Where is Purgatory mentioned in the Bible?
By Thomas Westen
This answer to this question does not require a treatise on Purgatory. For a discussion of this subject, we refer the reader to our free pamphlet “WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DEATH?” Perhaps no one point of Catholic belief is so widely misunderstood and misrepresented as this one, and it will pay anyone interested in the facts to procure this pamphlet.
However, before we go looking for Purgatory in the Bible, it is wise to have the right notion of what we are looking for.
The Catholic Church believes, on the ‘authority of God revealing, that there is a state after death which is commonly called Purgatory. This was not always the name used. For many centuries in the early history of the Church, it was called the darksome way”, “a place of sighs and tears”, “a place of cleansing flames”, “a place of transitory fire and purgatorial punishment”. Finally, in the Thirteenth Century, the name “Purgatory”, which is most appropriate, obtained common and established usage.
Catholics are required to believe only two things about Purgatory. First, we believe that they go to Purgatory who have died free from serious sins and are the friends of God and who have, therefore, saved their souls, but who have not, during life, completely met all the requirements of an all-merciful, an all-just God, Who holds us responsible for all our sins.
We also believe that the prayers of the living, especially those which we offer through Christ in the Sacrifice of the Mass, can move God to be merciful to people in Purgatory.
Now, the question is do we find this in the Bible? The answer will be found in the 13th Chapter of the Second Book of Machabees in the Old Testament. On the day after his victory over Gorgias, the governor of Idumea, Judas Machabeus, the leader of the Jews, together with his company discovered under the tunics of the Jewish soldiers who were slain in battle, valuables which had been taken as plunder from the temple of idols in jamnia. This was contrary to the law of the Jews (Deut. 7:26) and Judas and his men considered their death to be a punishment from God.
The inspired author goes on to say: “Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord who had discovered the things that were hidden.
“And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten.
“But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin for as much as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain. And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection.
“(For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead). And because he considered that they, who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.
“It is therefore a holy and whole-some thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”
Several important points should not go unnoticed in this passage.
1. After the unlawful plunder was found on the soldiers, their Jewish kinsmen, gathered in private prayer for the fallen soldiers that their sin “might be effaced from the mind of God”.
2. Thereafter a public sacrifice of expiation (Lev. 4:2-35) was offered in the temple in order to satisfy for their sins and to assure the dead soldiers divine -absolution from their sins.
3. These sins had not robbed them of godliness, else it would have been’ vain to pray with hope in their future resurrection. Yet prayer was offered to the just and merciful God. And it was expedient to offer public sacrifice in satisfaction for their sins even though they had saved their souls.
4. From all of which the inspired author concluded, no longer speaking of Judas and the dead soldiers in particular, but of the dead in general— no longer speaking of particular sins of transgressing the Law which these soldiers committed, but of any sins—no longer approving of the prayer of Judas and his men only, but recommending it to everyone: “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins”.
It is impossible to understand how the Bible could mention the Catholic belief in Purgatory more clearly than this.
Judas Machabeus did not doubt the future resurrection of the fallen soldiers. But their future resurrection was nonetheless affected by the sins committed in the pillage of jamnia. They would one day rise again and would enjoy the recompense of those who slept in the Lord or prayer for them would have been in vain. But beforehand they needed to be freed from their sins by public sacrifice in the temple.
It must be admitted that in the thought of the inspired writer, these soldiers were not lost forever. At the same time, due to their sins, they did not enjoy the great grace that was laid up for them. They were clearly in a state in which they needed to be loosed from their sins and in which they could be helped by the prayers of the living. And the Bible recommends the whole idea to everyone.
By this time, the reader may have thumbed through his Bible, only to discover that the Second Book of Machabees and this whole passage is nowhere to be found. He may ask: Why isn’t it there?
That is a good question. It happens to be a question that anyone whose Bible does not contain this Book should not only ask himself, but should also take steps to settle to his own satisfaction. Too many accept without question the well-bound, well-printed volume with the title “Holy Bible” on the cover in gold letters as the teal thing. But is it? How do they know? Why don’t they find out?
There have always been those who did not hesitate to tamper with the Scriptures. Passages have been rephrased to it their preconceived ideas and opinions, words have been inserted and others conveniently omitted—in fact, whole books have been eliminated—for the same purpose.
Catholics have no trouble in answering the question “What is the genuine and complete Bible?” Well aware of the danger after centuries a experience with spurious Bibles, the Church insists that all — clergy and laymen alike — use only those versions of the Bible which have been carefully checked with the oldest and most authentic versions available to Scripture scholars over a period of nineteen centuries.
The question of why various books or portions were removed from the Bible has been discussed in our free pamphlet “BUT DO YOU REALLY UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE?” and will not be considered here. However, in settling the question of why the Second Book of Machabees was removed from the list of inspired books which make up the Bible, two other questions must be faced by every sincere Christian.
Why do you find the Christians of earliest Christian times using this Book as part of God’s inspired word? It is something more than coincidence that in the Epistle to the Hebrews, there seems to be remarkable allusion (11:35-36) to the suffering of Eleazar and the seven brothers (II Mach. 6: 19-28).
In the second century after Christ, the Pastor of Hernias (140-154 A.D.) refers to II Mach. (7:23) in speaking of “God who created the world” (Vision Is 3, 4). Later, about 235 AD., Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian (258 A.D.) speak of the book. Hippolytus of Rome (255 A.D.) used the book in his commentary on the Scripture as also did Origen (352 A.D.).
Thus in all parts of the Church — in the East and in the West — this book was received by the early Christians. And it seems obvious that if this book was part of the Scriptures then, it still is and should be today.
Why was this book removed from the list of inspired books and who excluded it from some Bibles?
The pioneer was Martin Luther. In the disputation of Leipsig, he was pressed by John Eck to declare if he still believed in Purgatory. He responded that “in truth, in all
of scripture, there is not one word on the subject”. When the passage, of the Second Book of Machabees was proposed as evidence, he simply rejected the whole thing by rejecting the two Books of Machabees having been erroneously placed on the list of inspired Scriptures. He did not believe in Purgatory or the value of prayers for the dead, so the Books of Machabees had to go!
This article “Where is Purgatory Mentioned in the Bible” written by Thomas Westen is excerpted from Knights of Columbus tract #43.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”