Praying for the Dead & the Dead Appearing

Now since it is uncertain and no one knows, whether final judgment has been passed upon these souls, it is not sin if you pray for them; but in this way, that you let it rest in uncertainty and speak thus: Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they may yet be helped, then I pray that thou wouldst be gracious.

M. Luther, Sermon on Trinity 1.

Yes, you may pray for the dead. You may pray for your loved ones who have dead. I usually pray, “Lord have mercy on so-and-so.”

Now…in this sermon Luther makes other points, that continual and repetitive prayers for them betray a lack of trust in God’s promise about prayer, that Masses for the Dead and payment for their sins is false and futile and wrong. His interpretation of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is at once congruent with that of the Fathers, but in other places a bit more…reformed, but nevertheless salutary.

My point: it is a wrong and false belief that Lutherans do not pray for the dead. Here Luther preaches it. Elsewhere the Confessions write the same: “Regarding the adversaries’ quoting the Fathers about the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not ban.” (Ap. XXI:94). Rev. William Weedon has some other helpful and biblical examples here.

Pray for them, if you are so led.

Later in this same sermon, Luther addressed how we should take it if “spooks” or ghosts of our loved ones should appear to us and speak to us. In this context, he preached,

“And if it were possible that it were indeed a departed soul or a good spirit even, then you should neither learn nor inquire anything of him, since God has forbidden you to do so; because he has sent his Son himself to teach us all that is necessary for us to know. What he has not taught us, that we should gladly not wish to know, and be satisfied with the teachings of the holy Apostles, in which he is preached to us.”

We know that there are plenty of Roman legends and stories of the saints appearing and supposedly revealing knowledge and giving commands. I know of just a few stories from the Orthodox Tradition that have the saints appear. And the few I know of would have been amenable to Luther: a saint appearing to comfort briefly, but no orders or obligations or exta-biblical revelation offered.


1. It is “Lutheran” to pray that God have mercy on those who died. If you are so led, do so.
2. It is not Lutheran to make propitiation for them through Masses.
3. If those who have died appear to you, be wary, and know that if they speak contrary to the Word of God then they are most certainly false.
4. If you are Catholic and take issue, please respond.
5. If you are Orthodox and have issue or additional information, please respond.
6. If you are Lutheran and are saying “what the heck????” please respond.


HT: Rev. Karl Hess posted excerpts and thoughts on Luther’s sermon here.

5 comments on “Praying for the Dead & the Dead Appearing

  1. I’m being lazy, and will Google after I post this, but certainly this has a tie-in to purgatory/limbo? What was Luther’s take on this? What were the Early Church Father’s take?

  2. I would also like to hear more about purgatory and exactly what Lutherans believe/don’t believe about it, and most importantly, for what reasons.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this post and the many others.


    1. Sorry for the delay in responding, Daniel. Lutherans do not believe in purgatory for several reasons. First, Scripture does not teach this. Second, Scripture does teach that those who die in Christ are with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:8, 1 Thes. 4:13-18, et al.) Third, we believe that there is no need for purgatory, for the sins that we commit are fully forgiven by Jesus Christ because of His death for us. We are not fully healed, to be sure, but we have nothing for which to atone, and Christ will heal us fully when it is His time. Fourth, the doctrine of purgatory is not found in any of the early Fathers, and the Eastern Church does not believe it either. It is of Western medieval origin, and not of the apostolic faith. You can read more about it here:

      Pr. Hall

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