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What Does the Bible Say about Praying to the Dead?

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • Updated Aug 23, 2022
What Does the Bible Say about Praying to the Dead?

When you miss family members or friends who have died, it is okay to reach out to them through prayer? Grief is painful, and it’s difficult to deal with the absence of loved ones who have passed away. What does the Bible say about praying to the dead? What at first seems like a good idea could end up being unreliable and even dangerous.

What Does the Bible Tell Us about the Dead/the Afterlife?

The Bible reveals that, after people’s bodies die on Earth, their souls move on either to heaven (God’s home) or hell (a place of separation from God). All souls who choose to connect with God through a relationship with Jesus Christ – humanity’s Savior – go to heaven in the afterlife. As John 3:16 declares: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus speaks about this in John 11:25: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” In John 14:1-3, Jesus offers this assurance: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

In Psalm 23, the Bible describes Jesus’ loving care for people as a good shepherd, even while they are walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” (verse 4). Psalm 23, which is often read at funerals, says: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

You can be confident that, if the loved ones you’re grieving chose relationships with Jesus, they are experiencing the fullness of God’s love in heaven right now. You can also rest assured that God will help you as you mourn their deaths. Matthew 5:4 promises: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Eventually, there will be no more death. Revelation 21:4 presents a vision of the future heaven and earth, where: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.”

What Does the Bible Say about Praying to the Dead?

The Bible is clear that initiating any type of communication with the dead – even prayer – is a sin. Deuteronomy 18:10-13 urges: “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD; because of these same detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God.” Praying to the dead is a form of consulting the dead, which is mentioned in this list of forbidden practices.

In 1 Samuel 28, King Saul consults with the dead through a medium at Endor. He does reach the soul of the person he was trying to reach – Samuel – but the encounter, and the consequences, don’t go well. Samuel asks Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (verse 15). Saul tells Samuel that he hasn’t perceived any guidance from God, so he called on Samuel instead to tell him what to do in battle. Samuel then tells Saul that “because you did not obey the LORD” (verse 18), Saul will lose the upcoming battle and die himself in the process. After his conversation with Samuel, Saul doesn’t gain any peace. In fact, the effect of his conversation is just the opposite, as verse 20 reveals: “Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words.” 1 Chronicles 10 describes Saul’s tragic death, and concludes in verses 13 and 14: “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.”

There is no passage in the Bible that approves praying to the dead. Rather, the Bible prohibits praying to people who have passed away. Why? God has put a trustworthy design in place for all souls in all dimensions – both on Earth, and in the afterlife. Going against God’s design for anything can be dangerous because it corrupts the natural protections God has set up for the good of all concerned.

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Photo Credit: @rainierridao 

Important Things to Know about Prayer and Who We Should Pray To

When you pray, do so to God alone. No one else has the power to answer your prayers well. Only God has the perfect ability to respond to your prayers according to what’s truly best. Going straight to the top – directly to God – is how the Bible says prayer should work. In 1 Timothy 2, the Bible urges “that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people” (verse 2) and declares that “… there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people…” (verses 5 and 6).

When you direct your prayers to God, you can pray with confidence that your prayers will actually be answered, and answered perfectly. That’s because God knows everything (Psalm 147:4-5) and has the power to do anything (Revelation 19:6). Psalm 65:2 refers to God as “You who answer prayer.” God is able to answer your prayers much more successfully than anyone else. As much as your family and friends in heaven love you, they don’t have the power to answer your prayers. However, God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Heaven is a place of prayer, and souls in heaven may be able to pray for people on Earth. Revelation 5:8, for instance, refers to “the prayers of the saints” in golden bowls of incense in heaven. However, it’s important to distinguish between your loved ones in heaven praying for you, and you praying to them. Prayer is a form of worship, and the Bible is clear that only God is worthy of worship. Revelation 22:8-9 mentions that when the apostle John tried to worship an angel who had shown him visions, the angel says in verse 9: “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!” Acts 10:25-26 records how Cornelius fell at the apostle Peter’s feet in a reverent gesture of worship, “But Peter made him get up. ‘Stand up,’ he said, ‘I am only a man myself.’”

Praying to anyone else besides God can be dangerous, because prayer opens up spiritual communication, and doing that apart from God’s care can invite harm into your life. God is trustworthy, but others who may respond when you pray apart from God – such as fallen angels – are not. You wouldn’t leave the front door of your home unlocked overnight, welcoming anyone to come inside – whether or not their intentions are good or bad. You also wouldn’t give out your private information in a public online chat, inviting anyone to use your personal data however they like. It’s even more important to keep your spiritual communication process secure. 1 John 4:1-2 explains how to do so: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”

So, it’s vitally important to pray to God alone – both to ensure that your prayers are answered, and to protect yourself spiritually. In your prayers, you can certainly talk with God about your loved ones in the afterlife. Feel free to pour out your thoughts and feelings to God, and ask him whatever questions you like. You can even ask God in prayer to deliver a message to a loved one in heaven, or to consider allowing a loved one’s soul to send you a message through God’s care. In my book Wake Up to Wonder, I tell the story of how I prayed to God one evening, telling God how much I missed my late mother and asking him to send my love to her. Later that evening, I dreamed about Mom in heaven and had a conversation with her that gave me great peace. I’ll always be thankful that God allowed that wondrous dream to happen. However, I never would have tried to communicate with Mom apart from God. Not only would the result of such an effort be untrustworthy; it could also be dangerous. If you want to send a departed loved one a message, feel free to ask God to pass that message along. If God wants you to hear a message from a loved one in heaven, he will allow you to receive a heavenly message at the right time and in the right way. But God – the only one who is really reliable – must be the one to direct the process.


So, what does the Bible say about praying to the dead? God cares about your grief, and he understands the pain you feel from missing your loved ones who have passed away. You can pray to God about your family and friends in the afterlife anytime. However, you should never attempt to pray to people who have died. Not only are they unable to answer your prayers, but by directing your prayers apart from God, you can open doors for deceptive and harmful messages to come through. Following what the Bible says about praying to God alone will ensure that you receive trustworthy answers and protect you spiritually. In the process, you’ll experience the wonder of God’s love for you.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/ALFSnaiper 

headshot of author Whitney HoplerWhitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on X/Twitter and on Facebook

This article is part of our Prayer resource meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Visit our most popular prayers if you are wondering how to pray or what to pray. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.

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