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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

27 October 2005


Q: What is the origin of the word purgatory? What do you think purgatory is?

A: Its origin is the same as our English word “purge.” Some think of it as a place where the debt of sin is paid by those who will eventually go to heaven, but who still owe some penance when they died. The idea of such a place wasn’t new within Christianity; other religions also had ideas about a place where an ultimate purification takes place before souls are allowed to enter their final rest.

In Christendom, the teaching was most fully developed in Roman Catholicism, whose Catechismus Romanus, I, vi, 3 says, “Besides [hell] there is a purging fire, by which the souls of the pious, tormented for a set time, are purified, so that they might enter the eternal fatherland, into which nothing defiled enters.” However, The Greek Orthodox Catechism (New York, 1960) states, “Scripture … has never expressed anything whatever concerning a third state, such as a temporary Purgatory.”

Lutherans consistently deny the existence of such a place and condemn its teaching as being unscriptural, indefensible, and insulting to Christ. The Bible never speaks of us repaying all our debt for our sins against others, since we can never do this. With Scripture, the Lutheran Church teaches that Christ’s death not only removes the guilt of our sins, but also any punishment we deserve or debt that we owe.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


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