Following the release in English and Spanish of my last video on the question of whether or not it’s proper to pray to Jesus, I got a fair bit of pushback. Now, I expected that from the Trinitarian movement because, after all, to trinitarians, Jesus is God Almighty. So, of course, they want to pray to Jesus. However, there were also sincere Christians who, while not accepting the Trinity as a valid understanding of the nature of God, still feel that prayer to Jesus is something which the Children of God should practice.
It got me to wondering if I’m missing something here. If that, for me, it just feels wrong to pray to Jesus. But we are not to be guided by our feelings, though they do count for something. We are to be guided by holy spirit which Jesus promised would lead us into all the truth.
However, when that one has come, even the Spirit of the truth, it will lead you into all truth because it shall not speak from itself, but whatever it shall hear, it shall speak. And it shall disclose to you the things to come. (John 16:13 A Faithful Version)
So I asked myself if my reticence toward praying to Jesus was just a carryover from my days as a Jehovah’s Witness? Was I giving in to deeply buried bias? On the one hand, I clearly recognized that the Greek word denoting “prayer” and “praying” is never used in the Christian Scriptures in connection with Jesus, but only in connection with our Father. On the other hand, as a number of correspondents pointed out to me, we see instances in the Bible where faithful Christians are calling out to and petitioning our Lord Jesus.
For example, we know that Stephen, in Acts 7:59, made a petition to Jesus whom he saw in a vision as he was being stoned to death. “While they were stoning him, Stephen appealed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Likewise, Peter had a vision and heard Jesus’ voice from heaven giving him instructions and he responded to the Lord.
“…there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. (Acts 10:13-16).
Then there is the apostle Paul who, while not giving us the circumstances, tells us that he implored Jesus three times to be relieved of a certain thorn in his flesh. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8)
Yet in each of these instances, the Greek word for “prayer” is not used.
That seems to be significant to me, but then, am I making too much of the absence of a word? If each situation is describing actions associated with praying, does the word “prayer” have to be used in the context for it to be considered a prayer? One would think not. One might reason that as long as what is being described is a prayer, then we don’t actually have to read the noun “prayer” or the verb “to pray” for it to constitute a prayer.
Still, something was niggling at the back of my mind. Why does the Bible never use the verb “to pray” nor the noun “prayer” except in connection with communication to God our Father?
Then it struck me. I was breaking a cardinal rule of exegesis. If you’ll recall, exegesis is the method of Bible study where we let Scripture interpret itself. There are a number of rules we follow and the first one is to begin our research with a mind clear of bias and preconception.
What bias of mine, what preconception was I bringing to this study of prayer? I realized that it was the belief that I knew what a prayer was, that I fully understood the Biblical definition of the term.
I see this as an excellent example of how a belief or an understanding can be so deeply entrenched that we don’t even think of questioning it. We just take it as a given. For instance, prayer is part of our religious tradition. No matter what religious background we may come from, we all know what a prayer is. When Hindus invoke the name of one of their many gods in worship, they are praying. When Muslims call out to Allah, they are praying. When orthodox rabbis genuflect repeatedly before the wailing wall in Jerusalem, they are praying. When trinitarian Christians petition their triune Godhead, they are praying. When faithful men and women of old, like Moses, Hannah, and Daniel, invoked the name of “Yahweh,” they were praying. Whether to the true God or to false gods, prayer is prayer.
Basically, it’s SSDD. At least a version of SSDD. Same Speech, Different Deity.
Are we being guided by the power of tradition?
One noteworthy thing about the teaching of our Lord is his precision and his judicious use of language. There is no sloppy speech with Jesus. If we were supposed to pray to him, then he would have told us to do that, wouldn’t he? After all, up to that point, Israelites had only prayed to Yahweh. Abraham prayed to God, but he never prayed in the name of Jesus. How could he? It was unprecedented. Jesus wouldn’t come on the scene for another two millennia. So if Jesus was introducing a new element to prayer, specifically, that it should include him, he would have had to say so. In fact, he would have had to make that very clear, because he was overcoming a very powerful prejudice. Jews only prayed to Yahweh. Pagans prayed to multiple Gods, but not Jews. The power of the law to affect Jewish thinking and create a prejudice—albeit, a correct one—is evident by the fact that the Lord—our Lord Jesus Christ, king of kings—had to tell Peter not once, not twice, but three times that he could now eat the flesh of animals Israelites considered to be unclean, like pork.
It follows, therefore, that if Jesus was now going to tell these tradition-bound Jews that they could and should pray to him, he would have had a lot of prejudice to slice through. Vague statements were not going to cut it.
He did introduce two new elements to prayers, but he did so with clarity and repetition. For one, he told them that prayers would now have to be offered to God in the name of Jesus. The other change to prayer which Jesus made is stated at Matthew 6:9,
“This, then, is how you should pray: “our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”
Yes, his disciples now had the privilege to pray to God, not as their sovereign, but as their personal Father.
Do you think that instruction only applied to his immediate listeners? Of course not. Do you think he meant humans of every religion? Was he referring to Hindus or Romans who worshipped pagan Gods? Of course not. Was he even referring to the Jews in general? No. He was speaking to his disciples, to those who accepted him as the Messiah. He was speaking to those who would form the body of Christ, the new temple. The spiritual temple that would replace the physical one in Jerusalem, because that one was already marked for destruction.
This is important to understand: Jesus was speaking to the children of God. Those who make up the first resurrection, the resurrection to life (Revelation 20:5).
The first rule of exegetical bible study is: Start your research with a mind clear of bias and preconceptions. We need to put everything on the table, assume nothing. Therefore, we cannot presume to know what prayer is. We cannot take the common definition of the word for granted, assuming that what is defined traditionally by Satan’s world and across the religions that dominate the minds of men is what Jesus had in mind. We need to ensure that we have in mind the same definition that Jesus is communicating to us. To determine that, we must utilize another rule of exegesis. We must consider the audience. To whom was Jesus speaking? To whom was he revealing these new truths? We’ve already agreed that his new direction to pray in his name and to address God as our Father were instructions intended for his disciples who would become the Children of God.
With that in mind, and quite out of the blue, I thought of another Scripture. One of my favorite Bible passages, in fact. I’m sure that some of you are already there with me. For others, this may seem irrelevant at first, but you’ll soon see the connection. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be abolished is death. For God has put everything under His feet. But when it says “everything” is put under Him, it is obvious that He who puts everything under Him is the exception. And when everything is subject to Christ, then the Son Himself will also be subject to the One who subjected everything to Him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:20-28 Holman Christian Standard Bible)
This last phrase has always thrilled me. “So that God may be all in all.” Most translations go for a literal word for word rendering of the Greek. Some however engage in a little interpretation:
New Living Translation: “will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.”
Good News Translation: “God will rule completely over all.”
Contemporary English Version: “Then God will mean everything to everyone.”
New World Translation: “that God may be all things to everyone.”
There is no reason for us to be confused by what it means to say that God will be “all in all.” Look at the immediate context, another rule of exegesis. What we are reading about here is the ultimate solution to mankind’s woes: The restoration of all things. First, Jesus is resurrected. “The first fruits.” Then, those who belong to Christ. Who are they?
Earlier, in this letter to the Corinthians, Paul reveals the answer:
“. . .all things belong to YOU; in turn YOU belong to Christ; Christ, in turn, belongs to God.” (1 Corinthians 3:22, 23)
Paul is speaking to the Children of God who belong to him. They are resurrected to immortal life when Christ returns, during his advent or kingly parousia. (1 John 3:2 BSB)
Next, Paul jumps over the thousand- year millennial reign to the end, when all human rule has been quashed and even the death resulting from sin has been undone. At that point in time, there are no enemies of God or Man left. It is only then, at the end, that King Jesus subjects himself to the one who subjected all things to him, so that God can be all things to everyone. I know the New World Translation gets criticized a lot, but every Bible translation has its faults. I think in this instance, its interpretive rendering is accurate.
Ask yourself, what is Jesus restoring here? What was lost that needed to be restored. Eternal life for humans? No. That’s a byproduct of what was lost. What he is restoring is what Adam and Eve lost: Their familial relationship with Yahweh as their Father. The everlasting life they had and which they threw away was a byproduct of that relationship. It was their inheritance as children of God.
A loving father isn’t distant from his children. He doesn’t abandon them and leave them without guidance and instruction. Genesis shows Yahweh spoke with his children regularly, in the breezy part of the day—likely late afternoon.
“They heard the voice of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8 World English Bible)
The heavenly realm and the earthly one were linked back then. God spoke with his human children. He was Father to them. They spoke to him and he answered back. That was lost. They were cast out of the Garden. The restoration of what was lost then has been a long process. It entered a new phase when Jesus came. From that point forward, it became possible to be born again, adopted as children of God. We can now talk to God not as our King, Sovereign, or Almighty Deity, but as our personal Father. “Abba Father.”
When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7 HCSB)
But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26, 27 HCSB)
Now that Jesus has revealed these new aspects of prayer, we can see that the common definition given prayer by the religions of the world doesn’t quite fit. They view prayer as petitioning and praising their deity. But for the Children of God, it isn’t about what you say, but who you say it to. Prayer is communication between a child of God and God himself, as our Father. Since there is only one true God and one Father of all, prayer is a word that refers only to communication with that heavenly Father. That is the Biblical definition as I can see it.
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV)
Since Jesus is not our Father, we do not pray to him. We can talk to him, of course. But the word “prayer” describes the unique form of communication that exists between our heavenly Father and his adopted human children.
Prayer is a right we, as the children of God, have but we must offer it through the door to God, which is Jesus. We pray in his name. We will not need to do that once we are resurrected to life because then we will see God. Jesus words in Matthew will be fulfilled.
“The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God.
The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God.
Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
(Matthew 5:8-10 HCSB)
But for the rest of humankind that relationship of Father/child will have to wait until the end as Paul describes.
When all the enemies of God and Men are eliminated, then there will be no need to pray to God in Jesus’ name because then the Father/child relationship will have been fully restored. God will be all to all, all things to everyone, which means Father to everyone. He will not be distant. Prayer will not be one-sided. As Adam and Eve spoke with their Father and he spoke with them and guided them, so Yahweh, our God and our Father will speak with us. The Son’s job will be accomplished. He will surrender his Messianic Crown and subject himself to the one who subjected all things to him so that God will be all to all.
Prayer is the way that the children of God talk to their Dad. It is a unique form of communication between Father and child. Why would you want to water it down, or confuse the issue. Who would want that? Who benefits by subverting that relationship? I think we all know the answer to that.
In any case, this is what I understand the Scriptures to be saying on the subject of prayer. If you feel differently, then act according to your conscience.
Thank you for listening and to all those who continue to support our work, a most heart-felt thank you.