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What does Matthew 8

22 mean by "let the dead bury their own dead"?

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In Matthew 8:22 Matthew 8:22But Jesus said to him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
American King James Version×
Jesus said, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” He was responding to a request from one of His followers who asked to be excused from his responsibilities to “go and bury [his] father” (verse 21).

It might seem that he was asking to make funeral arrangements for his recently deceased father. However, he was actually asking Christ to excuse him from his spiritual responsibilities, so that he could return to live with his aging father until after his father died. Of course, that could mean the disciple would be gone for a long time. It seems he was skirting his spiritual calling and wanted Christ to give His blessing to this action.

Instead, Christ told him to focus on his calling. A better sense of Jesus' statement would be, “Don't neglect the high spiritual calling I've given you; let the spiritually dead attend to the routine tasks of life.” Certainly, Christ would not forbid the man from attending to the funeral arrangements for his father. Christ Himself went to visit the family of His friend Lazarus after Lazarus' death—even at great risk of His life (John 11:1-16 John 11:1-16 1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) 3 Therefore his sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick. 4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. 6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he stayed two days still in the same place where he was. 7 Then after that said he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. 8 His disciples say to him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone you; and go you thither again? 9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbles not, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbles, because there is no light in him. 11 These things said he: and after that he said to them, Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. 14 Then said Jesus to them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent you may believe; nevertheless let us go to him. 16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, to his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.
American King James Version×

God wants us to care for the needs of our families (Mark 7:10-13 Mark 7:10-13 10 For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother; and, Whoever curses father or mother, let him die the death: 11 But you say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatever you might be profited by me; he shall be free. 12 And you suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which you have delivered: and many such like things do you.
American King James Version×
; 1 Timothy 5:8 1 Timothy 5:8But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
American King James Version×
), but not to neglect our spiritual calling in the process.

For more insight, please read our booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion .

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  • chronister

    I would love to learn more about this. I understood it to mean the man wanted to go bury his recently deceased father and Christ told him “Let the dead bury their dead” because of the importance of following him vs the need to bury a dead person.

    Where/how is the verse interpreted as the man trying to get out of his duties to live with his still alive father?

    I am eager to learn everything I can about the Word and look forward to learning this.

  • TomK

    I believe Jesus was saying to the guy, look I’m living, I’m alive and taking care of all the daily things that need to be taken care of while I’m still alive, which is what you should do instead of mourning over a dead body or maybe one that is dying.

    So follow my example and be alive and active, do not sit and waste precious God given time on dead things and let the dead bury the dead. There are many living who need help.

    What I mean by dead is he is saying there are plenty of humans around who love misery, trouble and mournful things, who will never see the light or the kingdom around them. Who will never renew their minds to better things so let them bury your father and you go about life like me…

    To waste our precious Earthly time on dead things/bodies instead of continuing to live our lives and care for those who are alive is foolish.

  • Lena VanAusdle
    @Chronister I don’t think this verse is interpreted as the man trying to get out of his duties to live with his still alive father, although there are verses that address this. We are to care for our families, including our parents (1 Timothy 5:8 1 Timothy 5:8But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
    American King James Version×
    and Matthew 15:5-7 Matthew 15:5-7 5 But you say, Whoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatever you might be profited by me; 6 And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. 7 You hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
    American King James Version×
    ) if we are able. However, as the article above states, we must not do so at the expense of our relationship with God. That must be first, but we can’t use our relationship with God to neglect people either.
  • angelqueen
    when Jesus said let the dead bury their dead ,which mean man was made of the earth, and the should bury their dead, in a special a dead person shouldnt be amongs the living . back then, abranhan didn’t know what to do with his wife Sahara . so he pray to god as where he should bury the dead and he was instructed to a field. gen:23; 20, talk about bury of the dead , so clearly god didn’t tell anyone to ignore their families. people interpt the bible the wrong way. but if we read for our self, we will understand.
  • Ice Mike
    The words of Jesus aren’t open to interpretation. Stop trying to trick yourself. Jesus used the word DEAD. He used that word to describe people who are breathing and talking and walking around. He refers to unbelievers as dead. What he meant was everyone who isn’t following him was dead. Period. I don’t mean to be rude. He’s coming back with a sword. By the way, Satan took over your government, enjoy! May the true LIVING Jesus send his spirit to guide you so you don’t die dumb.
  • MarkB
    Jesus statement: let the dead bury the dead” indicates he was speaking of spiritual things. Physically dead people cannot bury other physically dead people. Everyone is spiritually dead until we are “born again” with the new life which only Jesus can give. This man’s father then, had to still be alive physically although spiritually dead in his sin. The man’s desire to bury his father would mean putting his commitment to following Christ on hold indefinitely until such time that his father died. That shows us that his heart was not in his expressed desire to meet the requirements of following Jesus. He want to be able to dictate the terms of his commitment
  • Rev Mike
    What Christ was saying is this:”Let those dead in Christ Bury their own.” Jesus Christ is the living God and was aking him to be one of his followers in the living hope. In other words “The Dead are those of little faith” He was asking the man to take a leap of faith and follow HIM.Not stay behind with those who are dead to HIS word of salvation. You must remember the man was most likely Jewish back in Biblical times all they knew was the law of Moses Until Christ came in the Flesh and many still did not know HIM other than the son of the carpenter Joseph out of their own ingnorance of the Christ or even what it ment or what he was about or his Father’s promise… We must also remember Christ taught in perables all the time to bridge the education gap that was part of that time….Amen
  • rwp_47
    This fellow was asking Jesus for permission to go and take care of his father’s burial. Why would he be asking permission if he hadn’t made a commitment of some kind? With that in mind consider Matthew 10 where he makes these statements that seem to have a bearing on this issue … The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. The issue seems to be that if you make a commitment to him then you must keep it … he is God … and you shall have no other gods (nothing else) before him … including Father and mother … son and daughter. If you commit your time to him then be sure to give your time to him … and him first.

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