May We Pray To Jesus:
The Biblical Perspective (A Review, Part 1)
Gary W. Summers
Having already examined the quote by brother Wendell Winkler, the final comments, and the view concerning Stephen’s “last prayer,” the goal is now to comment on one of the larger articles from the August Christian Courier special issue. Before doing so, however, it might be interesting to note that those who produced this 32-page booklet seem fairly happy with themselves because they mention that, as a result of the original 2005 article, “many have written to renounce the idea they once entertained—that one cannot address Christ in prayer and song” (3). As Proverbs says: “The first one to plead his case seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him" (Pr. 18:17).
Brother Jackson begins by alleging that “a vocal minority” within the church opposes praying or singing to Jesus. He may be overstating the case since statistics are not cited; so this point remains an unproven assertion. Anecdotal evidence to the contrary includes the fact that some congregations avoid songs addressed to Jesus (“Tell It to Jesus,” e.g.), although those that praise Him have always been acceptable. Many of those who have conducted gospel meetings or attended lectureships have never heard anyone address a prayer to Jesus.
Likewise, brother Jackson talks about a “leading advocate” of the “theory” that forbids praying to Jesus, but the reader does not know who that person is, and nothing is cited from this individual, such as a letter or published material on the subject. Of course, the reader has no way to verify the alleged positions of this nameless man. It is doubtful that many people would agree with some of the things the “leading advocate” says (as presented). To avoid future confusion, brother Jackson has permission to quote this review and use my name if he finds fault with the contents—even though I am far less than a “leading advocate.” In this way, his audience will not have to wonder who wrote these words or where they have appeared.
In light of the fact that brother Jackson has had five years to make the best case possible for his position, it is surprising that he offers so little concerning the two main passages that establish the “praying to the Father” idea. He rightly points out that the prayer Jesus presents is only a model prayer and that every subject is not dealt with specifically. He also relates that other Scriptures legitimately have a bearing on any given text. In this instance, Jesus is speaking of addressing God reverently. “Our Father” is appropriate. We find out from other passages that God or Lord also was used. But where is the passage that addresses a prayer to Jesus?
If Jesus were addressed in prayer and such was approved, it would settle the matter, but He is not. The only time Jesus is asked something is the moment when someone is speaking to Him personally, as with the thief on the cross or Stephen. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a prayer addressed to heaven that begins, “O Jesus, our Lord and risen Savior.” If we did, then we would all feel comfortable about doing the same thing, but no such example exists. The name of the Father is mentioned frequently and distinctly from Jesus numerous times in the epistles. Perhaps we should likewise keep that distinction clear.
Jackson’s proof of his position comes in the form of a quotation from William Shedd (d. 1894), who was a Presbyterian, high Calvinist theologian (according to Wikipedia). Shedd claims that, in addressing the Father, we are not excluding the Son or the Holy Spirit. Does that hold true for Jesus? When Jesus prayed in the garden, He prayed to (John 17:9, 15, 20) and addressed the Father no less than six times (John 17:1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25); was He also addressing Himself? Have we not always taught that the Father is the leader and originator of plans in the Godhead? We cannot fail to honor God if we pray to the Father, as Jesus taught us.
In the prayer in Acts 4, the disciples mentioned that all were gathered together against God’s holy servant, Jesus (Acts 4:27). They did not say, “Jesus, we know how everyone was gathered together against You.” In David’s humble psalm of repentance, he did not pray, “O Holy Spirit, do not remove Yourself from me.” He prayed to God, “And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). Nothing of what Jackson says or cites in this section on Matthew 6:9 establishes his view.
Jackson makes three arguments concerning this verse. The first is that Jesus is not dealing with the issue of whether or not to address Him in prayer. In this verse Jesus says: “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatsoever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” While Jesus may not be dealing with this issue per se, that fact does not mean that what He said has no bearing on the matter. Regardless of the context, He still says they would ask Him nothing but rather the Father in His name.
Second, Jackson says that this verse only pertains to questions that had been bothering the disciples “at the moment,” and when they received the Holy Spirit, those matters would be cleared up (5). This is a strange explanation. First, from John 14:23 to 16:23 the disciples only had one question:
Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.”
These verses do not fit Jackson’s theory at all. Second, Jesus said He had things to say to them that they could not now bear, but the Holy Spirit would explain them later (John 14:25-26; 16:12-13). The third thing is that John 16:23 fits within the context of Jesus explaining what He meant by the words quoted above. They would have sorrow when He was crucified—but joy when He was raised from the dead (John 16:22). In that day, when He was resurrected and ascended to Heaven, they would ask Him nothing (since He would no longer be upon the earth). But what they asked the Father in His name (since He personally would be absent from the earth), He would give it to them. Jesus repeats, “In that day you will ask in My name…” (v. 26). (John 16:22-26)
The third argument Jackson uses is from W. E. Vine: “The Lord did not mean that no prayer must be offered to Him afterwards. They did address Him in prayer, Acts 1:24; 7:59; 9:13, etc.” The prayer in Acts 1:24 is addressed to the Lord, but nothing further in the context indicates that the Lord in this case refers to Jesus. The prayer beginning in Acts 4:24 is also addressed to the Lord, but it is clearly the Father (Acts 4:27). Stephen’s “prayer” to Jesus was discussed previously. See articles Praying To Jesus or “Stephen’s Final Prayer” (A Review).
The third verse Vine cited was Acts 9:13, and it is a conversation—not a prayer. Jesus commissioned Ananias to go lay his hands on Saul that he might receive his sight (10-12). Ananias answered (notice, answered, not prayed):
Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests, to bind all who call on Your name (Acts 9:13-14).
The Lord then reassured Ananias, and he accomplished the task he had been assigned. It is an extreme strettcchh to use this conversation as an example of prayer. Why not use the conversation between Jesus and Saul as well? When Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5), was he praying as well? How about when asked what the Lord wanted him to do (Acts 9:6)? One may as well try to claim that, when Peter was told to rise, kill, and eat, and he said, “Not so, Lord,” that this was a prayer, also. If there were any passage that clearly exhorted brethren to pray to Jesus, it would be cited, and this controversy would be at an end. Instead proponents of “praying to Jesus” appeal to verses that do not say what they claim and try to obfuscate others.
Deity is Worshiped
Even though praising, honoring, and worshiping God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is a separate matter from Whom one should address in prayer, Jackson still insists upon confusing the two. He goes so far as to equate those who refuse to worship Jesus as being on a par with the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-9 (6). But these hysterics are totally beside the point. Do we not praise Jesus in our prayers? Yes. Do we not praise Him in song? Of course, we do! These are nothing but red herrings that Jackson uses to sway the reader over to his position and prejudice the case against those who follow what Jesus said to do by praying to the Father.
Jackson puts great stock in John 14:14 to support his case even though the verse only says: “If you ask [me] anything in My name, I will do it.” The King James, the American Standard, and the New King James omit me, but the New American Standard and the English Standard Version have it. The disputed word is contained in some manuscripts but not others. Jackson tries to establish its legitimacy by saying that Bruce Metzger “cites some of the oldest and best manuscript witnesses” in its favor (6). Hmm. Is this the same Bruce Metzger who rejects Mark 16:9-20 as being inspired of God, and is he using those same “oldest and best manuscript witnesses” that the NIV references when they denounce Mark 16:9-20? Will brother Jackson stand with Metzger against Mark 16:9-20? The answer to this question is one that many brethren would probably like to know. (Thankfully brother Jackson does stand against Metzger on Mark 16.)
The fact is that the same two manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) that omit Mark 16:9-20 are the two leading authorities that include me. While Jackson lists certain scholars that think the word belongs, other scholars reject its inclusion. Generally, brethren refrain from using a disputed text upon which to build a doctrine. Even if me did belong in the text, it would still not prove that Christians today are to pray to Jesus. There is no reason to think that verse 14 is doing anything more than just echoing verse 13, which has no me: “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father be glorified in the Son.”
Acts 1:24 and 7:59 Revisited
Brother Jackson presents a reasonable explanation for concluding that Jesus is intended by the term Lord in Acts 1:24. Perhaps his best reason is that Jesus chose the other apostles and would be the natural one to select a successor for Judas (6). It is true that Jesus is often designated as Lord, but so is the Father. In the Acts 4:24 prayer, the Father is originally addressed as Despota, but later He is called kurie (Acts 4:29), which is identical to the term in Acts 1:24. Kurios also clearly refers to the Father in Acts 4:26, because He is distinct from His Christ. The best that can be said of Acts 1:24 as “proof” for praying to Jesus is that it is a good circumstantial case, but Acts 4:26 and 29 make it less than compelling.
The only additional information concerning Stephen’s “prayer” to Jesus is what Jackson cites concerning comments that Guy N. Woods made in a question and answer session after a gospel meeting. While we all have a tremendous amount of respect for brother Woods’ ability, no human being is always correct. So if he concluded that Stephen “prayed,” he was entitled to think so, though many brethren disagree, but the point still is, “Did he ever address a public prayer to Jesus?” If he had, it would not prove that he was correct in doing so, but if he did not, one must wonder why.
“O Lord, Come”
Has the reader noticed that many of the so-called prayers to Jesus are short? One is reminded of the Weird Al parody of George Harrison’s song, “Got My Mind Set on You” (the last number one song by any of the former Beatles) which he titled, “This Song’s Just Six Words Long.” That’s about the length of many of the alleged “prayers” to Jesus—except this one is even shorter. Does the Aramaic word, maranatha, mean, “O Lord, come”? Is this a prayer on the part of Paul (1 Cor. 16:21-23) (8)?
Much has been written concerning its meaning, but the text suggests that Weymouth (one of Jackson’s favorite paraphrasers) is right. Paul just finished saying that those who do not love Jesus are anathema. The most logical explanation is that he is providing a vivid reminder—especially to those who do not love the Lord—that He is coming. Weymouth renders it: “If any one is destitute of love to the Lord, let him be accursed. OUR LORD IS COMING” (1 Cor. 16:22).
However that verse is to be properly translated, Revelation 22:20 is clear: “Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus!” Well, what do you know? This “prayer” is just six words long. Seriously, it is simply a rejoinder. It follows Jesus saying, “Surely I am coming quickly,” and many think that the Amen goes best with the Lord’s promise. All John is doing is responding to what Jesus said.
2 Corinthians 12:8
Paul does beseech the Lord three times to remove the thorn in his flesh, and it may well be that Paul made this request of Jesus rather than to the Father. But we have no evidence that this beseeching was not done in a personal way, just as Stephen’s request was directly made of the Lord. The fact is that we have recorded instances of Jesus interacting with a few of His preachers after His resurrection. We have already noted the conversation with Peter in Acts 10, as well as the one with Saul in Acts 9.
Paul did not have the privilege of being with Jesus upon the earth, as the other apostles did; so Jesus spoke with him on various occasions. One of those times was in Corinth when the Lord told Paul that He had many people in that city (Acts 18:9-10). This occurred some 25 years after Jesus ascended into heaven. Paul did not receive the gospel that he preached from the other apostles; it came “through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:10-11).
In 2 Corinthians 12:1, Paul mentions that he had received “visions and revelations of the Lord.” We do not know how often or how extensive these may have been. It is possible that Jesus and Paul conversed and that Paul beseeched Him personally concerning the thorn. That this occurred in a conversation is implied by what Paul records: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly will I boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). It could scarcely be considered wrong for Paul to ask Jesus for something when he was personally conversing with Him any more than it had been for the apostles to do so previously when face to face with the Lord.
1 Timothy 1:12-13
How pertinent to this topic is Paul’s thanks to Jesus for His putting him in His service (1 Tim. 1:12-13)? Once again, this was an action that was personally done. In Acts 9, when Ananias protested to Jesus that Saul was a persecutor of Christians, the Lord revealed to him that He had personally chosen Saul and would reveal to him “how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (1 Tim. 1:15-16). Is it any wonder that Saul would thank Jesus continually for having given him the opportunity to serve (when he so little deserved it) and having counted him faithful as well? Who could fault Paul for thanking and praising Jesus for personally selecting him to be an apostle? These facts, however, in no way authorize Christians today to pray to Jesus—but to the Father in His name.
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