Is there such a place as purgatory and if so...where is it referred to in scripture?

Hi there! This is a question that’s come up a few times when I’ve been talking with some of my Catholic friends at school. I’m not sure how to approach the subject, because I’ve grown up believing that we get to be in the presence of God the moment we die. Is there anyway to know the correct answer to this? Is there really some sort of waiting period before we get the be united with God? If so, what did Jesus mean by saying to that thief on the cross beside him, “today you will be with me in paradise”(Luke 23:43)? Did he mean a literal day?

Very good question, @aokuespert.

There is no reference to such a place as purgatory anywhere in the Bible. There are references to it in many pagan religions throughout the world and across the ages. But the whole concept that one must spend time atoning for his sins before entering heaven is the very opposite of the biblical teaching that salvation is a free gift of God completely paid for by Christ on the cross and available to all who will simply receive it by faith in the gospel.

II Corinthians 5:8 teaches that when we are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord. There is no “waiting period”.

When Jesus told the thief dying next to Him that he would be with Christ in paradise that very day, it was because the man had turned in faith to Christ moments before and asked Jesus to remember Him in His knigdom. He did indeed literally mean that very same day.

I hope this will help you with this question.


Hi @jlyons, may I ask a related question? Any idea where the idea of purgatory originated from for the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church? I ask this because I have several relatives from the Syrian Orthodox church who believe strongly in this idea. Was it also from pagan sources or from any of the Apocryphal writings?

Hi, @tonyabthomas :wave:

A quick Google search on the subject led me to 2Macc.12:39-45 where Judas Maccabee and his cohorts prayed for the souls of their fallen comrades whom they discovered to be carrying pocket-sized idols under their battle coats assuming these idols cost them their lives in battle. The last verse specifically mentions…
(2 Maccabees 12:45b “Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.”) Aside from this apocryphal reference, there is no other Scriptural support for this doctrine.


Well, there are certainly plenty of ideas about where it came from. But I could not say from which particular ancient group such modern groups as you’ve mentioned might have imported the doctrine.

The ancient Zoroastrians had a very complex view involving 12 stages of purification.

By contrast, the Stoics had a single “place of enlightenment” which they called Empurosis.

The Buddhists also believe in Naraka, their version of purgatory.

And in Canaan, the teaching was rampant, which is probably the reason behind the prohibition in Deuteronomy 26:12-14 against misusing any of their tithes by, among other things, giving aught thereof for the dead - that is, paying a priest to pray their departed loved ones out of some netherworld purgatory.

Unfortunately, later generations of Jews apparently incorporated this Canaanite doctrine, since we find it mentioned in II Maccabees 12:46. Since some Catholics accept such apocryphal books as scripture, my best guess would be that this passage would be their support for it.

I hope this helps.