The Catholic Encyclopedia defines purgatory as “a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.” This concept is like a place for people not bad enough for hell, but not yet good enough for heaven. The Bible, however, does not speak of anything like purgatory at all.
The Bible is very explicit in what happens immediately after death: “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing ” (Ecclesiastes 9:5 Ecclesiastes 9:5For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
American King James Version×, emphasis added). According to the Bible, there is no immortal soul that is whisked off to an eternity in heaven, hell or purgatory—there is only unconsciousness until the resurrections following Jesus Christ’s return to the earth (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
American King James Version×; Revelation 20:12-13 Revelation 20:12-13 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
American King James Version×).
The concept of purgatory also clashes with biblical truth in its assertion that sins can be erased through punishing the sinner. No such idea exists in the pages of the Bible, which contends that only the death of our Savior pays the penalty for sin (Acts 4:12 Acts 4:12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
American King James Version×; Romans 5:8 Romans 5:8But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
American King James Version×). Scripture also teaches that there are no minor sins (James 2:10 James 2:10For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
American King James Version×). Sins cannot be purged by cruel punishment, but they can be forgiven and overcome with the help of a loving Creator.
What about those who die without ever having had an opportunity to repent of their sins? That is likely the reason some hope in the unbiblical doctrine of purgatory. God intends to give everyone an opportunity for salvation, as we explain in What Happens After Death?