Does it exist ? Or not ? Or does it even matter ?

As a result of another thread on Ldstalk, the discussion somehow got to the concept of “Purgatory”. As an ex-Roman Catholic, I have somewhat of an understanding of the doctrine of purgatory and over the years I have found it hard to discuss this with my friends and family back home. When prompted if I would write a small blog entry on the topic, I volunteered and this is the result.

Webster’s defines purgatory as

1: an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification specif : a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God’s grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven

2: a place or state of temporary suffering or misery

So is it only a “Roman Catholic” concept ? Or do others have something similar ? What about the Mormon concept of “eternal progression” which, as I understand it, continues after death ?

It is true that the word “purgatory” does not appear in the Scripture itself. But neither does the word “trinity” and yet we firmly adhere to that. One can make the argument that there are sufficient scripture passages that imply the existence of the Trinity, or even that the whole Bible speaks to the Trinity, and hence we accept it as being a solid part of our faith. However, the thought in itself really surfaced in the writing of our early Church fathers. And btw. I do adhere and believe in the Trinity quite firmly 😉

Evidence for purgatory is, granted, a lot more circumstantial in scripture. Paul mentions those that “have fallen asleep”, mainly in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15. Strictly in the gospels, the only reference I could find is this:

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, (Mt 27:52).

All this is suggesting a state in between death and the bodily resurrection. But what is this state ?

Since there is little clarity in the Scriptures themselves, I would like to look to some other elements that form the foundation of our Christian faith, so let us consider the same writing of the same early Church Fathers that discoursed on the nature of the Trinity.

Augustine in Chapter 21 of City of God mentions

“temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But of those who suffer temporary punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgment”.

Gregory of Nyssa in “Sermon on the Dead” says

“When he has quitted his body and the difference between virtue and vice is known he cannot approach God till the purging fire shall have cleansed the stains with which his soul was infested.”

Tertullian wrote in the “Treatise of the Soul”:

“You have a treatise by us, De Paradiso (on Paradise), in which we have established the position that every soul is detained in safe keeping in Hades until the day of the Lord.”.

Unfortunately we don’t have an extant copy of his “De Paradiso” treatise, leaving us to guess what it may contain as other explanations.

Logically one can say that the since the final judgment and the bodily resurrection have not yet taken place, and the believers in Christ have “fallen asleep” as Paul teaches, the “souls” of the believers have to be somewhere. The question is where ?

I’m not indicating I have a strong belief in purgatory. I think it is one of those elements of our faith that is peripheral and one can argue about pro or con, without one claiming the other to be “the real Christian” because or in spite of what they believe. Yet with my background it is a subject I find hard to grasp and categorically denounce.

How about you ? Do you believe in its existence ? And if so, why ? If you do not, do you think we are not giving justice to the Early Church Fathers who gave us so much ? Do you believe there is a state after death during which the “final judgment” can be influenced or changed ? Or does it matter at all ?

In Him



  1. There is no doubt that there is a purgatory (Hell) for which souls are kept until the final judgment. The question is who are the souls that are kept there? Non-Christians only, Combination of Non Christians and Christians who backslid or had only a little faith? The Baptists use the thief on the cross that became a believer and asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into His kingdom and Jesus states to him that he will be with him that very night in heaven, thus no purgatory for a thief who became a believer minutes or maybe hours before his death and entrance into the next world. The body sleeps but the soul is in heaven until Christ returns and the resurrection and reuniting of the souls with their former but restored bodies is complete along with a new heaven and new earth and we’re all riding horses. 🙂 YAY

    The timeless question for most believers is that which first looks at another human claiming belief and the rest of us determining whether they truly are a Christian or not. “Are they truly a Christian?” Are there different levels of growth in a Christians life? of course. At the point of death are we immediately judged and sorted by the postal death dealer who sorts us into our destination of Hell forever, Heaven forever or Purgatory temporarily in Hell with the option to become stronger in our faith so as to enter Heaven or to fall farther and remain forever in Hell.

    My thoughts somehow have me going back to my Calvinist leanings that ultimately rely on God for grace and salvation and that if we have been chosen by God and thus moved from the walking dead into people alive in Christ then once the door is open to step from this life into the next it is up to God to decide so our faith is 100% based on Christ to be able to enter into heaven immediately after we die. If it is up to us and our efforts as to if and when we enter heaven then it is possible that “we” could create a purgatory-holding place for which we work out our ability to move up into heaven or we wait and rely on people for their faith and baptism while on earth to help buy the dead a ticket finally into heaven.

    You can probably figure out were I personally stand on this issue. Can I effectively speak with someone about their belief in purgatory whether they are Catholic or Mormon. Of course I can, but I have to do it from the position that our entrance into heaven is based on God’s grace and not our works. We can not work our way into heaven. Purgatory exists in the form of Hell and only non-Christians are held there until the final judgment for which they will then be judged and cast back into hell for eternity. The souls of believers in Christ will go immediately to be with Christ when they die. I know there is more details to look at but my biblical research currently leads me to believe this way. Next time I will provide scripture references. Forgive me for my first ever blog.

  2. I’m LDS and saw you mention this subject at LDStalk and find it interesting.

    I do not my any means have this whole issue sorted out, nor can I really speak authoritatively about LDS beliefs in this area, as our scriptures (which include the Bible) aren’t entirely clear and there’s a fair degree of LDS “folk doctrine” in this regard.

    I can say definitely, though, that the LDS belief is that after we die we do not immediately go to our permanent residence. It is generally said that those who are righteous will go to paradise and those who are unrighteous will go to the “spirit prison,” in both cases to await the judgment and the resurrection. But it is commonly believed (although I don’t think it’s official LDS doctrine) that these are the same place, or perhaps different “compartments” of the same place, or at the very least that it is possible for those in paradise to “visit” those in spirit prison.

    It is certainly believed that those in the “spirit prison” will suffer, but they will also have the opportunity to accept the gospel. In fact, that is the whole reason for LDS temples, so that those who are in spirit prison who accept the gospel can have ordinances such as baptism performed for them. (Baptism is seen as essential for eternal life, but it can be done only on Earth.) In effect, their suffering and (hopefully) eventual acceptance of the gospel become a type of purification necessary to enter the celestial kingdom.

    It is also believed that those who are in paradise will minister to those in the spirit prison, as “missionaries” sharing the gospel. It is also hypothesized that even those in paradise have need for further understanding, purification if you will. So I definitely see some similarities with LDS belief and belief in a purgatory (even though we don’t use that word).

    Our beliefs in this regard come partly from the Bible. We believe that the spirit prison is that mentioned in Peter’s epistle where he talked about Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison, and that the paradise is that one that Jesus told the thief on the cross he would go to. And, of course, we interpret Paul’s comments about baptism for the dead as referring to the types of baptism that go on in our temples.

    And those Mormons who have studied the writings of the early church fathers such as those mentioned above often see strong similarities with LDS beliefs. Identical? No, but certainly intriguing.

    1. exemplo4xp · · Reply


      Thanks for the reaction. On your quote “t the very least that it is possible for those in paradise to “visit” those in spirit prison. Have you ever read “The great divorce” by C.S.Lewis ? It’s a bit reminiscent of Dante’s Divine Comedy. And do note C.S.Lewis made very clear it’s not a theological work at all, more of a “musing on the concept of ‘What if‘ “.

      Also, 1Peter 3:18-20, which is the Peter passage I believe you are referring to, is open to a lot of interpretation.

      For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

      In my humble opinion, it refers to the people who didn’t listen to Noah and are now “spirits in prison“. It doesn’t necessarily indicate a “Second Chance

      Practices such as the baptism for the dead, I believe adhered to in the LDS Church and somewhat substantiated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, or the old Roman Catholic practice of indulgences, all seem to point to this Second Change.

      Is there a second chance after death in this “in between” state ?

      In Him

  3. In a life filled with choices and chances to get things right while your still alive and on earth I struggle with the idea of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ and knowing that he is the only way to heaven and the only way to have our relationship with God restored and yet they deny Christ on purpose and choose to go to Hell/pergutory. In the 1 Peter scripture that you shared it said that he proclaimed to the spirits but it doesn’t say that they chose to believe Christ’s proclamation and I bet that they didn’t. It does show how much God loves his creation/children and wants so much to give them time and opportunity to finally realize it and follow him instead of their own path or the path of satan and eternity in hell separated from God.

    I have shared with my 10th grade sunday school boys that I feel sometimes like that Wendy’s commercial with the guy in pigtails running almost in a trance with everyone else towards this black hole of abyss and then he snaps out of it and is telling others that there is another way that is better and some of them turn around and start walking away. Of course he is referring to burgers but it is still that same image of people running as fast as they can towards something they think is paradise only to find themselves falling into hell/purgatory and those of us of who have snapped out of it and turned to Christ and we are trying to stop the others and turn them around but many of them don’t want to change no matter what you say or how you say it to them.

    The purgatory topic is certainly a great way of striking up a conversation and I can see that investigating it can lead to asking yourself whether I will be going there or not and for how long depending on the religion or church you attend. Since I was born again in Christ via the Baptists and I married a Baptist Preacher’s daughter I find myself a little handicaped on the subject based on the life experiences the two of you come from.

    All I can say is that I have chosen to place my faith and salvation completely in the hands of Christ to save me and provide me with entrance into heaven based on his sinless life, his sacrifice on the cross to pay the blood sacrifice required and then raising himself from the dead to give us victory over our ability, need and desire to sin against God. I do not want to be separated from God and based on the selfless love that his son Jesus showed to me I feel that I have no other choice but to follow him in this life and in the next. Even if he decided to torcher me first in purgatory for a time before bringing me into his presence forever I would still choose to live my life for Christ and seek him until he receives me into heaven. My belief and understanding of scripture thus far leads me to belive that my soul will be with him after my last breath and heartbeat and that my body will return to the earth (dust to dust) to sleep until Christ’s 2nd coming were and when we will be reuntied with our restored new bodies and we live with Christ on the new Earth and in the new Heaven for eternity.

    It’s good to see that a Cowboy Baptist Protestant, an LDS member and a former Belgian Catholic turned Non-Denominational Texan Protestant can have an educational and intellectual discussion this way. Very cool.


  4. Thought I’d drop in Michael.

    I’d second Eric’s explanation as a fairly good attempt at nailing down the LDS view of the afterlife (though as he noted, views may vary among Mormons). My own view (informed by Mormonism) is that something like purgatory does actually exist. I view it as a temporary state however, and not a final destination. I also view most of the unpleasantness of the place to be self-inflicted. People tormented by their own guilt and regrets.

    The final destination for the majority of humanity is somewhere pleasant in one of the degrees of heaven.

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