Q:  What does the Bible say about
talking to the dead? 


Is it wrong to contact or communicate with the dead? Someone I know claims to have been visited by a deceased relative. Is this any different than praying to the dead, as in Roman Catholicism?  DC, California

A:  The Old Testament term for communicating with the dead is "necromancy." (Deuteronomy 18:11, also read verse 10) It is forbidden by God: "There shall not be found among you... For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord" (an "abomination," KJV).

Also see: 1 Samuel 28:3-20; 2 Chronicles 10:13, 14; Isaiah 8:19-22. The punishment for contacting the dead is very severe, if not repented of.

This must also include what Roman Catholicism claims is praying to the "saints" -- the deceased who have been beatified, canonized, or placed in a position of spiritual superiority by the hierarchy. (Scripture refers to all believers as "saints.") The real force at work in such "apparitions" (appearances of the deceased) is deception: demonic activity, evil spirits. Satan disguises himself as "an angel of light," it says in 2 Corinthians 11:14.  (He doesn't approach us saying, "Boo!" or we'd run & hide.)

When prophecies or visions fail to come to pass, we know they're not of God (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). But even if a vision or prophecy does come to pass, scripture says, we are still instructed to examine or discern the source: if it doesn't glorify Jesus -- if it glorifies any other person, living or dead -- it's not of God.

When someone claims to have received a "vision" of the dead, it's really a deception of the enemy -- demon forces at work. Luke chapter 16 contains excellent instruction on the state of the dead, referring to an impassable separation between the after-life and this world. Those in the next world, saved or otherwise, simply do not return to deliver messages to the living:

"[Lazarus] died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom," and the rich man died and suffered torment in Hades. A "great gulf" separated the two and was "fixed:  so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." (Luke 16:19-31)

Another example is the instance in which, at the death of his son, David testified: "I shall go to him, but he shall not return unto me." (2 Samuel 12:15-23)

Not all miracles are of God. Satan performs lying signs and wonders (Exodus 7:9-12; 8:7, 17-19; Deuteronomy 13:1-5; Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13-14, 16:14; 19:20) The magicians in the times of Moses and Daniel could perform some magic (Exodus 7:9-12; 8:7; Daniel 1:20) ... but their power is limited (Exodus 8:17-19; Daniel 2:2, 10, 27; 4:7; 5:7-8, 15).

Many Roman Catholics and others, lacking discernment* and knowledge of the Scriptures ("My people perish for lack of knowledge") -- and trusting the hierarchy of man -- fail to "test the spirits and see whether they be of God" (1 John 4:1). They assume the priests do that for them! Some of the primary points relative to this issue include:

If a sign or wonder predicted comes to pass, but the person is enticed to follow after another god, we are to reject it. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5) Also, if the message delivered is contrary to Scripture, it's not from God (Isaiah 8:20; 2 Timothy 3:16). Some religious messages don't glorify Jesus at all; rather, the "vision" is glorified and, repeated again and again, perpetuated by tradition.

The Roman Catholic practice of praying to and for the dead can be traced in part to the Old Testament apocryphal books (2 Maccabees 12:46 "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead.") These books, rejected from the canon ("rule," or "standard") of Scripture, contain historical and geographical errors, and many teachings inconsistent with the rest of scripture:  salvation by almsgiving; suicide; magic; angelic intercession; etc. Definitely nothing sturdy upon which to base one's eternal destiny.   

* discernment is learned by experience (Hebrews 5:14), through knowledge of the Bible (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:15, 6; Ezekiel 44;23)

--Diane S. Dew © 1998