaders of His day. If Matthew 5:26 and Luke 12:59 refers to Purgatory, then we must ask who the judge is? Who is the officer? And what is the prison that Jesus speaks of?

        "Revelation 21:27: “…but nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who does abominable things or tells lies.” The place that is to be entered (the place to which this passage refers) is heaven (read the text around it for context)."

       This verse says nothing about final purification after death. This verse says nothing about us making amends for our own sin. It is clearly speaking of the unsaved people (i.e. those names not written in the Lamb's Book of Life). God can instantly cleanse believers at the moment of physical death, thereby making Purgatory unnecessary.

        So, what is the origin of Purgatory? It certainly cannot be found in either the Old or New Testaments. Proto-versions of the concept can be found in ancient pagan religions. Proto-versions of the concept are found in Greco-Roman writings, especially that of Plato and Virgil. But we never see sacrifices for or the offering of prayers on behalf of the dead being prescribed by the Book of the Law. Consequently, foreign ideas were synchronized with Judaism. But how did the idea of Purgatory make its way into Christianity? According to Loraine Boettner in an article titled Immortality: The Intermediate State:

        "In the early Christian era, following the Apostolic age, the writings of Marcion and the Shepherd of Hermas (second century) set forth the first statement of a doctrine of purgatory, alleging that Christ after His death on the cross went to the underworld and preached to the spirits in prison (I Peter 3:19) and led them in triumph to heaven. Prayers for the dead appear in the early Christian liturgies and imply the doctrine since they suggest that the state of the dead is not yet fixed. Origen, the most learned of the early church fathers (died, 254 A. D.), taught, first, that a purification by fire was to take place after the resurrection, and second, a universal restoration, a purifying fire at the end of the world through which all men and angels were to be restored to favor with God. The priestly conception of the Christian ministry was introduced probably as early as 200 A. D., and with it came the idea that the sacrament of the mass availed for the dead."

        Some Eastern Orthodox sources, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate, consider Purgatory to be among:

        "inter-correlated theories, unwitnessed in the Bible or in the Ancient Church” that are not acceptable within Orthodox doctrine, and hold to a “condition of waiting” as a more apt description of the period after death for those not borne directly to heaven. This waiting condition does not imply purification, which they see as being linked to the idea “there is no hope of repentance or betterment after death.” Prayers for the dead, then, are simply to comfort those in the waiting place."

        The Roman bishop Gregory the Great is believed to have played a key role in the acceptance and development of Purgatory during the Medieval period:

        "Much, however, in Gregory fouls the sweetness of his instruction and his orthodoxy. As indicated, his allegory at time passes the bounds of outrageousness. Medieval interpretation suffered; formalization of his method closed Scripture to the laity. His credulous acceptance of stories of miracles performed by relics of the saints, sometimes of comical proportions and sometimes like the horror gimmicks of a slasher movie, helped create the massive burden of the medieval penitential system. Add to this his acceptance of the intercession of departed saints, his belief in the efficacy of masses for the dead, his anecdotal exposition of a state of purgatory, and his belief in the merits of pious works and a concoction alien to the biblical Gospel emerges. If for centuries Augustine of Hippo was read through the eyes of Gregory, it is no wonder that rediscoveries of the evangelical Augustine created such consternation in the sixteenth century." 

        The idea of indulgences is based on Purgatory, and abuses within the Roman Catholic Church during the sixteenth century led up to the Protestant Reformation. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

        "While reasserting the place of indulgences in the salvific process, the Council of Trent condemned “all base gain for securing indulgences” in 1563, and Pope Pius V abolished the sale of indulgences in 1567. The system and its underlying theology otherwise remained intact. Exactly 400 years later, in 1967, Pope Paul VI modified it by shifting the stress away from the satisfaction of punishment to the inducement of good works, greatly reducing the number of plenary indulgences and eliminating the numerical system associated for so long with partial indulgences."

        The entire notion of doing good works in order to merit the grace of God runs contrary to Scripture. The sophisticated sacramental system of justification that the Roman Catholic Church imposes on its followers is a perversion of the simple gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. His shed blood is a foundational theme of the New Testament (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Colossians 1:14; 2:13-14). With that being said, salvation is a free gift of God (Romans 3:21-26; Ephesians 2:8-9). His grace is unmerited. His grace is not something that we deserve. Jesus is our propitiation. We have peace with God by faith, not works (Romans 5:1-10). The idea that we can make amends for our own sin or for the sins of other people in the sight of God undermines the sufficiency of Christ's atonement sacrifice. To suggest that we must pay the penalty for sin even after it has been pardoned by God diminishes the efficacy of His atonement. That is a terribly inadequate and inconsistent view of forgiveness.

        Annually, thousands of Roman Catholics give money for Masses to be said for their deceased loved ones. Thus, we see how Purgatory makes God a respecter of persons (which contradicts biblical teaching). Wealthier individuals can have more prayers and Masses said and so faster enter into heaven than those who are poorer. It wrongfully portrays God as judging on the basis of external factors rather than the heart. There is a purification process for believers on earth, which is through the blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:13-14). We are "complete" in Him (Colossians 2:10). There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1). This Roman Catholic dogma being critiqued puts people into a state of fear and uncertainty. How long does a person have to wait in Purgatory? How many prayers and Masses need to be said in order to get somebody out of Purgatory? If the Roman Catholic hierarchy is so generous, then how come it does not simply conduct all these Masses for free to get people out of that intermediate state? The doctrine is a travesty of the gospel. Purgatory is contrary to everything that the Bible says about salvation. The tradition is based on creative speculation.


This post first appeared on Rational Christian Discernment, please read the originial post: here

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The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory Is Unbiblical

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