May Prayers be Directed to Jesus Rather than his Father?

May one pray to Jesus? Trinitarians have no difficulty with this idea as they consider Jesus God (or, part of God). Indeed, if one has experience with many Trinitarian groups it is clear the emphasis is on the Son, rather than the Father, or the Holy Ghost. Thus, many make the oft-repeated remark: "Thank you, Jesus!"

What is the basis for this notion that a Christian may also pray to the Son? Most admit there are few texts to support this idea. However, there are a couple often pointed to as proof one may pray to Jesus. For example, Acts 7:59 records Stephen’s dying words: "Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’" (NJB) Perhaps it is hair-splitting to argue this is a prayer.

Perhaps we ought to understand what we mean in English as a "prayer"? Is it fair to say that normal usage would limit the word to a petition, supplication, entreaty to God? The dictionary gives the root meaning to be "begging" and is generally (#3) a "humble entreaty addressed to God, to a god." The Old English, "I pray you," is no longer in use in America. So, most people would understand that praying to Jesus is praying to God, or a god. Since the unitarian view is that the Son in his pre-existence (John 1:1), as well as upon his ascension (Isaiah 9:6, 7), is addressed as "God" prayers to Jesus would be prayer to two Gods -- the Father and the Son.

The literal Greek in Acts 7:57 has Stephen "calling upon" (EPI-KALOUMENON) the person he saw in his vision. Some do translate this as "praying" (WEY, GSPD) while others use "calling upon" (KJV) or "appealed to." (TCNT) However, the word for "prayer" is generally PROSEUKHE (PROSEUKHOMAI - Strong’s # 4335, 4336) and is not so designated for Acts 7:57. In other words, while it could not be strictly stated that Stephen is "praying" to Jesus, he is rather, calling upon the person he saw in his near-death vision. This word to "call upon" is generally used throughout the Bible in appealing to God. It is used a very few times where the possibility is Jesus. (Acts 9:14, 21; 2 Timothy 2:22) In two cases it is difficult to determine whether God or Jesus is meant. In another, the speakers are Jews.

Stephen possibly knew that the Nazarene had taught that the Son would raise his disciples from the dead. (John 5:26; 6:40; 11:25, 26) Thus, it would not be inappropriate in Stephen’s circumstances -- a near-death vision -- to call upon the one he could see. A similar thing is done by John when he concludes the Apocalypse: "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20)

Another text often used is John 14:15 which is rendered literally in the Greek by the United Bible Societies Interlinear: "If anything you ask ME in the name of me I will do it." However, the New World Translation reads: "If YOU ask anything in my name, I will do it." (John 14:15 NWT) [NOTE: this is addressed to the apostles and does not necessarily represent an instruction for all Christians.]

Translators are divided over this rendering without the ME (also ME in Greek). Some include "me" while others do not. Those who include "me" are -- NAS, BECK, WEY, PME. Those that do not include "me" are -- KJV, WMS, RIEU, DIA, NKJ, LAM, IB, NWT. Several translations give the reason in their footnotes, more or less stating that "some ancient authorities lack ‘me’. (Compare NRS, RSV) The New World Translation as well as the Nestles-Aland Greek Text list those ancient texts which contain the Greek word ME: Papyrus Bodmer 2, c200 CE; Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century); Vatican 1209 (fourth century); Freer Gospels (fifth century); Vulgate (fourth century); Syriac (fifth century). Those ancient texts which omit the ME are: Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century), Bezae Codices (fifth and sixth century), Old Latin Versions (second to fourth century).

We note this point in Green’s forward: "A healthy debate is beginning to rage between adherents to the Alexandrine text base (which underline most of the modern versions), and those who believe the Byzantine/Majority textbase is the only true text of the New Testament."

It has been mentioned that basing a doctrine on whether prayer may be addressed to Jesus on a single text is questionable. We believe this is so for the added reasons that the textual criticism on a single word is divided. Additionally, the Nazarene has already stated: "And whatever you ask [the Father] in my name, this I will do." (John 14:15 UBS Int) Within the same context of this Passover night’s teachings Jesus makes it clear: "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give to you." (John 15:16 UBS Int) And, the same in John 16:23.

Finally, there is another matter to consider: the Jews had always prayed to God, Yahweh, or, the Father. The very idea they could also pray to Jesus would arouse an instant question considerably more serious than those questions asked by the Jewish apostles in this same portion of Scripture. (John 13-17) If Jesus, in this unique and singular moment, is suggesting prayer to himself, why do the apostles not ask about this new idea?

The fact they do not, as well as the omission of ME in some of the oldest texts, makes us feel that the Greek ME is a corruption here. Possibly it was added under the Catholic supervision of the development of the Greek texts. The fact the Latin Vulgate has it might give one pause to examine: context, background, and other texts.

So, the popular hymn which contains the refrains, "What a friend we have in Jesus ... All because we do not carry Everything to him in prayer," would be inappropriate based strictly on the Scriptures.

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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