Today’s blog post was inspired by an interesting post over at the Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth blog (henceforth RDWT, for brevity’s sake) entitled, “To Whom Should We Pray?” The author’s conclusion, based on a few proof-texts (which we’ll look at in a moment) is,
So I’ve said all this to say that my preference is to pray to the Father but it seems that early on prayers to the Son were widespread. This tells me that either is appropriate but that I like to pray like Jesus prayed.
I’d add that we certainly can pray to the Holy Spirit as well, and trust me, Charismatic/Pentecostals do it all the time, but my personal practice is the generally pray to the Father through the Son in the Spirit.
I agree with Nick Norelli’s personal preference 100%; however, I do disagree that it is appropriate to pray to anyone other than the Father. To pray to Yeshua is, in my mind, on par with praying to the Temple rather than the God of the Temple. Moreover, as Norelli correctly points out, the whole pattern of prayer that Yeshua taught us is to pray to “Our Father,” not to Him. In fact, in John 16:26-27, He tells us,
“In that day you will ask in My Name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.”
In other words, “Guys, I didn’t come so that you could pray to Me and have Me relay your request to the Father. I came to open up the way for you to go directly to the Father in My Name, My Authority, and My Character–and He loves you! He wants to hear from you, because you have trusted in Me!”
Which brings us to the first of Norelli’s proof-texts, just two chapters earlier: “In John 14:14 he said “If you ask ME anything in MY name I will do it” (assuming that the variant adopted in the NA27 is correct).” On the face of it, the variant in 14:14 seems to directly contradict the express statement in 16:26f, so we must automatically approach in caution. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to never base any doctrine on any single proof-text, and that goes triple when there is valid scholarly dispute on the correct rendering of the verse in question. (For a good analysis on the textual variant in John 14:14, see this thread on The Preacher’s Files forum.)
So that means that we have to rely on the other passages Norelli cites: Acts 7 (presumably v. 59), 1Co. 1:2 and 16:23, and Rom. 10:13. If these do not provide adequate evidence, then we can safely say that Norelli has not made his case and we’re back to the prima facia doctrine that Yeshua taught us to pray directly to the Father in His Name, not to Himself in place of the Father.
I’ll take these out of order:
Rom. 10:12-13 - For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him, for “Whoever will call upon the Name of the LORD will be saved.” (cit. Joel 2:32)
1Co. 1:2 – To the assembly of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Messiah Yeshua, holy ones by calling, with all who in every place call on the Name of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, their Lord and ours.
This passage is one of many in the NT which directly equate Messiah with Hashem, and we don’t dispute that. However, Norelli goes a step farther in directly equating “to call upon” with prayer: “This is language taken up from the OT cultic setting where the name of LORD was used in prayer when offering sacrifice (see e.g., 1 Chron. 16:8; Ps. 116:13; Zeph. 3:9).” There’s truth to that, but again we should take note of the specificity of these passages: We call upon the Name of Yeshua, not call upon Yeshua. This brings us right back to John 16:26f and Norelli’s own preference: We call upon the Name–the authority, the character–of Yeshua in praying to Hashem, the Father; we do not call upon Yeshua to pray for us to the Father.
I’ll admit to some confusion about Norelli’s citation of 1Co. 16:23, which reads, simply, “The grace of the Lord Yeshua be with you.” It’s a benediction, certainly, but not one to Yeshua. Which makes Norelli’s conclusion seem out of place:
The “maranatha” prayer in 1 Corinthians 16:23 is an even stronger witness to just how early prayer was offered to Jesus. This was something taken over from Aramaic speaking believers and Paul’s writing this epistle to Gentile converts in the early- to mid-50s.
Maybe I’m just missing the point, but I don’t see how this passage supports the idea of praying to Yeshua.
Which brings us back to Acts 7:
They went on stoning Stephen as he called on (the Lord) and said, “Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, not not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. (vv. 59f)
While this passage comes closer to the mark than the others cited, and I can see how one might take it as evidence for praying to the Son, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. Rather, Stephen is deliberately invoking Yeshua’s words on the Cross, both recorded by Luke (who is intentionally setting up the parallel)–”Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34) and “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit” (v. 46). I suspect that Stephen was inspired by the Spirit to say this just to pierce the Sanhedrin’s heart further; after all, it was bringing up the execution of Yeshua that set them off in the first place (Acts 7:54).
However, while once again the NT is carefully presenting Yeshua as Divine–the Word of God, the visible Presence of the Most High–I don’t see that this passage can be used to justify prayers that begin, “Dear Jesus . . .”
First of all, to do so would, given the weakness of the other passages offered, go back to using a single source to overturn what Norelli admits is the consistent teaching of the NT: Pray to the Father in Yeshua’s Name. Secondly, given that Stephen was at that very moment beholding a vision of the risen Messiah, I don’t think this any more constitutes normal prayer than Saul’s conversation with Yeshua on the Damascus Road.
I’m not throwing rocks at anyone who prays to Jesus not knowing any better. I used to do that myself, and even after I realized that the NT doesn’t teach us to do that, it took me a bit to break the habit. However, as a matter of right doctrine, I have to disagree with the practice and correct it where I can.
Shalom to my brethren in Yeshua