No Scriptural reference for purgatory?
Catholic teaching on purgatory is one of the stumbling blocks for Protestants and “Bible only” Christians. Where does the Bible say there is purgatory and does it nullify Christ’ last word on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30)? The word “purgatory” itself is not in the Bible – but neither is Trinity, Original Sin and many other terms created by both Catholics and Protestants to describe certain teaching: Unconditional or Conditional Election, Irresistible Grace, Dispensational etc.
The standard reference to purgatory is 2 Maccabees 12:46 where prayer for the dead is mentioned but since Protestants and “Bible only” Christians do not accept 2 Maccabees as inspired let us look at other verses. We know from Scripture (Malachi 3:2-3) that God is like refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap who purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver (RSV) – and that’s what purgatory is meant for, i.e. we are being cleansed and purified from any stains of venial sins we have. When prophet Isaiah saw the glory of God, he expressed his sinfulness (Isaiah 6:5). One of seraphim then flew to him with a burning coal in his hand, with which he touched his lips and said:
Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven
This verse shows that sins can be forgiven and guilt can be taken away through fire. We also have allusion of purgatory in the prophecy given through the prophet Zechariah:
In the whole land, says the LORD, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, `They are my people’; and they will say, `The LORD is my God.'”
The fire does not refer to hell because they are refined, not eternally condemned through it. Another allusion to the fire of purgatory is found in 1 Corinthians 3:15 that say that a man whose works is burned up will be saved as through fire. In Matthew 12:32 Jesus says those who sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come. Catholics understand this verse to imply that there are sins that can be forgiven in the age to come. He who commits sin is of the devil (1 John 3:8) and nothing unclean shall enter heaven (Revelation 21:27) – then one with (venial) sins upon dying cannot enter heaven unless they are purged first.