Praying to the dead is strictly forbidden in the Bible. “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.” Deuteronomy 18:10–12
There is one account in scripture, where a living person attempts to talk with the dead (1 Samuel 28:7-20). In this account, Saul, the Witch of Endor, a demon pretending to be Samuel and two guards with Saul are interacting with a demon, not Samuel. The Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul because Saul did not destroy the Amalek’s as God commanded (1 Samuel 15:1-28).
There are some events that bring into perspective the reality of what Saul was experiencing.
• Saul’s Kingdom had been stripped from him and given to David (1 Samuel 15:28, 16:1-3)
• Samuel anointed David to be King of Israel (1 Samuel 16:11-14)
• Samuel was dead. “Now Samuel was dead” (1 Samuel 25:1, 28:3)
• Saul knew that it was against God’s word to seek out familiar spirits or witches.
“A man also or woman that has a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20:27). “And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits and wizards out of the land” (1 Samuel 28:3).
• Saul sent his servants to find a woman, who had a familiar spirits (1 Samuel 28:6-7) This witch was working through Familiar Spirits. Demons can imitate the dead. They use known information involving a person, place or thing.
• This account with Saul and the witch was a modern day séance. (1 Samuel 28:12-14). When the witch gave Saul the description of an old man covered in a mantle, 1 Samuel 28:14. “Mantle” in Hebrew is “Melyl” meaning coat, robe or cloak.
• Saul “Perceived” - Hebrew is the word “Yada” meaning to acknowledge, familiar friend. Saul guessed that the witch was describing Samuel.
• Saul had put his face on the ground. The information that Saul received from the witch was relayed to Saul by the witches own mouth. This is sacrosanct to séances.
• The dead never actually audibly speak through the air with a voice in a séance. Demons can speak through a medium because mediums are servants of demons.
• The Demon was actually telling Samuel he was going to be in Hell the next day. 1 Samuel 28:19
“So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, even against the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it;” 1 Chronicles 10:13
“For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 9:4–6
Any person who is considered a saint, is a dead person. Praying for or to the dead is not a biblical concept. Our prayers have no bearing on someone once he or she has died. Jesus referred to the fact that those who are dead, cannot travel back and forth to the living. “And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence”. Luke 16:26
The reality is that, at the point of death, one’s eternal destiny is confirmed. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” Revelation 22:11
Either one is saved through faith in Christ and is in heaven experiencing rest and joy in the presence of the Lord, or one is in torment in hell. The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 1619–31) provides a vivid illustration of this truth prior to the time of Christ. Jesus plainly used this story to teach that after death the unrighteous are eternally separated from God, that they remember their rejection of the gospel, that they are in torment, and that their condition cannot be remedied.
Often, people who have lost a loved one are encouraged to pray for those who have passed away and for their families. Of course, we should pray for those grieving, but for the dead, no. No one should ever believe that someone may be able to pray for him, thereby effecting some kind of favorable outcome, after he has died. The Bible teaches that the eternal state of mankind is determined by our actions during our lives on earth.
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Ezekiel 18:20
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” Hebrews 9:27
Here we understand that no change in one’s spiritual condition can be made following his death—either by himself or through the efforts of others. If it is useless to pray for the living, who are committing “a sin that leads to death” (1 John 5:16), i.e., continual sin without seeking God’s forgiveness, how could prayer for those who are already dead benefit them, since there is no post-mortem plan of salvation?
The point is that each of us has but one life, and we are responsible for how we live that life. Others may influence our choices, but ultimately we must give an account for the choices we make. Once life is over, there are no more choices to be made; we have no choice but to face judgment. The prayers of others may express their desires, but they won’t change the outcome. The time to pray for a person is while he or she lives and there is still the possibility of his or her heart, attitudes, and behavior being changed (Romans 2:3-9).
It is natural to have a desire to pray in times of pain, suffering, and loss of loved ones and friends, but we know the boundaries of valid prayer as revealed in the Biblical text. The Bible is the only official prayer manual, and it teaches that prayers for the dead are futile. Yet we find the practice of praying for the dead observed in certain areas of “Christendom.” Roman Catholic theology, for example, allows for prayers both to the dead and on behalf of them. But even Catholic authorities admit that there is no explicit authorization for prayers on behalf of the dead in the sixty-six books of canonical Scripture. Instead, they appeal to the Apocrypha (2 Maccabees 12:45), church tradition, the decree of the Council of Trent, etc., to defend the practice.
The Bible teaches that those who have yielded to the Lords will (Hebrews 5:8-9) enter directly and immediately into the presence of the Lord after death (Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8). What need, then, do they have for the prayers of people on the earth? While we sympathize with those who have lost dear ones, we must bear in mind that “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). While the context refers to the gospel age as a whole, the verse is fitting for any individual who is unprepared to face the inevitable—death and the judgment that follows (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Hebrews 9:27). Death is final, and after that, no amount of praying will avail a person of the salvation he has rejected in life.