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Where Is Purgatory Mentioned in the Bible?


A caller who lives in a predominantly Lutheran area says she is often asked by her non-Catholic neighbors about a particular Catholic teaching they don’t understand: “I get the question all the time, ‘Where do you get the idea for purgatory from?’ And I actually have no idea. I believe in it as part of my faith, but I have no idea where it comes from.”

Father Dave makes the question more specific: “Well, when you say ‘where does it come from,’ somebody coming from another tradition that would not put the value on the Catholic Church’s sacred tradition would often mean by that, ‘Where in the Bible does it come from?’ Is that what you mean?”

The caller affirms that yes, she would like to know where in the Bible can she find the notion of purgatory. Father Dave responds: “There’s a lot of stuff in our faith that’s not in the Bible. You can’t find the Assumption in the Bible [either] … So, the building blocks of our response to questions like that, including this one, is that … Jesus promised when he left that he would give us the Holy Spirit to teach and remind us of things. So, we actually believe that in these 2,000 years, it is quite okay for there to be things and teachings in the deposit of faith that are found absolutely, positively nowhere explicitly in the Bible …”

Father Dave also gives a counter argument to support this stance, given that the caller is coming from a predominantly Lutheran community: “Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Martin Luther’s notion that we translate into Latin — ‘sola scriptura’ — meaning scripture alone, the only thing that we need is Scripture alone. Ironically, that concept in and of itself is not found in the Bible.”

RELATED: Is Purgatory Mentioned in the Bible?

Next, Father Dave explains what purgatory is and how Catholics arrived at our understanding of it: “In the case of purgatory, one of the basic notions that’s associated with purgatory is praying for people that have already died. So that doesn’t make sense in a Christian theology that doesn’t have something like purgatory because at the moment of death you either go up or you go down. And if you go down — we do see this in the Scriptures — it says there’s a great chasm, and there’s no going from one to the other. [But] we do actually see the notion of praying for people after they’ve died in the Scriptures … in both the Old Testament and even shades in the New Testament. [We see the concept of] praying for [those who have died] to be assisted, for them to move to that next phase … [So, we deduce that] if we’re praying for people after they’ve died, there must be something other than just a binary choice instantaneously at the moment of death. There must be some reason to be praying for people to be making that transition from what we call purgatory into the heavenly realms with God.”

Father Dave gives an analogy about why purgatory might exist: “If you go into Staples and steal a printer, and then an hour later you think, ‘Oh, that might have been wrong’ and bring it back, you can’t just walk back in and have the Staples manager say, ‘Cool, we were hoping you’d bring that back.’ He then calls the police. So, just kind of making amends or having forgiveness for the sin is not all there is. So, the notion of purgatory is that even sins that have been forgiven and absolved in our lifetime have still left behind scars and damage to us as human people. And purgatory is that time, that space when we are purified of what has been left behind — the scars, the human remnants of our sins.” (Original Air 05-31-17)