What Is God’s Purpose For Prayer? “Are Prayers For The Soul Biblical”?

In some religions around the world, it is part of the practice to pray for the souls of the dead. Regardless of what other religions do, as Christians we must ask are prayers for the soul biblical? The Bible speaks about life and life after death, so it gives us a glimpse into what happens once we pass from this life. To give an answer upfront to this question are prayers for the soul biblical, I would say no. However, it’s not my opinion that matters we must define this based on what we learn from scripture so let’s dive in.

A Glimpse of Life after Death

One of the best places to look to get a picture of life after death and to answer the question are prayers for the soul biblical is to look at the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The entire story can be found in Luke 16. Here is a real brief narrative of what happened. A rich man and a beggar named Lazarus died. Let’s look at what happened next in the story.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family,for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” – Luke 16:22-31

There are some key points in this story that answer the question are prayers for the soul biblical?

1. Death Is Not the End but the Beginning

We often view death as the end of life, but in truth, it is the beginning of eternity. When anyone dies, just as the two people in this story did, their eternity begins and there are only two eternal destinations. Either heaven or hell. One is a place of comfort and rest; the other is a place of torment. I am going to assume you already knew that, so I want you to pay attention to the conversation between Abraham and the rich man which brings me to the second point.

2. Once You Die Your Eternal Destination Is Sealed

When you look at this conversation, the rich man wanted just a sliver of comfort from his torment a drop of water is all he wanted to cool his tongue. However, notice something very key in Abraham’s response,

“And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” – Luke 16:26

Abraham told him there was no way for anyone to go from torment to comfort or vice versa. (Not sure why anyone would want to leave comfort for the torment of Hades.) Since no one can make that switch after death this tells us there is no point in praying for souls who have already passed away because their fate has already been set. This is why prayers for the souls of men who have died are not biblical. But let me take it one step further.

3. The Rich Man’s Second Request

After recognizing his eternal fate notice what the rich man asked, please warn my five brothers who are still living. This simple request gives us insight into where our prayers should be directed, towards those who are living, not for those who have already died. If we know people who don’t know Christ then it is proper to pray for them while they are living, because this is the time when they can make their eternal choice. All our energy should go towards praying for and reaching the living because unfortunately, there is nothing we can do for those who have already died.

One More Scripture to Consider

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” – Hebrews 9:27 (ESV)

This verse in Hebrews is another reminder of this sobering reality of what happens after death. Notice it says people die once and after that one death there is judgment. The moment a person breathes their last breath on this earth, they enter eternity, and their eternal fate is sealed. I wish there was a way to change your eternal destination after death, but the Bible gives no indication anywhere that this is possible and that’s why prayers for the souls of those who have already died are not biblical.

The Urgency of the Matter

If there is one thing, I believe we can learn from Scripture and this truth we are examining is the urgency of the moment. I want to apply this to churches and to individual Christians.

For Churches

We must get back to the main mission of what churches are supposed to do, preach the gospel, and make disciples. Everything that is done in a church should be geared towards these two aims. There should never be a service that happens in the church where we don’t give people an opportunity to give their lives to Christ. In the old days, they called this the altar call and we invited people to come to the altar. I know many churches don’t do that anymore because we are worried about embarrassing people, which is clearly the wrong focus. We should be more concerned about their eternal destination. I am sure the rich man would not have minded being embarrassed for a moment to be spared the torment he was experiencing. If you are a pastor or leader in a church, I urge you to make the message of the gospel part of every service and don’t gloss over it, treat it lightly, or even assume we will get to it next time. For many people, there may not be a next time.

For Individuals

For you and me when we are outside the church, we need to share the gospel with those around us. I know this isn’t always easy and not always comfortable but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. There are ways and methods of doing this, which is a conversation for another article, but at the very least make sure you are praying for those that don’t know Jesus. When they are alive, that is their time and opportunity. That is the time of hope for them, so let’s make sure we are looking for opportunities to share the hope that is found only in Christ.

I hope in answering this question I have challenged you as I have challenged myself about doing a better job of spreading the gospel and making disciples. I believe as you get more of God’s heart, through prayer and drawing closer to him, there will be a desire that will spring up in you to reach those who are lost because that is the Father’s heart. I leave you with this one verse.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” – 2 Peter 3:9

Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.


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