Except that it is. Purgatory is in the Bible more times than the notion that something must be in the Bible; sola scriptura is in the Bible precisely zero times. Thus one way of answering the objection is to say: “If you can show me where the Bible says it must be in the Bible, I’ll show you Purgatory.”
But Purgatory is in the Bible, in 2 Maccabees 2:46: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” (N.B., this is the verse citation for the Douay-Rheims; other translations have this text in verse 45.)
Some teachings we derive from the Bible by inference. If a person is in heaven, he does not require our prayers. If a person is in hell, no prayers can help. There must therefore be a third place, or state, in which the prayers of the living have power to loose a dead person from sin. This, we call Purgatory.
But Alt! 2 Maccabees is apocrypha! It’s not the Bible!
Thus part of the discussion of Purgatory ends up being a discussion of the Deuterocanon. (We don’t say “apocrypha” unless you mean something like the Gospel of Judas.) And a thorough discussion of those seven books from the Catholic Old Testament would mean I write another post or more. But here I can give a few reasons why the seven extra books—Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach, and 1 and 2 Maccabees, along with the additions to Esther and Daniel—are canonical.
- They were included in the Septuagint, which was authoritative from several centuries prior to Christ until several centuries after. The New Testament writers quoted from this Greek translation of the Old Testament, as did the early Church Fathers. If the inclusion of these books was authoritative for them, there is no reason it should not be for us.
- Protestant authors Gleason Archer and Gregory Chirichigno cite 340 quotations in the New Testament using the Septuagint, against only thirty-three that come from the Masoretic text. The Masoretic was a Hebrew and Aramaic version that did not include the seven additional books that were originally composed in Greek and did not exist in translated versions.
- Even if someone were to say, But Alt! Jesus spoke Aramaic, and so would have used the Masoretic text, Jason Evert has an answer:
[T]he Greek New Testament is inspired, and the Holy Spirit chose to have the sacred authors repeatedly cite the LXX. It doesn’t really matter if Jesus was quoting Scripture in Hebrew or Aramaic if the Holy Spirit chooses to use the Septuagint when translating his words into Greek.
- The New Testament quotes from books in the Deuterocanon. So for example, when Jesus says to lay up treasure in heaven, he is quoting from Sirach 29:11. And when St. Paul says there are many gods but one Lord, he is quoting Wisdom 13:3.
- Two early Church councils—at Hippo (393 A.D.) and Carthage (397 A.D.)—listed the Deuterocanon as part of Scripture.
- No Christian rejected or collected the Deuterocanon in a separate unit until 1520.
- The rejection of the books by Jewish authorities is a dubious precedent for Christians to rely on, since their rejection was influenced by a desire to stop Christianity from spreading among the Jewish population.
But Alt! Let us say, argument’s sake, that 2 Maccabees is canon. This verse is talking about the Limbo of the Fathers, not Purgatory. After Christ freed the souls in prison, in the new covenant, there is only heaven and hell.
The problem is, this objection conflates two separate things. The text of Maccabees says to pray for the dead, as persons, not for the coming of the Messiah. It says that these prayers will loose a person from sins. There is no indication in this text that the souls in prison are biding their time until the Messiah frees them.
A second point here is that the text of 2 Maccabees speaks of more than just prayer for the dead, but sacrifice for the dead. Here is the RSVCE translation:
But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.
It doesn’t say Judas—this is not that Judas—prayed for the Messiah to come and make atonement. It says he himself made atonement. The idea that this a reference to a Limbo of the Fathers where souls were biding their time until Christ came to make atonement is foreign to the text.
And it is worth pointing out that even Martin Luther thought that 2 Maccabees taught Purgatory. Dave Armstrong points this out. “The text in Maccabees is quite plain,” Luther wrote to George Spalatin. Luther rejected Maccabees because he thought that it contained error, not because he thought it contained truth but he was persnickety about canonicity.
One can not deny that Maccabees is canon when it’s used to defend Purgatory, only to protest that the text is about something else when put in a corner on the canon issue.
But Alt! Can’t you cite verses that Protestants and Catholics both agree are Scrpture?
Sure. How about Malachi 3:3?
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
Or how about Zechariah 13:8-9?
And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God.
But Alt! These passages are using fire as metaphor!
Of course they are. I don’t need the fire of Purgatory to be literal. Nor do I need Purgatory to be a place, per se. And I’m not all that big on there being a clock in Purgatory, since it’s outside time anyway. All I need is for purgation to be a process that is necessary for one to enter Heaven after death, and the Bible quite clearly talks about such a process.
And let us go to Rev. 21:27, which says that “nothing unclean shall enter Heaven.” I hope no one believes that anyone dies clean. That’s utter fantasy. Either everyone goes to Hell—inference, dear reader—or there must be some sort of process of cleansing that takes place before one is allowed to enter Heaven. The Bible uses fire as a metaphor to describe that process. And this, we call Purgatory.