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    “See to it no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

    « John 3:5 Born of Water and Spirit | On Mormonism (and Consequently, Other Religions) »

    Prayers to and for the Dead

    Nearly all religions have some kind of practice that venerates the dead. Those practices may include ancestor worship; days of/for the dead in which the deceased are remembered, honored, and left presents of food, drink, etc. in anticipation of their temporary return to Earth; prayers to deceased saints, martyrs, loved ones, ancestors, etc.

    for help, good fortune, wealth, etc.; prayers for the dead to be honored, rescued from something such as a spiritual realm (like purgatory), unfinished business, or something keeping them stuck somewhere; contacting the dead through mediums (psychics), rituals, Ouija boards, dolls, etc. for guidance, wisdom, knowing the future, having one last conversation with a loved one, gaining spiritual knowledge, etc.


    Sickness and death are two great tragedies that people face in this world, and two great fears many people have. Grief is a very hard thing to cope with, especially when the one lost was well-loved. All people have wondered for centuries what happens, if anything, after death.


    Care must be taken when reading Scripture to read it in context, with an attitude of learning what God says, rather than trying to find verses to back up what we may have been taught. Any book should be read to learn what the author had to say, instead of trying to place personal, preconceived ideas on the author’s words. How much more so, the Bible?


    What Does the Bible Say About Those Who Have Died?

    The Bible seems to say that those who have died cannot, or are not allowed to communicate with the living.

    Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27)


    The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind. 17 It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to the place of silence; 18 it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 115: 16-18)


    For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6; really, the whole chapter)


    “The Rich Man and Lazarus

    19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

    22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

    25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

    27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:19-31)


    The Bible also alludes to there being no in-between state for the dead. The Bible never states that there is a purgatory or other neutral spiritual realm.

    I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12)


     I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:23-24) 

    (Note that Paul did not believe he could still intercede for believers after his death.)


    Praying to the dead, no matter how holy they were in life, is contacting the dead, regardless of reason or rationale. No Bible verse advocates or gives an example of a righteous person praying to or for the dead.

    Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, 14 and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.” (1 Chronicles 10:13-14)


    When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in[a] the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:9-13)


    For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim. 2:5) 


    Some verses that have been used to back the claim that prayer to or for the dead is admissible, even encouraged in Scripture have been taken out of context. Luke 20:38 (and Matthew 22:32) discuss the resurrection and state,

    He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”


    But this verse does not imply Christians should or can pray to the dead for intercession. I refer back to the first few verses I quoted above which make a case for the impossibility of the dead to hear or communicate with the living, according to Scripture.  


    Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…”


    This must be put into context of the ending of Hebrews 11, which discusses the righteous figures of the Old Testament who obeyed the old law while waiting in faith for God’s promised Messiah. The passages do not imply that the dead are watching down from heaven as witnesses of the actions on Earth, but that New Testament Christians should be inspired and encouraged to continue fighting the good fight of faith (see the rest of Hebrews 12).


    Revelation 6:9-11, When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters,[e] were killed just as they had been.”


    This passage describes martyrs under the altar in Heaven, crying out to God for justice. It does not appear they are aware of Earth’s current events, but are asking for justice for themselves. Nor does this passage state or imply they have heard, can hear, or can respond to prayers from the living.


    Rev. 4-5 describe elders who are totally absorbed with God’s wondrous glory. They also, have no communication with those still on Earth.


    Rev. 8:3-5, Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”


    These verses describe the prayers of God’s living people being offered like incense to God. Nowhere does this passage suggest that angels or the dead interceded for the living. The prayers went straight from people to God.


    James 5:13-16 states, Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”


    This passage is explicitly for the living to pray and/or encourage one another (as many other Scriptures exhort) and does not state or imply that the dead should be prayed to or that the dead have the ability to pray for the living.  


    Many other examples and Bible verses imply, suggest, or outright state that prayers should be directed solely to God, our Heavenly Father (see section, “God is Our Intercessor”: On Spiritual Warfare Part 2), although there is a great debate among Christians whether praying to Jesus is also acceptable.



    To recap, the Bible says the dead are not able to contact or help the living. According to Scripture, there is no need to give gifts, worship, prayers, or works on behalf of the dead. In fact, the Bible forbids such actions.


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