Praying to Dead Saints

By James M. Rochford

For more resources on this subject, see our earlier article “Catholicism.”

Should we pray to dead saints? In his book A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong offers several biblical passages to support this assumption.[1] We will consider each below with brief interaction:

Prayers for the Dead

Tobit 12:12; 2 Maccabees 12:39-45: We do not believe that these books are inspired Scripture. See our article “The Apocrypha.”

1 Corinthians 15:29: We have offered an alternate interpretation for this passage (cf. 1 Cor. 15:29). However, even if believers were baptizing the dead (which we do not is a true biblical practice), this still wouldn’t support Armstrong’s claim. This refers to baptism—not praying for the dead.

2 Timothy 1:16-18: Here Paul writes, “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; 17 but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me—18 the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day—and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus.” However, read it for yourself: this text never states that Onesiphorus is dead!

Dead saints are aware of earthly affairs

Matthew 22:30; Luke 15:10; 1 Corinthians 4:9; Hebrews 12:1: Many (if not most) Evangelical commentators take no issue with this view. For a good example of this, see Randy Alcorn’s excellent work Heaven, where he takes this view. We take no objection to this. However, this is different than praying to a dead saint. Satan is aware of earthly affairs, but we are never commanded to pray to him. Therefore, this biblical evidence doesn’t prove anything concrete.

Dead saints intercede for those on earth

Jeremiah 15:1-2: This passage states, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people” (Jer. 15:1 NIV). This passage doesn’t teach that Moses and Samuel interceded for the people. It only states that God wouldn’t change even if they interceded.

2 Maccabees 15:14: We do not believe that the Apocrypha is inspired Scripture. See our article “The Apocrypha.”

Revelation 6:9-10: Here the dead saints ask God, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10) This passage doesn’t confirm the intercession of dead saints. It merely states that the saints were questioning God—not that they even changed anything through their prayers to him.

Saints are intermediaries and present our prayers to God

Revelation 5:8: This passage states, “When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). Some interpreters do not believe that the 24 elders here are believers, but rather angels. We hold that the 24 elders are representative of all believers throughout human history (cf. Rev. 5:8). Since Revelation is so heavily laden with symbolism, we feel that this is irresponsible to take our theology of prayer from this passage. The book of Revelation is an apocalyptic work that focuses on the end of human history—not our theology of prayer. If praying to dead saints is so integral, why doesn’t it occur in the didactic passages of Scripture—such as the epistles?

Dead saints appear on earth to interact with men

1 Samuel 28:12-15: This highly difficult passage to interpret, which we have dealt with earlier (see 1 Sam. 28:12-15). However, nothing in the text suggests that Saul was correct in contacting Samuel through a Pagan witch. In fact, we are very surprised that Armstrong would appeal to such a passage! Instead, Saul is explicitly judged for doing this (v.19). In fact, the rest of Scripture states that he was killed because of this sinful decision. Chronicles says, “So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord. He failed to obey the Lord’s command, and he even consulted a medium 14 instead of asking the Lord for guidance. So the Lord killed him and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse” (1 Chron. 10:13-14 NLT).

2 Maccabees 15:13-16: We do not believe that the Apocrypha is inspired Scripture. See our article “The Apocrypha.”

Matthew 17:1-3: This event—the Transfiguration—contains no conversation between the three disciples (Peter, James, and John) and Moses and Elijah. Instead, their conversation was with Jesus, who is God incarnate. Moreover, the disciples didn’t seek out this event in prayer.

Matthew 27:50-53: After Jesus’ death, the text says that many dead saints appeared. Matthew writes, “The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Mt. 27:52-53). Whatever this passage means, it does not mean that believers should pray to dead saints. Notice that, again, no one was praying for this to occur. Instead, these OT saints were supernaturally raised. Moreover, they interacted with other people physically—not spiritually—as in prayer.

Revelation 11:3: Revelation states, “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth” (Rev. 11:3). Theologians are not certain that Moses and Elijah are the two figures in view. This is our view, but it is tenuously held. Even if these are dead saints coming back to Earth, this is different than the view of praying to a dead saint. This is an example of having two physical persons in front of you—not praying to an invisible, dead person.


Only God is said to know the heart and mind of people:

(1 Chron. 28:9) “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts.”

(Ps. 44:21) “Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.”

(Jer. 17:9-10) “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? 10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.”

(Heb. 4:13) “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

(1 Jn. 3:20b) “God is greater than our heart and knows all things.”

This is why God could know Hannah’s prayer—even though it wasn’t audible (1 Sam. 1:11-12). Are we prepared to say that dead saints are given the attribute of omniscience, so that we can pray to them? We reject such a view, and instead affirm that we should pray directly to God.

Jesus taught us to pray to our “Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 6:9)—not to dead humans. Paul writes that believers should “let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). In all the prayers recorded in Scripture, none are addressed to a dead saint. The Bible also condemns communicating with the dead (Deut. 18:10-12; Lev. 20:6, 27; 1 Sam. 28:5-18; Isa. 8:19-20).

[1] Armstrong, Dave. A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute, 2003. 116.