Did Early Christians Pray for the Dead?

By COGwriter

Are Christians supposed to pray for the dead?

Is this a biblical or early Christian practice?

This brief article will attempt to answer those questions, as well as provide information about how various churches understand this.

The Bible Encourages Prayer, But ...

The Bible encourages prayer.

But there are no scriptures that directly admonish people to pray for the dead.

Many scriptures on prayer are in the free online booklet: Prayer: What Does the Bible Teach?

Those who pray for the dead normally claim that those they are praying for are able to hear their prayers and/or that this will change God's judgment to be more positive towards those prayed for.

Yet, let's notice translations of a few portions of scripture (note: that Catholic Psalm numbers and verses sometimes vary from other translations):

5 For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, (Ecclesiastes 9:5, NKJV)

5 For the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more, (Ecclesiastes 9:5, Douay-Rheims)

5 For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks? (Psalm 6:5)

6 For there is no one in death, that is mindful of thee: and who shall confess to thee in hell? (Psalm 6:6, Douay-Rheims)

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
4 His spirit departs, he returns to his earth;
In that very day his plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4, NKJV)

2 ... Put not your trust in princes:

3 in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.

4 His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish. (Psalm 145:2-4, Douay-Rheims)

The scripture shows that the dead do not hear prayers as they know nothing and do not think. More on the dead can be found in the article What Happens After Death?

As far God's judgment, some scriptures will be cited later.

What Do Roman Catholics Teach?

The Catholic Encyclopedia's article titled Prayers for the Dead contains the following:

Catholic teaching regarding prayers for the dead is bound up inseparably with the doctrine of purgatory and the more general doctrine of the communion of the saints, which is an article of the Apostle's Creed. The definition of the Council of Trent (Sess. XXV), "that purgatory exists, and that the souls detained therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar", is merely a restatement in brief of the traditional teaching which had already been embodied in more than one authoritative formula -- as in the creed prescribed for converted Waldenses by Innocent III in 1210 (Denzinger, Enchiridion, n. 3 73) ...

passages in the Old Testament which are sometimes invoked, but ... are too vague and uncertain in their reference to be urged in proof (v.g. Tobias, iv, 18; Sirach 7:37; etc.), it is enough to notice here the classical passage in II Machabees, xii, 40-46 ...

We have said that there is no clear and explicit Scriptural text in favour of prayers for the dead, except the above text of II Machabees ... Turning finally to early literary sources, we find evidence in the apocryphal "Acta Joannis", composed about A.D. 160-170, that at that time anniversaries of the dead were commemorated by the application of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (Lipsius and Bonnet, "Acta Apost. Apocr.", I, 186). The same fact is witnessed by the "Canons of Hippolytus" (Ed. Achelis, p. 106), by Tertullian (De Cor. Mil., iii, P. L., II, 79), and by many later writers. (Toner P.J. Transcribed by Michael T. Barrett. Prayers for the Dead. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

So, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, the first evidence of people prayers for the dead is a book that the Jews do not accept (Machabees), which mentioned praying for the dead.

Also, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, the first evidence of people claiming Christ and possibly praying from the dead comes from a fraudulent document, called Acta Joannis, from the late second century. But even it does not state that people will praying for the dead, only that the anniversaries of deaths were commemorated during a church service. It should perhaps be pointed out that The Catholic Encyclopedia some early grave markings, including perhaps one that came out around or shortly after the fraudulent document Acta Joannis was written, suggest prayer. Whether those in the graves or those who wrote the inscrptions in the late second/early third century were truly Christian, is in severe doubt, despite assertions to the contrary (my wife and I have visited some of the catacombs and can attest that what is sometimes said of those buried there as 'Christians" is not always acccurate).

As far as Tertullian goes, notice the following:

Among Church writers Tertullian († 230) is the first to mention prayers for the dead: "The widow who does not pray for her dead husband has as good as divorced him". This passage occurs in one of his later writings, dating from the beginning of the 3rd century. (Wikipedia, Prayers for the Dead, accessed 11/09/17)

She who is bound (to another) has not departed (from him). But (will she say), "In peace?" In that case, she must necessarily persevere in that (peace) with him whom she will no longer have the power to divorce; not that she would, even if she had been able to divorce him, have been marriageable. Indeed, she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship (with him) in the first resurrection; and she offers (her sacrifice) on the anniversaries of his falling asleep. For, unless she does these deeds, she has in the true sense divorced him, so far as in her lies; and indeed the more iniquitously — inasmuch as (she did it) as far as was in her power — because she had no power (to do it); and with the more indignity, inasmuch as it is with more indignity if (her reason for doing it is) because he did not deserve it. (Tertullian. On Monogamy, 10. Translated by S. Thelwall. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885)

We in the Continuing Church of God do NOT consider that Tertullian was a Christian. Also, Roman Catholics may wish to consider that Tertullian was NOT part of the Church of Rome in his latter years, probably including when he wrote the above.

A Catholic-supporting writer posted:

The Bible Indicates that In Addition to the Written Word, we are to accept Oral Tradition.

Perhaps the clearest Biblical support for oral tradition can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:14, where Christians are actually commanded: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle."

Sacred Tradition complements our understanding of the Bible and is therefore not some extraneous source of Revelation which contains doctrines that are foreign to it. Quite the contrary: Sacred Tradition serves as the Church’s living memory, reminding her of what the faithful have constantly and consistently believed and who to properly understand and interpret the meaning of Biblical passages. In a certain way, it is Sacred Tradition which says to the reader of the Bible "You have been reading a very important book which contains God’s revelation to man. Now let me explain to you how it has always been understood and practiced by believers from the very beginning."

The Catholic Church emphasized that the Scriptures must be read in light of the apostolic Tradition that was handed down through the ages.

As Saint Peter writes in his epistle, Scripture is not a matter of personal interpretation.

It therefore must mean that it is a matter of public interpretation, and that is the interpretation of the Church.

The Church has always encouraged reading the Scriptures. https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080207143205AAt1sWt# accessed 11/09/17

Yet, the above has parts that are misleading and wrong.

Praying for the dead was not a tradition passed down from the original apostles. We see no evidence of this "tradition" whatsoever among early Christians (see also Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings).

The Bible itself teaches:

3 ... to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3, NKJV)

3 ... to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. (Jude 3, Douay-Rheims)

This is relevant here as praying for the dead was not part of the original faith. (As far as what church best represents the faithful Christian church in the 21st century, check out the article Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? and/or the free online booklet: Where is the True Christian Church Today?). For more on church history, check out the free online book: Continuing History of the Church of God.

The Roman Catholic Church has stated that prayers for the dead was tied in with purgatory, but that doctrine was not adopted until around the end of the 4th century (see Did the Early Church Teach Purgatory?)--hence it was not part of the original faith.

The Catholic Encyclopedia itself admits that early Christians did not teach its current concept of its purgatory doctrine:

Some stress too has been laid upon the objection that the ancient Christians had no clear conception of purgatory, and that they thought that the souls departed remained in uncertainty of salvation to the last day ... (Hanna, Purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia).

Ancient Christians did not teach the purgatory doctrine.

While it is clear that by the seventh century purgatorial ideas were being taught, the idea was not taught so clearly to alienate the Greeks as they did not separate from the Romans until 1054 A.D. But those associated with the Churches of God quickly saw problems with it.

Not surprisingly, the book Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma states that the Cathari and Waldenses (who preceded the Protestants by centuries) were amongst the earliest who were against the Roman teaching on purgatory:

The reality of purgatory was denied by the Cathari, the Waldenses (Ott L. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Nihil Obstat: Jeremiah j. O’Sullivan. Imprimatur: +Cornelius Ep. Corgagiensis ei Ap. Amd. Rossensis, 7 October 1954. Reprint TAN Books, Rockford (IL), 1974, p. 482).

Since purgatory is not a biblical reality, it would make sense that those with true Church of God would oppose such concepts. (Note: Some, but not all, called Cathars or Waldensians, were part of the Church of God (see The Thyatira Church Era).

In the thirteenth century, the famed Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote the following:

Nothing is clearly stated in Scripture about the situation of Purgatory, nor is it possible to offer convincing arguments on this question. It is probable, however, and more in keeping with the statements of holy men and the revelations made to many, that there is a twofold place of Purgatory. One, according to the common law; and thus the place of Purgatory is situated below... Another place of Purgatory is according to dispensation: and thus sometimes, as we read, some are punished in various places, either that the living may learn, or that the dead may be succored, seeing that their punishment being made known to the living may be mitigated through the prayers of the Church.

Some say, however, that according to the common law the place of Purgatory is where man sins. This does not seem probable, since a man may be punished at the same time for sins committed in various places. And others say that according to the common law they are punished above us, because they are between us and God, as regards their state. But this is of no account, for they are not punished for being above us, but for that which is lowest in them, namely sin (Aquinas T. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Appendix II, Article 1. Second and Revised Edition, 1920. Nihil Obstat. F. Innocentius Apap, O.P., S.T.M., Censor. Theol. Imprimatur. Edus. Canonicus Surmont, Vicarius eneralis. Westmonasterii. APPROBATIO ORDINIS Nihil Obstat. F. Raphael Moss, O.P., S.T.L. and F. Leo Moore, O.P., S.T.L. Imprimatur. F. Beda Jarrett, O.P., S.T.L., A.M., Prior Provincialis Angliæ).

Even though it taught purgatory, clearly the Roman Church did not have an absolutely clear position on purgatory in the 13th century.  But Aquinas taught that purgatory would be quite painful.

Consider the following:

10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

Those works happen when one is living. Suffering, in a claimed place like purgatory, is not the kind of good works God created humans for.

Salvation is through Jesus (Acts 4:10-12), not prayers for the dead, who know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and cannot accept Jesus.

Purgatory is a false gospel, despite some calling it "great good news" (see Did the Early Church Teach Purgatory?).

The Apostle Paul wrote:

6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

Prayers for the dead to be released from purgatory is not taught in the New Testament and was not an original Christian practice.

Consider also something from the Old Testament:

10 There must never be anyone among you who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire of sacrifice, who practises divination, who is soothsayer, augur or sorcerer, 11 weaver of spells, consulter of ghosts or mediums, or necromancer. (Deuteronomy 18:10-11, New Jerusalem Bible)

A 'necromancer' is one who supposedly consults with the dead. God's word warns against involvement with such practices.

We in the Continuing Church of God practice the original faith that the Catholics like to think they do--actually we, not those associated with the Church of Rome, are the original 'catholic church.' Details are in the article Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? as well as the free online books Continuing History of the Church of God and Where is the True Christian Church Today?

The Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches praying for the dead. But because it does not teach the purgatory doctrine, it uses other rationale for praying for the dead. Notice what one of its bishops wrote:

"In God and in His Church there is no division between the living and the departed ... Therefore just as Orthodox Christians here on earth pray for one another and ask for one another's prayers, so they pray for the faithful departed and ask the faithful departed to pray for them ... Orthodox are convinced that Christians here on earth have a duty to pray for the departed, and they are confident that the departed are helped by such prayers" (Ware, pp.254-255).

"Reverence for the saints in closely bound up with the veneration of icons. These are placed by Orthodox not only in their churches, but in each room of their homes, and even in cars and buses ... At Baptism an Orthodox is given the name of a saint, as a symbol of her or his entry into the unity of the Church ... Orthodox have a special devotion to the saint whose name they bear; usually keeping an icon of their patron saint in their room and daily ask for his or her intercessions. The festival of their patron saint they keep as their Name Day ... An Orthodox Christian invokes in prayers not only the saints but the angels, and in particular her of his guardian angel. The angels 'fence us around with their intercessions and shelter us under their protecting wings of immaterial glory' ... The Mother of God. Among the saints a special position belongs to the Blessed Virgin Mary" (Ware, pp.256-257).

So, the Eastern Orthodox tie praying for the dead in with veneration of icons. The use of icons was also not an early practice of the Christian church (see What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons?).

Furthermore, The Catholic Encyclopedia the reports the following about "All Saints Day":

ALL SAINTS. As early as the fourth century, the Greeks kept on the first Sunday after Pentecost the feast of all martyrs and saints, and we still possess a sermon of St. Chrysostom de-livered on that day. In the West, the feast was introduced by Pope Boniface the Fourth after he had dedicated, as the Church of the Blessed Virgin and the Martyrs, the Pantheon, which had been made over to him by the Emperor Phocas. The feast of the dedication was kept on the thirteenth of May. About 731 Gregory III. consecrated a chapel in St. Peter's Church in honour of all the saints, from which time All Saints' Day has been kept in Rome, as now, on the first of November. From about the middle of the ninth century, the feast came into general observance throughout the West. (Addis W, Arnold T. Catholic Dictionary, 6th ed. The Catholic Publication Society Co, 1887. Nihil Obstat. EDUARDUS S. KEOGH, CONG. ORAT., Censor Deputatu Imprimatur. HENRICUS EDUARDUS, CARD. ARCHIEP. WESTMONAST. Die 18 Dec., 1883. Imprimatur. John Card. McCloskey, Archbishop of New York. Feb. 14, 1884. Copyright, Lawrence Kehoe, 1884/1887. p20).

So, it took until at least the fourth century for the Eastern Orthodox to begin such commemorations (see also All Saints' Day, the Day of the Dead, and All Souls' Day).

Praying for the dead clearly was not an original Christian practice.

Notice the following argument from an Orthodox source:

So the question at hand is whether or not it is appropriate to pray for the dead.

Since Protestants hold to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura*, I will provide three biblical precedents – one from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament – each from books that all Protestants consider as canonical:

1. Moses prayed for Reuben after he had died: 

"Let Reuben live and not die."  [Deuteronomy 33:6]

2. Peter prayed for Tabitha after she had died: 

"Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord." [Acts 9:36-42] 

3. St. Paul prayed for Onesiphorus after he had died.

“The Lord grant mercy to household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day…” [II Timothy 1:16-18]

Now since Protestants must concede the biblical basis for praying for the dead, they often resort to critiquing how and why we Orthodox pray for the dead. But it is arrogant and dangerous to judge the prayers of another, especially when those prayers are offered to God on behalf of others. (PRAYERS for the DEAD? by Gebre Menfes Kidus. Article published in English on: 23-3-2011. http://www.oodegr.com/english/protestantism/prayers_dead.htm accessed 11/10/17)

There are problems for each of those claims.

1. The statement about Reuben was a prophecy for his descendants (cf. Deuteronomy 33:1). Not a prayer for the dead (read the entire 33rd chapter of Deuteronomy for the context).

2. Jesus also raised Lazarus who was dead (John 11:11-43). A miracle to raise the dead is not the same as the Orthodox practice of prayers for the dead.

3. The Bible does not state that Onesiphorus was dead. To the contrary, his household is saluted later in that letter (2 Timothy 4:19), indicating that he was still alive (more on 2 Timothy 1 is found later in this article).

The Bible does not enjoin the practices of praying for the dead as the Eastern Orthodox currently engage in.

We in the Continuing Church of God are NOT Protestant, and we practice the original faith that the Orthodox like to think they do. Details are in the article Some Similarities and Differences Between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Continuing Church of God as well as the free online books Continuing History of the Church of God and Where is the True Christian Church Today?

The Lutherans

The Lutherans have tended to soften their position about this. Here is something from a Lutheran Church website:

Dead, Prayers for.

Prayers for the dead can be traced back to early Christian times (Apostolic* Constitutions, VIII, 41–42; Cyril* of Jerusalem, Catechesis XXIII, Mystagogica V, 9–10; Tertullian,* De corona militis, 3, and De oratione, 29). Augustine held that prayers for the dead could help only those who had led pious lives (De verbis apostoli, sermo CLXXII XXXII, 2). Prayers for the dead were assoc. with the celebration of the Lord's Supper (Apostolic Constitutions, VI, 30). RC doctrine “regarding prayers for the dead is bound up inseparably with the doctrine of purgatory and the more general doctrine of the communion of saints” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908 ed., p. 653; cf. Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Session XXV, “Decree Concerning Purgatory”). The RC locus classicus is 2 Mac 12:40–45 (cf. 1 Co 15:29).

Luther's position is best summarized: “Nothing has been commanded or enjoined upon us concerning the dead. Therefore all this may he safely omitted, even if it were no error and idolatry” (SA-II II 12). He inclines to a cautious toleration of the practice, points out that we have no command to pray for the dead, inasmuch as those who are in heaven do not need prayers, and those who are in hell cannot be helped thereby, and suggests that Christians make their prayers conditional (WA 10-III, 194–195, 409 to 410; 11, 130; 12, 596; 26, 508; 44, 203). The Ap states: “We know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit” (XXIV, 94). Luther and the confessions vigorously oppose purgatory and attempts to gain forgiveness of sins for the dead, esp. through such works as masses and almsgiving (see Opus operatum). M. Chemnitz* regarded ancient prayers for the dead as exhortations and consolations for the living (Examen Concilii Tridentini, III, Locus III: De purgatorio, Section II, vii, 12). Most Luth. theologians regarded prayers for the dead as useless or unpermitted; others emphasized the mystical union of believers and regarded prayers for the dead (though not for their salvation) permissible. http://cyclopedia.lcms.org/display.asp?t1=d&word=DEAD.PRAYERSFOR accessed 11/09/17

As far as being "traced back to early Christian times," that is not the case. The so-called Apostolic Constitutions were not from the apostles and date from the 3rd or 4th century A.D. It also says to keep the Sabbath and Sunday (Apostolic Constitutions, Book VII, chapter XXIII) and the Lutherans do not do that.

Other Protestants and Other Faiths

In general, Protestants historically have tended to be against prayers for the dead. Here are three of the most common reasons:

Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)

Should we Pray for the Dead?
Date: Wednesday, 01 July 2015
Author: Rev David M Blunt

1) Our prayers are not needed by those who are in heaven ...

2) Our prayers cannot help those who are in hell {the lake of fire}...

3) Prayers for the dead have no warrant in Scripture

http://www.freechurchcontinuing.org/reports/news/current-comment/item/should-we-pray-for-the-dead 11/10/17

The saved do not need prayers. Those who have committed the unpardonable sin (see What is the Unpardonable Sin?) cannot have that prayed away by others.

Prayers for the dead are not scriptural and have a non-biblical basis.

Alexander Hislop wrote the following about their historic roots:

Chapter IV
Section V
Purgatory and Prayers for the Dead

In every system, therefore, except that of the Bible, the doctrine of a purgatory after death, and prayers for the dead, has always been found to occupy a place. Go wherever we may, in ancient or modern times, we shall find that Paganism leaves hope after death for sinners, who, at the time of their departure, were consciously unfit for the abodes of the blest. For this purpose a middle state has been feigned, in which, by means of purgatorial pains, guilt unremoved in time may in a future world be purged away, and the soul be made meet for final beatitude. In Greece the doctrine of a purgatory was inculcated by the very chief of the philosophers. Thus Plato, speaking of the future judgment of the dead, holds out the hope of final deliverance for all, but maintains that, of "those who are judged," "some" must first "proceed to a subterranean place of judgment, where they shall sustain the punishment they have deserved"; while others, in consequence of a favourable judgment, being elevated at once into a certain celestial place, "shall pass their time in a manner becoming the life they have lived in a human shape." In Pagan Rome, purgatory was equally held up before the minds of men; but there, there seems to have been no hope held out to any of exemption from its pains. (Hislop A. Two Babylons. 1858. Loizeaux Brothers, Second American edition 1959).

Pagans, like the ancient Greeks and Romans prayed to and for the dead.

So have various the Druids:


On the gold Sun Bead say:
Blessed (Father, Mother,) come to me,
and cast your lovely, golden light.
Give light to earth that I may see
your glory shining ever bright.
Triple Kindred, Blessed Be,
and true well met, my soul’s delight!

On the space say:
I bind unto my self today the
Memory of the Ancestors.

Meditate on the Memory of the Ancestors . . .
On each Ancestor Bead say:
Ancestors, Ancient Ones,
Remember me as I remember you
Old Ones, hear my prayer,
And accept my offering of love.

On the space say:
I bind unto myself today the
Comradeship of all Earth Spirits

Meditate on the Aid of the Earth Spirits . . .
On each Earth Spirit Bead say:
Fur and feather, leaf and stone,
Aid me as I aid you.
Earth Spirits hear my prayer,
And accept my offering of love.

On the space say:
I bind unto myself today the
Power of the Gods and Goddesses.

Meditate on the Honor of the Shining Ones . . .
On each God and Goddess Bead say:
Gods and Goddesses, Shining Ones,
Honor me as I honor you.
First-Born of Earth, hear my prayer,
And accept my offering of love.

On the space say:
I bind unto myself today
The Presence of the Three Kindreds.

On the gold Sun Bead conclude:
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit Heavens,
The glorious Sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the Moon at even;
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling Wind’s tempestuous shocks;
The stable Earth, the deep salt Sea,
Around the old eternal Rocks.
So may it be.

Copyright 1997

http://northernway.org/school/onw/prayers.html accessed 11/09/17

Various modern pagans, also including many of the Wiccans and Hindus, pray to and/or for the dead now.

In Islam, Muslims of their community gather to their collective prayers for the forgiveness of the dead, a prayer is recited and this prayer is known as the Salat al-Janazah (Janazah prayer).

We in the Church of God believe that one must repent and ask for forgiveness and that since the dead cannot do this, there should not be prayers for that.

What About Onesiphorus?

There is a passage in the New Testament that some believe supports praying for the dead. Here is something from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

St. Paul speaks of Onesiphorus in a way that seems obviously to imply that the latter was already dead: "The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus" — as to a family in need of consolation. Then, after mention of loyal services rendered by him to the imprisoned Apostle at Rome, comes the prayer for Onesiphorus himself, "The Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day" (the day of judgment); finally, in the salutation, "the household of Onesiphorus" is mentioned once more, without mention of the man himself. The question is, what had become of him? Was he dead, as one would naturally infer from what St. Paul writes? Or had he for any other cause become separated permanently from his family, so that prayer for them should take account of present needs while prayers for him looked forward to the day of judgment? Or could it be that he was still at Rome when the Apostle wrote, or gone elsewhere for a prolonged absence from home? The first is by far the easiest and most natural hypothesis; and if it be admitted, we have here an instance of prayer by the Apostle for the soul of a deceased benefactor. (Toner P.J. Transcribed by Michael T. Barrett. Prayers for the Dead. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Of course, that is not the case. And even The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that this could be a stretch.

Notice the actual passages:

16 I hope the Lord will be kind to all the family of Onesiphorus, because he has often been a comfort to me and has never been ashamed of my chains. 17 On the contrary, as soon as he reached Rome, he searched hard for me and found me. 18 May the Lord grant him to find the Lord's mercy on that Day. You know better than anyone else how much he helped me at Ephesus. (2 Timothy 2:16-18, New Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic-translation)

Paul was writing to Timothy, and this is not really what one would consider to be a prayer--it is a statement of hope in a letter. Mentioning a hope that God would grant someone mercy is not a prayer. So, this is not a prayer for the dead.

Furthermore, this never says that Onesiphorus was dead. The following indicates thas he was still alive:

19 Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. (2 Timothy 4:19, Douay-Rheims)

If Onesiphorus were dead, it would no longer be his household.

In 2 Timothy 1, Paul is praising Onesiphorus for being faithful when others were not and for helping him in the past. Paul is essentially offering thanks for Onesiphorus and his family for their dedication. This, in essence, would be his hope that they keep the faith and that God makes it easier to do so (cf. Luke 21:36)--for if they were not faithful, God would not be able to grant him/them mercy at future.

As far as what "on that day" means related to 2 Timothy 1:18, many claim that this is the final judgment day. But notice:

17 The time has come for the judgement to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who refuse to believe God's gospel? (1 Peter 4:17, NJB)

Also, it should be pointed out that the expression same Greek words translated as "on that day" in the NJB for 2 Timothy 1:18 are also used by Jesus in John 16:23 and that expression is NOT referring to the final day of judgment:

22 So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you. 23 When that day comes, you will not ask me any questions. In all truth I tell you, anything you ask from the Father he will grant in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete. (John 16:22-24)

But even if 2 Timothy 1:18 was a reference to the final judgment day, then it most certainly is NOT a prayer to get one out of purgatory earlier--which is the main Roman Catholic reason for prayers for the dead!

To try to claim that 2 Timothy 1:18 teaches prayers for the dead is not sound, and even The Catholic Encyclopedia seems to suspect this.

The Church of God

The Bible teaches that we are responsible for our sins and should repent of them:

24 "But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die.

25 "Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. 27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. 28 Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?

30 "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord God. "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord God. "Therefore turn and live!" (Ezekiel 18:24-32, NKJV)

Notice that the above does not hint that praying for the dead can change that. Some may wish to ignore that as it is in the Old Testament, yet notice what the Apostle Paul taught:

3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who "will render to each one according to his deeds": 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (Romans 2:3-16, NKJV)

Those that practice sin will be judged. Those granted eternal life obey--the dead are not prayed into salvation.

As far as judgment itself goes, notice the following:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. (Revelation 20:11-12)

Notice that those in this judgment, which is related to the second resurrection (cf. Revelation 20:5), are judged by what is written in the books. While some can argue about the identity of the books (some say the books are the Bible, some believe it is one book on each person's life), the judgment is not based upon prayers to, or for, the dead one being judged. God's judgment is not based on how many prayed for you, even if you give a priest money to do more of it.

Church of God writers, as well as some groups who seemed to have some leaders in the Church of God, have opposed the common practices of prayers for the dead.

Some of those called Waldenses were in that category. Actually, the Waldensians considered praying for the dead and purgatory to be a doctrines of Antichrist. The following Waldensian writing appears to be from the 12th century:

"Antichrist is a falsehood, or deceit varnished over with the semblance of truth, and of the righteousness of Christ and his spouse, yet in opposition to the way of truth, righteousness, faith, hope, charity, as well as to moral life. It is not any particular person ordained to any degree, or office, or ministry, but it is a system of falsehood, opposing itself to the truth, covering and adorning itself with a show of beauty and piety, yet very unsuitable to the church of Christ, as by the names, and offices, the Scriptures, and the sacraments, and various other things, may appear. The system of iniquity thus completed with its ministers, great and small, supported by those who are induced to follow it with an evil heart and blind-fold—this is the congregation, which, taken together, comprises what is called Antichrist or Babylon, the fourth beast, the whore, the man of sin, the son of perdition. His ministers are called false prophets, lying teachers, the ministers of darkness, the spirit of error, the apocalyptic whore, the mother of harlots, clouds without water, trees without leaves, twice dead, plucked up by the roots, wandering stars, Balaamites and Egyptians.

"He is termed Antichrist because being disguised under the names of Christ and of his church and faithful members, he oppugns the salvation which Christ wrought out, and which is truly administered in his church—and of which salvation believers participate by faith, hope, and charity. Thus he opposes the truth by the wisdom of this world, by false religion, by counterfeit holiness, by ecclesiastical power, by secular tyranny, and by the riches, honours, dignities, with the pleasures and delicacies of this world. It should therefore be carefully observed, that Antichrist could not come, without a concurrence of all these things, making up a system of hypocrisy and falsehood—these must be, the wise of this world, the religious orders, the pharisees, ministers, and doctors; the secular power, with the people of the world, all mingled together. For although Antichrist was conceived in the times of the apostles, he was then in his infancy, imperfect and unformed, rude, unshapen, and wanting utterance. He then wanted those hypocritical ministers and human ordinances, and the outward show of religious orders which he afterwards obtained. As he was destitute of riches and other endowments necessary to allure to himself ministers for his service, and to enable him to multiply, defend, and protect his adherents, so he also wanted the secular power to force others to forsake the truth and embrace falsehood. But growing up in his members, that is, in his blind and dissembling ministers, and in worldly subjects, he at length arrived at full maturity, when men, whose hearts were set upon this world, blind in the faith, multiplied in the church, and by the union of church and state, got the power of both into their hands.

"Christ never had an enemy like this; so able to pervert the way of truth into falsehood, insomuch that the true church, with her children, is trodden under foot. The worship that belongs alone to God he transfers to Antichrist himself—to the creature, male and female, deceased—to images, carcasses, and relics. The sacrament of the eucharist is converted into an object of adoration, and the worshipping of God alone is prohibited. He robs the Saviour of his merits, and the sufficiency of his grace in justification, regeneration, remission of sins, sanctification, establishment in the faith, and spiritual nourishment; ascribing all these things to his own authority, to a form of words, to his own *works, to the intercession of saints, and to the fire of purgatory. He seduces the people from Christ, drawing off their minds from seeking those blessings in him, by a lively faith in God, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, and teaching his followers to expect them by the *will and pleasure and works of Antichrist. (A Treatise concerning Antichrist, Purgatory, the Invocation of Saints, and the Sacraments" as shown in Jones, William. The history of the Christian church from the birth of Christ to the xviii. century, Volumes 1-2, 3rd edition. R.W. Pomeroy, 1832. Original from Harvard University, Digitized, Feb 6, 2009, pp. 337-340) 

So, intercessions/prayers to saints was condemned.

The old Radio and Worlwide Church of God put out information against prayers for the dead:

Thyatira Era Begins The pope in 1096 described the Valley Louise in Dauphiny, France, as infested with "heresy." It was a result of Paulician and Bogomil evangelization of the Alpine regions. About 1104, a man from this valley, called Peter of Bruys, began at Embrun to preach REPENTANCE throughout Languedoc and Provence...One of the definitions of the Greek word Thyatira is "sweet savor of contrition," in other words, "real repentance." Peter of Bruys taught that infant baptism was useless. He only baptized persons old enough to know and mean what they were doing -- that is, only AFTER REAL REPENTANCE. He further rejected the Catholic MYSTERY teaching that the priest in the Mass produced the literal flesh of Christ. He opposed reverence for crosses, emphasis on huge church edifices, the fable of purgatory, prayers for the dead with their inevitable heavy bribes paid to the greedy religious leaders who falsely claimed to represent God. Converted followers gathered around Peter of Bruys. God's Church was beginning again to do a Work. Freed from the errors of Cathars and Catholics, a spiritual gospel was once again being widely preached (LESSON 51 (1968) AMBASSADOR COLLEGE BIBLE CORRESPONDENCE COURSE "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place ..." Rev. 12:6).

Prayers on behalf of the dead have no meaning, for nothing can be changed by them. God's Word shows that the dead no longer have any physical or mental activity (Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10). Each person who dies sleeps in his grave in unconsciousness until the resurrection (John 5:28-29; Daniel 12:2; Job 19:25-26; 14:12-14; John 3:13; Acts 2:29, 34). Clearly, prayers should be for the living {who still have hope of repentance}, not for the dead {who cannot repent in that state}.

Prayers for the dead are based on the false teaching that man possesses an immortal soul. Some believe that at death a wicked person's "immortal" soul is tormented in hell. Friends and relatives then pray that the departed "soul" be spared some of its suffering. But the Bible says that the soul itself can die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; also, compare the last parts of verses 7 and 17 of Genesis 2). There are absolutely no biblical grounds for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. ...

God promises to resurrect those who have died before being called and offer them salvation. You may be surprised to learn that most of humanity has not yet had the opportunity for salvation. (Worldwide Church of God, Letter 114, 1989)

Concluding Comments

Pagans have long prayed to the dead.

The Bible teaches that the dead do not know anything neither do they think.

If praying for the dead was a teaching that God intended, it would be clear in scripture as well as in early church history. But this is NOT the case. Teaching otherwise is a false gospel!

The Bible does not enjoin praying for the dead. Early Christian 'tradition' does not support praying for the dead.

The earliest later 'traditions' for praying to the dead were based on false documents.

The Continuing Church of God rejects the heretical innovation known as "prayers for the dead." The Roman Catholics tie it to purgatory and the Eastern Orthodox tie it to idolatry. The Lutherans act like it does not really matter.

It is of importance to note that II Machabees (normally spelled Maccabees) is not accepted as canonical by the COG nor Protestants and was not formally accepted by the Roman Catholics until around the time of the Protestant Reformation--thus even Roman Catholic Church scholars admit that there is no clear evidence in scripture concerning prayer for the dead.

Individual Christians are to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). We do not save others.

Those associated with the Church of God have long condemned common praying for the dead practices. While we will pray for the comfort, etc. of those affected by the dying, we do not pray for the dead themselves.

Will you "contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered for the saints" (Jude 3)? Or do you prefer changes?

True Christians strive to be faithful to the Bible and the practices of the original Church of God.

If one want to help others, pray that God would help you live a better life, so that they could be a better witness (cf. Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 7:15-16; cf. Luke 21:36).

Thiel B. Did Early Christians Pray for the Dead? http://www.cogwriter.com/prayers-for-the-dead.htm COGwriter (c) 2017/2018 0417

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