Praying for the Dead Proved from Scripture

**Praying for the Dead Proved from Scripture **

In the following passages, note carefully that Paul prays for and sends greeting to the “household of Onesiphorous” who, by implication, has recently died. Prayer for the dead is clearly demonstrated when Paul specifically prays for the dead man in 2 Tim. 1:18.

**2 Timothy 1:16-18 (RSV) **
May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiph’orus, 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.

**2 Timothy 4:19 **
Greet Prisca and Aq’uila, and the household of Onesiph’orus.

Thanks for this!


I’m personally not convinced either way on prayer for the dead, so please don’t take my post as a defense of either of the usual positions.

But isn’t 2 Timothy, as a pastoral book, generally about the ‘how to’ of an overseer’s duties in ministering to the faithful? This particular verse simply seems to show how a priest ought to comfort a grieving family - with the promise of eternal life, assured to those who live and die in Christ. I guess I read this brief commendation of Ol’ Oney’s life more as a comfort to the living than a prayer for the dead.

Have to check the Greek/English side-by-side when I get home.

Hi Randy,
From the Lutheran perspective:


Various late-night thoughts:

Well, I do notice that, in the last 500 years or so, Christians seem to be able to do, or be responsible for less and less, while God is responsible (to whom?) for more and more.

It does not matter if one holds Tobit to be scripture or not. Tobias fasted and cared for the dead bodies of fellow Hebrews before he ate.

It does not matter if one holds 2 Maccabees to be scriptural or not. It is historical, and sacrifice and prayers were offered for the godly dead.

If fasting and prayer can cast demons out, they surely can be applied on behalf of the sins of the dead - both are in the spiritual realm.

Feeding, clothing and visiting the sick are corporal works of mercy - comforting members of the Body of Christ. Do they cease being members of Christ’s body when body and soul are separated? Did Christ cease being Savior when His Body and Soul were separated while He preached the Gospel to the dead?

On a purely human, Pascal’s wager level, is it better to:

  1. Not pray for the dead and find out later you should have prayed?
  2. Pray for the dead and find out later you need not have?

Only one path communicates with God (which is always good) - a God whose grace is not restricted by man’s personal theology.



16 δῴη ἔλεος ὁ κύριος τῷ Ὀνησιφόρου οἴκῳ, ὅτι πολλάκις με ἀνέψυξεν καὶ τὴν ἅλυσίν μου οὐκ ἐπαισχύνθη, 17 ἀλλὰ γενόμενος ἐν Ῥώμῃ σπουδαίως ἐζήτησέν με καὶ εὗρεν 18 δῴη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος εὑρεῖν ἔλεος παρὰ κυρίου ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ. καὶ ὅσα ἐν Ἐφέσῳ διηκόνησεν, Βέλτιον σὺ γινώσκεις.

16 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus;[3] often enough he revived my spirits. Instead of being ashamed of a prisoner’s acquaintance, 17 he sought me out when he was in Rome, and succeeded in finding me. 18 The Lord grant that he may find mercy with his Lord when that day comes; what he did for me in Ephesus I have no need to tell thee.

What about 2 Maccabees 12:46?

So if I’m reading you rightly, the question for you is not whether “may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day” is appropriate, but only about whether to call it praying for the dead?

I think the phrase lacks clarity. One person could mean by prayer the belief that their prayer is somehow efficacious in procuring mercy for the deceased post-mortem, and another could simply be expressing their hopes and wishes for the person to God as a means of unburdening themself, without any expectation that this prayer is going to change the fate of the deceased. So two people could agree it is a “prayer” and yet totally disagree with each other at a other level of detail. (One could also hold the view of steido01 that it isn’t a prayer).

What I think the passage clearly shows is that Paul wasn’t an advocate of OSAS, given that he clearly saw Onesiphorus as an example to the church, and yet had reservations about an unqualified statement of God’s mercy to him. While other passages demonstrate this, I think this one further makes the case against OSAS.

The point is that Paul was prayerfully expressing his hope that God will grant him mercy. Prayer for the dead should not be done in hopes that we are heros, but that the person whom you are praying for benefits from the grace of God’s mercy.

What I think the passage clearly shows is that Paul wasn’t an advocate of OSAS, given that he clearly saw Onesiphorus as an example to the church, and yet had reservations about an unqualified statement of God’s mercy to him. While other passages demonstrate this, I think this one further makes the case against OSAS.

Perhaps… But Paul could be just acknowledging that he doesn’t presume to know God’s just judgment on the man. He can only express his desire that God is gracious to him on that Day of judgment, because he showed charity to Paul.

Not saying you are an advocate for OSAS. But some could say that the concept of OSAS is a complete presumption of God’s judgment, so that by understanding that we have no knowledge of God’s judgment, just a hope for His mercy then we cannot assume a OSAS mentality.

Right, not an advocate :wink:

But there is a difference with not knowing another’s state of grace and our own. We don’t have to subscribe to OSAS in order to know that we are saved. Where as it would be wrong to say,“I know I will continue to walk in the Lord forever.”

I have no real conflict with what you’ve written here. The title of the post suggests that the passage “proves” something, and I was simply pointing out that there can be very different understandings of what is happening that can be covered under the phrase “praying for the dead.”

One’s beliefs about what is happening and what is possible will influence one’s actions, for example saying masses for the dead or indulgences, or Paul’s example of baptism for the dead in Corinthians.

I agree again, but contemporary exposition of OSAS does presume to know one’s fate at judgment, that’s why I mentioned it as an example of Paul not believing OSAS to show a clearer example of a “proof.” While the verse “proves” through exclusion that Paul didn’t hold to a modern understanding of OSAS, it doesn’t provide enough detail to “prove” a particular understanding of gaining and losing salvation.

To bring it back to prayer for the dead, the verse proves Paul was interested in mercy for Onesiphorus, and expressed that to God, while lacking enough detail to “prove” whether he thought that his hope had any impact on the situation.

Maybe it seems silly but, yes, essentially. Non Serviam expresses my uncertainty well. Is Paul praying for the still-living family and reminding them of the promise Christ made for believers? Or is he praying separately for both the family and for the deceased man’s soul? The English is ambiguous and the Greek, though I am very limited in my understanding of that language, is no help either.

The “greet the family” bit suggests to me that this passage fits the rest of the book, as an earthly pastoral manual of sorts. But I could be persuaded.

Proof is subjective, as it is quantitative. Evidence is more objective, being qualitative. Yet, what Randy is attempting here is correct errors that have been learned by those who do not possess the totality of scripture - those who have been taught a much newer and substantially different belief tradition.

Point: those who have passed from time into eternity are fully in the hands of a loving and merciful God Who also possesses perfect justice. Under perfect justice, none of us has any hope for an eternity in His presence.

Just as the faith of the paralytic’s friends healed the man on the pallet, so also does the faith (and pleading) of a man’s friends carry the potential to bring healing to his spirit once he faces the ultimate judgment. Otherwise, God is either not merciful, or not just. These are impossibilities in Christian belief.

Randy what are your thoughts concerning Eph 6:18 "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints: RSV-CE.

Interestingly enough, Onesiphorus is addressed in a secular source. This may help to explain the past-tense reference to him.

Very difficult to do. Some of the saints have achieved this kind of prayer, but I am far from it, I’m afraid. However, I remain convinced by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John Paul II that such prayer should be considered the norm and not the exception. In fact, I’ve just begun reading the** Interior Castle** in the hopes of learning more about prayer.

The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin covers this topic in great depth and I highly recommend it to all.

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