Understanding Prayer for the Dead: Its Foundation in History and Logic

By James B. Gould

A defence of the practice of prayer for the dead, expanding upon the biblical and philosophical background and exploring the theological ramifications.

ISBN: 9780718895006


Throughout history, Christians have prayed for the dead – both for continual growth of the faithful and for their advancement from purgatory, though not for the deliverance of the unsaved from hell. Understanding Prayer for the Dead defends all three kinds of prayer. It challenges Protestants, who seldom pray for the dead, to begin doing so – and Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, who pray only for the Christian dead, to include the unsaved as well. James B. Gould addresses the biblical credentials of prayer for the dead and provides a historical overview of such prayers from ancient Christianity to the current practice of the three main branches of the church. He also discusses the logical assumptions prayer for the dead requires – that prayer is effective, that the dead are conscious, and that the afterlife involves change – and lays out a theological framework for such prayers. Prayer for the departed raises the most basic of theological questions, matters that go to the centre of God’s purpose in creating spiritual beings and redeeming sinful humankind. The argument, while revisionary in some respects, is orthodox, ecumenical, and integrative, engaging a range of academic disciplines so as to be biblically accurate, historically informed, and philosophically reasoned.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 258

Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

James B. Gould teaches in the Department of Philosophy at McHenry County College, Crystal Lake, Illinois, and serves on the ethics committees of several healthcare organizations.


Foreword by Jerry L. Walls

1. Setting a Context: The Bible and Prayer for the Dead
2. Recounting the Past: Prayer for the Dead in the Historical Church
3. Surveying the Present: Prayer for the Dead in the Contemporary Church
4. Envisioning the Future: Prayer for the Dead in the Coming Church

A Pause

5. God, Causality, and the Effectiveness of Praying for the Dead
6. Human Nature, Personal Identity, and Prayer for the Dead
7. Time, Eternity, and Prayer for the Dead
8. Creative Love Christianity: A Theological Framework for Prayer for the Dead
9. Hope, Expectation, and Prayer for the Dead

Afterword – Looking Ahead: A Preview of Volume Two

Name Index
Scripture Index


Endorsements and Reviews

Christians have argued for centuries about whether or not we should pray for the dead. This wise and thorough examination of the subject from a biblical, historical, theological, and philosophical perspective will be an invaluable guide to anyone interested in the question – anyone, in fact, who wants to think more deeply about what we do when we pray and the nature of life after death. There is so much here to inform, challenge, and inspire.
John Inge, Bishop of Worcester