Catholicism differs in many respects from Biblical Christianity, including its belief in Purgatory. The Catholic church defines Purgatory as “a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating (i.e., atoning for) their sins before going to Heaven.” Catholicism teaches that even one unconfessed mortal (i.e., major) sin on the soul dooms a person to Hell, while venial (i.e., small) sins or any residual temporal punishment remaining after confession must be expiated in Purgatory. However, references to Purgatory can neither be found explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. Catholic apologists, of course, argue that the doctrine is based on Scripture.
The other day I was listening to my daily dose of Catholic talk radio via the “Called to Communion” radio show with host David Anders and a listener called in asking where Purgatory could be found in the Bible. Anders responded by saying the doctrine of Purgatory and praying for the dead can be found in 2 Maccabees 12:38-46. See here.
While the Roman Catholic church accepts 2 Maccabees and the other books of the Apocrypha (1 and 2 Maccabees, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon), Baruch, Tobit, Judith, and additions to Daniel and Esther) as Scripture, the Jews of ancient Israel never embraced those materials as Scripture and, likewise, Jesus and the Apostles never quoted from them. Besides, the dead soldiers cited in the passage had been participating in gross idolatry, a “mortal” sin according to Catholic dogma, so they would have been disqualified from Purgatory anyway.
But wait! Anders also claimed the apostle, Paul, refers to Purgatory in 2 Timothy 1:16-18. Let’s take a look at that passage:
“16) May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, 17) but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— 18) may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.”
But is this passage referring to Purgatory? Let’s look at John MacArthur’s exegesis of this passage from “The MacArthur Bible Commentary,” 2005, p. 1805:
1:16 Onesiphorus. One of Paul’s loyal coworkers who had not deserted Paul, but befriended him in prison and was not ashamed or afraid to visit the apostle there regularly and minister to his needs. Since Paul asks Timothy to greet those in his house (4:19), the family obviously lived in or near Ephesus.
1:17 when he arrived in Rome. Onesiphorus was perhaps on a business trip, and the text implies that his search involved time, effort, and possibly even danger.
Catholicism errs greatly by confusing the judgement seat of Christ (the Bema Seat), where the works of saved believers will be judged, with the Great White Throne Judgement where the unsaved will be judged in their sins and condemned to Hell.
Claiming from 2 Timothy 1:16-18 that Onesiphorus is dead and in Purgatory and that Paul is praying for him is forcing-a-square-peg-through-a-round-hole eisegesis. Onesiphorus was alive at the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy and the apostle was praying that Onesiphorus be rewarded at the Bema Seat for his service and was also praying for his family back in Ephesus for their sacrifice in his absence.
Over the centuries, Rome, with its works gospel of sacramental grace and merit, created an elaborate system with regards to Purgatory involving indulgences, the church’s treasury of merit, and prayers for the dead. But believers know that God’s Word mentions only two afterlife destinations for the dead; Heaven and Hell.
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” – 2 Cor. 5:6-8
There is no “middle place” for the punishment of small sins. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” – James 2:10. Purgatory is a man-made creation meant as a “safety net” for credulous works religionists. There is only Heaven and Hell. We are all sinners and none of us can merit Heaven. Repent of your sin and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone.
What does the Bible say about Purgatory?