This article first appeared at: catholic.com.
Whenever we’re talking about whether it’s appropriate to ask the saints to intercede for us, an objection that’s inevitably made is, “The Bible never instructs us to pray to the saints, or make our request known them. Therefore, we shouldn’t do so.”
The first thing we can say in response is that this objection commits a fallacy known as negating the antecedent. This starts when a person poses a hypothetical: “If A, then B.” Then he negates the first part of the statement (called the antecedent)—“not A”—and concludes, “Not B.”
For example, it’s true that if it’s raining outside, then the ground is wet. But let’s suppose we deny the first part of the statement and say, “It’s not raining outside.” Can we conclude that “the ground is not wet”? Of course not, since the ground may be wet due to some other reason, like yesterday’s snow melting.
The objection we’re considering in this article follows this same line of reasoning. It starts with the assumption that if the Bible gives us an instruction to behave in a certain way, then we should do it. And that part sounds good. We agree one hundred percent.
But then the objection denies the first part of the statement, saying, “The Bible doesn’t say to ask the saints to pray for us,” and concludes, “therefore, we shouldn’t ask the saints to pray for us.” This reasoning is just the same as the example with rain and a wet ground.
Now, our Protestant friend might rephrase his objection this way:
P1: We should confine our religious practice only to what the Bible says we should do.
P2: Invoking the saints’ intercession is a religious practice that the Bible doesn’t say we should do.
C: Therefore, we shouldn’t engage in the religious practice of invoking the saints’ intercession.
Unlike the first attempt, this line of reasoning is valid. The conclusion follows from the premises. But the problem here is premise one.
It assumes that the Bible is the only source for knowing which religious practices we should engage in as Christians. But nowhere does the Bible tell us this.
Now, a Protestant may respond with an appeal to 2 Timothy 3:15-16, where St. Paul tells Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
But affirming that the Bible is “profitable,” or helpful, to achieve all these things doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we need to accomplish these things. Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that there are some traditions handed down by word of mouth that we need to hold fast to.
So, given that premise one of this argument isn’t true, the argument doesn’t work. As such, if the Bible refrains from giving us explicit instruction to ask the saints to pray for us, that should not be a reason for someone to think it’s not appropriate to ask the saints in heaven to pray for us.
A second thing we can say in response is that even though the Bible doesn’t say explicitly that we should pray to the saints, we can still infer the practice from what’s divinely revealed.
Consider, for example, Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12:20-21 that one member of Christ’s mystical body cannot refuse help from other members: “there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”
Since the saints in heaven are still members of the body of Christ (according to Romans 8:35 and 38, death doesn’t separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus), we can infer that we ought not reject their help that’s offered through their intercessory prayer. We should employ it.
We can also infer the instruction to request the saints’ prayers from Paul’s request to the Romans to intercede for him in Romans 15:30: “strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.”
Paul sees the Christian life as involving requests made for other Christians to intercede on our behalf. That’s what Christians do. Therefore, since the saints in heaven are Christians in the perfect sense, we can infer that the Christian life involves making requests for Christians in heaven to pray for us.
Another way we can infer the instruction to invoke the saints’ intercession is by appealing to the revelation that they do intercede for us. In a previous article, we showed that Revelation 5:8 reveals human souls in heaven offering to Jesus the petitions of Christians on earth. God’s revealing such activity implies that it is permissible for us to make our requests known to the saints.
This line of reasoning is similar to our justification for praying to the Holy Spirit. Nowhere does the Bible give explicit instruction to pray to the Holy Spirit. But given that Paul says in Romans 8:26-27 that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in, we can infer that it is permissible for us to pray to him. Many Protestants agree with this.
Finally, we can respond with an argument that apologist Jimmy Akin gives in his book A Daily Defense. Things that are not prohibited by Scripture and have a rational basis are permitted under Christian liberty. Asking the saints to pray for us is nowhere forbidden in the Bible. Such a practice has a rational basis, as we’ve shown above. Therefore, asking the saints to pray for us is permitted under Christian liberty. This kind of liberty fits well with the “freedom which we have in Christ Jesus” that Paul describes in Galatians 2:4.
So, even though the Bible doesn’t say explicitly that we should request the saints’ intercession, it gives us enough information about the saints that justifies making our request of them.