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Don Stewart :: Should the Living Pray for the Dead?

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Don Stewart
Does the Bible indicate that the living should ever pray for the dead? Is there any chance that those on earth can help those in the next world? The Bible says there is no basis whatsoever of the living praying for the dead. The following points can be made.

1. Condition After Death Determined In This Life

Where we go after we die will be determined in this life. Jesus said to the religious leaders of His day.

I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins (John 8:24).

2. No Change Possible

He also said that no one could pass from the place of the unrighteous dead to the place of the righteous dead.

And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us (Luke 16:26).

3. Judgment

After death comes judgment. Condemnation for the wicked and rewards for righteous, not purgatory.

And it is appointed for humans to die once, but after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Final judgment is never dependent upon what we do after we die.

4. Jesus Wept For His Dead Friend

Jesus cried at the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus (John 11:35). He did not pray for him.

5. The Example Of David's Son

King David prayed fervently for his young son while he was still alive. Once he died, David stopped praying, for there was nothing else anyone could do.

6. No More Rewards

Believers earn their rewards in this life. There is no chance to earn them in the intermediate state. Scripture teaches that we will be judged for our works, and there is no work we can do after we have died.

7. False Hope

Praying for the dead gives false hope to people. What is worse is that it stops the prayers for the living. This is where our prayers should be directed.

8. No Example

We find no example of Scripture of anyone praying for the dead. All the prayers that are offered are for those who are alive. Nowhere are believers commanded to pray for those who have died.

9. Onesiphorus-Not An Example

Some claim a biblical basis for praying for the dead. There is an account of Paul writing about a man named Onesiphorus.

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:16-18).

Some have used this passage to argue for praying for the dead. It is said that Paul prayed for mercy for Onesiphorus, a man who was dead. Therefore Paul believed his prayer could have some affect on the outcome of the destiny or reward of Onesiphorus.


First, we do not know that he was dead. Nothing in this passage makes this certain. The fact that Paul prayed for his entire household does not mean Onesiphorus himself was dead.

Second, even if he were dead, this is not a specific prayer on his behalf. Paul is merely expressing a desire that mercy will be shown to him on the day of judgment. Praying for the dead is contrary to everything the Bible teaches.


The Bible says that the fate of the dead is determined in this life. Praying for them does no good whatsoever. The example of Onesiphorus does not teach that we should pray for the dead. This is not a biblical doctrine. We need to pray for the living.

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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