What Is the Bible’s View?
Can Saints Help You?
“To WHOM should we pray?” Answering that question, Joseph V. Gallagher, C.S.P. states: “All prayer is finally to God, and most of our prayers will be directed that way. However, sometimes we like to address the Blessed Mother or a saint and ask them to join especially in our prayer.”—To Be a Catholic, A Catechism for Today.
With such encouragement, many sincere persons have addressed “saints” in prayer, viewing them as intercessors with God. “From the theological viewpoint,” says the New Catholic Encyclopedia, “intercession is the act of pleading by one who in God’s sight has a right to do so in order to obtain mercy for one in need.” And concerning intercession of Mary, angels and “saints,” this reference work says, in part: “A Catholic may entertain no doubts about the fact of their intercession, since the Council of Trent clearly defined this dogma—‘the saints, reigning together with Christ, offer their prayers to God for men’ . . .”
Those considered saints by the Roman Catholic Church include both men and women and are not limited to individuals of Bible record, such as Jesus Christ’s apostles Peter and John. In fact, the Acta Sanctorum, published since 1643, mentions over 17,000 “saints.” Moreover, invocation of saints also prevails in the Greek and the various Eastern churches. So, it is fitting to ask, Can saints help you? What does the Bible indicate?
Some Bible translations use the term “saints.” But do the Scriptures recommend praying to them, or through them to God? Well, notice that the apostle Paul urged Christians to be “watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints,” not to or through them. (Eph. 6:18, Douay Version) He was recommending prayer for, or in behalf of, all fellow anointed followers of Jesus Christ then living on earth, not in heaven. Accordingly, Paul addresses as “saints” the Christians then living at Ephesus and Philippi.—Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1, Douay Version.
Interestingly, the New Catholic Encyclopedia indirectly admits that intercession by “saints” does not have a Biblical foundation. It states: “In regard to the intercession of the dead for the living about which no mention is made in the most ancient books of the O[ld] T[estament], . . . one has the familiar text of 2 Mc 15.11-16. If in the N[ew] T[estament] writings . . . nothing on the subject is explicitly mentioned, one still has in the practice of the early Church an abundant harvest of evidence that demonstrates faith and conviction in the intercessory power of those who had ‘died in Christ.’ Such evidence . . . is seen in the many epitaphs, anaphorae, litanies, liturgical documents, acts of the martyrs, and in the frequent allusions encountered in Oriental, Greek, and Latin patristic literature.”
The highly respected Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by M’Clintock and Strong, points out that the invocation of “saints” lacks Scriptural support, was unknown to the early Church and was “expressly condemned by the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 481) and by the early fathers.” Though advocates cite certain “Church fathers” and ancient liturgies, this cyclopædia observes: “It must be remembered that they are only unscriptural additions, and that they originated after the infusion into the Church system of Alexandrian Neoplatonism and Oriental Magianism, which left its traces even in the most orthodox form of Christian worship, and creed also, up to the 4th and 5th centuries, a period in the history of the Christian Church when heresies were, to use a common phrase, almost the order of the day.”
Second Maccabees 15:11-16 has been cited in an effort to support “the intercession of the dead for the living.” Among other things, this passage indicated that the deceased Hebrew prophet Jeremiah was ‘fervently praying for his people and their holy city.’ However, as many scholars acknowledge, 2 Maccabees was not penned under divine inspiration; it is one of the apocryphal books. Do you not prefer to accept the testimony of God’s inspired Word, the Bible? You can rely upon it, for the apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching—for reproof, correction, and training in holiness so that the man of God may be fully competent and equipped for every good work.”—2 Tim. 3:16, 17, The New American Bible, translated by members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America.
Jeremiah, being dead, would be unable to pray for anyone. Why? Because of what Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10 says about the dead. “When death comes,” states the translation by Catholic Monsignor Knox, “of nothing will they be aware any longer . . . there will be no doing, no scheming, no wisdom or skill left to thee in the grave, that soon shall be thy home.” Jeremiah is among those of mankind who now sleep in death until the resurrection.
Many persons have prayed before images of “saints.” Has this been proper? The apostle John told fellow believers, “My little children, be on your guard against idols.”—1 John 5:21, NAB.
How, then, should a Christian’s prayers be directed to God in order to be acceptable to him? Jesus Christ pointedly said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:6, 14, The Jerusalem Bible) Now as a resurrected and exalted spirit creature, “Jesus continues for ever, and his priestly office is unchanging; that is why he can give eternal salvation to those who through him make their way to God; he lives on still to make intercession on our behalf.” (Heb. 7:24, 25, Knox) Additionally, Paul wrote: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”—1 Tim. 2:5, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition.
True Christian “saints,” or “holy ones” (as at Ephesians 1:1 in the New World Translation and the version by Francis Aloysius Spencer, O.P.), are not proclaimed saints by any religious organization. Rather, after these persons acquire accurate Scriptural knowledge, Jehovah God sanctifies them by means of his holy spirit, producing within them genuine hopes of heavenly life. (Rom. 8:16, 17; 2 Thess. 2:13, 14) That life is attained only by faithfulness to death and resurrection as spirit creatures. Their final number is 144,000.—Rev. 2:10; 14:1-4.
No, the “holy ones” who already have been resurrected are not authorized to help you as intercessors when you pray. Soon, however, the 144,000 resurrected “holy ones” will, with Jesus Christ, be earth’s rulers for a thousand years. In this manner they will serve for the blessing of humankind.—Rev. 20:6.