Jon Gary Williams
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Article 0115 - To Whom Are We To Pray - Part 2

To Whom Are We to Pray?
Should Prayer Be Offered Only To The Father, Or Can Prayer Be Offered To Jesus As Well?

Part II

Jon Gary Williams

In the previous article we presented what the scriptures clearly reveal concerning to whom prayers are to be offered -- it is only to our heavenly Father. To review:

First, in the sermon on the mount two times Jesus taught that we are to pray to the Father. "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven..." (Matthew 6:9; cf. 7:7, 11; all texts from NKJV). On another occasion, when His disciples specifically asked to be taught how to pray, Jesus told them, "When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven..." (Luke 11:2).

Second, more than two dozen times the scriptures show it was God the Father to whom prayers were addressed. As examples, "...they raised their voice to God..." (Acts 4:24); " thanks always for all things to God the Father..." (Ephesians 5:20). However, in sharp contrast, not one time is such a statement found regarding praying to Jesus. If early Christians prayed to Jesus, why is the New Testament void of any clear statements that show this?

Third, the assigned role of Jesus is that of being the avenue of prayer to the Father, not the recipient of prayer. Jesus plainly taught that prayers to the Father were to be offered through Him, i.e., in His name, "And whatsoever you ask the Father in my name..." (John 15:16; cf. John 14:13; 16:23, 26). The fact is, early Christians prayed through Jesus, never to Jesus (Romans 1:8; 7:25).

Now, we turn attention to:

The Defense Of Praying To Jesus - Examined

The proper way to determine what the Bible teaches on any subject is to examine all passages that speak directly to that subject before drawing a conclusion -- in this instance passages that speak directly to whom prayers are to be offered. This is the approach used in the previous article as summarized above.

Sadly, however, those who promote praying to Jesus have departed from this norm. Rather than researching passages on prayer and specifically to whom prayer is to be offered, they begin by merely presuming Jesus can be prayed to. Then, with subjective reasoning and misapplied passages they attempt to justify this view. Following are examples of such attempts and a refutation of them.

Using Subjective Reasoning

"Some religious leaders of the past believed in praying to Jesus."

Though this statement is true, there are countless others who did not believe it. Past religious leaders believed any number of false ideas, a fact which is also true of religious leaders today. This is an extremely weak attempt at supporting the idea of praying to Jesus.

"If it is wrong to pray to Jesus then some songs in our song books cannot be used."

Indeed, some songs convey an unscriptural concept of prayer. For example, "Just A Little Talk With Jesus" and "I Must Tell Jesus." However, though some songs are seen to be inappropriate is hardly a way to find authority for praying to Jesus. Most hymn books have songs which are obviously unscriptural (e.g., "Angels Rock Me To Sleep"; "There's A Church In The Valley"; "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"). Just because a song appears in a hymn book does not sanction its use.

"Jesus is Deity, He created us, He gave His life for us, He is our Redeemer and King. Surely we can pray to Him."

Since Jesus is all this, some are aghast that He could not be prayed to. However, by this reasoning the Holy Spirit can also be prayed to. Remember that the Holy Spirit is also Deity (Acts 5:3,4), He created us (Job 33:4), He teaches and guides us (John 14:26; 16:13), He sanctifies us (Romans 15:16), and in Him we walk (Galatians 5:16). Also, among those who defend praying to Jesus, there is disagreement on praying to the Holy Spirit, making this argument useless.

Misapplied Passages Of Scripture

"Stephen prayed to Jesus (Acts 7:59,60)."

This text is often cited as an example of praying to Jesus. Actually, this is the only possible example of such a prayer, for there are simply no others. To say that Stephen's words represent a prayer offered to Jesus is an assumption. The following observations should be noted.

First, it was Jesus who initiated contact with Stephen and it was not because Stephen was praying. Stephen was not engaged in prayer -- rather, he was preaching. Being viscously berated, he was astonished when Jesus miraculously appeared to him in his immediate presence. Stephen could visibly see Jesus! He then exclaimed to his persecutors, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." At this, he was taken from the city and stoned. Knowing the end was near, Stephen requested of Jesus that upon his death He would receive him and also that his persecutors not be held accountable.

Second, as Jesus witnessed his brutal death, Stephen was addressing Him face to face. Beholding Jesus in a miraculous vision, Stephen's words, spoken directly to Jesus' person should not be misconstrued as prayer. To do so is reading something into the text that isn't there. It cannot be irrefutably claimed that Stephen's words constitute prayer. This was a unique occurrence in which Jesus comforted Stephen, by making his presence visibly known. To believe this occurrence is an example of prayer that we can emulate today, one would have to see Jesus in a miraculous vision.

Third, notice that Jesus' miraculous appearance to Stephen is not unlike two other such appearances in which people spoke directly to Him, neither of which involved prayer: to Saul (Acts 9:3-6), and to Ananias (Acts 9:10-16).

Using Acts 7:59,60 to justify praying to Jesus is at best a contrived argument and, therefore, worthless.

"The 'Lord' to whom the apostles prayed was Jesus, the One who had chosen them (Acts 1:24)."

Does "Lord" in this text refer to Jesus or is this merely supposition? First, notice that though the word "Lord" often refers to Jesus, more than thirty times it refers to the Father (e.g., Matthew 4:7; 22:44; Luke 1:9,15; 4:12,18; Acts 2:34; 3:22; 4:24,26,29; 5:9; 7:31,37; 8:22,24,26,29; Romans 12:19; 14:6). It is only opinion that the "Lord" in this text is Jesus, an opinion that runs counter to a host of passages showing prayer being offered only to the Father.

Second, though Jesus is said to have called the apostles, notice that four times He said it was the Father who "gave" them to him (John 17:6,9,11,12). If God gave them, God selected them -- there can be no other conclusion. Also, see the clear testimony regarding the apostle Paul: Ananias said God chose him (Acts 22:14) and two times Paul himself said he was chosen by God (Galatians 1:15,16; Ephesians 1:1). Indeed, it was the Father who chose the apostles and it was the Father to whom the apostles prayed.

"The 'Lord' to whom Paul prayed refers to Jesus (II Corinthians 12:8)."

This is yet another assumption. The verse reads, "Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me." As with Acts 1:24, it is merely presumed that the term "Lord" refers to Jesus. However, as noted above, "Lord" often applies to the Father, and there is nothing in this passage suggesting that it applies specifically to Jesus.

It is argued that since the Lord's words ("My grace is sufficient for you" v.9) are followed by Paul's remark, "the power of Christ may rest upon me," this somehow means that "Lord" refers to Jesus. However, the text does not at all imply this. In view of the fact that multiple passages show prayer being directed to the Father, a more credible meaning of this text is that the "power of Christ" is the means by which Paul had access to the "grace" of God through prayer. It should be remembered that in the New Testament there are at least two dozen passages exalting the marvelous grace of God.

"To 'call on the name of Jesus' means prayer (I Corinthians 1:2)."

We find here another assumption. This expression does not imply praying to Jesus. At times it is simply used to identify those who were followers of Jesus (Acts 9:14,21) for it was to Him they belonged. Likewise, the word "name" sometimes refers to authority or approval (Acts 4:18,30; Colossians 3:17) and, no doubt, this is the idea conveyed in I Corinthians 1:2.

Notice that calling on the name of the Lord is also found in Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13, "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Are these passages also referring to prayer? Obviously not, for this would mean lost people can merely pray to be saved. This shows the erroneous use of I Corinthians 1:2 to establish the idea of praying to Jesus.

"I Thessalonians 3:11 and II Thessalonians 2:16,17 are examples of prayers to both God and Jesus."

In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul writes: "Now May our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you." To label this as a prayer is to disregard what the passage actually says.

In this verse Paul was not speaking to the Father or Jesus, rather, he was speaking about them. To whom was he speaking? He was addressing the Christians at Thessalonica. In verses 11-13 he said "you" and "your" which refers to the Thessalonians. How some have failed to understand this is a mystery.

There is nothing difficult about these passages. The apostle is merely expressing his desire that the Father and Son provide a way for him to come and be with them. Brethren have also failed to notice that the context begins with mention made of prayer -- a prayer offered to God (v.9).

What about Paul's similar admonition in II Thessalonians 2:16,17? Again, he was not speaking to God or Jesus, but to the Thessalonians. The pronouns "your" and "you" confirm this. "Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father...comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work." As with the previous passage, nothing here even remotely speaks to the idea of praying to Jesus.

"In John 14:14 some translations contain the word 'me.' The ESV, for example, reads, 'If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.'"

From this some conclude that praying to Jesus is authorized. It must be pointed out, however, that many translations do not contain the word "me." Hence, the inclusion of "me" in this passage is not as definite as some assume, which is evidenced by the fact that it is not found in many standard translations, (KJV, ASV, NKJV, et al).

Notice that putting "me" into this passage causes Jesus to speak absurdly, for it has Him telling His disciples to pray to Him in His own name.

Also, in this verse Jesus repeated what He had just said in the preceding verse, which lacks the word "me" -- "And whatsoever you ask in My name, that I will do..." Why would Jesus have suddenly altered the thought by adding "me" in His very next statement? Later in the same discourse, Jesus further clarifies what He is teaching His disciples to do -- to pray to the Father in His name (John 15:16; 16:23-29).

Notice carefully what Jesus said in verse 14 -- pray "in My name." The words "in My name" represent His intercessor/advocate role (Heb. 7:25; I John 2:1). This twisted use of John 14:14 has Jesus interceding/advocating to Himself, which makes no sense. The fact is, He intercedes/advocates to the Father. This should be clear to all. As an example, see I John 2:1. It does not read, "And if anyone sins, pray to Jesus." Rather, it reads, "And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

"'Maranatha' in I Corinthians 16:22 is a prayer."

The Aramaic term "Maranatha" has been interpreted in different ways. Depending on how it is divided, it can mean either: Maran-atha ("our Lord has come"), or Marana-tha ("our Lord, come"). Some adopt the latter, arbitrarily labeling it a prayer. However, since this involves only an opinion, it is futile to use it as an example of a prayer to Jesus.

Regardless of the meaning of the word, it should be clear the apostle was not engaged in prayer. As he was bringing this epistle to a close, Paul used the uplifting, encouraging term "Maranatha," in sharp contrast to the preceding, unpleasant term "Anathema" ("accursed"), describing those who "love not the Lord Jesus Christ." This is an extremely weak argument and hardly a case to support the idea of praying to Jesus.

"In Revelation 5:8,9 prayers were offered to Jesus."

It is claimed that the "prayers of the saints" (symbolically, the "golden bowls full of incense") were ascending to Christ, but this is yet another assumption, for the text simply does not say this. Since, among other things, Jesus said we are to pray to God (Matthew 6:9) and Paul said we are to pray to God (Ephesians 5:20), this alone exposes the assumption.

However, the likely meaning of this text is that the exalted "worthy lamb," as Advocate (I John 2:1), is the means by which prayers come before God.

Remember that the text cited (Revelation 5:9) goes on to say they sang a song to Jesus, but not that they prayed to Him. Notice also three chapters later, "the prayers of all saints" are said to "ascend up before God" (Revelation 8:3,4).

Just here, a word of caution. Be aware when someone appeals to the highly symbolic book of Revelation to promote a teaching. This practice is seen all too often among sectarian groups.

Using Revelation in this way is misleading and dangerous. If this text provides authority for praying to Jesus, it can also be used as authority for praising Jesus with harps -- a slippery slope indeed. Extreme care must be taken to avoid putting something into a passage which is not there.

Of What Value Are The Above Passages In Support Of Praying To Jesus?

Notice that arguments drawn from these passages are all based on assumption and, therefore, are inconclusive in supporting the idea of praying to Jesus. This being the case, how can it be inferred that combining inconclusive passages will somehow conclusively establish this teaching? This is literally going step by step with uncertainty and winding up at a place of certainty. Such reasoning contradicts logic and common sense. Merely stringing together several passages from which assumptions are drawn in no way confirms this view.

An Important Distinction

In discussions with preachers who support praying to Jesus, I have discovered most fail to define exactly what they mean. Their common thesis is that prayers can be offered to Jesus, but exactly how they actually do this is unclear and confusing.

I have asked these brethren if they or any brethren where they preach, ever offer public prayers solely to Jesus apart from the Father. Most of them avoided answering, because such prayers are not heard in their assemblies. To advocate praying to Jesus, yet failing to offer public prayers to Him, is inconsistent.

So, what kind of praying to Jesus do they practice? I asked for an illustration of how they pray to Jesus. Most declined. One said, "I often say, Lord, thank You for sacrificing Your life on my behalf." So, his praying to Jesus consisted of a simple, private "thank you, Jesus," but, this is not what brethren generally envision when hearing about praying to Jesus. Instead, they have in mind a public prayer being offered only to Jesus, apart from the Father. Yet, this is not the kind of prayer most brethren who promote praying to Jesus have in mind. In fact, truth, be known, they would not necessarily approve of such public prayers offered to Jesus. Confusing, isn't it?

Here is the irony. Those who adamantly insist that public prayers be offered to Jesus, defend this practice by relying on the works of brethren who may not actually approve of such public prayers. The problem is, leading promoters of praying to Jesus fail to define the kind of praying they promote -- a somewhat private type of praying. Instead, they paint the matter with a broad brush and unfortunately (and maybe unknowingly) give support to those who insist that public prayers be offered to Jesus. This is where the problem lies and brethren need to be forewarned.

A Closing Thought

Those who advocate praying to Jesus should be aware that the offering of such prayers in public worship will offend the conscience of many and create divisiveness. This alone should cause brethren to prayerfully rethink their position.