Sunday, October 12, 2008

Praying to Jesus

In my church culture, prayer to Jesus is usually considered unBiblical, with the proponents of this idea generally quoting John 16:23 as the proof-text:
And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
Here are a few notes I just put together for a friend that are worth considering on the matter.


Acts 7:59

As Stephen was dying, he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. The NIV renders Acts 7:59 thusly:
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

Of course, the NIV isn't the most reliable of translations. Here are a couple of other renderings:

They were stoning Stephen as he called out: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" (HCSB)
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (KJV)
And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (NKJV)
They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" (NASB)
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (ESB)
They kept on throwing stones at Stephen. He spoke to God and said, `Oh, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' (WE)

I would not want to force the [N]KJV's terminology "calling [up]on God" to be equivalent with "praying". But I think many people might see the two terms as synonymous. The translators of the NIV certainly appear to have done so.

It could be argued that this was a special situation, since Stephen actually saw Jesus. But even if it was a special situation, it still seems clear that the World English Bible's "spoke to God" is synonymous with speaking to Jesus.

It seems to me that if one approaches this passage free of pre-conceived notions of prayer, one would likely conclude that praying to Jesus is Biblical. It seems to me that one must approach the passage with an already made-up mind to claim that Stephen did not pray to Jesus.

2 Cor 12:7-10 (NKJV)

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It seems to me that the "Lord" to whom Paul pleaded was "Christ", that Paul prayed to Jesus.

Someone might argue that this was not a "prayer", but a face-to-face encounter with Jesus. But to make this claim requires going beyond what the text actually says. The text simply says that Paul pleaded with the Lord, and the context indicates that Lord to be Jesus.

In years past, when I "knew" that praying to Jesus was unBiblical, I always had a twinge of discomfort when reading this passage, because it "felt" like Paul was praying to Jesus in this passage. Perhaps I was letting my pre-conceived biases color my interpretation?

1 Cor 1:2 (NKJV)

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:

A person might reasonably conclude that "call[ing] on the name of" is the same as "prayer".

Acts 8:14-25 (NKJV)

14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
24 Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”
25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
Who is "the Lord" in this passage? Luke defines the term in verse 16 to be "the Lord Jesus". Unless the term shifts meaning, without any indication of such a shift, between that verse and verse 24, then the reasonable conclusion is that Simon asked Peter to pray to Jesus, and neither Peter nor Luke corrects him on the matter.

James 1:1-8 (NKJV)

1 James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad:


2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Who is "the Lord" in this passage? Well, in verse 1, it's Jesus. Does the meaning change by the time we get to verse 7?

John 14:14 (NKJV, alternate reading)

If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

Is the alternate reading valid? Most modern versions prefer this rendering.

Rev 22:20 (NKJV)

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Did John just pray to Jesus? Yes, I believe he did.

1 John 5:14-15 (NKJV)

12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. 14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

In this passage, who is the "He [who] hears us" and the "Him" in whom we have confidence? The closest antecedent is "Son of God".

Acts 1:21-25 (NKJV)

21 “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
23 And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25 to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”

Who is the "O Lord" in this passage? Is it the "Lord Jesus" mentioned three verses before, or did the meaning of the term change without any indication of a change? Leave your preconceptions at the door, please, and just deal with the inspired text.

An Example of Logic

Jesus is prophet, priest, and king.

While living on this earth, he functioned as prophet, being God's mouthpiece to humans.

Now, in heaven, he functions as priest, being humans' mouthpiece to God.

In the future, he'll function (more fully) as King.

In his current role of priest, intermediary, he functions as a go-between; we pray "through" Jesus, and he conveys our prayers to the Father.

If you send a message to your spouse using your child as the runner between you and your spouse, to whom do you speak? The message is actually for your spouse, but you speak to your child. Likewise, if you send a message to God the Father, using Jesus as the runner, to whom do you speak?

An example from TV

If you've ever watched the television sci-fi show Andromeda, you know that the space-ship's on-board computer is named "Andromeda". There is also an avatar for the ship's computer, "Romy" (short for "An'dromy'da"), a very human-looking (and hot-babe-ish (not that I ever noticed - *cough*) android. The ship's crew would often converse with the ship's computer through this human-looking interface. They would talk and interact with the avatar, but in so-doing they were really talking with the ship's computer. I tend to think of the ship's computer as representative of "God the Father", with Romy representing "God the Human", with the radio-link between them representing "God the Holy Spirit". Yes, it's an inaccurate (and perhaps distasteful to some) analogy, but it works fairly well for me.

In this analogy, speaking to Romy is speaking to Andromeda. Likewise, speaking to Jesus is speaking to the Father.


None of these passages or examples absolutely compel me to conclude that prayer to Jesus is Biblical. But they do cause me to lean toward that conclusion. At a minimum, they cause enough doubt in my mind that I'm reminded of Rom 14:1,4:
... don't argue about doubtful issues. (HCSB)
Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (NKJV)

So, if someone wants to pray to Jesus, I bless God for giving that person a heart of prayer.

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