Praying To Jesus (Response to Christian
Gary W. Summers
Periodically, brethren ask the question, “Is it all right for church members to pray to Jesus?” The question arises in Open Forums and is also discussed in print. Usually, brethren are assured that we should pray to the Father through Christ, and that settles the issue, but of late the subject seems to have become more popular, and some have specifically requested an article on this subject.
The procedure followed herein will be to examine the arguments of brother Wayne Jackson which he wrote on July 1 st, 2005, in an article titled, “May a Christian Address Christ in Praise or Prayer?” Most brethren have the highest regard for brother Jackson, including this writer, and his Christian Courier website is outstanding. This disagreement, therefore, is not a personal one against our esteemed brother, but we would be less than honest not to express disagreement with the material he presented on this topic—especially since some are confused as to what constitutes proper conduct in prayer.
It would not be possible to reply to everything in one article that brother Jackson writes, but the gist of it will be covered, along with some specifics. No reference will be made to the church “fathers,” for example, because although what they did is of interest (especially when they followed the New Testament pattern), their actions and practices do not carry with them the weight of New Testament authority. This article will examine only the Scriptures.
Also, no objection will be offered here with reference to offering up praise to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit. All members of the Godhead are worthy of praise and worship. Against this fact, there can really be no argument, for the Scriptures themselves do this very thing. Our sole question is, “Whom shall we address prayer?”
Matthew 6:9: “Our Father…”
Before making His case, brother Jackson asks if Jesus taught in Matthew 6:9 that prayer may be addressed to the Father alone. His answer is that Jesus was not “covering all aspects of the theme,” which is true. More information is found elsewhere on the subject of prayer, but nevertheless in this brief model Jesus did not authorize His disciples (either then or now) to pray to Him or to the Holy Spirit. It can scarcely be discounted that Jesus taught His disciples to address the Father—especially when He followed this pattern Himself. The amount of times Jesus mentions the Father in His ministry numbers in the hundreds. Consider Jesus’ own prayers:
Matthew 11:25-26: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.”
Matthew 26:39: “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as You will.”
Matthew 26:42: “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Luke 23:45: “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.”
John 11:41-42: “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
John 12:28: “Father, glorify Your name.”
John 17:1: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may also glorify You….”
John 17:21: “…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
After Jesus ascended to Heaven, the apostles used the term Father dozens of times, just as Jesus had taught them to do. So, while the model prayer does not deal comprehensively with this issue, it should not be discounted, either.
Brother Jackson says that the context of this verse involves the disciples’ not knowing where He was going, which is true, but then Jesus says, “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice…” (John 16:22). The text also says: “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever You ask the Father in My name, He will give you.” Jackson’s explanation does not diminish the fact that they would ask the Father in Jesus’ name. He repeats: “In that day you will ask in My name…” (John 16:26). Why does Jesus keep repeating this phrase, if He is not establishing a precedent?
The first argument that brother Jackson uses to establish his case is based on a textual variation found in John 14:14. Generally, it is not a good idea to base an argument on a textual variation—and especially one with so little authority behind it that neither the King James nor the New King James put it in the text (although the New King James mentions it in a footnote). Below is the text as found in the New King James:
“And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).
Notice, as per what has already been presented, that 1) Jesus uses the term Father, and 2) He expects them to ask the Father in His name. So how do some translations differ? They add the word me. Jackson quotes from the ESV: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (emph, GWS). First, this writer prefers to capitalize pronouns that refer to Deity, which the ESV fails to do. Second (and more important), however, is the fact that adding me to the sentence makes it, at the very least, redundant, and possibly nonsensical. Why would the disciples ask Jesus something in the name of Jesus?! The hypothetical situation thus created is almost humorous. The disciples ask of Jesus a certain thing, and He answers: “By whose authority do you ask this blessing?” The disciples answer, “Uh, by your authority, Lord.” Hmm. Without the me, the verse is consistent with all the other verses. This addition of me leaves the impression that such may have been done in order to justify the practice of praying to Jesus. (See previous article on NIV’s addition of “Me.”)
The disciples are selecting a replacement for Judas, and two men fit their qualifications. They pray:
“You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place” (Acts 1:24-25).
The question is, “To Whom does the word Lord refer—to the Father or to Jesus?” Brother Jackson argues that the most reasonable answer is that it refers to Jesus, and he reports that “a great host of respectable scholars” so say. His rationale is that, since Jesus chose the other apostles, why would He not choose the one to replace Judas?
While that explanation does have merit, other points should also be considered. Why did Jesus not select someone to replace him while He was with the disciples for 40 days? If the prayer is addressed to Jesus, why do they not describe Judas as “the one who betrayed You”? The point is that we need to be careful about drawing conclusions based on what a text does not say.
He also argues that Lord is a term commonly used of Jesus, which is true; however, Lord is also used of the Father. But how is the term used in prayer? Acts 4 provides a nearby example for everyone to consider, although brother Jackson made no reference to it. It occurs after the apostles had been threatened by the elders and chief priests. The prayer begins, “Lord, you are God, who made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that is in them” (Acts 4:24). The prayer goes on to quote from David (Acts 4:25-26). We might wonder who is the “Lord” addressed here, but in this case we have an answer in Acts 4:27-30.
“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
No one can successfully deny that the term Lord here is referring to the Father; the text is more than sufficient to make that point clear. So, how should we view one that is ambiguous, as in the preceding example? Actually, this is not a difficult problem: If the text clearly defines the Father or the Son, that clarification settles the matter. If the text does not contain enough information, then should we not avoid using such a text upon which to build an argument? The only thing we do learn from Acts 1 and Acts 4 is that it is appropriate to address a prayer to the Lord.
Those who advocate praying to Jesus invariably appeal to the case of Stephen, although it is not really germane to the issue at all. As the Jews reacted unfavorably to Stephen’s sermon, they gnashed at him with their teeth (Acts 7:54). He gazed up into Heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at His right hand, which he declared to those present (Acts 7:55-56). The mob cast him out of the city and began to stone him. He cried out, “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). He also said, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” These are petitions—requests which easily fall in the category of prayer, but there is an additional consideration: They are also direct address. Whenever someone sees Jesus personally, he should feel free to speak to Him in this manner, but under normal circumstances (and Stephen’s death was not a normal situation), we ought to pray to the Father through the Son. During His public ministry, many people “prayed” to Jesus in the way Stephen did, and Jesus granted many of those petitions, and why not? He was God in the flesh.
The fourth argument follows this same type of thought. Paul said, “Maranatha,” in 1 Corinthians 16:22, which is translated, “O Lord, come!” in the New King James. Does it not seem like a stretch to take a two-word expression and say that it authorizes praying to Jesus? The Pulpit Commentary reasons thus:
Maran-atha ; two words, the Lord cometh ; like the Jewish shem atha, “the Name cometh,” or, “the Lord comes.” It seems to be an appeal to the judgment of Christ… (19:552).
Regardless of which translation is correct, it should be obvious that this expression does not in any way establish the concept of praying to Jesus.
2 Corinthians 12:8-9; 1 Tim. 1:12-13
The fifth argument that brother Jackson makes is, perhaps, the best one he offers. He points out that Paul besought the Lord three times to remove his thorn in the flesh and that He told him, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Paul adds that he could boast that “the power of Christ” rested upon him. Therefore, Lord in this passage refers to Jesus.
One needs to consider, however, the immediate and remote contexts of this passage. Paul’s relationship with the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit was different from what Christians have today. Paul was converted by Jesus Himself. In 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul affirms that he was caught up to the third heaven. Were there ongoing conversations between Jesus and Paul? If so, we do not know how frequent these were or the subject of most of them, but Paul seems to be referring to one here. Notice that Paul pleaded with (not prayed to) the Lord three times, and He spoke to Paul. Is there any evidence that this was not a personal conversation between the two? This occurrence lies in the midst of an argument in which Paul is demonstrating His apostleship. Such a personal “conversation” fits the subject matter. Besides, Paul began this section by saying, “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Cor. 12:1). At the very least, the description of what occurred in verses 8-9 must be considered as possibly one of those. Could Paul be reporting on a two-way conversation rather than a prayer?
It is noted that Paul thanked Jesus for giving him strength, judging that he would be faithful, and appointing him to service (1 Tim. 1:12-13). Since Jesus personally selected Paul (Acts 9), there could scarcely be anything wrong in Paul’s thanking Him—but this fact does not in any way authorize Christians to pray to Jesus. What is the connection?
Brother Jackson cites several passages in which Jesus is praised, but these do not prove that we ought to pray to Jesus. We would be foolish to argue that we ought not praise the One who died for our sins (Luke 17:11-19). Furthermore, consider that Psalm 119 is an extended praise of the Word of God; the praise is thoroughly deserved, but no one would say that we should pray to the Word. Praising the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, or the Word is entirely in order, but we pray to the Father through Jesus.
The argument is made that every usage of the word Lord in Ephesians refers to Jesus rather than to Jehovah. The fact is that the vast majority of them do. Of the 25 times Lord is found, 8 times it is in the phrase, the Lord Jesus Christ. But how many have understood, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord,” to be referring to Jesus (Eph. 6:1)? What about: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10)? And how many of us have thought that “singing and making melody” in our hearts to the Lord referred only to Jesus (Eph. 6:19)? Consider the very next verse: “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 6:20). Where have we seen that pattern before (cf., Col. 3:17?
1 Corinthians 1:2
The last argument refers to the introductory greeting of Paul to the Corinthians: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2). It seems odd that anyone would assume Paul is saying that these words mean that brethren were praying to Jesus when there is a more obvious meaning. Perhaps the reader immediately thought of Acts 2:21: “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (it is the same word in the Greek). Stephen used this word with respect to salvation as he was calling on Jesus while being stoned (Acts 7:59).
In fact, this phrase is used often (Acts 9:14, 21; Rom. 10:12-14). Ananias commanded Saul to be baptized, thereby “calling upon the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). We all call upon the name of Jesus in the sense that we are baptized in His name for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38). Once again, there is nothing in the use of this phrase that indicates brethren were praying directly to Jesus for salvation.
A Workable Solution
Surely, brethren can agree that the Scriptures teach it is appropriate to address a public prayer to our Father, the Lord, or God. If we use these terms, no one will be needlessly offended, whereas if some address a prayer directly to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit, most would find it objectionable. If someone has convinced himself that he has the authority to pray to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit, he can at least do so in private, where he will not disturb the faith of others. No one is unduly restricted (with this course of action), and all the church (all other things being equal) may say, “Amen.”
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