Quick post re: praying to Jesus?

I guess (if Bruce Ware is right [and the reports about his view are correct]) Stephen prayed wrongly when he prayed “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” (Acts 7:59). And Paul prayed wrongly when he prayed “Lord, come quickly!” (1 Cor. 16:22) And the author of Revelation prayed wrongly when he prayed “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20) (Let’s not wrangle about whether the 1 Cor. 16:22 prayer could be “The Lord has come!” Rev. 22:20 and the Didache make clear that’s not the case.)

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  • Judging by the pitiful state of prayer in the western evangelical world, I am not sure God would get technical about the name on the prayer. I’m also sure that Jesus can pass along the message to that Father if indeed praying to Jesus is not good prayer etiquette.

    (I certainly hope God is not that picky about everything or I’m in deep trouble!)

    • rogereolson

      Given some of your other comments here, I’m not sure how you can be “sure” about anything when it comes to God. Unless I have just totally misunderstood you, it seems (judging by some of your comments earlier) that you think all our language about and images of God are equivocal.

  • Luke

    Should we know the source you’re drawing from? I have no idea where Ware has said that and would love to check it out.

    • rogereolson

      Some have claimed here that Bruce definitely says we should not pray to Jesus. Apparently it is in a video–the link to which was posted here. Several people watched it and testified that in it Ware is heard and seen saying we should not pray to Jesus. If they were wrong, they should correct it and I will as well.

      • Luke

        Interesting. I was not trying to call your bluff; I was only interested in where he said this because you posted on it as if you were under the assumption that we knew. Evidently there was a recent post where I didn’t really follow the comments or something.

        Anyhow, probably not a battle worth fighting. I do think we need to be careful with our language, so (e.g.) when we pray we shouldn’t pray to the Father & the switch to Jesus & then switch to the Holy Spirit, as if it were all the same person in different modes. Generally I pray to the Father, through the Son, & by means of the Spirit. I think I was taught that pattern but believe it’s a pattern one can find in Scripture as well (Eph. 1 maybe?). In the Lord’s prayer Jesus does tell us to pray to the Father. However, as the examples you gave highlight, praying to Jesus wasn’t unheard of. I think it’s fine that people do this even though I primarily address my prayers to the Father.

  • You have misread me. The ambiance of my comments probably reflects a reaction (over?) to the judgmentalism rampant among the discernment crowd both on the internet and elsewhere. For instance, I reject their suggestion that if someone believes that God is one person revealed in three manifestations that he cannot be saved.

    I do not wish to appear doctrinally sqeamish, but I see much scortched earth policy in many areas of the evangelical world, including a toxic self righteousness, sometimes concerning peripheral doctrines. And if I read you correctly, your view of inerrancy would make you a candidate for a burning at the stake! I’ll meet you there. 🙂

    • rogereolson

      I agree. And I have gone out on a limb by saying publicly that I do not think modalism, by itself, disqualifies a person from being saved or a Christian. In fact, I have argued that most modalists I know really do believe in the Trinity without knowing it. They simply cannot seem to grasp that orthodox trinitarianism is not tritheism, but they often use trinitarian language unintentionally.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Thanks Roger. I have really appreciated this series because it engaged the contemporary gender concerns while parsing the nuances of the historical doctrinal developments of Christian understanding of our God.

    It has seemed to me that even in highly orthodox evangelical circles there is a tendency toward speaking in a sort of modalist monarchialism centered in Jesus rather than the Father (perhaps especially around Christmas time). I suspect that most contemporary modalists who are actually trinitarian incline in that direction because on the one hand our language about persons tends toward a conceptual tritheism (as you noted Roger) and on the other the limitations of our language about God quickly force us to play the “mystery” trump card, which is generally unsatisfying.

    On another note, regarding Christians’ prayers to God, what do you all make of the lack of biblical evidence of prayer directed to the Holy Spirit? The lack of explicit reference to or portrayal of worship given to the Holy Spirit seems worth discussing too. Have I missed something in the New Testament on this? This doesn’t impact the gender – subordination question, of course, but then gender and the Godhead don’t correspond anyway.

    • rogereolson

      You might be surprised to know how many fundamentalists and feminists (different as they are) tend to import gender into God. I recently read a paper in which the writer referred to Jesus as “she” (in order to satisfy feminist consciousness). But, I realize you’re not talking about them. I think the justification for praying to the Holy Spirit (e.g, in some very good songs such as “Spirit of God descend upon my heart”) is that the Holy Spirit is a member of the Godhead equal with the Father and the Son. I can’t imagine any member of the Godhead being offended by another one receiving prayers or praise! When I pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit I am praying to the whole Godhead by addressing one.

      • CarolJean

        “When I pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit I am praying to the whole Godhead by addressing one.”

        How is praying to one the same as praying to all?

        • rogereolson

          Perichoresis is the technical term for it: coinherence of the three persons (hypostases). They are not a committee.

          • Richard Worden Wilson

            I personally don’t make a clear distinction in my prayer life between praying to Jesus and the Father; they are God in my experience, though I only know the Father through the Son, and pray to the Father that He would reveal the Son to me (Matthew 11:26-28; Luke 10:21-23). I have often found these passages intriguing since they say unequivocally that NO ONE KNOWS THE SON, OR NO ONE KNOWS WHO THE SON IS except the Father. Odd.

            Roger, since you say: “,,, Jesus was clearly CONCEIVED by the Holy Spirit, not by the Father,” you seem to be implying a separation between the will and action of Father and the Spirit (uh, and the Son?). You appear to be arguing for a clear separation of will/action in regard to the enfleshing action of one over another. Would you want to rephrase that?

            As for your justification for praying to the Holy Spirit despite the lack of biblical precedent, aren’t you presuming the validity of post-scriptural reasoning? If neither the Apostles, New Testament authors, nor Jesus prayed to the Holy Spirit as a distinct divine entity, aren’t we being presumptuous to think we should do so? Thinking of the Holy Spirit as a distinct hypostasis within the godhead does become orthodox at some time after the New Testament was written, but to argue around or above the textual witness without hesitation or reflection seems inappropriate to me. What we can “imagine” (your term) about a godhead is one thing, what the biblical authors codify is another. Don’t mean to be rude, but I think this is actually a serious but usually ignored issue.

          • rogereolson

            I do presume the validity of (some) post-scriptural reasoning. I think everyone does whether they know or admit it or not. I’m completely baffled by your objection to my statement that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not the Father. Scripture clearly says it. On the basis of my belief in and commitment to the economic Trinity I reject the principle carved out by later church fathers “opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt.” In my opinion, that makes it impossible to take the economic Trinity seriously. That Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not the Father implies no division of will or substance within the Trinity. I take the doctrine of attributions seriously which forces me to embrace a social model of the Trinity.

  • One source of these ideas about Bruce Ware is the following blog post:

    What Bruce Ware thinks has not affected my prayer life to this point, and I see no reason to change now.


  • CarolJean

    Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance,(Wheaton: Crossway Books,
    2005), 18.

    “We pray to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit.”

    It is how the Trinity is involved in a believer’s prayer but the prayer is and properly should be directed to the Father according to Ware.

  • Mikael Stenhammar

    I have not heard Ware’s teaching but judging from my background in similar ideas I think much is due to a misunderstanding of the phrase “name of Jesus” which many take as some kind of formula instead of an Hebrew idiom which I understand to basically mean “through the person”. In that sense, all Christian prayer is praying “through Jesus” – even when addressed to Jesus (as Paul repeatedly does in 2 Cor 12:8 and the disciples did in Acts 1:24) – how else can we approach the Father except through him?

  • bill crawford

    I wonder what Ware would think of John Owen’s book on *Communion with God* where Owen makes the case that we can and should have separate and distinct communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Surely prayer is integral to communion.

    • rogereolson

      Very interesting. I don’t know how much Bruce cares about John Owen. (Bruce isn’t a full TULIP Calvinist or at least he wasn’t last I knew.) But thanks for pointing that out about Owen.

  • When we did our DVD on the Trinity, I contacted Bruce Ware by email and we had several exchanges about the issue of praying to Jesus. I did want to make sure that I understood his view. Basically his view is that the highest honor belongs only to the Father and praying *to* the Father is part of that highest honor. Thus we are not allowed to pray to Jesus because we are to make sure that the Father gets the highest praise and the highest honor including and exclusively “praying to” the Father. I gave Ware John 14:14 where Jesus said “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” and 1 Cor 1:2 where all call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, and Stephen’s prayer to Jesus. He would not accept that these Scriptures allow us to pray to Jesus because he believes that it is improper to pray to Jesus. Bottom line he believes that praying to Jesus offends the Father because it makes Jesus share in the highest honor and that is not right. He believes we are to give proper, full, highest honor to the Father alone. In this he downgrades Jesus, takes away our ability to have a relationship with Jesus by talking directly with Him and he creates a division of Deity between the Father and the Son that is not there in the Scriptures. After witnessing to Bruce Ware about the importance of Christians having a relationship with Jesus through prayer, he cut off our email conversation and ended it with the thought that God should have mercy on my soul. I am used to sharing these Scriptures with the JW’s, but it was a shock to me to have to use the same Scriptural proof to an Evangelical. In the DVD on the Trinity there is further documentation from another theologian who teaches that before the incarnation, Jesus never grasped for being equal with the Father and he used Philippians 2 as proof of this. This is the view of the JW’s. This clip is not on the youtube clip, but is documented in the DVD. I find this very sad that the hierarchy teaching that has become prevalent is downgrading Jesus when there is only one honor shared amongst the three. Jesus said that we need to honor Him in the same way that we honor the Father.

    • rogereolson

      How can I get a copy of that DVD? Again, I’m shocked at what you report about Bruce. I have known Bruce for many years and would never have thought he would come to this. I find it ironic that he has been so hotly critical of open theists and yet (seemingly, if your report is correct) has a defective, if not heretical, view of the Trinity. I suppose he escapes the JW accusaton by saying that the Son and Spirit are eternal and not created in time. But there’s more than a hint of subordinationism in what you say he says. However, I’m not a heresy hunter, so I’m not going on a crusade to do him any damage (e.g., get him kicked out of the ETS or fired from his position or damage his reputation as a fine Christian and scholar).

      • Yes, I can send you a copy of the DVD. Just email me your address. Also we will be filming theologians this spring or summer on the issue of the Sovereignty of God/John 6 & Romans 9 from a non-Calvinist position. Would you be interested to have an interview filmed for the DVD?

        We are also looking for Calvinist scholars to film but have only been able to film one Calvinist pastor. That interview went very well. We asked James White to allow his views to be filmed on these passages but he declined. My only condition was that there be civility and no mockery.

        • rogereolson

          Thanks! I will e-mail you.

          • Great! I look forward to your email.

          • rogereolson

            I tried to e-mail you using the e-mail address that shows when you comment here. I may have copied it down wrongly. I’ll try again.

  • I just presented a paper on this subject at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting last month in San Francisco. I discussed it a bit with Dr. Ware while there. My position is that it is not only appropriate but important to address Jesus in prayer. I have the paper — called Should We Pray to Jesus (or Just in His Name)? — on my website at: http://www.wesleyantheology.com/should-we-pray-to-jesus.html. There is a lot more biblical and theological evidence for prayer to Jesus that has not been brought up here in this post or its comments.

  • Jason Wheat

    I’m afraid I’m a late-comer to this blog, so forgive me for posting two-months after this has past. But I have heard Bruce Ware speak on this subject when lecturing on the Trinity. While he does say that the normative and proper way to pray is to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit, I think he is careful to say that it is not sin to pray to any person of the Trinity. (those lectures can be downloaded from John Piper’s – Desiringgod.org).

    • rogereolson

      I certainly hope so.