-Does 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 refer to purgatory?

QUESTION: Does 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 refer to purgatory?

“Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NKJV
ANSWER: Purgatory is not mentioned in the Bible at all – neither the name nor the concept. First Corinthians 3:12-15 refers to something altogether different, the judgment seat of Christ, where every true Christian must appear to give account for how he lived while on earth. This takes place in heaven, but has nothing to do with getting there, and most certainly not with being purified to be made fit for heaven. Every Christian will have to give account for himself there; none can escape it. Romans 14:10-12 also sets the truth before us that “each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Only Christians will appear at the judgment seat of Christ. Those who have died in their sins, having never trusted Christ as Savior and Lord, will appear before Him at the Great White Throne judgment more than a thousand years later. This solemn event is described for us very briefly in Revelation 20:11-15. There we find that “the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” Their sinful works will clearly establish that they have merited the second death, eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. God will grant this to them, for to be in the presence of a holy God laden with sin would be worse yet. One would frantically be looking for some hole to crawl into, some escape from the all-searching eye of the One before whom all is laid bare and who is absolutely holy.

Purgatory is never mentioned in God’s Word, the Bible. Nor does it appear in the writings of the early Church fathers. The concept of purgatory seems to have originated about the 6th Century. Man has always had great difficulty in appreciating and understanding the full extent of God’s grace. He has always tried in some way to mix in his own works, although God has clearly said in Ephesians 2:9 that salvation is “not of works, lest anyone should boast.” And where one’s own works done during his lifetime were deemed insufficient, a time of cleansing sufferings in a place called purgatory was added to make up for what was felt to be lacking.

By contrast, 2 Corinthians 5:10 tells Christians that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” The Lord “will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.” First Corinthians 4:5 adds, “Then each one’s praise will come from God.”

God’s desire is to reward us, not punish us. In fact, on Calvary Christ bore all the punishment that was due us. Scripture makes it clear that we will not face punishment of any kind at the judgment seat of Christ and certainly will not lose our salvation. We may well lose out on rewards we could potentially have earned, however. Works that we may have been proud of may be burned up because they have not met the standards of God’s holiness, while things we might have thought little of may be “gold, silver, or precious stones” in the sight of our Lord (1 Cor. 3:12). In view of this, we should certainly make it our aim in life to be well pleasing to Him.

Scripture teaches plainly and uniformly that there are only two destinations a person can go to when he dies – heaven or hell. Our destiny is determined during our lifetime, and nothing that we, our friends, our relatives, or any church does after our death will have any bearing on our eternal destination. Accept Christ as Savior and Lord now while God gives you opportunity to do so and before you have to face Him as Judge.

Answered by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website:


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