Dialogue: Rich Man’s Prayer to Abraham (Lk 16) & Invocation of Saints

Dialogue: Rich Man’s Prayer to Abraham (Lk 16) & Invocation of Saints May 3, 2017


Abraham and the Angels, by Aert de Gelder (1645-1727) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Lutheran Pastor Ken Howes (LCMS) is a friendly dialogue partner, whom I respect a lot: especially how he always conducts himself like a Christian gentleman in discussion. His congregation is very blessed to have him. These exchanges occurred on a public Facebook thread. His words will be in blue.


The Defense of the Augsburg Confession was cited by someone else: it’s section on Invocation of Saints. This excerpt states and grants that saints and angels in heaven pray for us. It’s not all that far from that to also believe that, therefore (since they pray for us), we can ask them to pray. The counter-arguments given are quite able to be refuted, and I have done so myself in many ways. See lots of articles on my web page on the Saints.

The Defense of the Augsburg Confession also states the following untruths:

Scripture does not teach the invocation of the saints, or that we are to ask the saints for aid. But since neither a command, nor a promise, nor an example can be produced from the Scriptures concerning the invocation of saints, it follows that conscience can have nothing concerning this invocation that is certain. And since prayer ought to be made from faith, how do we know that God approves this invocation? Whence do we know without the testimony of Scripture that the saints perceive the prayers of each one? . . . 12] Nothing can be produced by the adversaries against this reasoning, that, since invocation does not have a testimony from God’s Word.

Jesus Himself taught in the story (not parable) of the rich man and Lazarus, that the rich man prayed to Abraham (the KJV even uses the phrase, “I pray thee”):

Luke 16:24, 27-28 (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.’ . . . [27] And he said, `Then I beg you, 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.’

Abraham said no to the request, but it doesn’t follow that the request itself was impermissible. Abraham never said, “you can’t pray to me! What are you doing?! You can only pray to God!!!”

Therefore, praying to a saint is a biblical teaching: expressly from Our Lord Jesus. If it is argued that it is “only a parable,” we reply that parables could not contain false theological principles, sanctioned by Jesus, and not condemned by Him.

The scripture on this point is inconclusive; from it we can neither draw a mandate to do so nor draw a mandate not to do so. Given that 1 Timothy tells us that there is one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, we, in Reformation churches, generally do not do so. (There are both Lutherans and Anglicans who do.) I have no serious problem with prayers that seek the intercession with a saint, though I think those prayers are probably a nullity. Where I draw the line, and I think good Catholicism would agree with me on it, is when a prayer engages in a hagiolatrous attribution of special powers to a saint (St. Anne to stop a storm; St. Barbara to win a battle; St. Lazarus to cure an illness, etc.). The first of those examples was the situation when Luther decided to become a monk.

I just showed how Jesus taught that the rich man prayed to Abraham, without the slightest hint of any disapproval.

No sign of disapproval–but it is worth noting that it attained nothing; instead, they were directed to Scripture. “They have Moses and the prophets.”

Again, I have no problem with it unless someone ascribes to a saint some supernatural power of his own. There is a line dividing asking a fellow believer (who may or may not hear you) to join you in prayer from seeking supernatural help from that fellow believer himself.

It might be of interest to note that Abraham was known for being very rich. Maybe he was the patron saint of the rich and the rich man, then?

 Nice touch, Dave!


The Bible also has no example of prayer to the Holy Spirit, that I am aware of. Does that mean we can’t do that? Thus, it has at least one more example of prayer to a man than prayer to God the Holy Spirit.

In Luke 16, Abraham clearly has the power to do what the rich man asked, but he refused because it wasn’t God’s will and (as he said), it wouldn’t have succeeded in its purpose anyway.

He actually doesn’t clearly have that power. “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” Again, I’ll put prayer asking a saint to join in prayer in a different category from prayer asking a saint to intervene directly.

Abraham never denied that he had the potential power to “send” Lazarus to the rich man’s brothers. This is very interesting, and a slant I hadn’t thought of before. The implication is that he could be sent, and by Abraham, delegated that power by God. The very thought of his being sent to earth is anathema to many Protestants who deny any contact at all between saints in heaven and those on earth (yet Samuel appeared to Saul, and Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration).

But anyway, he doesn’t tell the rich man that he shouldn’t make the request (and he certainly would have, if that were true, just as angels and men denied worship from men as essentially wrong). It follows that Jesus sanctioned the notion of prayer to men, rather than only to God.

He can’t answer the prayer to send Lazarus over to the “bad” part of Hades, because as he explained, it is impossible for those in the “good” part of Hades (limbo of the fathers) to pass over to the bad part (presumably the holding tank for eventual hell). That is, therefore, a metaphysical impossibility; thus, the prayer is declined for that stated reason; not because Abraham ought not receive any prayer requests, or could not potentially answer any that were possible to answer.

The other refusal dealt with a situation that was not intrinsically impossible, but rather, had to do with the will of men: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.”

Abraham neither denies that he is able to answer / grant the prayer, nor that folks rise from the dead sometimes (as we already know that they do, from Scripture, beyond just Jesus’ Resurrection or His raising of the dead).

He refuses the prayer because it would be of no effect. He knows that the brothers would not respond to sending Lazarus to them.

And of course this teaching had an application to Jesus’ own Resurrection not being sufficient to convince people who were determined to oppose him: who didn’t see in Moses and the prophets the messianic prophecies that Jesus fulfilled.

Related papers:

Bible on Asking Dead Men to Intercede (Luke 16) [7-8-14]
Dialogue on Praying to Abraham (Luke 16) [5-22-16]

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