Should We Pray to Jesus?
Researched and Compiled by Chuck McManigal
There is no question that, according to the Bible, Jesus occupies the highest position in heaven next to God. Does that, however, mean that we should pray to Him? Many people, because of their love for Jesus, direct prayers to him, but what does Jesus himself think about such prayers directed to him?
Why would such a question arise? Because, for one thing, the Bible at Psalm 65:2 refers to Jehovah God as the “Hearer of prayer” and at Ps. 5:1-3 the psalmist David said: “To my sayings do give ear, O Jehovah; Do understand my sighing. Do pay attention to the sound of my cry for help, O my King and my God, because to you I pray. O Jehovah, in the morning you will hear my voice; In the morning I shall address myself to you…” For people who believe that Jehovah is part of a triune God, along with Jesus and the nameless holy spirit—Why didn’t David at times pray to Jesus, or to the Son as the Logos, as well as to the holy spirit if the three are all considered eternal together as God? This triune concept of God, of course, was completely foreign to David, and for all worshippers of Jehovah God prior and during Jesus’ coming to earth as a human. And, as well, this concept was completely foreign to Jesus’ apostles and early Christians. In fact, this triune concept of God was totally foreign to all Christians until its final formulation in the 4th century of our Common Era when “Christians” were forced to accept this doctrine with the sword of execution if they didn’t.
Since Jehovah is the “Hearer of prayer” it is easy to understand why servants of God in ancient times, such as the Israelites, prayed only to Jehovah God, the Almighty. Did things change when Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth to deliver mankind from sin and death? No, prayers were still directed to Jehovah. When on earth Jesus himself prayed frequently to his heavenly Father, and he taught others to do the same. In the Lord’s Prayer he did not teach us to pray to him, but instead gave us this model: “OUR FATHER…” (Matt. 6:6,9).
Prayer is a form of worship. Even The World Book Encyclopedia acknowledges that, stating: “Prayer is a form of worship in which a person may offer devotion, thanks, confession, or supplication to God.”
On one occasion Jesus said: “It is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’ ” Jesus adhered to this fundamental truth that worship—hence also prayers—is to be addressed only to his Father, Jehovah God. In fact, praying to Jesus is in direct conflict with how Jesus taught us to pray. In fact it could even be considered disobedience to the method of prayer that Jesus outlined for Christians! And, praying to the holy spirit has no more foundation or Biblical example than does praying to Jesus, and would also be considered to be in direct conflict to Jesus’ instructions on how to pray.
At Phil. 2:9-11, Paul said: “For this very reason also God exalted him [Jesus] to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father.” Do the words “in the name of Jesus every knee should bend” mean that we are to pray to Jesus? No. For a prayer to be acceptable, it must be presented “in the name of Jesus,” but it is, nevertheless, according to Jesus’ instructions, addressed to Jehovah God and serves to His glorification. For this reason, Paul says: “In everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God.” Notice, clearly, Paul did not include Jesus or the holy spirit as recipients of “petitions [to] be made known to God”, which distinction Jesus himself makes when referencing his Father as “God” or “my God”. (John 4:24; 6:27,46; 10:36; 17:3; 20:17,31; Rev. 3:2,12).
Just as a path leads to a goal, or destination, so Jesus is the “way” that leads to God the Almighty. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). These words of Jesus help us to see that we should present our prayers to God through Jesus, and not directly to Jesus himself. The fact that Jesus himself on numerous occasions prayed to God, his Father shows that he himself worshipped Jehovah as well. Remember how he stated at John 20:17 (cited above): “…For I have not yet ascended to the Father. But be on your way to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.’ ”
Some may have in mind Paul’s words at 1 Cor. 1:2 where he mentioned “all who everywhere are calling upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” In Greek the expression “to call upon” can mean things other than prayer. How was the name of Christ “called upon” everywhere? One way was that the followers of Jesus openly acknowledged him to be the Messiah and “Savior of the world,” performing many miraculous acts in his name. (1 Jn 4:14). Acts 3:6; and Acts 19:5). In fact, The Interpreter’s Bible states that the phrase “to call on the name of our Lord…means to confess his lordship rather than to pray to him.”
Accepting Christ and exercising faith in his shed blood, which make the forgiveness of sins possible, also constitute a “calling upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” Acts 10:43 states: “To him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness, that everyone putting faith in him gets forgiveness of sins through his name.” Note too Acts 22: 16: “And now why are you delaying? Rise, get baptized and wash your sins away by calling upon his [Jesus’] name.” And we literally say Jesus’ name whenever we pray to God through him. This is in harmony with John 15:16b which states: “…In order that no matter what you ask the Father in my name he might give it to you.” And John 16:23 which states: “In that day [after his death] you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (NIV). These verses are clear that Jesus said to ask the Father, but doing so in Jesus’ name. Jesus never said to ask, or pray, to Jesus himself, or to the holy spirit, but always to pray to the Father, but doing so by “calling upon the name of Jesus Christ.” So, while showing that we can call upon the name of Jesus, the Bible does not indicate that we should pray to him!
By not directing prayers to Jesus personally, we are not degrading his position, but instead we give all the glory to God, just as Jesus did, and showed so often that giving glory to God was exactly what Jesus wanted his followers to do. John 14:13 states: “And whatever it is that you ask, I will do this in order that the Father may be glorified in connection with the Son!” Phillips Modern English translation states it this way: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, I will do—that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” And NIV puts it this way: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” All of these translations make it clear that we should ask God (in prayer) but we should call upon Jesus’ name, or ask in Jesus’ name.”
What about the account of Stephen appealing to Jesus: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”? Doesn’t this prove that it is proper to pray to Jesus? Actually, there are two accounts of what appear to be prayers, or at least conversations with the glorified Jesus Christ. This one of Stephen at Acts 7:54-60 and the other is at Rev. 22:20 where John says: “…Come, Lord Jesus.”
At Acts 7:59,60 we read: “And they went on casting stones at Stephen as he made appeal and said: ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then, bending his knees, he cried out with a strong voice: ‘Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.’ And after saying this he fell asleep [in death].”
Some translations say that Stephen prayed to God, saying “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”, which is not correct in two ways. First, the Greek does not say that Stephen “Prayed to God” but simply as translated into English: “called upon and saying: ‘Lord Jesus’…” (Kingdom Interlinear, translated from Westcott and Hort); and “calling upon and saying: ‘O Lord Jesus”…” (Emphatic Diaglott translated from the Vatican 1209 manuscripts). Stephen’s appeal to Jesus in Acts 7:59 is just that, an appeal, not a prayer. The Greek word used is “epikaleo”, the very same word Paul used in reference to Caesar as recorded at Acts 25: 11,12, 21: “ ‘…I APPEAL to Caesar!’ Then Festus, after speaking with the assembly of counselors, replied: ‘To Caesar you have APPEALED; to Caesar you shall go.’ ”…But when Paul APPEALED…” This same Greek word “epikaleo” is used as in Stephen’s case. Would you say that Paul “prayed” to Caesar? No! and neither was Stephen “praying” to Jesus. All the different translations I have say “appealed” at Acts 25, yet the same word is used in Stephen’s case. Translators are inconsistent there. Some say “prayed”, the KJV says “called”, others “invoked” and still others say “appealed”.
Looking closely at the account (Acts 7: 54-60) we see that Stephen “caught sight of God’s glory and of Jesus standing at God’s right hand.” Stephen “saw” Jesus in a vision and, evidently reacting as if he were in Jesus’ personal presence, he felt free to speak this plea to the one whom he recognized as the Lord Jesus Christ, and he appealed to him. There is nothing to indicate that this was a prayer, but instead, a conversation. Mere speech to Jesus does not constitute “prayer” anymore than mere speech to God is necessarily prayer, as is seen in the judgment in Eden and in the case of Cain. (See: Gen. 3:8-13 and Gen. 4:9-14). After this the account at Acts 7:60 says that “on bended knee” then Stephen cried out, this time, no doubt in prayer: “Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.”
Many translations in verse 60 say “Lord” which is confusing as to whom he is praying. The NWT says: “Jehovah”. On what basis do they show a difference when Stephen is appealing to Jesus in verse 59 and actually praying to Jehovah on bended knee in verse 60? Please consider the following: Stephen was following the example here of Jesus, who prayed similarly, to the Father (Luke 23:34): “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Interestingly, the MacArthur Study Bible (no connection whatsoever with JWs) says: “As had Jesus before him (Luke 23:34), Stephen prayed to God to forgive his killers.” The NWT Reference Edition references the Greek Scriptures in Hebrew by Franz Delitzsch, 1937, for the British and Foreign Bible Society; Greek Scriptures in Hebrew by Isaac Salkinson and Christian David Ginsburg, Pub. 1891 by the Trinitarian Bible Society; Christian Greek Scriptures in Hebrew by the United Bible Societies, Jerusalem, 1979; and The Christian Greek Scriptures, Hebrew by J. Bouchet, Rome, 1975, as authorities that show that “Lord” in verse 60 is referring to Jehovah, or God, rather than Lord Jesus Christ.
We have a similar account with the apostle John, at the conclusion of the Revelation, when he says: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20). But again the context shows that, in a vision (Rev. 1:10; 4:11,2), John had been hearing Jesus speak of his future coming and thus John responded with the above expression of his desire for that coming. In both of these cases, the situation does not differ much from that of the conversation John had with a heavenly person at Rev. 7:13,14: “And in response one of the elders said to me: ‘These who are dressed in the white robes, who are they and where did they come from?’ So right away I said to him: ‘My lord, you are the one that knows.’ And he said to me: ‘These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation, …’.”
There is no indication that any of the apostles or disciples ever “prayed” or even spoke in conversation to the glorified Jesus Christ in heaven, under any other circumstances aside from these two accounts related to visions that Stephen and John saw—and then, in the case of both accounts, prayer was not involved. So, the Apostle Paul rightfully states at Phil. 4:6: “In everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God.” And Jesus rightfully and clearly stated at John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So, following Jesus’ instructions as shown in this paper, we should direct our prayers to the Father, but through the name of Jesus Christ.