Dialogue: Are Dead Saints Playing Harps or Interceding?

Dialogue: Are Dead Saints Playing Harps or Interceding? June 2, 2016
Photograph by “AdinaVoicu” (1-4-14) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]


“Grubb” is a friendly Baptist regular on my blog. I’ve compiled this from interactions in my comments sections below. Originally, it began with Grubb’s response to certain aspects of the argument in my paper: “Biblical Evidence for Communication From God and Ghosts (?) in Dreams.” His words will be in green. Note: I’ve added several new replies or clarifications as I edit and cut-and-paste this.


Interesting post Dave. Firstly, I don’t think Jer 15:1-2, Rev 5:8, and Rev 6:9-10 refer to heavenly saints interceding for us, but that’s another issue.

Why? How is Rev 6:10 not a prayer? It is certainly being uttered by slain people, on behalf of those on earth. What are the elders doing with “the prayers of the saints” in Rev 5:8? As for Jer 15:1-2, are you saying that Moses and Samuel are no longer alive, and have no concern for those on earth? Why, then, did Moses appear with Jesus? Why did Samuel appear to rebuke Saul, if neither are conscious or concerned with earthly affairs?

To say God can’t use our dreams to speak to us is to say God can’t speak to us through our own thoughts. Surely he can plant this thought or that in my head and guide my reasoning while I’m both awake and asleep if He so desires. But that’s different than dead people appearing to us.

It is different, but the argument is that since dead people have indeed appeared on rare occasions (Moses, Elijah, Samuel, the ones who rose and walked around after Jesus was killed), then it cannot be ruled out that they could also “appear” in some fashion in a dream, which is a non-material thing. If the more extraordinary thing actually occurred, per the Bible, then the lesser thing is likely to be possible and actual.

I concede it’s possible. Phil 4:13 tells us all things are possible with God. But is it probable? Why would something that’s so extraordinary and rare in the Bible be occurring on a daily basis now? And what was the purpose of the dead appearing in the Bible? It may have been to show that life does continue after death (Sadducees didn’t think it did). Was it to comfort those who were living as is the case with so many dreams these days?


Since all NT dreams were about Christ or the Christian mission, all OT dreams had God or an angel speaking in them

Not true; in 2 Maccabees, Jeremiah and Onias spoke.

As I don’t accept the Apocrypha as Canon, I cannot accept it as proof of the dead speaking to one in a dream. We’re at an impasse regarding that.


and there’s no indication that God even allows heavenly saints to communicate with us,That’s not true, either, per the above biblical evidences.

Still can’t accept it. :-)


it seems right to conclude that dead people do not communicate with us in our dreams.

Since you are operating on a false premise, this would “seem right” to you. But when you adopt true (and truly biblical) premises, it is entirely biblical and permissible.

So far, it sounds as though the only factual premise we disagree on is the Apocrypha. From here to the remainder of my comment, I won’t consider II Maccabees in my response. Otherwise I have to keep typing, “except for II Mac which I don’t regard as scripture.”


The Bible is way too silent on this issue for us to be believing that heavenly saints are appearing to us in dreams.

I believe I have shown that it is NOT silent. You have to deal with the texts; not just make Protestant dogmatic statements.

You’ve shown instances of dead people appearing to those who were awake not to people in a dream. My belief lines up more with what the Bible says, while yours is based on what could possibly be but the Bible doesn’t say. I’m not merely espousing Protestant dogma, I’m simply looking at what the Bible says about dead people speaking in dreams (or rather what it doesn’t say) and coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t happen.


If He’s given heavenly saints the power to appear to us in our dreams, has He given hellish demons the same power?

They do have that power, yes, which is why we are warned to test the spirits.

If one’s grandma seemed very nice but while still alive she secretly rejected Jesus; when she dies, she might appear to him in a dream and mislead him.

A demon could mislead. I believe that is what happens in seances and so forth.

I have a friend who said his dead grandma (or aunt or something like that) appeared to him in a dream when he was a teen and told him not to worry about religion, because they’re all basically the same and lead to the same place. He’s been trusting that dream and forsaking Christianity for 30+ years and will go to hell if he continues to do so.

That’s a clear case of not testing the spirits by an objective criterion: the Bible or at least some Bible-based Christian tradition besides his own subjective feelings and opinions. It’s folly to base a worldview on an experience. That’s backwards and very dangerous.

We agree that every dream must be tested against a standard already established. I, the Bible; and you, the Bible, the Church, and tradition. But there’s still no evidence that God allows dead saints to interact in our dreams. Even if I accepted II Mac 15:11-16 as truth, it still only shows one instance of God doing this type of thing. It in no way establishes a pattern of what dead people do, and I’ve already acknowledged that God CAN do this sort of thing; there’s just no indication that He chooses to do it periodically (let alone regularly). God turned water into wine once, let a follower walk on water once, and raised a dead and buried man to life a couple times, but He hasn’t made these things commonplace by any means. Even if II Mac is true, why expect that one instance to be the norm for dead people.


I believe dead relatives in my dreams are the same as live ones . . . just my imagination putting them there.

You can believe whatever you want; I am interested in the biblical data which can be brought to bear on this, and why one rejects the interpretation I have taken towards it. I hope you will elaborate.

That’s the problem, the Bible doesn’t address this topic specifically. Here’s how I think it does address it. To what end would a dead person appear in one’s dream? To let us know they’re ok? To comfort us? To encourage us? To give us direction? To strengthen us? Those are all jobs of the Trinity, angels, and the living. There is no place where He ever indicates “this is what dead people do.” We know what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the angels, the demons, Satan, and living people do, because the Bible tells us. We don’t, however, know what dead people do, because the Bible doesn’t tell us.

Solomon said, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.” (Eccl 9:5-6) There are exceptions to this, but the standard is: when we die, we cease to have any impact on this world. That would include intercession as well as visiting the living in a dream. 

Ecclesiastes is wisdom, or proverbial literature. This is a classic example of a statement which was meant in one literary sense (proverbial), wrongly taken in an excessively literal sense. Jehovah’s Witnesses use this verse and other similar ones to “prove” that the dead have no consciousness whatsoever. They are just as wrong as you are (in exegeting the passage), because they ignored the context and the type of biblical literature (perhaps more important with Ecclesiastes than with any other biblical book, because of its unique nature). In this particular book, the object was to look at the world from a cynical, “this world is all there is” perspective. It’s a rhetorical device. The writer is looking at the dead strictly from the point of view of how it is on earth. But it’s not the last word, by any means, on the Hebrew understanding of the afterlife. The many passages about Sheol in the OT show that they believed that consciousness continued.
Thanks for the feedback!

The lack of clear scripture showing that heavenly saints actually pray for us and any person of the Bible praying to heavenly saints combined with I Tim 2:5 (“… one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”), which is very clear, makes it necessary to say we shouldn’t pray to heavenly saints and that they don’t intercede on our behalf.

I’ll address the rest of your question tonight or tomorrow. This is all I had time for today.

Thanks again for hosting this site and giving us the opportunity to discuss.

Thanks for your kind words and replies. I disagree wholeheartedly, as you might predict.

Regarding Rev 6:10: When Job stood in God’s presence and asked a question, was it a prayer? No, it was just a question.

This is a distinction without a difference. Prayer is simply talking to God; particularly if one is making a request on behalf of others (intercession). Why you would want to make out that this is somehow not a prayer is a mystery.

The only “reason” I can see is a preconceived, unbiblical Protestant notion that somehow it is impossible to ever pray again once one is dead. But we have no reason whatsoever to believe that, based on the biblical evidences. This one is quite explicit, so to deal with it you have to resort to the desperate measure of simply explaining it away by recourse to word games. Not impressive, my friend!

Besides, “asking” God for something is often equated with prayer in Scripture (Mt 6:8, 7:7, 21:22: “whatever you ask in prayer”, James 1:5-6, I Jn 3:22, 5:14-16). Is that not a “question”?
Since conversation often includes questions, then prayer also would. So this dichotomy you try to create makes no sense to me at all.

Make no mistake, he wanted an answer as do the martyrs, but they aren’t necessarily praying.

How do you define prayer, then, I wonder?

And even if they are praying, what they’re praying isn’t necessarily interceding on our behalf. It would be praying for justice on those who slay the martyrs.

Yes, exactly; this is what is known as an imprecatory prayer. I wrote about this in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism:

These are not so much vengeful as they are a plea for, and recognition of, God’s role as the wrathful Judge who will rescue and vindicate the righteous, either in this life or the next. Examples can be found particularly in the Psalms (Psalms 35, 59, 69, 79, 109, 139) and in Jeremiah (11:18 ff., 15:15 ff., 18:19 ff., 20:11 ff.).

An angel offers up a very similar prayer in Zechariah 1:12. Jesus mentions a type of this prayer in Matthew 26:53, in which He stated that He could “pray” to the Father and receive legions of angels to prevent His arrest had it been the Father’s will. The idea is the same: prayer for judgment to be wrought upon the enemies of God. At the same time, imprecatory prayers often are intercessions on behalf of the righteous, as in this passage.

Therefore, unarguably, dead saints are praying for Christians on earth. . . .

The well-known Protestant New Bible Commentary states that this plea in heaven is indeed a prayer, which quickens the end of the age (8:1-5). This admission is of immense significance for our topic. For if the prayers of dead saints have such an importance regarding the last days and the final judgment, who can deny that such prayers are valid and effective with regard to far more mundane matters (such as our everyday concerns)? The doctrine of communion of saints, then, would appear to be irrefutably presented in the book of Revelation.

Footnote: D. Guthrie & J.A. Motyer, editors, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 3rd ed., 1970, p. 1289. Concurring in this opinion is Robert Jamieson, Andrew R. Fausset, & David Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1961 (orig. 1864), 846, 1547.

(pp. 112-113)

Regarding Rev 5:8: Every place the Apostle Paul (and possibly the NT, I can’t recall for certain) uses the term “saints”, he’s referring to the living followers of Jesus;

That’s not true, either. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary:

See especially 2 Thess. 1:10, where ‘His saints’ are also described as ‘them that believed,’ i.e., the whole number of the redeemed.”

(under “Saints”)

This would include the departed saints as well as the ones still alive on earth. St. Paul also refers to “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thess 3:13).

cf. Jude 14: “. . . Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads” (RSV: KJV: “saints” / Gk. hagios as in most instances of “saint” in the NT; this is describing the 2nd Coming)

Both of these instances clearly include those who have died in Christ.

so the prayers in the bowl would be those offered by Christians who were physically alive at the time they prayed them.

Since I have disproven your premise above, this conclusion no longer follows, and must be discarded.
Secondly, even if we grant that the prayers came only from people on earth, then you have to explain from a Protestant point of view what these people in heaven were doing with prayers of those on earth in the first place, since (in that outlook) all prayers supposedly go right to God from people on earth, and those who are dead have nothing to do with them.Moreover, such a position is certainly extraordinary and novel, even within the framework of Protestant exegesis, since the scene takes place in heaven (Rev 4:1-2), near God’s throne (4:2, 5-6,9-10; 5:1,6-7,11,13). The 24 elders are described as seated on thrones and “clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads” (Rev 4:4).

For your scenario to be true, this would require 24 men from earth to be taken to heaven to be next to God on 24 thrones. This stretches credibility beyond the breaking point. Crowns (2 Tim. 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:4, Rev 2:10) and white robes (Rev 6:11, 7:9,13-14) are both used often in Scripture to denote entrance into heaven, with cleansing and reward.

Some commentators believe that the 24 elders are angelic beings, in which case, they would not be human beings on the earth, and would have something to do with our prayers (even weirder, according to Protestant theology). If they are human beings, they seem to have undergone death, based on the symbology.

One Protestant site I found argues much the same way that I have. It assumes that this is occurring in heaven, and holds that dead men are being referred to, not angels:

1. It says they are elders — I cannot find the word ever applied to angels. This makes sense since angels apparently are all the same age anyway.

2. They sit on thrones and wear crowns — Again you never will find an angel wearing a crown or destined to rule as the thrones imply. On the other hand we are told
throughout the Bible that the righteous shall inherit and rule the earth, including the twelve apostles sitting on twelve thrones ruling each of the twelve tribes (Lk 22:30).

3. White Raiment — If they are righteous glorified men in Heaven, this is what they ought to be wearing according to Rev 19:8 as the clothing of the Bride of Christ at the Marriage Supper will be, in addition to many parables of Jesus.

Angels are also distinguished from elders in Rev 5:11.

In any event, I challenge you to find any well-known Bible commentator who holds that this is men still alive on earth. I don’t think it can be done.

Regarding Jer 15:1-2: God is posing a hypothetical, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, …” He probably used this terminology, because Moses and Samuel had intervened for His people while they were living on earth. He in no way indicates that Moses and Samuel are interceding on our behalf this very minute.

That’s not required. The hypothetical implies that the actual occurrence is possible, too. If I stated, for example, “even if my wife stood before me and begged me, I wouldn’t clean the gutters,” does that imply that it is impossible for her to do such a thing? Of course not.

We know that some dead men have come back (Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, the two witnesses in Revelation, Samuel, who pronounced judgment on Saul). What is it in your theology that makes you think that when someone dies, all of a sudden, they no longer love or have any concern for the happenings on earth, and loved ones still there? This makes no sense. Do they become rocks or unfeeling automatons when they are in the presence of God? How implausible is that? When with He Who is Love, they have no love or consciousness?

But Revelation shows us clearly that all this is false, anyway, because there we have “dead” human beings highly concerned with the events on earth, and praying for people on earth; even having the “prayers of the saints” (along with angels, who also present them to God).

The lack of clear scripture showing that heavenly saints actually pray for us

I think we can safely say that the data above demolishes this contention.
and any person of the Bible praying to heavenly saints combined with I Tim 2:5 (“… one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”), which is very clear, makes it necessary to say we shoul

dn’t pray to heavenly saints and that they don’t intercede on our behalf.

That’s all very nice Protestant dogmatism, but the problem is that it is unbiblical. The following evidence shows this:

1. Dead saints are aware of earthly affairs: Mt 22:30, Lk 15:10, 1 Cor 4:9, Heb 12:1

Matt 22:30 “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”
Taking this passage to mean that we’ll be like angels in every way is errant.

We have to go by what information this gives us. If it says we will be “like” them, then it is reasonable to speculate in what way we will be so. That’s more reasonable than immediately looking at differences, in discussing a passage which states a general similarity. I agree that it can’t mean we are like them in every way, lest we cease to be men, who are different than angels in several ways by definition. But that is self-evident, and doesn’t solve our controversy one way or the other.

We’ll have bodies; they won’t.

True, but that has nothing to do with the possibilty of intercession, since it is a non-physical thing.

We’ll be higher than them.

All the more reason to think that we can still pray for those on earth, since that is an attribute of men that angels already share anyway, and one that we possess on earth. In other words, if angels seem “higher” than us now, and we pray for others now, if we are higher than them in heaven, then on what basis can we conclude that we will no longer pray; something we already do here? To not be able to do that in the afterlife would mean we are “lower” than we are on earth, while at the same time we are “higher” than the angels. This makes little sense, and is incoherent and implausible, to put it mildly.

Jesus is addressing a specific question of the Sadducees about marriage in heaven, and He answers that we’ll be like angels in marriage not in every way. This doesn’t support dead saints being aware of earthly affairs.

So you say. It certainly doesn’t rule it out. The argument from silence only goes so far. Nothing in your reply here is compelling against my position, because it really wasn’t an argument; rather, simply a denial of the possibilities inherent in what this biblical statement allows (based on prior dogmatic disposition).

Heb 12:1 Paul is most likely referring to angels here. He could even be referring to fellow living believers since we each view our brothers’ lives.

That’s not the standard view of Protestant commentators, since the word for witness in Heb 12:1 is the Greek martus, from which is derived the English word martyr. Hence, prominent Protestant linguistic / exegetical sources such as W.E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary of NT Words, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, and Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament believe that this passage is referring to dead saints observing Christian believers still alive on earth. Your opinion is far out of the mainstream of Protestant scholarship.

2. Dead saints intercede for those on earth: Jer 15:1-2, 2 Maccabees 15:14, Rev 6:9-10

Jer 15: A hypothetical only proves that something could be, not that it is. Jer 15 doesn’t prove anything.

Rev 6:9-10 Imprecatory prayers are not intercession, or they’d be called intercessory prayers. :-) The heavenly saints are not interceding for us.

 3. Saints act as intermediaries and present our prayers to God: Rev 5:8

A messenger is not a mediator.

4. Dead saints appear on earth and interact with men: 1 Sam 28:12-15 with Sirach 46:20, 2 Maccabees 15:13-16, Mt 17:1-3 and 27:50-53, Rev 11:3

These aren’t instances of dreams though (still ignoring the Apocrypha) which is what we were talking about.

5. There is such a thing as guardian angels: Ps 34:7, 91:11, Mt 18:10, Acts 12:15, Heb 1:14

Agreed. They exist, but it’s not conclusive that each person has his own.

6. Angels are aware of our thoughts: Lk 15:10, 1 Cor 4:9

Our thoughts? Only God is guaranteed to know our thoughts. Neither angels nor demons know our thoughts. They know our actions and circumstances but not our thoughts.

This is clearly untrue, as seen in Holy Scripture. For example: Matthew 1:20, where we are informed that the angel knew Joseph was troubled about Mary being pregnant (not understanding that it was miraculous). The angel could know this because God gave it this knowledge. It doesn’t necessarily have to be intrinsic knowledge (just as God gives prophets supernatural knowledge). But as soon as we see an angel knowing interior thoughts of men (as we do here), then your objection collapses. The only confusion seems to be how the angel obtained such knowledge.

7. Angels act as intermediaries and present our prayers to God: Tobit 12:12,15, Rev 8:34 (cf. 5:8)

Again, a messenger is not a mediator.

All of this being the case, it is perfectly reasonable and biblical to ask either angels or dead saints to pray for us, whether or not there is an explicit Scriptural passage (because all the elements are there: they see and observe us and pray for us; therefore we can ask them to do so).

A friend of mine asked me if a dog’s spirit goes to heaven when they die. I said the Bible doesn’t really say. She then said she believed they did. If silence is permissive, she’s not banned from thinking that. And if praying to anything in heaven is allowed, what’s to stop her from praying to her dog? This is the kind of theology one CAN end up with if he chooses the “silence is permissive” approach.

The context of I Tim 2:1-5 is prayer not justice, so it’s inaccurate to say verse 5 is about Jesus being a mediator of justice. Of course Jesus IS the mediator of justice, but that’s not what this passage is talking about; it’s talking about Him being the mediator in prayer.

Thanks much, Grubb, for your responses and amiability. I’ll let you have the last word, and it’ll make a good dialogue, I think, for people to read and consider both sides.

Meta Description: The popular perception of folks in heaven is that they sit on clouds & play harps all day. The Bible teaches that they are praying for us.
Meta Keywords: communion of saints, intercession of the saints, invocation of saints
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