JASON ENGWER SAID:
“And I note, again, that if prayer to the dead had been practiced in Biblical times as it's practiced in Catholicism and Orthodoxy today, we wouldn't expect people to have to resort to the sort of argumentation we've gotten from Lvka and Christine in order to make the case.”
I’d like to piggyback on something that Jason said. We don’t have any examples of divinely sanctioned prayers to the dead in Scripture.
We do, however, see a similar practice in Scripture, although it’s forbidden rather than sanctioned. And, what is more, this practice involves different cultural assumptions regarding the accessibility of the dead.
I’m alluding to necromancy. This was an attempt to contact the dead. And, as I say, Scripture sternly prohibits this practice.
In addition, it’s instructive to see how people in Bible times thought it was possible to contact the dead. The locus classicus is 1 Sam 28.
Saul doesn’t think it’s possible contact Samuel by simply speaking to him directly. In order for Samuel to hear him, Saul deems it necessary to go to a medium to establish contact. In order for Samuel to be sensible to what Saul has to say, it’s necessary to bring Samuel back into the land of the living. You can’t reach Samuel merely by talking to him on your own.
If Christians and Jews in Bible times believed in prayers to the dead, then this would be the mechanism. In order for the “saints” to hear you, you need a living medium, and you also need the medium to bring the decedent back into the sphere of the living.
Of course, a Catholic or Orthodox apologist can reject this framework, but in so doing, he has to reject the only Biblical precedent we have for contacting the dead. And Catholic and Orthodox apologists are thereby rejecting the cultural understanding how the dead could be made aware of the living. In that case they can’t appeal to tradition. For tradition assumes continuity with the past. That you can extrapolate from the practice of Christians in the early church to Christians in the NT church or pious Jews in OT times.
If there’s a fundamental discontinuity in the way in which Catholic and Orthodox theologians deem it possible to access the dead, and the way in which people in Bible times thought it possible to access the dead, then it’s no longer reasonable to assume that Bible writers thought it possible for the saints to be conscious of the living, and available to the living, in the way that Catholics and Orthodox believe.
To the extent that people in Bible times thought it possible to reach out to the dead (and remember that even this is a forbidden practice), that required a link with a living medium. Furthermore, the medium had to bring the dead into the presence of the living.