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    Dave Armstrong
Christ Teaches that Saints can Intercede for Us… Right?

Christ Teaches that Saints can Intercede for Us… Right?

Have you ever talked to anyone who exclaimed: “The Bible never shows anyone praying to anyone other than God! And we can never communicate to anyone who is dead, either; that’s occultic!”

Yet it’s indisputable that Jesus indeed plainly teaches the very thing that they claim is nonexistent in Scripture. In His story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), we find our compelling prooftext:

Luke 16:24 (RSV) And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Begging Abraham to Intercede

This is the Abraham of the Bible — long dead by that time –, being asked to do something by a “rich man” (16:19, 22), traditionally known as Dives (which is simply a Latin word for “rich man”). His answer was, in effect, “no” (16:25-26). Having failed in that request, Dives prays to him again for something else:

Luke 16:27-28 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father [KJV: “I pray thee therefore, father”], to send him to my father’s house, [28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

His request is again declined (16:29). He argues with Abraham (16:30), but Abraham reiterates that what he asks is futile (16:31). All of this reveals to us that not only can dead saints hear our requests; they also have some measure of power to carry them out on their own (though no doubt by God’s power). Abraham is asked to “send” a dead man to appear to the rich man’s brothers, in order for them to avoid damnation.

Abraham doesn’t deny that he is able to potentially send Lazarus to do such a thing; he only denies that it would work (by the logic of “if they don’t respond to greater factor x, nor will they respond to lesser factor y”). Therefore, it is assumed in the story that Abraham had the ability and authority to do so on his own. And this is all taught, remember, by our Lord Jesus.

God Isn’t Mentioned

The fact that Dives is dead (in the story they are both in Hades or Sheol: the intermediate netherworld) is irrelevant to the argument at hand, since standard Protestant theology holds that no one should make such a request to anyone but God. He’s asking Abraham to send Lazarus to him, and then to his brothers, so that they can avoid his own fate.

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That is very much a prayer: asking for supernatural aid from those who have left the earthly life and attained a greater perfection. Also, rather strikingly (and disturbingly for Protestant theology), God is never mentioned in the entire story of Lazarus and the rich man. It’s all about Dives asking / praying to Abraham for two different requests.

Protestant theology also generally teaches that we can’t talk to anyone who is dead, let alone make intercessory requests to them. Yet King Saul talked to the dead prophet Samuel (1 Sam 28:12-15), Moses and Elijah appeared at the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-3), the “Two Witnesses” of Revelation (11:3-13) came back to life again (and talked to folks); so did those who rose after Jesus’ Resurrection (Mt 27:50-53), etc.

It’s Only a ‘Parable’?

One reply (that I myself just heard from two people) is to maintain that “this is only a parable” – therefore we are told that it doesn’t “prove” anything. But many Bible commentators agree that it’s not a parable. Parables don’t use proper names: let alone that of a familiar historical figure like Abraham.

They’re also prefaced by a statement (usually by the Bible writer, not Jesus) that the words following are to be considered a “parable.” Nor do I recall any other parables referring to Hades. They are in almost all instances quite “earthy” illustrations: often using agricultural and master / servant word pictures.

But even if we grant for the sake of argument that it is a parable, the difficulties for Protestants are not overcome at all, since even parables cannot contain things that are theologically false, lest Jesus be guilty of leading people into heresy by means of untrue illustrations or analogies.

In fact, my contention would be even stronger if it is a parable, for in a non-parable, a person could do or say something theologically incorrect. But in a parable taught by an omniscient Jesus, Who is God, in an inspired, infallible revelation, falsehood could not be “enshrined.”

What Jesus is teaching His hearers cannot contain theological error, and arguments by analogy (basically what the parables are) cannot contain false principles.

We conclude, then, that Jesus sanctioned “prayer to” dead men for requests. That is the traditional notion of “communion of saints.”

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About Dave Armstrong

Dave Armstrong
A full-time Catholic apologist since 2001, Dave was received into the Church in 1991. Since February 1997, he has blogged over 2,500 times. Dave is happily married to Judy since 1984, and their four children have all been homeschooled. BiblicalCatholicism.com | Meet Dave
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  • el

    Thank you for this excellent explanation.

    • Dave Armstrong

      You’re welcome. Thanks for reading!

  • Mike Carter

    Thanks so much for this article. Although I am Greek Orthodox, I think what you presented here would also be confirmed by Orthodoxy. Blessings.

    • Dave Armstrong

      You’re welcome. I think Orthodoxy would agree, yes: if not totally, for the most part.

  • Dave Armstrong

    Do you consider that an argument? If you actually interact with my reasoning, then I will respond and either further defend, or retract, as the case may be. In any event, I follow Scripture wherever it leads.

  • Dave Armstrong

    I dealt with your objection in the article itself (no need to repeat that here).

    Nor is Jesus the only one who has risen from the dead. He Himself raised Lazarus and and at least two others (as we know from Scripture), St. Peter and other disciples raised the dead; many saints through history have done so, and they raised out of their tombs, as recorded in Matthew 27.

  • Chris

    You put forth a few logical informal fallacies in your argument. You said,”Therefore, it is assumed in the story that Abraham had the ability and authority to do so on his own.” The story told neither states that he does or does not have the authority to grant such a request. Just because it was asked of him does not logically lead to it being within his authority to grant. You draw conclusions based on assumptions rather than the evidence presented in the text (fallacy called False Cause). Your conclusion also is a Hasty Generalization fallacy because it assumes your premise of the assumption is correct and attempt to apply that to other situations. Then you proceed to apply that conclusion to unrelated material (whether an alive person should ask favors of the dead) providing us with another logical fallacy called a False Analogy. Just saying, you might want to rethink this argument a little more.

    • Dave Armstrong

      Ah, here you actually did some interaction (I read the other one first). I am still tired, though, of many people not addressing my arguments when they “reply”): i.e., on my blog and Facebook pages. It’s a constant occurrence. The art of dialogue is almost entirely lost in our time. That’s my gripe for the day . . .

      “The story told neither states that he does or does not have the authority to grant such a request.”

      Exactly! That’s why I stated that it was “assumed” and not stated. It presupposes it throughout. Jesus is using it to teach His hearers. If it were impermissible to ask Abraham for a request, surely, either 1) Jesus wouldn’t have told a story with just that motif, or 2) He would have made it clear in telling it that the very requests were improper and impermissible. But that is nowhere in sight.

      Hence, as I noted, when Dives asked him to send Lazarus to his brothers, Abraham didn’t say (paraphrase), “I can’t do that.” Nor did Jesus teach that he couldn’t. He said “It won’t work if I do.”

      “Just because it was asked of him does not logically lead to it being within his authority to grant.”

      Yep. The evidence that he is able to answer is in the story considered as a whole, and how Jesus uses it to make His point.

      “You draw conclusions based on assumptions rather than the evidence presented in the text (fallacy called False Cause).”

      Not true. I am using the evidence in the text of how the interaction proceeds. If these things were not possible, the text almost certaily would have read differently. It’s a subtle argument (partially from silence), but it’s not fallacious.

      “Your conclusion also is a Hasty Generalization fallacy because it
      assumes your premise of the assumption is correct and attempt to apply
      that to other situations.”

      This is untrue as well. As I said, the conclusion I draw is plausible based on what the text teaches us. If it is shown to be the case, then it is proper to conclude that “men may make intercessory requests of creatures; not just to God.” If they can do that in this one instance, why not others? It’s logic and common sense.

      I deny that there are any fallacies in play here. Your task is to deal even more directly with my actual arguments, rather than drawing false conclusions about them and talking about them. You’re still one step removed from true dialogue.

      • Chris

        Just to be clear, you telling us we should follow the example of the guy who ended up in hell and was told no to everything. Hrm. You sure that’s what you’re going with?

        • Dave Armstrong

          His final destiny is irrelevant to the points I am making. The story shows us (among other things) that someone other than God can receive prayer requests (and by strong implication, also has the ability to answer them.

          Let’s assume for a moment that you will end up in hell. If you prayed for a little girl who is dying, and God healed her as a result, whether you end up in hell or not has nothing to do with God’s answering prayers as He so chooses.

  • Chris

    As a side note, conclusions that can be drawn logically from this story (it is irrelevant whether it is a parable or not):
    1. There is a “place of comfort” and Hades (that is not comfortable and there is fire involved somehow).
    2. There is a chasm between the two places in #1.
    3. Spirits of dead people can see both places in #1 from either direction.
    3. Spirits can speak to each other.
    4. Spirits can not move between the two realms in #1.
    5. Abraham’s advice is to learn about God through what has already been
    given and act accordingly. (Good advice, I’d say, and maybe the point of the story? An assumption on my part since Jesus did not expressly say why he told the story.)
    6. The setting of this story (before Christ’s death) occurs during the Old Testament and the old covenant with the Jews (It does not say
    whether it applies or does not apply to the new covenant.)

    This story does give a lot of information but none of that information applies to people praying to or asking favors from dead people.
    Isn’t it just easier to just ask Christ himself?

  • Dave Armstrong

    You’re still not directly interacting with my argument. You are merely asserting your own prior viewpoints and imposing them onto the text (eisegesis).

    You claim that only God is omnipotent. Of course. But you wrongly assume that one must be omnipotent (able to do all that is logically possible) in order to answer a prayer. This is itself untrue.

    God gives saints enough knowledge and power to be able to aid those of us on earth; just as angels are very powerful, but not omnipotent, either.