How to Explain Purgatory to a Protestant


The existence of Purgatory has been a much debated topic between Catholics and Protestants for years. Many Protestants argue that the Catholic Church simply created Purgatory as a way to guilt people into believing in Catholicism. That accusation is both ridiculous, and incredibly false. Protestants back up this claim by stating that since the word, “purgatory,” can not be found in the Bible, then it is a false teaching. This type of allegation is made by Protestants who believe in sola scriptura, the Latin ablative meaning, “by scripture alone.” Even though Catholics understand that this teaching of using scripture alone is false, it is to our advantage that we defend the faith by using a method that Protestants will understand. What does this mean? In this case, use scripture right back at them, to defend your argument.

If you happen to be conversing with a Protestant who believes that the deuterocanonical books (7 books missing from the Protestant Bible) are part of the Bible, then consider yourself blessed. At this point in the debate, go ahead and inform them that in 2 Macabees 12:46 it states, “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from sin.” In this chapter it shows how the Jews prayed for the dead, which in turn shows that they believed in a place where the dead could be helped, i.e. “purgatory.” If the person you’re debating with still has doubt, remind them that this chapter emphasizes the practice of purgatory shown from God’s chosen people. Now you can give yourself a pat on the back, for defending the faith, and offer your guest a glass of wine. Unless they’re Southern Baptists, or Church of Christ (etc) then you should pop out the grape juice instead. Cheers!

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If you are talking to a Protestant who disowns the deuterocanonical books, do not worry. There is plenty of scriptural evidence that will support your argument, and leave the other person speechless. Prepare yourself for the following awesomeness: Have them open up their bible to two places, 2 Samuel 12: 1-31 and Isaiah 6:5-7. Start with the book of Isaiah first, it will read:

“Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin is purged.”

In this story, Isaiah has sinned and the seraphim (angel) touches a piece of burning coal to his lips and says, “your wickedness is removed, your sin is purged.” In order to be atoned for his sins, a fiery ember was used to purify him– does this remind you of anything? Yes! Purgatory. This is precisely what purgatory is. This is clear, biblical evidence on the existence of purgatory. In fact, the word “purge,” used in this chapter, comes from the Latin word purgare— Anglicized as, “purgatory.” It is simply a state of suffering, in order to atone for sins. To further your argument more, reiterate a verse in Revelation 21:27, which reads, “but nothing unclean will enter it, nor any[one] who does abominable things or tells lies, only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Nothing unclean will enter Heaven– we are sinful and unclean. If we do not confess our sins before our death, we are considered unclean. This is a very clear-cut fact. Is there hope? Yes, atonement in Purgatory.

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The next, and last, biblical example I will use is in 2 Samuel 12:1-31. This chapter talks about King David sinning, by sleeping with Bathsheba. God punishes David, just as any father would, but still forgives David. This example can be applied to Purgatory. Why? When we sin against God, as King David did, God still forgives us completely, however ,God knows that we must learn a lesson, so He makes us atone for our sins. For example, when I was a teenager, I got a speeding ticket, and my parents forgave me, but I did end up paying $200 for the ticket. My parents did not love me any less after that, but I did have to pay the consequences. The same analogy goes for Purgatory.

In conclusion, since humans are sinful, and nothing unclean can enter heaven, and there is biblical evidence that supports it, then it is reasonable to assume that Purgatory is, in fact, real. Besides the obvious scriptural evidence of Purgatory, if you think about it, it just comes down to logic. Purgatory is logical. If the Protestant you are chatting with still has doubts, that’s okay, you did what you could! Let them mull everything over. Your job was to defend the faith, and if you used the examples above, then I’d say you did so very well.

The most important thing to remember when debating with a Protestant, or anyone for that matter, is to have a loving spirit and attitude.

“The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it, let it loose, and it will defend itself.”
-St. Augustine of Hippo

By Elizabeth Giddens
Credit: Catholic Students Page