What Does Let The Dead Bury The Dead Mean?

Let The Dead Bury The Dead Meaning

Definition: 1) God must come first before all else. 2) Do not let the past hurt you in the present.

Origin of Let The Dead Bury Their Dead

This expression is a quote from Jesus in the Bible. It appears in the gospels of Matthew and Luke 9:60 when one of Jesus’s disciples asks if he can go bury his father. Jesus tells the disciple that he must not do this. He should let the dead bury the dead and the disciple should continue to perform his spiritual duties.

  • But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. –Matthew 8:22
  • Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” –Luke 9:60

Some people might think this is a callous act by Jesus. However, Biblical scholars interpret this differently. They say that the disciple wanted to ignore his spiritual responsibilities to go take care of his aging father. Jesus meant that the disciple’s father was spiritually dead and that other people would take care of him. The disciple had to stay true to his religious calling.

Bible let the dead bury the dead Although this doesn’t literally mean that the man couldn’t bury his father, it still might sound harsh. A better explanation might simply be that Jesus wanted his disciple to put God first, even before family.

This origin story explains the first definition. The second definition is best explained as a common misunderstanding of the quotation.

Examples of Let The Dead Bury Their Dead

In the dialogue below, two men use the idiom while discussing their responsibilities at church.

Robert: Marty, you haven’t been to church in a long time.

Marty: Yeah, I know. I would go today, but I have to take care of some things for work. I’m sure God understands.

Robert: Maybe, but Jesus did say, “Let the dead bury the dead.” It’s also possible that God wants you to put your responsibility to him before your other duties.

Marty: You’re probably right. Okay, I’ll come to church with you tomorrow.

Bible verse let the dead bury their dead The second dialogue shows two students who are talking about an upcoming test.

Josh: You need to study. Why do you keep daydreaming?

Jeff: I keep remembering the story about all those people who died in the earthquake. I wish I could help them.

Josh: Let the dead bury the dead. There’s nothing you can do to help them, and you need to pass this test to graduate.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about the holiday Festivus.

  • “Referring initially to those remaining after the death of my father’s mother, and then coming to mean in general a forward-looking focus on life and the living, i.e. ‘Let the dead bury the dead’. ” –Time

This excerpt is from an article about literature.

  • Or do the literary unions’ leaders surreptitiously replace the chosen lists of winners with their own favoured candidates, thereby rendering the selection process null and void? We would not have been losing sleep over that, but to just shake our heads and say: let the dead bury the dead. –Guardian


The phrase let the dead bury the dead is another way to say put your spiritual responsibilities to God before all other duties.

Sometimes people use this as a way to say forget the past or what is done is done.