Purging Purgatory from “Biblical” Teaching

In his outstanding book, The Unquenchable Flame, Michael Reeves writes in detail about the medieval (and, sadly, modern) unbiblical belief that salvation could/can be earned by human effort.  He writes,

“In 1215, the fourth Lateran Council came up with what it hoped would be a useful aid for all those seeking to be ‘justified’ (to be in right standing before a holy God):  it required all Christians (on pain of eternal damnation) to confess their sins regularly to a priest. [This introduced the idea of “human effort” being required for salvation.]… Of course, the [medieval] Church’s official teaching was quite clear that nobody would die righteous enough to have merited salvation fully. But that was no cause for great alarm, for there was always purgatory.”

These are satanic lies used to imprison people in earthly religious legalism.  Paul wrote, “He made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God [that is, we would be made acceptable to Him and placed in a right relationship with Him by His gracious lovingkindness].”  (2 Corinthians 5:21, Amplified)   Translation:  we are righteous before God not because of what we have done, but rather because of what Christ has done.

Additionally, as I have shown recently in our Biblical studies on the afterlife, there is no scriptural evidence whatsoever for an “intermediate state” – this would include purgatory – between life on planet earth and life in what the Bible calls heaven and hell.

Whether it’s Jesus’ story of the rich man & Lazarus or Paul’s encouraging words to the Corinthian believers or the warning from the writer of Hebrews or Jesus’ own words to the repentant thief on the cross, the overwhelming and consistent testimony of God’s Word is that the afterlife is both immediate and eternal.


One of the schools of thought regarding the afterlife was introduced into religious life during medieval times.  This idea known as purgatory still endures today in some religious circles.

The idea of purgatory was the diametric-opposite-teaching-of-the-gospel idea that taught we must spend time in an intermediate place of suffering in order to have our sins “purged” from our souls, finally being liberated to the true heaven.  This was a man-made doctrine used to deceive the biblically illiterate into believing that if they performed enough via human effort or, even better, gave enough money to the church, they could magically spend less time (thousand – or millions – of years) in Purgatory, or bypass it altogether.

Reeves offers further insight…

Unless Christians died unrepentant of a mortal sin such as murder (in which case they would go to hell; this, by the way is where the purely unbiblical lie originated that those who commit suicide go to hell), they would have the chance after death to have all their sins slowly purged from them in purgatory before entering heaven, fully cleansed. Around the end of the fifteenth century, Catherine of Genoa wrote a Treatise on Purgatory in which she described it in glowing terms. There, she explained, the souls relish and embrace their chastisements because of their desire to be purged and purified for God.

As this corrupt doctrine became more successful in filling church coffers (why merely ask people to give out of the goodness of their hearts when scaring them to death with heretical teaching is far more effective?) the idea was eventually  introduced that, if you give enough money (called an “idulgence”) you could fast-track your dead loved ones presently suffering in Purgatory out of that painful place into heaven.

One of the Church’s official “traveling televangelists of indulgences” of the day, Johann Tetzel, made famous the marketing slogan, “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

Eric Metaxas, in his recently published best-selling biography on Martin Luther comments,

This tremendous problem (of heretical teaching) and temptation (to profit from these lies) got much worse in 1476, when Pope Sixtus IV realized that the market for indulgences needn’t be confined to those millions who were alive and sinning but could extend to those multiplied millions who had already left the land of the living and were languishing in purgatory. We can only imagine the moment when Sixtus realized that as pope he was able to decree that the infinite treasury of merits could be sold not just for sins committed by people living but to people who wanted to use them to alleviate the sufferings of their relatives in purgatory.

Reeves writes that, due to the overwhelming fear-induced success of the teaching of a fictional place called Purgatory, “an entire purgatory industry evolved.”

Two truths here.  According to the Bible:

  1. There is no “intermediate state” between life on earth and the afterlife.
  2. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  To teach otherwise lessens and negates altogether the all-sufficient work of Christ on the cross at Calvary.

The 16th century reformer, John Calvin, did not mince words:

“Purgatory is a deadly fiction of Satan, which nullifies the cross of Christ, inflicts unbearable contempt upon God’s mercy, and over turns and destroys our faith.”

Jesus has been, and always will be, enough.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick