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What does the Bible say about praying to the dead?

Let’s say you have a question about a homework assignment. Who would you ask: your teacher or a student who took that class 5 years ago? How about if you had a question at your job? Would you ask your boss or someone who works at a different store? Let's say you have a question about one of your weekly chores at home. Would you ask your parent about it or the mean neighbor across the street?

Or would you just stand outside your school/job/house and yell your question into the void? Which of these options makes the most sense?

Hopefully, the answer is obvious. The person “in charge” is the best one to discuss those issues with. Why ask someone who’s out-of-date, out-of-touch, or might even be hostile? Why talk when there’s no chance of getting an accurate answer? Why ask if there’s a good chance the answer’s going to get you into a bad situation?

That is essentially why the Bible says we aren’t supposed to pray to the dead—God is going to give us the best, most accurate answer or response.

I AM’s Standing Right Here!

Prayer gives us the ability to speak with the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good Creator of the universe. Why would anyone want to ask (or pray) to someone else to someone else—ever?

Even if we thought there was a small chance the dead might answer (more on that later), there’s a 0% chance they’d give us an answer better or more effective than the one we could get from God. Even if there was a chance the dead could help in the some positive way, how could they help more than God Himself?

The Bible tells us there is ONE person who bridges the gap between us and God (1 Timothy 2:5). That person is Jesus—not a deceased family member, saint, or anyone else.

Dead Men Tell No Tales…

To be clear, dead people don’t actually hear us or reply to our questions. They cannot do it. How do we know? The Bible talks about the dead often but never suggests that those who have passed on can regularly communicate with the living. In 1 Samuel 28, Saul tricks a witch into summoning the recently deceased Samuel. When the Lord allows Samuel to appear, the witch cries out in terror (v.11-12) because summoning the dead is not actually supposed to be possible.

There’s no reason for God to allow the dead to talk to the living on a regular basis anyway. Scripture says those who have died have their fate sealed (Hebrews 9:27). We can’t change their destiny, and they can’t influence ours. The Bible doesn't even hint that the dead can exert supernatural power on earth.

So, if the dead can’t hear our prayers, they can’t answer back, and they can’t effect change on earth, what’s the harm in trying to talk to them? Other than being a waste of time and effort, we have one word for you: demons.

…but Demons love to DM

If you go a random place on the internet, say a Tumblr blog or an Instagram comment thread, and started asking questions, you could be sure of two things: 1. You don’t really know who you’re talking to, and 2. There are definitely going to be trolls in the area. If I told you a platform had blocked all legitimate commenters and only allowed trollers, would you still try to communicate or learn anything there?

Spiritually, that’s the case as well. In terms of prayer, there are only two options: talk to God or talk to “whoever else is listening.” And the only beings in that second category are Satan and his fallen angels (demons).

A person might TRY to pray to the dead, but most likely they won’t get an answer because the person they want to address can’t hear them. However, there’s also a chance they WILL get an answer, but it won't be from that person. It’ll be from a spiritual being that can hear and wants to answer but has zero interest in that person's well-being.

God says not to talk to the dead.

God makes it clear that praying to the dead is a serious sin (Deuteronomy 18:11; 1 Samuel 28:1-25; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14). Any attempt to communicate with a spiritual entity, other than God Himself, does three things:

  1. It ignores a direct command from God.
  2. It bypasses the best possible person to pray to in the first place—God Himself.
  3. It opens a channel of communication with demons who hate and defy God and would love nothing more than to hurt you.

Well-meaning people, especially in certain churches, may suggest that praying to specific dead people is OK, so long as you’re just asking that person to speak to God on your behalf. But remember, there’s nothing in the Bible suggesting those people can hear—or that they could pressure God into doing anything.

Or that there’s any good reason not to just talk to God in the first place.

Whether your intentions are good, bad, or indifferent, the answer is the same: Prayers to the dead are against God’s law and dangerous to your spiritual safety. Talking to the dead is not something Christians should practice for any reason. Cut out the middleman and talk to God directly.

TL;DR

Why talk to strangers, enemies, or empty space when you could talk to the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe? God prohibits prayers to the dead—period, full stop, no exceptions. He is more than able to hear and answer our prayers; we don't need intercessors who have gone to the grave. Those who try to pray to the dead, risk opening a line of communication with a demon or other being who isn’t going to be helpful. Even if someone means well, there's no biblical reason any Christian should ever pray to someone who has died (Deuteronomy 18:11).

By: Jeff Laird

Jeff is a staff writer with Got Questions Ministries and used to be a mechanical engineer. When he's not accidentally setting things on fire in his workshop, or petting strange dogs, he loves helping people better understand God’s Word and how it applies to our lives. Jeff's calling is to untangle the "big picture" of Christian faith, making it easier to understand.

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