By Walid and Theodore Shoebat
The question I ask all is this: if you seek truth, will you land wherever truth in the Bible takes you or will you land on whatever the tradition of men teach you?
Theological differences and arguments never end and can at times be resolved by overwhelming evidence presented just in one single verse.
Yes, a single verse should at times resolve theological matters that cause division.
For example, Preterists argue that most of the prophecies in the Bible were fulfilled. They even write entire books to show how some of the biblical prophecies were fulfilled by bringing type of fulfillments to lure so many to accept their views.
But one verse shatters their theological arguments. The question that preterits can’t answer is why is it that a Jewish prophet named Amos predict that it would be impossible to uproot Israel even though the Arab world tried several times already? Amos stated:
“And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, says the LORD thy God.”
The question is to all the Preterists that say that they believe that the Bible was simply documenting ancient historic events pertaining to the Jewish people and that mostly everything prophetically in the Bible was fulfilled, we ask:
Amos says “they shall no more be pulled up”, so how can anyone explain this in a historic context, especially since Israel have been “pulled up” by the Romans and the Babylonians; how is it that this proclamation says this is impossible unless it pertains to our time? “They shall no more be pulled up”, is one half of a verse that settles centuries worth of arguments, for to denounce it would mean that the Bible erred, if the prophecies about Israel were all fulfilled, Israel must have been pulled up to never be replanted. Its impossible to refute this verse which sets the matter completely.
Such are God and Jesus, they always cause checkmate questions that only fools would question “Did God really say that they should not be ‘pulled up'”?
If you seek biblical truth you should land wherever truth in the Bible takes you or else accept the tradition of what men teach. I find another half of a verse which settles another matter so many opposed me on: Prayer and asking for intercession from the living saints in heaven which I had thought settled the issue, yet my detractors claim that intercession of saints constitutes necromancy since this would be “prayer to the dead”.
While prayers and intercession of saints or for saints is hardly “prayer to the dead” as in pagan practice, all such naysayers follow the tradition of men and not what God taught or what biblical traditions recorded from what was passed by the early church. In the Bible it clearly records St. Paul praying for one dead saint, 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”
“he searched for me eagerly and found me” and “you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus” (2 Tim 1:16-18).
The amazing revelation in which almost all commentators concede that Onesiphorus had died—maybe even martyred during Nero’s persecution before Paul wrote Second Timothy. Paul speaks of him in the past tense and strangely asks for God’s mercy on him:
“May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day.”
Paul blesses his “household” without mentioning him, as though he was no longer here. Because Onesiphorus had served so well and was no longer alive, Paul not only prays for God’s blessing on his surviving family, but that Paul prays for him: “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day” which is not just an expression of sentimental emotion—this is a prayer for a man who has died, it is prayer for the dead.
There is so much support for this interpretation amongst Protestant theologians that even the widely respected six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary which was composed by 1000 top Protestant and Catholic scholars agree (1) amongst myriads of Protestant scholars, who believe that the passage is written in such a way as to leave little doubt that Onesiphorus is no longer alive and that Paul “seems to be praying for him” as confirmed by Philip Schaff (2), Alfred Plummer (3) James Maurice Wilson (4) Sydney Charles Gayford (5) John Henry Bernard (6) Donald Guthrie (7), William Barclay (8), J.N. D. Kelly (9), John E. Sanders (10), Philip Schaff (11), Charles John Ellicott (12) and even Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown (13) all agree, Paul prayed for the souls of the saints who were dead.
“This, in this simple form, is a natural instinct; it was practised by some later Jews, cf. 2 Mac 12:43–45, and is found in early Christian epitaphs and in the liturgies; cf. Plummer, ad loc.; Gayford, The Future State, c. 4. Wohlenberg quotes the Acts of Paul and Thecla, § 28, which is a prayer that a heathen may be transferred after death to the abode of the righteous.” (Lock, W. 1924).
Any attempts to re-interpret the obvious verse differently tend to display a definite bias and an anti-biblical spirit against the intercession of saints, a practice of the very first Christians as testified to by the graffiti in the catacombs from as far as Christianity goes back in history, in the writings of the Fathers, and in the general practice of the primitive Church. So many today who desire to go to the first church and acquired Messianic and Hebraic roots fail to understand, that it was not the language (Hebrew) that constituted originality, but as was written on the Cross of Christ, the Church spoke not only Hebrew, but the language of Jesus, Aramaic and also Greek and Latin.
The verses are clear and reflect the type of prayers found in the Catacombs of the early church and here we find it clearly in Scripture:
“May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus” (2 Timothy 1:16–18).
From as early as the second century (between 100 AD- 200 AD) to the fourth century the evidence from the catacombs make an overwhelming argument that such a practice stemmed from ancient Judaism and passed down by Peter and Paul, the prayers were very similar as in the Scriptures:
“Paul and Peter, intercede for Victor”, “Peter and Paul, remember us” (14)
They were usually short and to the point, as Paul wrote: “May the Lord grant that he [Onesiphorus] will find mercy from the Lord on that day!”
Paul, who was earlier known as Saul the Pharisee, was well immersed in the teaching and tradition of the Pharisaical Jews who historically and biblically 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.
We also cannot ignore the testament of history. Ancient Christians gave their prayer requests “to the spirits of just men made perfect,” (Hebrews 12:23) and this was not something invented by the Church, but continued by the Church from ancient Israel. In the Second Book of Maccabees, which is Scripture (for it was in the Septuagint and was accepted into the Canon by the Church Councils of Rome (382), Hippo (393), and Carthage (397)) the high priest Onias has a vision in which he sees the prophet Jeremiah praying for the warriors and the city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah then stretched out his hand and gave a golden sword to the holy warrior Judas Maccabeus. As the Scripture tells us:
Now the vision was in this manner: Onias who had been high priest, a good and virtuous man, modest in his looks, gentle in his manners, and graceful in his speech, and who from a child was exercised in virtues, holding up his hands, prayed for all the people of the Jews:
After this there appeared also another man, admirable for age, and glory, and environed with great beauty and majesty:
Then Onias answering, said: This is a lover of his brethren, and of the people of Israel: this is he that prayeth much for the people, and for all the holy city, Jeremias the prophet of God.
Whereupon Jeremias stretched forth his right hand, and gave to Judas a sword of gold, saying:
Take this holy sword a gift from God, wherewith thou shalt overthrow the adversaries of my people Israel. (2 Maccabees 15:12-16)
Moreover, the holy Judas Maccabeus, great and gallant warrior of God and the True Path to Divine Light, ordered that prayers be done for the Jews who had died holding idols, since to partake in idolatry would hinder the soul from reaching eternal Paradise. Also, not only prayers but a sacrifice was also done to intercede for their souls, as the Scripture says,
So Judas having gathered together his army, came into the city Odollam: and when the seventh day came, they purified themselves according to the custom, and kept the sabbath in the place.
And the day following Judas came with his company, to take away the bodies of them that were slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen, in the sepulchres of their fathers.
And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain.
Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden.
And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain.
And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection,
(For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,)
And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.
It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. (2 Maccabees 12:38-46)
King David himself fasted for the dead; he fasted for King Saul and Jonathan after they were slain in war, and all of those died in the battle. As read in the Second Book of Samuel:
Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: and they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the Lord, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword. (2 Samuel 1:12-13)
David fasted for the dead, was he then a pagan? Which Christians today fast for the fallen but the Catholics and the Orthodox?
Offering prayers to the souls of saints so that they could pray to God for you was practiced in the ancient Church. A day after St. Ignatius, a student of the Apostles themselves, was martyred, it is said that his fellow Christians saw him praying for them in a vision. As we read in the Martyrdom of St. Ignatius from as far back as the first century:
And being the night following watching, with tears, in the house, praying to God with our bended knees, that he would give us, weak men, some assurance of what had been before done, — it happened that falling into a slumber, some of us, on the sudden, saw the blessed Ignatius standing by us and embracing us; others beheld the blessed martyr praying for us; others, as it were, dropping with sweat, as if he were just come from his great labour, and standing by the Lord. (Martyrdom of Ignatius, xiii)
St. Augustine (5th century) praised his mother for giving her petitions to the martyred saints in Heaven:
And in lieu of a basket filled with fruits of the earth, she had learned to bring to the oratories of the martyrs a heart full of more purified petitions, and to give all that she could to the poor; that so the communion of the Lord’s body might be rightly celebrated there, where, after the example of His passion, the martyrs had been sacrificed and crowned. (St. Augustine, Confessions, 6.2)
St. Amrbose of Milan (4th century), the mentor of Augustine, and the one who brought Augustine into the Church, declared that the souls of the martyrs protect the Church, and that the relics owned by these saints bring miracles and heal the sick:
I do not say whether they have risen for themselves, for us certainly the martyrs have risen. You know — nay, you have yourselves seen — that many are cleansed from evil spirits, that very many also, having touched with their hands the robe of the saints, are freed from those ailments which oppressed them; you see that the miracles of old time are renewed, when through the coming of the Lord Jesus grace was more largely shed forth upon the earth, and that many bodies are healed as it were by the shadow of the holy bodies. How many napkins are passed about! how many garments, laid upon the holy relics and endowed with healing power, are claimed! All are glad to touch even the outside thread, and whosoever touches will be made whole. Thanks be to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, that at this time Thou hast stirred up for us the spirits of the holy martyrs, when Thy Church needs greater protection. (Ambrose, letter 22, chs. 9-10)
It is said that God cannot use objects napkins and garments, but Jesus’ garment was physical, and when a woman who was subject to bleeding touched it, “immediately her bleeding stopped.” (Luke 8:43)
St. Peter’s shadow was physical, but this did not stop the earliest Christians when they “brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.” (Acts 5:15)
Aprons and handkerchiefs are physical objects, but this did not prevent the Apostles, since they “brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” (Acts 19:12)
The fourth century Spanish Christian scholar, Prudentius, described how the people of Spain went to the site where the ancient Spanish Christians, Cheldonius and Emererius, were martyred,
making petitions with voice and heart and gifts; and dwellers in the outside world too come here, for report has run through all lands publishing the news that here are patrons of the whole earth whose favour they may seek by prayer. No man here in making his requests has offered sincerely prayer on prayer in vain; from here the petitioner returns happy, with his tears dried, and conscious that all his righteous requests have been granted. (Prudentius, Crowns of Martyrdom, 1.5-10)
Perhaps a self-test might cure the issues of so many who claim to follow Scripture. Reality is that so many outrightly reject Scripture, we should all find truth regardless where it leads us:
1) Do you agree with Paul, to pray for a departed saints? Yes/No
2) Luther wrote: “May Christ grant us this through the intercession and for the sake of His dear Mother Mary! Amen.”
Do you agree with Luther? Yes/No?
3) Are Saints Alive? Yes/No If Dead, do you accept the following verses which say that saints are living (Yes/No):
Mark 12:26-27, Hebrews 12:1, Luke 20:37-38, Luke 16:19-31, Luke 23:43, Revelation 4:4-11, Revelation 5:8-10, Revelation 6:9-11,Revelation 7:9-12, Philippians 1:23-24, 2 Corinthians 5:8, Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-10, Luke 9:28-36.
4) Do you agree that prayers to saints were left on the
epitaphs of the dead in the Roman catacombs from the earliest church? Yes/No.
If “Yes”, would you concur that the early church was not practicing a heresy? Yes/No.
5) “two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory” (see Luke 9)
Moses and Elijah were dead. Did Jesus see 2 living saints? Yes/No?
6) “Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.” (Revelation 7)
Was John having a two way conversation with saints?
If you say “no” who is he speaking with then?
7) “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses
surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1)
Can saints see and hear us? Yes/No?
8) “When He had taken the book, the four living creatures
and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5)
Are the angels aware of the prayers of the saints? Yes/No
9) “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named
“ (Ephesians 3:15)
Are we one family, the saints in heaven as well as the
saints on earth? Yes/No.
If we are one body, one bride, one vine in Christ that is commanded to love one another (John 15:14) does that mean:
Saints in heaven care for us? Yes/No?
Pray for us? Yes/No?
10) “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;” (1 Timothy 2:1)
Many argue that “Christ is the only intercessor”. If so, was Timothy right to state this? Yes/No.
What is the need for Intercessors when I can pray directly to Jesus Christ?
Answer: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”–James 5:16. Saints on earth are living, saints who departed are also living. I rest my case.
(1) From The Anchor Bible Dictionary: “2 Timothy also includes greetings to the household of Onesiphorus (4:19) and a prayer that the Lord might grant mercy to his household because of his service to Paul (1:16). Onesiphorus himself does not seem to be included, suggesting that he was either not envisioned as present among the (alleged) recipients of 2 Timothy, was with Paul, or was already dead. The latter is most likely since the author of 2 Timothy writes: “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day” (1:18). If Onesiphorus had indeed died, then this prayer is the earliest one for the dead found in Christian literature. As such it has been cited as clear scriptural support (especially among Roman Catholics) for prayer for the dead. (Jewish precedent for such prayer is found in 2 Macc 12:43–45.)”
(2) Philip Schaff (see #9) 2 Timothy 1:16-18 (RSV) May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiph’orus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains,  but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me —  may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day — and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. 2 Timothy 4:19 Greet Prisca and Aq’uila, and the household of Onesiph’orus.
(3) Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) (Anglican): The Expositor’s Bible (edited by W. Robertson Nicoll), The Pastoral Epistles, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1891, pp. 324-326: Certainly the balance of probability is decidedly in favour of the view that Onesiphorus was already dead when St. Paul wrote these words. . . . he here speaks of “the house of Onesiphorus” in connexion with the present, and of Onesiphorus himself only in connexion with the past. . . . it is not easy to explain this reference in two places to the household of Onesiphorus, if he himself was still alive. In all the other cases the individual and not the household is mentioned. . . . There is also the character of the Apostle’s prayer. Why does he confine his desires respecting the requital of Onesiphorus’ kindness to the day of judgment? . . . This again is thoroughly intelligible, if Onesiphorus is already dead . . . there seems to be equal absence of serious reason for doubting that the words in question constitute a prayer. . . .
(4) James Maurice Wilson (1836-1931) (Anglican): Truths New and Old, Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1900, p. 141: We have, therefore, the sanction of St. Paul for remembering inn our prayers, and interceding for, those who have now passed into the other world . . .
(5) Sydney Charles Gayford (Anglican): The Future State, New York: Edwin S. Gorham, second edition, 1905, pp. 56-57:. . . the most satisfactory explanation is that Onesiphorus was dead. . . . And so we may hold with some confidence that we have in this passage the authority of an Apostle in praying for the welfare of the departed.
(6) John Henry Bernard (1860-1927) (Anglican), The Pastoral Epistles, Cambridge University Press, 1899, p. 114: On the whole then it seems probable that Onesiphorus was dead when St. Paul prayed on his behalf . . .
(7) Donald Guthrie (1915-1992) (Anglican): The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2nd edition, 1990, p. 148: Since it is assumed by many scholars that Onesiphorus was by now dead, the question has been raised whether this sanctions prayer for the dead. Roman catholic theologians claim that it does. Spicq, for instance, sees here an example of prayer for the dead unique in the New Testament. Some Protestants agree with this judgment and cite the Jewish precedent of 2 Macc 12:43-45 . . .
(8) William Barclay (1907-1978) (Presbyterian / Church of Scotland), The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 3rd edition, 2003, p. 175: . . there are many who feel that the implication is that Onesiphorus is dead. It is for his family that Paul first prays. Now, if he was dead, this passage shows us Paul praying for the dead, for it shows him praying that Onesiphorus may find mercy on the last day.
(9) J. N. D. Kelly (1909-1997) (Anglican): A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, London: A&C Black, 1963, p. 171: On the assumption, which must be correct, that Onesiphorus was dead when the words were written, we have here an example, unique in the N.T., of Christian prayer for the departed. . . . the commendation of the dead man to the divine mercy. There is nothing surprising in Paul’s use of such a prayer, for intercession for the dead had been sanctioned in Pharisaic circles at any rate since the date of 2 Macc 12:43-45 (middle of first century B.C.?). Inscriptions in the Roman catacombs and elsewhere prove that the practice established itself among Christians from very early times.
(10) John E. Sanders (evangelical / open theist): No Other Name, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1992, pp. 182-183: Some scholars contend that 2 Timothy 1:16-18 contains a reference to praying for the dead; they contend that the person for whom Paul prays, Onesiphorus was dead. Footnote 11: Among those commentators who understand Paul to be praying for the dead here are the following: W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1951), p. 159; Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, Vol. 3 (Chicago: Moody Pres, 1958), p. 376 . . . J. E. Huther, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to Timothy and Titus (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1871), p. 263.
(11) Philip Schaff (1819-1893) (Reformed Protestant), The International Illustrated Commentary on the New Testament, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889, Vol. IV, The Catholic Epistles and Revelation, p. 587: On the assumption already mentioned as probable, this would, of course, be a prayer for the dead. The reference ot the great day of judgment falls in with this hypothesis. . . . From the controversial point of view, this may appear to favour the doctrine and practice of the Church of Rome . . .
(12) Charles John Ellicott (1816-1905) (Anglican): A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, London: Cassell & Co., Vol. III, 1884, p. 223: There is but little doubt that when St. Paul wrote this Epistle Onesiphorus’ death must have recently taken place . . .
(13) Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (2 Ti 1:16). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.: The Lord give mercy—even as ONESIPHORUS had abounded in works of mercy. The house of Onesiphorus—He himself was then absent from Ephesus, which accounts for the form of expression (2Ti 4:19). His household would hardly retain his name after the master was dead [why this assumption? Seems like a false assumption based on a bias against prayer for the dead], as BENGEL supposes him to have been. Nowhere has Paul prayers for the dead, which is fatal to the theory [unless of course this is the one case where Paul does pray for the dead; bias revealed by his statement], favored by ALFORD also, that he was dead. God blesses not only the righteous man himself, but all his household.
(14) Christianity In Ancient Rome, The First Three Centuries, P.p. 189.ICUR IV 9521