The Saints – Does the Bible Forbid Contacting the Dead?

A very common objection to the Catholic practice of praying to the saints is the Bible forbids necromancy, which is defined as “the supposed practice of communicating with the dead, especially in order to predict the future.”  An example of that view:

Whenever the Bible mentions praying to or speaking with the dead, it is in the context of sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy, and divination—activities the Bible strongly condemns (Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10-13).  In the one instance when a “saint” is spoken to, Samuel in 1 Samuel 28:7-19, Samuel is not exactly happy to be disturbed.  It is clear that praying to Mary or the saints is completely different from asking someone here on earth to pray for us.  One has a strong biblical basis; the other has no biblical basis whatsoever.

Read more:

The Catholic Church would absolutely agree with the view that any form of necromancy is wrong and forbidden, so in this we can find agreement with most other Christians.  From the Catechism:

CCC2115 God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints.  Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it.  Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility. 

CCC2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers.  They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. 

Still, the Catholic Church sees praying to the saints as being very different from necromancy, while the attempt is made by many Protestants to see the two practices as very much the same thing.  Why as Catholics do we believe they’re different?

When we look at the story about Saul and Samuel from the Bible cited above (1 Samuel 28), Catholics would agree Saul’s actions were very much in the wrong.  As king, he had banished all the mediums from the kingdom, but after Samuel died, Saul chose to disguise himself and seek out a medium in order to consult Samuel.  And Samuel is indeed brought forth from the dead to speak to him, and is greatly perturbed he has been disturbed.  He tells Saul that tomorrow he and his sons will be killed in battle and will join him in death.

In order to try to profess that the dead know nothing about what is happening on the earth, some try to make the case it’s not Samuel who is conjured from the dead, but rather a demon.  Scripture makes no such claim.  Not only does Saul believe this is Samuel, the Bible clearly says it’s Samuel.  “Then Samuel said to Saul” (verse 15).  “And Samuel said” (verse 16). 

Saul’s intention to bring forth Samuel from the dead is clear – he wants Samuel to tell him what to do given his current situation in life.  He wants to know how to navigate his battle with the Philistines to his advantage.  As the Catechism says, when people resort to divination, it reveals a concealed desire for power over time, history and other human beings. 

So while Catholics would agree we cannot seek to consult the dead for information that would bring personal gain, does the Bible forbid all contact with the dead?  That would not be accurate. 

For example, we see Jesus come into contact with two people who are dead – Moses and Elijah.  This occurs at his transfiguration, and we’re told “there appeared to them Moses and Eli′jah, talking with him” (Matthew 17:3).  Christ certainly was not sinning in his contact and conversation with Moses and Elijah.  Some will object to this example because Jesus is God, so this would be okay.  But he was also man, and in living his life on earth was bound by God’s law.  Yet he evidently believed it was perfectly okay to come into contact and converse with two people who were dead.  And are we not “in Christ?” 

Those who object to the idea we can request the prayers of those who have died seem to overlook the fundamental truth that Jesus Christ has abolished death (2 Timothy 1:10).  Not “will” abolish death at some time in the future.  “Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago,  and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  (2 Timothy 1:8-10) The Catholic belief that we can pray to those saints in heaven and ask for their assistance is testimony to the great truth that Jesus Christ has indeed abolished death, and those who have left this world in his favor are most certainly alive in him.  This is why he says “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”  (Matthew 22:31-32) Even though Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have been dead for hundreds of years, Christ is clear they are not dead, but rather alive with God. 

Scripture is also clear that we have no need to summon those who have died back to earth in order to direct our prayers to them, as Saul did with Samuel.  Hebrews Chapter 12 contrasts the way the Israelites approached God at Mt Sinai (Exodus 19:16-25), with the way Christians approach God through prayer.  “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them.  For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’ But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.”  (Hebrews 12:18-24)

Perhaps there is no clearer passage than this one.  We’re specifically told in Scripture when we pray, we enter the heavenly Jerusalem, and there we come to the spirits of just men made perfect,” – the saints.  Whether or not we wish to recognize their presence, Scripture is quite clear we come into contact with them when we approach God in prayer.  And why wouldn’t we?  They are indeed with Him. 

So yes, Catholics would absolutely agree attempts to summon the dead back to earth to gain some advantage is not only very wrong, but also very dangerous.  Those who work with people who have fallen into bondage in the occult will testify that practice can allow the demonic an open door to peoples’ souls.  It should be avoided at all costs.

But Catholics will also strongly attest along with Scripture we believe wholeheartedly that Jesus Christ has indeed conquered death, and those who have died in Him are alive in Him.  We come into their presence in the heavenly Jerusalem, and to ask their prayers to help us is a very Biblical concept indeed.  To fail to recognize their presence in our lives and their desire to help us can result in a rejection of one of the best gifts Christ has given us – his family in heaven to truly care for us and support us as members of the one body of Christ.  Glory to God in His saints!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s