Biblical Exposition

Did St. Paul Pray for the Dead? Yes!

by Steve Ray on June 18, 2018

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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Did St. Paul Pray for the Dead? Yes!

by Steve Ray on June 17, 2018

rembrandt_apostle_paul217x275St. Paul wrote 2 Timothy shortly before his martyrdom. He spent the last days of his life in the Mammertine Prison in Rome, north of the Roman Forum. While in that prison he wrote to Timothy and says a prayer for a man dead man.

“It seems apparent that St. Paul DOES pray for the dead. Here is my short article that gives a pretty clear example of St. Paul praying for a dead man, a man named Onesiphorus.

This will be interesting for those who deny prayer for the dead and must find supposedly find everything explicitly in the Bible before they are willing to believe it.

Does the Bible record St. Paul praying for a dead man? Does the New Testament relate an incident of prayer for the dead? It seems quite certain that it does.

Let’s begin with Onesiphorus—a faithful Christian who cared for St. Paul while he was in prison and who took great personal risk to serve the apostle. He was such a good man that Paul writes, “[Onesiphorus] often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains” and “he searched for me eagerly and found me” and “you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus” (2 Tim 1:16-18).

But from all indications—certainly from the words Paul uses—Onesiphorus has died or been killed before Paul wrote Second Timothy. Almost all commentators concede that Onesiphorus had probably died—maybe even martyred during Nero’s persecution.

Paul speaks of him in the past tense and strangely asks for God’s mercy on his “household” without mentioning him, as though he was no longer here. Because Onesiphorus had served so well and was no longer alive, Paul prays for God’s blessing on his surviving family.

All implications are that Onesiphorus has died. But Paul prays for him!

In 2 Timothy 1:18, while in prison awaiting his death, Paul prays for the dead man and it is recorded in the Bible. Here is what St. Paul writes, “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day.” This is not just an expression of sentimental emotion—this is a prayer for a man who has died, it is prayer for the dead.

Paul, who was earlier known as Saul the Pharisee, was well immersed in the teaching and tradition of the Pharisaical Jews. The Jews prayed for the dead and Paul would not have seen the practice as egregious or unbiblical; rather, he would have viewed prayer for the dead as a proper practice for a Jew, and also now for a Christian who believes in the afterlife.

Here is what the widely respected six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary writes……”

To read the article, click Prayer for the Dead: Did St. Paul Do This?

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 Barry wrote in my combox today – in response to my post entitled “Where Does the Bible Say We Should Pray to Dead Saints?” – Resources about Communion of the Saints I thought I would respond briefly.

Barrry wrote: Would you please read the Lord’s prayer. Jesus prayed it. He was giving an example of how to pray. He didn’t pray to Peter, Paul, Mary, or John-who took care of Jesus’s mother and wrote Revelation. No, He prayed to His Father. This is Jesus Himself praying, should we not follow Him, as He asked Peter and His disciples to follow Him. This reference in 350AD is close to 270 years or more after the disciples died. The disciples who wrote the gospel. Do their words of what Christ told them mean nothing?

STEVE RAY RESPONDS BRIEFLY:

FIRST, thanks for writing Barry and God bless you. You start out with a seeming tone of condescension. Of course, I have read the Lord’s Prayer, in fact, I have it memorized :-)  By the way, we Catholics refer to John 17 as the Lords’ Prayer. What you call the Lords’ Prayer we usually refer to as the Our Father.

Card-85-Holy-Spirit-backSECOND, is it ONLY to the Father that we should pray? Is Jesus’ example restricting us from “praying” to anyone else? This seems to be your implication. However, should we also pray to Jesus? Is that allowed? And what about the Holy Spirit? Should we pray to him or is that disallowed? According to your statements above we should not pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit! If you say we are allowed (and should) pray to the Holy Spirit you may be interested to know that nowhere in Scripture are we told to do that nor do we have an example of someone who does. Yes, most Christians would agree we should pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well as to the Father.

THIRD, The words pray and worship are two different words with different meanings. Pray Is to ask for something, it means a petition or a request. Worship means to do just that, worship and adore. Worship is something reserved for the Trinity alone. Protestants tend to see pray and worship as synonyms which is one reason they often react so negatively to the reality of the intercession of the saints.

When we pray to Saint it is not worshiping them. It is asking them to intercede WITH us as we pray to God himself. God is the only one who can answer prayers.

15445tca0714_ChristGlorifiedFOURTH, when Jesus was on the earth the Saints were not yet in glory–heaven had not been opened yet. When Jesus ascended to heaven he brought the dead with him into the presence of God. From that point on they’re in the presence of God himself and can intercede personally for people still on earth (or do you think they can’t or don’t care?) 

Like I asked my mother who doubts the saints are aware of things on the earth and can intercede for us. “Do you think Dad has forgotten you, doesn’t care about you anymore or isn’t ask the Lord to bless you? Dad is sitting in his favorite chair having coffee with Our Lord Jesus waiting for you to arrive to love you better than ever before. In the meantime, he is praying for you and very intent on your well being. (Read my article, “Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love our Spouses in Heaven?”

Transfiguration-1024x670FIFTH, we are commanded to pray for each other and to ask others to pray for us. We believe the church is one organic body not split up and divided. Those in heaven are part of the body of Christ like we are. We ask them to intercede for us just like I could ask you to intercede for me.

Even though right now I can’t see you or talk to you personally I can use technology to do it to ask you to intercede for me. I don’t know how spiritual technology works but I certainly trust the Scriptures and the Church. The Saints are very much alive in the presence of God and they are concerned about what’s going on down on earth (consider Moses at the Transfiguration in Luke 9:30-31). The Saints in the presence of God in heaven can easily request of God benefits on our behalf.

SIXTH, Believers have been asking for the prayers of the Saints since the beginning. All one has to do is look at the graffiti left in the catacombs to see where they said from the first centuries “Peter and Paul pray for us”. In the catacombs of St. Sebastian there’s one segment of wall covering the former tombs of Sts.  Peter and Paul. There are 614 requests for intersession scratched into the wall from the very first Christians. They were (praying=asking) for the intercession of these two great martyrs and saints.

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 11.30.10 AMThis is just scratching the surface. There is so much more to say but if you’re interested you’ll find the sources. If you’re not then I feel sorry for you. I am so happy that back in my former years as a Protest-ant it was just “Me and Jesus” but now the heavens have opened and I realize I am part of something much bigger, the Mystical Body of Christ with the Communion of the Saints. Blessed be God forever.

I recommend Patrick Madrid’s book Any Friend of God’s is a Friend of Mine.

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What is the Opposite of the word “Believe” in the Bible?

May 29, 2018

I received an email today regarding one of my talks I gave at Franciscan University of Steubenville. It is on my audio CD “Born Again? Faith Alone?” In the talk I said that the opposite of “believe” is to “disobey.” In other words, Jesus does not just require that we “believe” in him like we […]

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Did John the Baptist Doubt that Jesus was the Messiah?

May 24, 2018

I get asked this question a lot and thought others would find my answer helpful. Not that I claim to have discovered this myself but reading and gleaning has brought me to this conclusion. In Luke 7:19-28, John the Baptist was in prison and sent two of his disciples to Galilee to ask Jesus a […]

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Sola Scriptura and the Canon of Scripture

May 23, 2018

Sola Scriptura and the Canon When non-Catholics are asked to provide biblical support or their belief that the Bible Alone is the sole rule of faith for the believer, they usually cite 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which states that “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful”. However, they somehow miss the fact that the two verses […]

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Is Peter the Peg of Isaiah 22 that will be Broken Off?

May 14, 2018

A Protestant friend who is currently splashing in the Tiber and scrambling out on the Catholic side wrote and asked about the Peg of Isaiah 22:23?25. Below is his query and my response. He wrote: >>>The only issue which has unsettled me scripturally which I have not been able to find an answer that suits […]

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My Updated Article on Infant Baptism

May 2, 2018

Even among Evangelical Protestants there is much debate about Infant Baptism. My old Baptist tradition rejected it as a Catholic tradition of men. Dr. Francis Schaeffer, my favorite Evangelical Presbyterian theologian wrote a booklet entitled Infant Baptism in favor of the practice – my wife Janet was raised Presbyterian and baptized as an infant. It […]

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Is DOGMA an Oppressive Catholic Word?

April 29, 2018

When I was an Evangelical Protestant, I thought DOGMA was a dirty word. It had bad connotations. It represented unbiblical teaching forced down people’s throats by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. They invented new doctrines not found in the Bible and then called them dogmas and told Christians if they didn’t believe them — […]

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Hair Cut only Once a Year

April 22, 2018

David had a very handsome son. His name was Absalom and he betrayed his father the king and led a rebellion against him. The Bible says that Absalom was “beautiful“ and he only cut his hair once a year. Here is what the Bible says about him: “Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised […]

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Crap, Castration & Two Creations – Colorful New Testament Wording

April 12, 2018

Since we are in Philippi Greece today, I thought I would post this colorful blog :-) We miss a lot when reading the English Bible. We’re at a great disadvantage. The early Christians read the writings of the apostles in the original language – they understood the words and expressions must better than we do. […]

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How Big Was Jesus in Mary’s Womb at the Visitation – and what could he do?

April 8, 2018

“How big was baby Jesus in Mary’s womb when Mary visited Elizabeth?” That is the question I asked myself while visiting the Church of the Visitation in Israel. What I learned was quite revolutionary and amazing. This is one of the best pro-life arguments from Scripture and one I’ve not heard discussed before. It also […]

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So, Who Says the Mass is a Sacrifice?

April 2, 2018

Who Says the Mass is a Sacrifice? Well, Jimmy Swaggart says it is NOT a sacrifice and wrote: “The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is, without question, one of the most absurd doctrines ever imposed on a trusting public…  Roman Catholic errors are inevitably human innovations that were inserted into the church during the early centuries. This teaching […]

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“He Descended into Hell” – a very lyrically and beautifully stated ancient homily

March 31, 2018

The Lord’s Descent into Hell By an anonymous ancient homilist SATURDAY, MARCH 31, 2018  Posted on The Catholic Thing (which you should definitely subscribe to :-) What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and […]

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Are You Born Again?

March 21, 2018

I posted this for the listeners of Catholic Answers Live on Wednesday evening, March 21. I will post the audio link as soon as it is available and a list of all the questions we answered. It seems that God is kind of predictable in a way :-) since He always starts new things in the […]

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People at the Foot of the Cross

March 21, 2018

I will only have this up until the end of today and will post it again next week on Wednesday. I did this show with Teresa Tomeo this morning and promised the document for those interested after the show. Click HERE for the PDF document. Click HERE to listen to the show which starts at 12 […]

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