Does Acts 9:40 support praying to dead saints?

No, Acts 9:40 does not in any way support the practice of praying to dead saints. The passage is about Peter raising a girl from the dead by commanding her to "arise." It certainly displays the power and authority of Christ over death. It shows that power miraculously at work in the apostolic era. But it is not even remotely related to the idea of praying to dead saints. Peter prays before directing his words toward the girl. He is clearly praying to God. He is not praying to the girl to raise herself. The girl who has died does not take on an intercessory role in heaven. Peter does not appeal to the girl for any sort of help or favor at all. Being dead, she is the one in need of help, and Peter raises her in Christ's name. There is nothing in this passage (or anywhere else in Scripture) that even hints at the idea of praying to dead saints.

The Argument

Many Roman Catholics are content to argue for practices like prayers to dead saints entirely from alleged "apostolic tradition" wholly apart from written Scripture. Some, however, attempt to bolster their claims by appealing to biblical verses that allegedly support the practice. One such approach is to appeal to stories like the one found in Acts 9:40. The verse comes from an account of Peter raising a young girl named Tabitha from the dead. The verse reads:

"But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, 'Tabitha, arise.' And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up," (Acts 9:40).

The argument is that, when Peter says, "Tabitha, arise," he is speaking to a dead girl and expecting her to hear him and respond. How, the Roman Catholic argues, is that morally any different from praying to a dead saint? Aren't Catholics just doing what Peter did when he spoke to this girl who had died? No. What they are doing is entirely different.

Authority Over Death

The story in Acts 9:40 is not unique. Indeed, it is rather similar to the story of Jesus raising of Jairus' daughter in the gospels, where we read: 

"Taking the child by the hand, He [i.e., Jesus] said to her, 'Talitha kum!' (which translated means, 'Little girl, I say to you, get up!'). Immediately the girl got up and began to walk, for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded," (Mark 5:41-42).

Jesus raised others through verbal commands as well. Note, for example:

"When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth.' The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Unbind him, and let him go,'" (John 11:43-44).

"And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, 'Young man, I say to you, arise!' The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother," (Luke 7:14-15).

In every one of these stories, Jesus (or, in Acts, Peter through the power of Jesus) is not attempting to converse with the spirits of the dead. He is commanding a dead, lifeless body to come back to life. The people are amazed, not because departed souls heard from beyond and responded, but because stone-cold corpses were resuscitated! These are not passages about the permissibility of (much less the virtue in) praying to those who have died. They are about Jesus' great power over even death itself!

Indeed, these passages are not at all rooted in the idea that death is an exalted state of unique power and intercessory privilege. The dead are not presented in these stories as those who can help us, even by merely appealing to God on our behalf. Quite the opposite! In these accounts, the dead are the ones in need of deliverance! Jesus (whether in the flesh or through his Apostles) shows mercy on these dead individuals by raising them. The entire hope of the New Testament is our future bodily resurrection from death forever. Death is an enemy; indeed, it is the final enemy that Christ will abolish, (1 Corinthians 15:26)!

Conclusion

There is no sense whatsoever in which these passages represent prayers to the dead. When prayer does feature in such stories, it is always prayer to God, never to any dead intermediaries. The words spoken to the one who has died are never presented as anything like prayers. They are never even presented as words to the person's soul in Sheol. They are words of authority spoken over dead earthly bodies commanding those bodies to come back to life. Acts 9:40 explicitly says, "turning to the body, he said..." These are not prayers or appeals to the spirits of the dead in paradise. The Roman Catholic practice of praying to dead saints finds no support in biblical stories like these. The very fact that Roman Catholics feel they need to turn to strained connections like this to argue their point illustrates how alien such practices are to churches of the New Testament.