The acronym RIP (or R.I.P.) is often seen carved on tombstones, and the words rest in peace are often heard at wakes and funerals. It comes from the Latin blessing requiescat in pace (literally, “may he begin to rest in peace”). Is it biblical to say, “Rest in peace”? The expression “rest in peace” is never used in Scripture in connection with a person who had died. So, in that sense, saying “Rest in peace,” is not expressly biblical.
At the end of the book of Daniel, an angel speaks of Daniel’s death, saying, “You will rest” (Daniel 12:13). And the prophet Isaiah says, “Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death” (Isaiah 57:2). These two passages are the closest the Bible comes to the idea behind RIP. Still, the exact words rest in peace are not used.
Because the thought of death can be frightening, people through the years have invented some platitudes with which to comfort themselves. When someone dies, we often hear unbiblical statements such as “She’s an angel now” and “God needed another angel in heaven”; sometimes, we hear the bromide “He’s in a better place,” spoken with no thought that he might actually be in a worse place. People who never have time for God suddenly grow religious at a funeral. They try to assure themselves and others that, regardless of the deceased’s relationship with God while on earth, he or she is in heaven now. But we must not ignore what Scripture teaches.
The Bible is clear that physical death is not the end (Hebrews 9:27; John 3:16–18). Jesus taught that there are only two options for every human being: heaven and hell (Matthew 10:28; 25:46; Mark 9:43;). He gave a vivid picture of those two options in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19–31. In this account, the rich man, who had given no thought of God during his earthly life, went to hell when he died. Lazarus, who possessed nothing on earth but a pure heart, was taken to paradise. Hell is described as a place of torment (verse 23), not a place of rest. According to Scripture, a person who dies without Christ is not “resting in peace” (see John 3:18). “‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (Isaiah 57:21).
However, death is entirely different for those who are “in Christ” (Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 1:30). First Thessalonians 4:13 reminds us that, while it is natural to grieve for loved ones who have died, we do not need to grieve for believers in Christ as though we will never see them again. There is hope mixed with the sorrow. The Bible often refers to the dead in Christ as “those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20; Acts 13:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:10). The biblical writers used sleep as a metaphor because death for a Christian is only temporary. Paul said that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Those who receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior are with Him in paradise when they die (Luke 23:43). So, after death Christians do enter a “rest,” and it is “peaceful.” However, is saying, “Rest in peace,” biblical?
The problem with saying, “Rest in peace,” is that it is framed as a prayer. In Latin, it is literally “May he begin to rest in peace.” Of course, praying for the dead is unbiblical. At the moment of death, a person’s fate is sealed. The Bible never teaches or even suggests that we should pray on behalf of those who have passed away. Saying, “Rest in peace,” writing “RIP,” and other forms of prayers for the dead are rooted in Catholic tradition, not the Word of God.