Prayerful Push Back

Michael Bugg of “The Return of Benjamin” picked up on my post about prayer this from this morning. Bugg agreed with my prayer preference (i.e., to the Father through the Son in the Spirit) but took umbrage to the suggestion that we can pray directly to Jesus. He addressed my proof texts and concluded that they were all pretty weak and didn’t indicate that prayer can be directed to Jesus. To sum up his arguments:

  1. John 14:14 is unreliable because of the textual variant and when read in light of John 16:26-27 it doesn’t make sense to think that we’d pray to Jesus since Jesus gave us direct access to the Father.
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  2. Romans 10:13 and 1 Corinthians 1:2, while equating Jesus with YHWH, only suggest that we call upon the name of Jesus and not Jesus himself.
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  3. I mistakenly cited 1 Corinthians 16:23 instead of 16:22 so Bugg couldn’t see what I was getting at with that passage. 16:23 is just a benediction and not prayer directly to Jesus.
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  4. Acts 7:59 has Stephen invoking Jesus’ words from the cross in order to pierce the hearts of the Sanhedrin further since it was talk of the crucifixion that raised their ire in the first place. Also, since Stephen was seeing the risen Messiah, this was a special circumstance.

So in the words of Jules Winnfield (from Pulp Fiction for those who didn’t get the reference), “Allow me to retort.”

  1. My use of John 14:14 is predicated upon one accepting the reading in the NA27. People are free to argue that the με is not original there. Bugg paraphrases John 16:26-27 saying:
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    “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!”

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    There’s a slight bit of confusion in this paraphrase since on the one hand it seems that Bugg understands Jesus to be saying that he’s not a mediator and on the other hand that he is. In other words, I’m trying to discern the functional difference between praying to Jesus and praying to the Father in Jesus’ name as Bugg presents it. But the point from John 14:14 if one accepts the variant with με in it is not that we pray to Jesus and then Jesus carries those prayers to the Father; it’s that we pray to Jesus and then Jesus responds.
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  2. I’m having some trouble following Bugg’s argument concerning calling on the name of the Lord. He says that while Jesus is equated with YHWH, we’re simply calling on his name and not on him. He acknowledges my point about this language being taken up from the OT cultic setting, so one wonders, if calling on the name of the LORD isn’t the same as calling on the LORD, who were they praying to in the OT or were they praying at all?
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  3. I corrected my typo and left a comment on Bugg’s blog explaining why 1 Corinthians 16:22 is significant. Maranatha (Come! Lord!) was directed to Jesus, not the Father, and it was a prayer for his return (cf. Rev. 22:20).
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  4. As I noted in my comment on Bugg’s blog, he seems to be begging the question. He recognizes that Stephen prays. How else can we understand his taking up Jesus’ (prayer) language from the cross? He even notes that there were special circumstances. Yet he concludes that this isn’t prayer. Why? Because he already knows that prayer can’t be offered to Jesus. That’s his foundational presupposition and then he dismisses all counterexamples on the basis that they don’t line up with the guiding presupposition.
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  5. I’ll note that Bugg didn’t address my reference to Acts 1. Perhaps he missed it; perhaps it was because I just said Acts 1 and didn’t list a specific verse; perhaps it’s because he took a look at Acts 1 and saw it as a problem for his position; I don’t know. But in Acts 1:24-25 the disciples prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” The only other references to the Lord in Acts 1 are in verses 6 and 21, both of which are references to Jesus, so we have no reason to assume that the referent has changed.

So I’m going to maintain that the case for prayer directed to Jesus is stronger than Bugg would like to admit. It’s attested in the Gospels, Acts, and the Pauline letters, which I think is a pretty good range of material to work with. And remember, I’m saying this as someone who directs their prayers to the Father in the name of the Son and the power of the Spirit. I don’t have much personally invested in praying directly to Jesus other than the fact that I want to affirm what the Bible says on the subject.

B”H

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13 thoughts on “Prayerful Push Back

  1. Shalom, Nick.

    I’ll try to get a response in before Shabbat begins tonight, but that’ll be dependent on what needs doing to get dinner ready when I get home.

    In the meantime, I have to ask since it’s so hard to read someone’s “tone” on teh intartubes: Did I offend you with my response? If so, I apologize; that wasn’t my intent.

    Shalom

  2. Yes, Mr. Bugg appears to be begging the biblical-theological question! We can also see that it was Paul who flipped the name of Jesus to “Christ Jesus”..i.e. the Glorified-Man (Glory-Man, or as John 3: 13, and “Son of Man”. In John here it is used of deity!) And the Book or Letter of Colossians gives us the Christ who is both Creator, and ‘the firstborn over all creation”. (Col. 1:15-18, etc.) Also see Jude 1-4, note both Greek words for Lord (Kyrios), and (Despotes)…both words are used to condemn “ungodly men, who . . . deny the only Lord [Despotes] God and our Lord [Kyrios] Jesus Christ.” And if Jesus is Lord (as He is) we can pray to Him!

    *I am NOT pointing any condemnation to Mr. Bugg. Just noting Scripture! :)

  3. Michael: No apology necessary, I wasn’t offended. It takes more than a disagreement to rub me the wrong way. I’ll look forward to your response.

    Fr. Robert: Yup, the entire NT points to Jesus’ exalted status.

  4. CarolJean: It only seems tritheistic to non-trinitarians. Thanks for the link though. I recall reading that post when it was first published but I’ll have another look.

  5. Sorry for the delay; I don’t post on Shabbat and my grandmother was in town on Sunday.

    All that is true, Fr. Robert. But none of it says to pray to Jesus Christ, which is the issue at hand. If we accept that the Father, Son, and Spirit have different roles and even a heirarchy of authority (“I do only what My Father shows Me”) and existence (the Father generates the Son, not the other way around), we must also accept at least the possibility that our relationship with each is slightly different. For example, the Father was not poured out on Pentecost, nor do we pray to the Spirit in the Father’s Name or cast out demons in the Name of the Spirit.

    I am not challenging Yeshua’s Diety by my belief that it is inappropriate to pray to Him (or else I wouldn’t be capitalizing His pronouns); I am merely endeavoring to, “Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence” (pardon the bad grammar to preserve the quote).

    Shalom

  6. Michael: No worries. I pray you had a good weekend.

    I can see your concerns, and while we generally agree on how and who to pray to, I don’t think there’s any great danger in confounding the Persons or dividing the essence if we pray to any one of the three divine Persons. For me the real issue at hand is following Jesus’ example. He said to pray like this: “Our Father who art in heaven…” So that’s how I pray. But when I look at the issue historically I see that from the earliest times people directed their prayers and petitions to Jesus as well as the Father. I don’t do it but I can’t fault anyone who does.

  7. I think there is. I’m not concerned about someone who occassionally starts a prayer with “Dear Jesus” or who appeals to the Son in a prayer of repentence. However, I do know a lot of people who are so habitual in praying to the Son that they almost never address their prayers to the Father. When I’ve taken the occassion to mention to them that they shouldn’t exclude the Father from their prayers, the answer I inevitably get is, “Well, Jesus is God too.”

    They’ve successfully avoided dividing the Essence, but they’ve clearly confounded the Persons–if we’re in agreement that the Biblical model is to pray to the Father in the Name of the Son, that is.

    Anyway, I’ll hopefully finish a complete response over lunch. Back to work with me.

    Shalom

  8. Michael: Saying that “Jesus is God” isn’t confounding the Persons. Saying “Jesus is the Father” (as Oneness Pentecostals do) is. I can’t say that I’ve ever encountered a person who exclusively addresses Jesus in prayer. I can say that I’ve encountered folks who go back and forth between Jesus and the Father in prayer, and if I didn’t know what they believed, I might think that they were modalists because of it.

  9. The whole issue about who we Christians pray to needs to be seen not in proof-texting so much, but in the whole of a biblical theology! The fact that Jesus is the Christ, and thus further as to St. Paul, He is “Christ Jesus”. We should and really must see Jesus Christ in the full Lordship of God, and also again as St. Paul states of HIM, as the “One mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 2:5) And here Christ Jesus is not just a mediator who points one to God, but HE is Himself One within that Godhead, in fact He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” (Col.1:15) And also as we have come to see Christ who is biblically and theologically: Prophet, Priest & King. Note, John Calvin’s theological ministry here. We can see this in the Book of Hebrews! But even there Jesus is more than a mere “prophet”, but a Prophet, Priest and King who is Himself God, (Heb. 1:8), and here we can note too, that it is the Son, “It is God himself, who speaks; not by another; not as the Father nor in the person of the Father; not merely by the Holy Spirit.., but as himself a divine person, and that person the Son.” (See Heb. 1:2) Indeed here is a sort of biblical application of that great principle of a heavenly scholarship, “the comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” And by the direct and Divine worship paid or given to Christ; “by the conjunction of the Father and the Son in Divine offices: by explicit assertions that Christ is Jehovah and God.” And as we see in John 20:28, we can like Thomas say: “My Lord and my God.” So we worship Him who became incarnate, and is one with the Father! (John 5:17-23, etc.) And as the first martyr: “And they stoned Stephen, praying, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And kneeling down, he cried with a loud voice, Lord lay not this sin to their charge. And having said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59-60) So we can both worship and pray to JESUS, especially at the time of death…asleep in body!

  10. Fr. Robert: I’m looking at this from a historical/phenomenological perspective. We have what I think are concrete examples of people praying to Jesus in the NT. We certainly have them in modern Christianity. Where Michael and I part ways are that he doesn’t think the examples I cite are actual examples of prayer.

  11. There are two individuals I would like to address:

    Hello Nick,
    I understand you meant to cite 1 Corinthians 16:22 (which is a prayer to the Lord Jesus) but I believe that 1 Corinthians 16:23 is also a prayer to Him. From the NASB it reads,

    The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

    John Lange: As to be anathema from Christ is everlasting perdition so His favor is eternal life. The prayer here is therefore a prayer for all good.
    http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/1-corinthians-16.html

    Hello CarolJean,
    Do you pray to the Lord Jesus?

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