Biblical Exposition

Did St. Paul Pray for the Dead? Yes!

by Steve Ray on March 21, 2017

I posted an article I wrote about St. Paul praying for the dead HERE. But I thought you would appreciate Dave Armstrong’s recent article about the same passage with confirmation and a new set of eyes on the text and the reasons for many Protestants to reject the claim…

St. Paul Prayed for Onesiphorus, Who Was Dead

7_sept_onesiphorus_apostle“May the Lord grant Onesiphorus to find mercy from the Lord on that Day.” 2 Timothy 1:16-18 (RSV): “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, [17] but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me – [18] may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day – and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.” (cf. 4:19)

Catholics pray for the souls in purgatory, in order to aid them in their journey through purgatory to heaven. In praying for the dead, it’s very reasonable to contend that an intermediate state is presupposed, because it would be futile to pray for those in hell (prayer can no longer help them) and unnecessary to pray for those in heaven (they have everything they need). This verse offers biblical support for this belief.

Protestant commentators have been hopelessly confused about the passage and cannot offer a coherent, unified testimony as to its meaning. Consulting their conflicting opinions makes for fascinating reading indeed.

The well-known evangelical Protestant work, The New Bible Commentary (3rd edition, 1970) takes the astounding position that Onesiphorus is probably dead (citing 2 Tim. 4:19), yet holds that Paul was praying for his conduct during life. The prominent  Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary (1864) also holds that Paul was praying, but obviously not for a dead man because, after all, “nowhere has Paul prayers for the dead, which is fatal to the theory, . . . that he was dead.” This is circular reasoning: merely assuming what it claims is proven.

BMJonahSarc1Greek scholar A. T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1930, Vol. IV, 615) concedes that Onesiphorus was dead, but desperately describes Paul’s prayer for him as a “wish” (a distinction without a difference). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1939) makes the same (what can only be described as) rationalization, using the description, “pious wish” (Vol. IV, 2195). Famous Presbyterian commentators Matthew Henry (1662-1714) and Albert Barnes (1798-1870) casually assume that Onesiphorus was not dead, since Paul prayed for him – again making prior assumptions about what is possible in the first place, which amounts to eisegesis, or reading into Scripture notions that are not there. But John Calvin denied that he was dead.

The “game” and conundrum for all these commentaries is to refuse to accept both things together: a dead man, and someone praying for them. Thus, if they think he was dead, they deny that he was prayed for. And if they acknowledge prayer, they deny that he was dead.

But all is not lost. I have located several Anglican commentaries and a few others (thanks largely to Google Books!), that accept both factors together and state that Paul prayed for a dead man. The Anglican commentaries include Alfred Plummer (1841-1926), in The Expositor’s Bible, James Maurice Wilson (1836-1931), Sydney Charles Gayford (in 1905), John Henry Bernard (1860-1927), Charles John Ellicott (1816-1905), and J. N. D. Kelly (1909-1997), in A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (London: A&C Black, 1963, p. 171). The latter states:

On the assumption, which must be correct, that Onesiphorus was dead when the words were written, we have here an example, unique in the N.T., of Christian prayer for the departed. . . . the commendation of the dead man to the divine mercy. There is nothing surprising in Paul’s use of such a prayer, for intercession for the dead had been sanctioned in Pharisaic circles at any rate since the date of 2 Macc 12:43-45 (middle of first century B.C.?). Inscriptions in the Roman catacombs and elsewhere prove that the practice established itself among Christians from very early times.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 7.45.45 AMWilliam Barclay (liberal Presbyterian: 1907-1978) concurs in his Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. So does the well-known Reformed Protestant Church historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893) in The International Illustrated Commentary on the New Testament (1889, Vol. IV,  587). Other commentators who agree include W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament (1951) and the renowned Henry Alford, The Greek Testament (1958).

What are we to conclude from all this jumble of various Protestant opinions? I’m always happy to present the information and let readers make up their own minds, but I conclude (for whatever it’s worth) that the passage is pretty straightforward. Therefore, when a commentator decides that Onesiphorus is not dead or that he was and wasn’t prayed for, it’s an example of eisegesis and letting denominational bias interfere with objective Bible commentary.

It’s always ironic to note such an occurrence among Protestants, since our separated brethren are very fond of frequently pointing out that they go by the Bible alone, as their only infallible source of authority and rule of faith. They will habitually claim that they merely let it speak for itself.

Yet when it comes to an issue like this, where the biblical text seems to run contrary to a tenet of Protestant denominational dogma (i.e., that prayer for the dead is impermissible), all of a sudden there is plenty of “explaining away” and denial of what seems to plainly be present in the passage.

Bias should never surprise us. It’s natural to the human mind, and we all (including Catholics) have it. We all bring prior traditions to our Bible commentary, too, no matter how much we may try to deny it. It’s not a matter of “whether,” but which tradition is present.

I maintain that Catholics are as free as anyone else (if not more so) to simply let the Bible speak for itself. If it indeed teaches prayer for the dead in this passage, we accept that, as part of God’s inspired revelation. It corresponds to Catholic doctrinal/dogmatic teaching, tying into purgatory. In my experience of over 26 years of Catholic apologetics, the Bible always does that. This may be little-known and frequently denied by Protestants, but it’s true, and I’ve shown it with many examples in my own work, such as this present one.

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Are saints who have physically died “dead saints” or are they alive with God?

A friend named Leonard Alt got tired of being hammered by anti-Catholic Fundamentalists on this issue so he decided to write this article. I thought you might enjoy it too, so here it goes…

Leonard writes: I wrote this note after several days of frustration with people, on Facebook, saying that saints can’t do  anything, because they are dead.  They seem to be leaving out the fact that the souls live on.  ENJOY! 

An antagonist named Warren Ritz asked, “Who are the “dead in Christ”, if not those who walked with our Lord, but who are now no   longer among the living?” He is correct; the “dead in Christ” are those saints  who have physically died.    “For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess 4:16). 

THE CONCEPT OF LIVING SAINTS CAN DO HARM TO THE “JESUS ALONE” DOCTRINE.  From some people’s point of view, people who have died are classified as “dead saints,” who can do nothing.  They are no longer a force to reckon with; they can no longer appear; they cannot talk nor do other things.  These same people don’t want the saints who have died doing anything because this would be another reason why the Protestant doctrine, “JESUS ALONE” fails.  If the so-called “dead saints” do anything then it is not “JESUS ALONE,” but Jesus and the saints cooperating.    And it would also mean that the so-called “dead saints” are in fact not dead, but alive with God.    

HIS PHYSICAL BODY DIED BUT HIS SOUL LIVED ON.  But, are the Saints who have gone before us alive with God or are they truly “dead saints” who can do nothing as some would suggest?    Yes, their bodies are dead, but their souls live on.  For example Jesus said to one of the criminals on the cross next to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).   Yes, that day, this man became the dead in Christ because his physical body died on his cross; however, Jesus said that today, this man would be with Him in paradise.   He was no “dead saint” because his soul was alive in Christ in Paradise.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob alive and concerned for their descendants

HE IS THE GOD OF THE LIVING.  One person alluded to Mark 12:26-27 saying “Jesus is the God of the living, not of the dead” in an attempt to show that Jesus cannot be the god of those who have died; after all he says “Jesus is the god of the living.”  However, he left out three people who were no longer alive in verse 26; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God said that He was their God.   And so does that mean that God is the God of the dead?  No; “He is not God of the dead but of the living.”  

  • “God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, (the) God of Isaac, and (the) God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled” (Mk 12: 26-27). 

Abraham Isaac and Jacob are physically dead and yet their souls are alive because their God is not God of the dead but of the living and thus do not qualify as “dead saints.” 

WHEN MOSES AND ELIJAH APPEARED WERE THEY DEAD OR ALIVE?  There are those who insist that saints who have died are nothing more than “dead saints” who can do nothing.   I usually ask them this question.   When Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, were they dead or alive?   “And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah” (Lk 9:30).  Not bad for a couple of so-called “dead saints;” not only did they appear, but they were talking as well.  The question that I asked usually goes unanswered.   

SORRY LEONARD…YOU HAVE A BAD ARGUMENT.  Bill says, “As Ecclesiastes says the dead have nothing more to do under the sun…sorry Leonard…you have a bad argument.”  He is using this as definitive Biblical proof that people on the other side cannot do anything once they have died.  After all, Ecclesiastes does say, “For them, love and hatred and rivalry have long since perished. They [the dead] will never again have part in anything that is done under the sun” (Eccles 9:6).    

When a person dies their body is in the grave; it is dead. They can no longer work under the sun, in this world.  However, Ecclesiastes 9:6 is not a prohibition against the activity of the person’s soul, which lives on.   This of course begs the question; is there any indication of personal activity of a soul after death, in Scripture?   

Yes, there are a number of examples and here is one of them.  Elisha after dying performed marvelous deeds.  In life he [Elisha] performed wonders, and after death, marvelous deeds (Sir 48:14).  “Elisha died and was buried. At the time, bands of Moabites used to raid the land each year. Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band. So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off.  But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet” (Kings 13:20-21).  

Using, Ecclesiastes 9:6 as a prohibition against all soul activity after death is to use the verse out of context and at odds with other parts of the Bible.  Ecclesiastes 9:6 is referring to the physical body that has died, not the soul that lives on.  Elisha, after death performed marvelous deeds.   It can’t be much clearer than that!   

JESUS NEVER CLAIMED THAT THOSE WHO HAVE DIED ARE “DEAD SAINTS.”  Jesus understood well that when someone dies, they will live and in fact those who live and believe in him WILL NEVER DIE. 

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this” (Jn 11:23-26)?  

This union, with the saints on this side and the saints on the other side is referred to as the communion of saints in the Apostles Creed.  Those who insist that “dead saints” can’t do anything because their bodies have physically died seem not to understand that their souls live on and are very involved. 

So, where does the Bible say we should pray to dead saints? I would ask, Where does the Bible say saints are dead?

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Live from the Deserts of Egypt 3 Radio Shows Today

by Steve Ray on February 27, 2017

IMG_8654Today I will be giving a live update from the deserts of Egypt as we discover the tomb of Saint John the Baptist and Elisha the Prophet.

Sun Rise Morning Show 6:35 AM Eastern

Relevant Radio 9:15 AM

Teresa Tomeo 9:40 AM

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Feast of Chair of St. Peter: “Chair of Moses, Chair of Peter” Steve’s Article, YouTube Video and Resources

February 22, 2017

St. Cyprian of Carthage (beheaded 257 AD) one hundred and fifty years before the New Testament writings were collected into one book called “The Bible”: “The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ He says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will […]

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Ironic Twist to a Devastating Story; Why Did God Allow Sin?

February 21, 2017

A while ago I wrote the Study Guide for Catholic Scripture Study — on Genesis. This section I wrote was so exciting and ironic I had to share it, especially since this is Christmas when God became Man. Here is a small section of what I wrote: But why didn’t God prevent Adam and Eve from […]

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Salvation by Faith Alone?

February 15, 2017

Since the days of Martin Luther it has been popular to reduce salvation to a sound bite. Salvation is not by works but by “faith alone.” However, the Bible seems to have another idea. In my book CROSSING THE TIBER I mention a few passages from Scripture to give a more biblical perspective. Here is […]

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Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love Our Spouses in Heaven?

February 14, 2017

Happy St. Valentine’s Day. This is for my mom. My dad died almost six years ago. Mom misses Dad and was discouraged about Mark 12:25 which her paraphrased Living Bible improperly rendered “will not be married” in heaven. I wrote the following to comfort my Mom… Mom, I know it is important to you since […]

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Riddles & Laughter in the Bible: Relevant Radio Interview with Steve Ray starts 4:30 minutes in

February 1, 2017
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Beatitudes are Sunday Readings: Enjoy Fun, Amazing Homily on Location in Galilee

January 28, 2017

Fr. Scott Courtney LOVES the Beatitudes as you will see. Watch his 10-minute Homily at the Mount of Beatitudes while our chaplain in Israel. Enjoy!

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Did the Wise Men Meet the Shepherds?

January 8, 2017

With upon us, I thought I would post my article this Christmas season with bits of interesting information and details about Christmas, the Gospels and Epiphany. Join us in Bethlehem for Christmas this year from December 26-January 4 or any of six times in 2015. Visit www.SteveGoes.com. Did the Wise Men Meet the Shepherds?  A […]

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Did Jesus Contradict the Old Testament’s Prohibition on Drinking Blood?

January 7, 2017

Leonard Alt debates an anti-Catholic named Phil. He writes: I have a choice: I can listen to the Evangelicals who confuse the blood of animals, with the blood of Christ and choose not to eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of Christ, or, I can listen to Jesus who said; “Whoever eats my flesh […]

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The Eucharist and the Fathers of the Church: Article by Steve Ray

January 2, 2017

The Eucharist and the Fathers of the Church, by Steve Ray The word “Eucharist” was used early in the Church to describe the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. Eucharist comes from the Greek word for “thanks” (eucharistia), describing Christ’s actions: “And when he had given thanks, he broke […]

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Denzinger Timeline of the Controversy over Communion for the Divorced and ‘Remarried’ in Adultery and Pope Francis

December 27, 2016

This is an amazing resource compiled by Andrew Guernsey. It provides all the source material on the subject of Communion for Divorced and civilly “remarried.” It starts with the Old Testament and then the New Testament before moving historically through the Fathers, Popes, Councils and more. A thorough resource for all the source documents upon […]

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Questions I Answered on Catholic Answers Live about Mary, Joseph, Jesus & Christmas

December 22, 2016

To listen to the show on-line click here. For other listening options like podcasts, click here. These are the questions I answered tonight about Christmas, Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, Joseph & Mary, the gospel accounts and more. *************************************************** 1. Tell us about the four Gospels and why they tell different stories. 2. How does […]

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Everything on Sale on Steve Ray’s Web Store! Enjoy!

December 18, 2016

Save 20% On Your Entire Order! We are happy to announce a 20% site-wide sale on all products on our web store. For a limited time, spend $20 and get 20% off your entire order. This offer is valid for through Dec. 31, 2016. Start Shopping

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“You are Peter” in Jesus’ language of Aramaic

December 1, 2016

In Caesarea Philippi, the site where Jesus renamed Simon as “Peter” or Kepha (Matt 16:13-20), it is interesting to hear what Jesus REALLY said. I thought you would find this interesting. So, what did it sound like at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus renamed Simon and made him the rock of the Church: “And I tell […]

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