Spiritual Perspectives

May We Pray To Jesus: The Biblical Perspective (A Review, Part 2)
By Gary W. Summers

     The article with the above title is a lengthy one that appeared in the August, 2010 Christian Courier.  Brother Jacksons main proof for his position consumes 11 pages; therefore a lengthy response is required. 


1 Thessalonians 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17


     The above verses are cited as evidence that Christians can pray to Jesus (instead of to the Father through Him).  These verses are listed below.


Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you.


Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.


     The fact that some commentaries (including some by brethren) have referred to these benedictions as prayers is pretty much irrelevant.  The reader can decide for himself if he would classify these comments as prayers to the Father or to Jesus.  Most are familiar with the song, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You.  All such sentiments are merely expressions of kindness extended towards others.  In both Thessalonian letters, Paul completes sections of his letter with these fond spiritual blessings and then resumes his letter by saying, Finally (1 Thess. 4:1; 2 Thess. 3:1).


Revelation 5


     John is describing the heavenly scene in which it is revealed that the Lamb is worthy to open the seals on the scroll.  The scene records the four living creatures and the 24 elders falling down before the Lamb.  They sang a new song and proclaimed that the Lamb was worthy to open the seals; they offered praise to Him.


     On this much all can agree, but Jackson focuses on one comment about them having golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8).  Jackson writes: Clearly, these prayers were ascending to Christ (10).  How is that clear, brother?   They were looking for someone to open the seals—not answer prayers.  Nothing is said about them presenting the prayers to Jesus.  These verses are silent about Him answering any of them.  When they praise Jesus, it is for Him redeeming Christians—not for Him answering prayers.  Such a comment smacks more of eisegesis than exegesis.  


Hebrews 1


     Brother Jackson correctly states that the purpose of Hebrews 1 is to show that Christ is exalted far above the angels and that certain psalms make mention of it.   He then claims that the author directly addresses Jesus in praise:


In Psalm 2 David praises the Anointed One with these words: You shall break them [Jehovah's enemies] with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potters vessel (Ps. 2:9; cf. Rev. 2:27; 19:15).


     The only problem with this point is that, although David is the one recording these words, he is not the speaker in this text.  David is the speaker until verse 6; consider the entire context:


 Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.  I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potters vessel.


     The Father, in verse 6, speaks of setting up His King in Zion (which would be Jesus).  In verse 7 Jesus declares that the Lord told Him, You are My Son. Today I have begotten You.  Verse 8-9 also contains the words which the Father spoke unto Him.  So it is not David, after all, who is addressing Jesus; it is the Father.  Furthermore, the Father is not praying to the Son; He is simply speaking to Him.


     Hebrews 1 also cites Psalm 45:6-7, but even in Hebrews 1:5-6 and 8 it is clear that the Father is the speaker.  Jackson does not claim otherwise for the Psalm 45 text, but it is a further example of what he claimed for the Psalm 2 text, which was that the author [meaning David], by divine inspiration, directly addresses the Messiah in praise (10).  Although it is not obvious in Psalm 102:25-27 that the Father is speaking to the Son (as in the two previous instances), it is nevertheless claimed by the writer of Hebrews that such is the case (Heb. 1:8-13).


Ephesians 5:18-19


     Virtually all brethren are familiar with Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, since we use these verses constantly to point out that God said to sing but did not authorize instruments of music.  Both texts advocate that Christians sing with songs and hymns and spiritual songs  to the Lord.  Has the reader ever thought that the Lord refers specifically to Jesus?  Jackson claims that this is so.  In fact, he writes that not only is it permissible to sing to Jesus, it is absolutely required! (11).  As already explained, no one has any problem with singing praises concerning the greatness of our Lord and Savior—only songs intended as prayers to Him.  Jackson's comment, however, seems quite adamant.  On what basis does he draw such a conclusion?


    He cites some commentators that say that the term Lord occurs 26 times in Ephesians and always refers to Christ never to the Father.  What does an examination of this claim reveal?  A search of various words in the book of Ephesians yields the following.  The name Jesus appears 21 times, Christ 46; God 32; Father 11; and Lord 26.  Without question, all of these words are used several times, but now what about the term Lord?  Does it always refer to Jesus in Ephesians?  At least nine times, Lord is attached to Jesus; so there can be no question in those instances.


     But what about Ephesians 6:10-17?  We read that Christians are to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God. (vv. 10-11), which is repeated in verse 13.  One could argue that all three words refer to Jesus (and they could), but certainly such a conclusion is not warranted by any textual evidence.  It could just as easily be the Father.  What about, Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Eph. 6:1).  Do we know conclusively that Jesus is intended here?  Whose will is intended in, "Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17)?  Does not the Divine will usually refer to the Father (cf. 1 Cor. 1:1)?


Ephesians 5:20


     No, brother Jackson did not discuss this verse, which is interesting, since it follows immediately after verses 18-19 (Eph. 5:18-19).  It continues after singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.  In fact, it is part of the same sentence: giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This phrase simply reiterates what we have set forth from the beginningthat we pray to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ.  This verse harmonizes with what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:9 and John 16:23.  Colossians 3:16 ends with singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  Verse 17 (Col. 3:17), however, begins with and.  Notice the parallel to Ephesians 5:20.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  Scripture is consistent with itself.


1 Corinthians 1:2


     An appeal is made to 1 Corinthians 1:2 to authorize praying to Jesus.  Jackson thinks that the phrase, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus, since it is present tense, indicates that Christians are continually praying to Jesus.  This might be a valid point if instances existed in which brethren actually did pray to Jesus.  His assumption is not altogether a bad one, but it overlooks two important pieces of evidence. 


     First, the context of 1 Corinthians 1:1-31 is to emphasize the Christ as the One we all belong to so that there will be no division in His church.  Toward that end, the name of Jesus, the title of Christ, or both are mentioned ten times in nine verses, leading up to Paul's admonition in verse 10 that brethren be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (including the matter of to whom we are to pray).


     Second, Jackson overlooks how the phrase, calling on the name of the Lord, is usually used in the New Testament.   We first see it in Acts 2:21, where Peter quotes Joel: And it shall come to pass that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  As Ananias was sent to Saul, he protested that Saul had authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name (Acts 9:14).  Shortly thereafter, Saul of Tarsus was told: And now why are you waiting?  Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).  Undoubtedly, those words made a great impression on the persecutor of Christians who was then ready to be an apostle of Christ.  As Peter had, he also cites Joel 2:32 in Romans 10:13 and then adds: How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? (v. 14).


     No evidence in 1 Corinthians indicates that Paul was declaring that all Christians were praying to Jesus.  He is simply using the phrase in verse 2 the way it had always been usedto refer to those who call upon Jesus for salvation.  He had just finished referring to those who were sanctified and called. This is merely expanded to all who call on His name.


About Versus To


     It is a strange argument that tries to equate the two prepositions mentioned above.  Basically, the argument is this: In Exodus 15:1-5 God is praised in the third person.  Next He is addressed in the second person from verse 6-17 (Ex. 15:6-17).  Then third person is used again (Ex. 15:18).  The reader is supposed to conclude, therefore, that whether we address praise to God or utter praise about Him is insignificant.  This conclusion is incorrect.  Just because it makes no difference which preposition is used in one instance does not mean it never matters which one is used.  If it never mattered, then why are there two different prepositions?


     The difference between other prepositions, such as  in and into, may not matter in some cases, but it would definitely cause a difference in interpretation in other passages.   How about an example?  If the postman delivered a letter to you, you would have it personally.  If he delivered a letter about you, who knows who might end up receiving it?  A more serious point would be that we are all comfortable singing praises about Jesus, since He is worthy, but many do not want to sing a prayer to Jesus any more than to pray to Him directlyagain, not because it matters to us, but because it matters to the Father and the Son.


The Church Fathers


     Jackson closes out his arguments for praying to Jesus with the ad verecundiam fallacy of logica faulty appeal to authority.  He calls upon the church fathers following the close of the Divine testimony we have in the New Testament.  Sometimes these men can be of legitimate valueto show what was done or not done in the first few centuries after the church was established.  If what is quoted reflects a departure from what the New Testament teaches, then, although it shows what was done, it does not necessarily reflect Gods approval.  For example, if brethren began conducting worship on Tuesday afternoons, we would wonder why they changed it from Sundays (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).  Without anything to substantiate such a practice in the New Testament, we would have to conclude that the practice, though done early, was not authorized.  On the other hand, if the church met on Sundays and history recorded that they continued to meet on Sunday, then it shows that they maintained the established tradition.


     Brother Jackson quotes from Ignatius of Antioch, who asked the Christians in Ephesus to pray to Jesus on his behalf (13).  Since Ignatius life spanned from A.D. 35-107, this seems impressive at first glance.  The fact is, however, that departures from the truth were also under way even at this time, and Ignatius was quite vocal in insisting on one of them.  His name and letters can be found on the Internet.  He wrote that brethren were to be subject to the bishop in his letters to the Ephesians, the Magnesians, and others.  Philip Schaff writes: The subject of these epistles consists of earnest exhortations to obey the bishop and maintain the unity of the church (2:115-16).  Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, goes on to provide a summary of Ignatius thinking:


The human bishop is the centre of unity for the single congregation, and stands in it as the vicar of Christ and even of God. The people, therefore, should unconditionally obey him, and do nothing without his will. Apostasy from the bishop is apostasy from Christ, who acts in and through his bishops as his organs (2:116).


     Clearly, at a very early time, the church had already entered into apostasy by elevating one bishop above his fellow presbyters.  For this reason, Jackson should not have appealed to Ignatius and those who were of an even later time.  They are not reliable unless they uphold what the Scriptures teach.  Jackson cannot claim that they uphold the New Testament, since that is the very point at issue.  We have nothing, despite Jacksons best efforts to find somethinganythingto prove his point, in the entire New Testament that clearly teaches that Christians prayed to Jesus.  If that passage existed, he would not need to search for another dozen questionable references to convince us all.  One plain verse would end the discussion.




     Jackson concludes with a reaffirmation of his thesis and a quotation from brother Thomas B. Warren, which is another faulty appeal to authoritynot that brother Warren did not know the Scriptures.  He is among those whom we admire the most as one who did great and lasting good for the Lord's church.  But like brother Woods, we do not esteem him as infallible.  The quote from brother Warren looks as though he agrees with brother Jackson:  After brother Warren exhorted the readers of his book, JesusThe Lamb Who is a Lion, to thank Jesus for teaching us how to pray, he adds:


O Jesus, Thou Lamb of Godhow deeply grateful we are for Thy love which resulted in the gift of Thy life for us! Help us to pray as Thou taught us to pray (201-202).


     It may be that brother Warren was projecting himself into the situation of having been taught personally by Jesus and thanking Him for itjust as the lepers also thanked the Lord for their healing (Luke 17:11-19).  But if not, the key phrase is that we should pray as Jesus has taught us.  These words appear in a chapter in which brother Warren analyzed the prayer beginning in Matthew 6:9.  Notice what he said about, Our Father:


We are also taught by Jesus to pray as children to our Father (Matt. 7:7-11). If we human fathers respond with loving concern when our children need and ask for our help, we should never doubt for a moment that our loving heavenly Father will always react to our requests by blessing us! Let us pray as children of God! (191-92).


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