Did St. Paul Pray for the Dead? Yes!

by Steve Ray on June 17, 2018

rembrandt_apostle_paul217x275St. Paul wrote 2 Timothy shortly before his martyrdom. He spent the last days of his life in the Mammertine Prison in Rome, north of the Roman Forum. While in that prison he wrote to Timothy and says a prayer for a man dead man.

“It seems apparent that St. Paul DOES pray for the dead. Here is my short article that gives a pretty clear example of St. Paul praying for a dead man, a man named Onesiphorus.

This will be interesting for those who deny prayer for the dead and must find supposedly find everything explicitly in the Bible before they are willing to believe it.

Does the Bible record St. Paul praying for a dead man? Does the New Testament relate an incident of prayer for the dead? It seems quite certain that it does.

Let’s begin with Onesiphorus—a faithful Christian who cared for St. Paul while he was in prison and who took great personal risk to serve the apostle. He was such a good man that Paul writes, “[Onesiphorus] often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains” and “he searched for me eagerly and found me” and “you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus” (2 Tim 1:16-18).

But from all indications—certainly from the words Paul uses—Onesiphorus has died or been killed before Paul wrote Second Timothy. Almost all commentators concede that Onesiphorus had probably died—maybe even martyred during Nero’s persecution.

Paul speaks of him in the past tense and strangely asks for God’s mercy on his “household” without mentioning him, as though he was no longer here. Because Onesiphorus had served so well and was no longer alive, Paul prays for God’s blessing on his surviving family.

All implications are that Onesiphorus has died. But Paul prays for him!

In 2 Timothy 1:18, while in prison awaiting his death, Paul prays for the dead man and it is recorded in the Bible. Here is what St. Paul writes, “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day.” This is not just an expression of sentimental emotion—this is a prayer for a man who has died, it is prayer for the dead.

Paul, who was earlier known as Saul the Pharisee, was well immersed in the teaching and tradition of the Pharisaical Jews. The Jews prayed for the dead and Paul would not have seen the practice as egregious or unbiblical; rather, he would have viewed prayer for the dead as a proper practice for a Jew, and also now for a Christian who believes in the afterlife.

Here is what the widely respected six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary writes……”

To read the article, click Prayer for the Dead: Did St. Paul Do This?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue from Buffalo November 1, 2009 at 1:47 PM

Thanks, Steve. I’ve printed this off for future reference. I’m sure I’m going to need it.

Steven D'souza February 22, 2012 at 1:14 PM

St. Paul is not praying to God for the dead, as alleged. Rather he his making a reference of Onesiphorus in his Second Epistle to Timothy who was ministering the Church at Ephesus. The scriptures in question (2 Timothy 1:16-18 does not imply St.Paul is praying to “God” for a dead person. When a person dies, the Bible is clear that there are only two destinations: heaven and hell. See also Luke 16:20-26.

Francis May 5, 2012 at 9:38 AM

@Steven D’souza: If you have the 66 books (7 missing are missing) you should go and read the 73 one for it’s complete.

Chris Fleming January 18, 2015 at 3:42 PM

The God/man Jesus the Christ offered a sacrifice for the dead. If sacrifice, why not prayer. His sacrifice on the cross was not just for those living on earth at that time and for those not yet in existence (us) but also for those that had gone before.

De Maria January 20, 2015 at 9:35 PM

Its obvious that Onesiphorus had passed. First he prayed for the fatherless household:

2 Timothy 1:16The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain:

Then he prayed for Onesiphorus’ soul:

18 The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.

Julie LaBrecque January 25, 2015 at 5:50 PM

St. Peter prayed for the dead (Tabitha) and restored her to life (Acts 9:36-43). Elijah prayed for the dead (the widow’s son) and restored him to life. (1 Kings 17:17-23). David and company prayed and fasted for Saul, Jonathan and all the fallen comrades ( 2 Samuel 1:12), chanted lament for them(2 Sam 1:19-27); David actually speaks to dead Jonathan “I grieve for you, Jonathan by brother!” (2 Samuel 1:26); Jesus prayed for and spoke to Lazarus, raising him from the dead (John 11:43-44). In light off these Biblical evidences for praying for the dead, I don’t understand why all the fuss made by ‘Sola Scripturists’ unless it is to slander Catholic teaching.

Raymond Wardan October 6, 2017 at 8:22 AM

Luke 16:20-26 doesn't say that Abraham and Lazarus were in heaven. They were still waiting for the death and resurrection of Jesus in order for Jesus to open the door to heaven for them. Jesus told us this story before His death and resurrection. So Abraham and Lazarus were not heaven in this story.

STEVE RAY HERE: there are a lot of ambiguities about that passage. One may wonder where Enoch and Elijah went when they were taking up into heaven body and soul.

Fred Swarbrick December 2, 2019 at 3:15 PM

In 2 Tim 1.16-18 Paul was addressing Timothy not God, and since prayer is to God this couldn't be prayer, but rather a wish. And as it wasn't prayer it couldn't be prayer for the dead. So no support for purgatory here. Paul was concerned for the household of Onesiphorus and mentions them separately as they where in Ephesus while he was separated from them, not in eternity but geographically, in Rome.

STEVE RAY HERE: Fred, thanks for your comment and I understand why you resist my comments. I was once an Evangelical myself. I suggest you read the whole article, or read it again. I have a good case and even good Protestant theologians agree, as does the underlying Greek text, as my article demonstrates. God bless you and Merry Christmas!

Obioha Chukwuebuka May 3, 2020 at 9:42 AM

Elijah and Enoch where taken up body and soul for a revelation, which will be revealed to the world in the last days. Shalom. Then they go into the glory of God. They are in hibernation something like a limbo. Specially set aside for the sat days of the man of sin in revelation.

STEVE RAY HERE: thanks for your comment and your interest. I am interested as to how you know these things that you proclaim to be facts. That they did not go up to heaven, you say, although in both cases it says they did. Nowhere does it say they’re in limbo because all the saints prior to the time of Christ are now in glory with Jesus Christ according to Scripture and the catechism.

Obioha Chukwuebuka May 3, 2020 at 1:11 PM


Steve thanks for you clarification. This further clears the air for us all.

Jay November 1, 2020 at 12:58 AM

2 Maccabees 12:46

“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”

John Breland April 7, 2021 at 2:19 AM

Praying for the dead is not inconsistent with belief that a person’s eternal destiny is sealed at death. God is beyond time, is simultaneously present in all times, past, present, and future. When a person is yet alive on earth, God is fully aware of prayers I will offer after the person has passed on. Why should I not pray for a person’s soul after they die when God has the power to hear and answer that prayer while the person is yet alive?

STEVE RAY HERE: Because that is the way the Lord set it up. We were taught by the Jews, and by the NT to pray for the souls of the dead. And we have an example of Paul doing so. We believe a soul’s destiny to heaven or hell is sealed at the moment of death, but we also believe in the state of purification called Purgatory for which our prayers are effective.

Catechism 1032: “This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: (958; 1371; 1479)

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 269.

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