|ARE WE TO
PRAY DIRECTLY TO JESUS?
By Ron Hutchison
September 1, 2010
Note: The following article was written in April 2007. However, I did not place it on my web page at that time because I wanted to devote more time to studying the subject. This article is written with the desire to study this subject with those who take opposing views. Please read carefully and if you disagree with anything that I have written please email me and let me know why you disagree.
Several years ago my wife and I visited a congregation in Phoenix, Arizona on a Sunday morning and were quite surprised at what we heard. During the Bible class, the man leading the prayer began by addressing the Father. However, during the prayer he switched to addressing Jesus. He was very specific in stating that he was at that time praying directly to Jesus. He then very deliberately switched back to addressing the Father. During the worship period, the man who led the prayer before the contribution addressed his prayer directly to Jesus. The other prayers he led before the Lord's Supper were addressed to the Father.
I had never heard a member of the church of Christ offer prayer directly to Jesus in the public worship service. I know it is common in denominationalism to hear prayers addressed to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but I had never heard such taking place in the Lord's church. Is it wrong to offer prayer directly to Jesus in the public worship assembly? Let us see what the Bible teaches.
When Jesus gave the model prayer in Matthew 6:9 He said that we are to pray, "Our Father in heaven." He made clear that prayer is to be addressed to the Father. Jesus always addressed His prayers to the Father. Are we not to follow the example of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21)? Do you know of any statement in the New Testament where Jesus, the apostles, an inspired evangelist or any other Christian ever taught that we are to pray to Jesus in the public worship assemblies? I challenge you to find just one passage that teaches such. According to Jesus our prayers are to be addressed to the Father.
On one occasion as recorded in Ephesians 5:20, Paul said, "Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..." Paul said he gave thanks to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul prayed to the Father in the name of the Son. He did not pray to the Son. Paul said in Ephesians 3:14, "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ..." Who did Paul bow his knees to? The Father. Paul gave thanks to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. That is the pattern our prayers must follow today. We pray to the Father in the name of the Son. Thus, to pray directly to Jesus is to disregard our Lord's teaching in Matthew 6:9, His example in offering His prayers to the Father, and the example and teaching of the apostle Paul.
It is true that Jesus is God. But it is also true that the Bible teaches that we are to address our prayers to just one member of the Godhead - that being the Father. To address prayer to Jesus or the Holy Spirit is to do that for which we have no Bible authority. May the eyes of our brethren be opened, and may they once again show respect for the pattern given in the New Testament.
My attention has been directed to an article written by the late Hugo McCord. The article is entitled "Praying To The Holy Spirit." The article states in a very clear and precise way why it is wrong to pray to the Holy Spirit. It also deals with some of the songs that some of our brethren are singing in their worship services that are unscriptural. It is well worth reading in regard to these things. (I might add, that the congregation mentioned above that my wife and I visited in Phoenix sang the song "Breathe on me, Breath of God" which, as brother McCord so ably points out, is unscriptural.)
However, in this article brother McCord states:
Here brother McCord says "there are three instances of Christians praying to Christ" and gives Acts 7:59-60, I Corinthians 16:22 and Revelation 22:20 as examples of such.
Let us first look at Acts 7:59-60 and see if it gives us authority to pray to Jesus in the public worship assemblies. There is no doubt that Stephen addressed Jesus in this passage. The NKJV translates the verses this way: "And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep." Notice that the word "God" in the NKJV is in italics. This means it is not in the Greek text, but was placed in the English text by the translators. This was certainly a direct address to Jesus, but it was not a prayer in the sense in which we pray to the Father today when we are gathered together as a congregation of God's people to worship Him. These were extraordinary circumstances. Stephen "saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55). As a result, Stephen "...was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'" Was this a prayer to Jesus in the same sense that we pray to the Father in our worship services today? I do not believe that it was. Is it an example that gives us authority to pray to Jesus in our public worship services? I do not believe that it is. I suppose one could follow the example of Stephen and "call on" (appeal for help from - see Thayer) the Lord Jesus if one "saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God" while he was being stoned to death. But there is no reason to conclude that this gives us an example that we should/could follow when we gather together for public worship services. Again, do you know of any passage in the New Testament where Christians were gathered together to worship God where they addressed their prayers to Jesus? If so, I would greatly appreciate being informed as to where that passage is.
Now let us look at 1 Corinthians 16:22 which says, "If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!" Was this a prayer addressed directly to Jesus or was this merely a desire expressed by the apostle Paul concerning the Lord's coming? I just do not see this as an example which gives us authority to directly address prayer to Jesus in our public worship services.
Revelation 22:20 says, "He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming quickly.' Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" Again, this seems to me to be an expression of a desire by the apostle John rather than a direct prayer to Jesus. Why would this be an example of what we should do when we address prayer to God in our public worship services?
The above three examples did not take place during a public worship service. How can they be examples of what we must do when we gather together as a congregation of God's people to worship Him under the New Covenant?
It is true that Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18), but it is also true that this same Jesus, who has all authority, taught His disciples to address their prayers to the Father as pointed out in the beginning of this article. How can we choose to do otherwise?
Brother Wayne Jackson disagrees with my reasoning in an article entitled "May a Christian Address Christ in Praise or Prayer"? I do not take what brother Jackson says in any of his articles lightly. I have great respect for him, and as you know if you have looked on my web page in the past, I had several articles he had written wherein he did a great job in dealing with the particular subject he was discussing. I still have links to some of his articles in some of the articles I have written for my web page. If I did not agree with those articles I would not have had them on my web page. I have benefited greatly from reading brother Jackson's articles in the Christian Courier and in other papers. So, in disagreeing with brother Jackson's article about praying to Jesus, I want everyone to know that I do not do so without considerable study and awareness of my responsibility to God to teach what is right. No matter who teaches what, I will stand for what I believe to be right, while at the same time being open to correction.
I also might add this: brother Jackson addresses two things in his article: Addressing Christ in prayer and singing in a general way. Our study is dealing specifically with addressing prayer to Christ in the public assembly. Some of the comments that brother Jackson makes deals with the singing aspect and we will not be dealing with that. So, when you read his article by clicking on the link above (and I hope you will do so before you go on with this study) please keep this in mind.
Brother Jackson begins his articles by discussing Matthew 6:9. He says,
The point is not what Jesus did not say in His teaching in Matthew six, but what He did say. He clearly taught in Matthew 6:9 that the disciples should address their prayers to the Father. In order for it to be proper for us to address Jesus in prayer in our public worship services we must have authority from the Scriptures to do so. Brother Jackson believes such exists. I do not. We do have an example of Christians praying for the sick. But do we have an example, direct statement or implication that the apostles and first century Christians prayed to Jesus during their public worship services?
Next, brother Jackson addresses "The Nature of Deity." He states:
There is no doubt that deity is worthy of worship. There is no doubt that Jesus is worthy of worship for He is God. However, that is not the question. The question is: What does Jesus authorize in His word in reference to prayer in public worship under the New Covenant? Does He authorize us to pray to Him or does He authorize us to pray to the Father? That is the question. Read the context of John 5:23 (verses 16-30). The context is not dealing with worship, it is dealing with respect for the word of Christ. We must honor Christ by obeying His word just as we honor the Father by obeying His word (see verse 24). How is Jesus glorified by His disciples? He is glorified by His disciples by the life that we live and by us teaching others the gospel. Why would one conclude that if we can tell others of Jesus' greatness that we must be able to express thanksgiving to Him personally? Does one necessarily follow the other? What do you think?
Again, if Jesus authorizes us to pray only to the Father then to withhold prayer addressed to the Savior pleases Him. Are those who fail to pray to Jesus in company with the "man of sin?" What an accusation! To simply obey Jesus' teaching concerning prayer is completely opposite of opposing and exalting one's self against Him. Also, consider this: would not the same argument (that since Jesus is deity we must pray to Him) apply also to the Holy Spirit? Isn't the Holy Spirit deity? If so (and He is), then would it not be just as proper to pray to the Holy Spirit as it is to pray to the Father? If not, why not? Does Matthew 2:2 state that Jesus accepted worship from the wise men? Read it and see. Does Matthew 14:33 teach that Jesus accepted worship? Yes, but the word worship often carries the idea of paying homage or bowing toward the ground with deep respect. This was a common way of addressing one that was considered greater than yourself in those days. Does Hebrews 1:6 teach that Jesus accepts worship from Christians? No, it is God telling the angels to worship Him. On Revelation 7 see my comments below.
Brother Jackson continues:
Is everything that was authorized while Jesus lived on earth still authorized today? No! This has nothing to do with Jesus' nature. It has to do with what Jesus has authorized for worship during the Christian age! The question is not, "Is Jesus Deity?" The question is, "what does Jesus authorize for worship in the Christian age?"
Next brother Jackson states:
Does brother Jackson make it a practice to pray only to Jesus or does he pray to both Jesus and the Father? It seems to me that if we must pray to Jesus in order for our prayers to reach the Father that we should never pray to the Father. If it is necessary for us to pray to Jesus in order for Him to act as mediator, then when would it ever be proper for us to directly address the Father? Would we not have to address Jesus and then let Him address the Father in order for Jesus to act as mediator? Would that not mean that we should never pray to the Father?
What is the significance of the term "mediator"? I know the context of 1 Timothy 2:5 is dealing with prayer, however, I question the interpretation that Jesus being our mediator is talking about His being our mediator in prayer. Look at the context of verse 5. I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. It is my understanding that Jesus acting as our mediator is in the context of salvation, not in the context of prayer. Look at what Paul says. "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth...Who gave himself a ransom for all..." Jesus is our mediator in the sense that He is the one who intervened between God and man to provide that which God required for man's salvation (see Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). He, as mediator, "gave himself a ransom for all..." Jesus does act as our mediator but it has nothing to do with us praying to Him.
Adam Clarke states:
Webster defines the word "mediator" as: "one that mediates; especially : one that mediates between parties at variance." Jesus acts as mediator between God and man in the sense of bringing God and man together by His death on the cross. Jesus does not act as mediator in prayer. We pray in His name or by His authority, but where does the Bible teach that Jesus acts as mediator in prayer? If a mediator is one who brings "two parties who are at variance together," or one who "reconciles two parties who are at enmity," then how could Jesus act as mediator between the faithful Christian and the Father in prayer? Is the faithful Christian and the Father at variance? Is there enmity between them? There is not. The faithful Christian is in harmony with and united with the Father. There is no need for Christ to act as mediator when a faithful Christian prays to the Father.
Next, brother Jackson deals with "New Testament Precedent."
The word "me" is omitted in the traditional text from which the KJV and NKJV are translated. The NKJV renders verse 14 like this: "If you ask anything in My name, I will do it." This rendering agrees with Paul's practice in Ephesians 5:20. The ESV rendering does not. Notice how the ESV renders verse 13 of John 14: "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." The ESV does not render verses 13 and 14 in the same way. Why? Because of a variant in the Greek text in verse 14. Verses 13 and 14 do not teach the same thing in the critical text from which the ESV is translated. If there is a variant in verse 14, one has a choice as to what the rendering should be. Why not choose to render the passage in harmony with verse 13 (in which there is no variant as far as I know) so that the two will be in harmony? In my opinion, this is one of the problems with the critical Greek text from which the ESV and most other modern translations are translated. The producers of that text choose the "harder reading" even though the harder reading may not be in harmony with the immediate context.
Brother Jackson speaks of "the oldest and best
manuscript witnesses" as if it were a fact that they are the oldest and
best. That is his opinion. Others may have another opinion. Whose opinion is right? Should we base our
practices on variants in the Greek text? Yes, if they are backed up
by passages that are not in dispute. No, if they contradict
non-disputed passages. I just cannot see how we could base the
practice of praying to Jesus in our public worship assemblies on a
disputed passage like John 14:14. In fact, read verse 14 in the ESV. Does
it make sense to you? "If you ask me anything in my name..."
Next, brother Jackson gives this example of praying to Jesus:
Although it is true that Jesus is often referred to as "Lord" in the New Testament, that does not mean that we must conclude that every passage that is not quoting an Old Testament passage must refer to Jesus. I don't see how it would be proper for us to conclude that this passage gives us authority to pray to Jesus in our worship assemblies no matter how many "respectable scholars" contend for it. Should we base our practices on a passage where we cannot be sure who the "Lord" is? Why not just follow Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6:9 rather than looking for authority in a passage which we cannot be sure about? [Note: In regard to the Father being referred to as "Lord" in passages other than Old Testament quotations please study Matthew 1:20-24; 2:13-15, 19; 11:25; 22:37; 28:2; Luke 1:6, 9, 11, 15-16, 25, 28, 32; 2:9-11, 15, 22-24, 29, 38-39; 10:21-22; 20:37-38; Acts 4:24-31; 7:31-33; Jude 1:4-5, 9; Revelation 21:22]
Next, brother Jackson gives the examples of Stephen, 1 Corinthians 16:22 and Revelation 22:20. We addressed these passages earlier. Then brother Jackson gives the example of Paul:
This passage does not deal in any way with prayer in the worship assembly. It deals with Paul actually being taken up to "the third heaven." Notice:
Whether or not the "Lord" here is Jesus or the Father, there is one thing we must remember: During the time of the writing of 2 Corinthians (during the miraculous age) Paul was evidently able to address Jesus directly and Jesus would reply to him directly! Jesus does not communicate with any person like this today. We often hear people claiming that Jesus appeared to them and conversed with them, but we only have their claim that such occurred. Jesus does not work like this today. He has not worked liked this since the New Testament was completed. The above case is another one of those special cases (like that of Stephen) that occurred in the first century during the age of miracles that does not occur today. We do not have ability to converse with Jesus today like Stephen and Paul did during the first century. I don't see how this account could give us authority to pray to Jesus in our worship assemblies today.
Brother Jackson gives another example:
Is this a prayer addressed directly to Jesus? Paul was expressing his desire that God and Jesus would direct his way to the Thessalonians. I don't see a prayer addressed specifically to Jesus or the Father here. Does the passage say that Paul said, "God our Father and our Lord Jesus please direct our way to the Thessalonians"? No, Paul is simply expressing his desire that God and Jesus would direct his way to the Thessalonians. Remember, he Is writing to the Thessalonians, not Jesus.
Again, is Paul addressing prayer directly to Jesus and/or the Father? Paul is expressing his desire that Jesus and the Father would comfort and establish the Thessalonians in every good work and word. He's writing to the Thessalonians. He is not addressing Jesus or the Father. He's simply expressing to the Thessalonians his desire that the Father and Son would comfort their hearts and establish them in every good work and word. How could this be an example for us to follow in our public worship services?
Paul is again simply expressing to Timothy how much gratitude he had for what Christ had done for him. This is not a prayer addressed directly to Jesus. It is an expression of the continuous gratitude Paul had for Jesus appointing him to His service even though he had lived in terrible opposition to Jesus' will in the past. Brother Jackson's quote from Robertson is correct. Paul is saying, "I have gratitude toward him who has given me strength etc..." Of course "Paul's gratitude 'is directed toward' Christ." That's who he was grateful to. Notice that Hiebert does not say that Paul's gratitude is directed TO Christ, but TOWARD Christ. There is a difference. This is merely a statement about Paul's gratitude for what the Lord had done for him, not an expression of thanksgiving addressed directly to the Savior.
The assumption is made that the prayers of the saints were offered up to the Lamb. Notice the reading:
Do you see anywhere in this reading where the prayers of the saints were offered to Jesus? Later in the book of Revelation, in chapter 8 and verse 4 the Bible says, "And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand." I see where the prayers of the saints "ascended before God," but where does the Bible teach they ascended before Jesus? Again, I can't see any authority in this passage for offering prayer directly to Jesus in our public worship assemblies. Again, the question is not "what may happen or may have happened in heaven?" The question is, "What does Jesus authorize to take place in our public worship assemblies while we are here on earth living under the New Covenant?"
Brother Jackson next directs our attention to the book of Hebrews:
Do these passages in the book of Psalms give us authority under the New Covenant to pray directly to Jesus in our public worship services? The fact is, Psalm 2:9 is an address from the Father to the Son. Read it: "I will declare the decree: The LORD has said it 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. (verse 9) You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.'" How could an address from the Father to the Son give us authority to pray to Jesus?
The question is this: Who is the One who is asking the questions in the first chapter of Hebrews to show Christ's superiority? Look at verse 5, "For to which of the angels did He ever say: 'You are my Son. Today I have begotten You?' "And again: 'I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son.'" Who is the "He" here? It is the Father. Look at verse 6, "But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: 'Let all the angels of God worship Him.'" Who said this? The Father did. Look at verse 8, "But to the Son He says: 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever: A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom etc....'" Who said this? Who is the "He?" The Father. The arguments that the Hebrew writer uses to show how Christ is superior to the angels were the Father's words! This is not an example for us to follow in our public worship services for prayer! The "intriguing question" is, how can anyone conclude that the quotations from Psalms in the first chapter of Hebrews gives us authority to pray to Jesus in "Christian worship?"
Next, brother Jackson addresses Paul's words in Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16. I wanted to include this quotation in our study because I don't want to leave anything out that brother Jackson has set forth. However, this argument does not address the question we are trying to answer in our study. The question that I am dealing with is this: Are we authorized to directly address Jesus in prayer in our public worship assemblies? I am not dealing with singing in worship, only prayer. If the argument set forth below is correct, then it would be proper to sing praise to Jesus in our worship assemblies. But this does not address the issue of praying to Jesus.
There is one thing I would like to point out here and that is that brother Jackson again calls for us to base our practices on a passage where we cannot tell for sure who is being called Lord. Is the Father ever called "Lord" in the New Testament? Read the following passages: Matthew 1:20-24; 2:13-15, 19; 11:25; 22:37; 28:2; Luke 1:6, 9, 11, 15-16, 25, 28, 32; 2:9-11, 15, 22-24, 29, 38-39; 10:21-22; 20:37-38; Acts 4:24-31; 7:31-33; Jude 1:4-5, 9; Revelation 21:22. Brother Jackson makes another argument from the critical Greek text when he says that the word is "Lord" in Ephesians 5:19 but "God" in Colossians 3:16. However, I need to point out that in the traditional text from which the King James and New King James versions are translated, it is "Lord" in both Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 . The "Lord" in Ephesians 5:19 is the same "Lord" in Colossians 3:16. Is it Jesus or the Father? I don't believe brother Jackson can make his case based on another variant in the Greek text. But again, the question we are dealing with in this study has nothing to do with singing. We are addressing the question, "is it right to offer prayer to Jesus in our public worship assemblies?"
Brother Jackson then says,
Does the word "epikaleo" always mean to worship? Does it stand for prayer here? The word is often used as a synonym for obedience (Romans 10:12, 14; Acts 2:21; 7:59; 9:21; 22:16). Let us look at Acts 2:21 as an example: And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.' Is the passage referring to prayer here? If so, brother Jackson is "proving" more than he might like to. Is one saved by prayer? No, one is saved by obedience to the gospel. The "calling on the name of the Lord" here is obedience to the gospel. To use the word "call" or "called upon" does not necessarily refer to prayer. In fact, in most cases where this word is used it is not speaking of prayer. The "all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place" signifies those who are faithful Christians. Those who are following Christ's will for their lives. It is not speaking of prayer in the public worship assemblies. Notice that it says that they "call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." The word "name" often refers to authority (Colossians 3:17; Acts 4:7-10). The "calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" is referring to those who were submitting themselves to the authority of Christ by their obedience to His will. The emphasis in this passage is calling upon the name of Jesus Christ, not calling to Jesus in prayer. I do not believe that the phrase here is referring to prayer at all.
After this argument brother Jackson next address what he calls "About" or "To." Since this does not deal with prayer in the public worship services I am not going to deal with it here.
This is the end of arguments from the Bible that brother Jackson uses to attempt to support praying to Jesus. He next appeals to the so-called "Church Fathers" and "An Historical Source." I am not going to deal with those arguments because, although I believe it is important to study their writings and we can learn some things from them, they are not the authority we are to appeal to for what we do in the public worship assemblies.
I have written this article to prompt us to study these issues more. To me, this deals with authority for what we do in our worship services. The question is not "Does Christ deserve our worship?" It is not "What is everyone else doing?" It is not "what do denominational commentaries say?" The question is this: "Where does the Bible authorize Christians to address Jesus directly in prayer in the public worship assemblies?" This is the question and the only question that we are dealing with in this study.
It is my conclusion from all the evidence that has been presented in the New Testament that we are not authorized to pray to Jesus in the public worship assemblies of the church.
I would appreciate any insight that anyone might give who would disagree with my conclusions in this study. If you believe any of my arguments are unsound or unscriptural please let me know. I certainly recognize that I am subject to making mistakes and drawing wrong conclusions like anyone else.