Reply to Gavin Ortlund on Praying to the Saints

Reply to Gavin Ortlund on Praying to the Saints May 15, 2022

Including a Reply Regarding the (Blasphemous?) “Excesses of Marian Prayers” from the Protestant Point of View

Gavin Ortlund is an author, speaker, and apologist for the Christian faith, who serves as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai in Ojai, California. Gavin has a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in historical theology, and an M.Div from Covenant Theological Seminary. He is the author of seven books as well as numerous academic and popular articles. For a list of publications, see his CV. He runs the YouTube channel Truth Unites, which seeks to provide an “irenic” voice on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life.

I greatly admire and appreciate Gavin’s ecumenical methodology, and viewpoint. It’s extremely refreshing to hear in this hyper-polarized age. He is an exemplary Christian role model of this open-minded, charitable approach. We all learn and “win” when good, constructive dialogue takes place. It’s never a “loss” to arrive at more truth or to recognize one’s own error.

*****

This is a reply to Gavin’s video, “Praying to the Saints: A Protestant Critique” (10-7-21). His words will be in blue.

We should honor the saints. [2:47-2:50]

Amen!

Gavin also states that many Protestants believe that saints in heaven are aware of earthly events, and that they pray for us. This is great, that he stresses this. I think both things can be pretty clearly shown from the Bible.

The concern is that we should not pray directly to the saints, to ask for their intercession and other benefits from God, to obtain from them. [3:28-41]

At this point, I think a good reply can be given, largely based on what Gavin has already agreed with: 1) saints in heaven are aware of earthly events, and 2) they pray for us. Here’s how I have laid out a deductive argument from Scripture:

1) We ask others on earth to pray for us.

2) Angels (many passages) and dead saints (Rev 6:9-10) care very much for us.

3) Angels are aware of earthly events (Lk 15:10; 1 Cor 4:9, and many other passages); so are dead saints (Heb 12:1). Moreover, angels are extremely intelligent and can deduce our thoughts and follow our actions.

4) We observe both angels (Rev 8:3-4; cf. Tob 12:12-15) and dead saints (Rev 5:8) presenting our prayers to God, and know from other passages that they intercede for us (Jer 15:1; cf. 2 Macc 15:13-14).

5) The Bible says that the prayers of the righteous are very powerful in their effects (Jas 5:16-18). How much more the prayers of perfected saints (Mt 22:30; 1 Jn 3:2) and always-sinless angels?

6) Men also talk to dead men (1 Sam 28:12-15; cf. Sir 46:20; Mt 17:1-3; 27:50-53; Rev 11:3) and angels on numerous occasions, and angels initiate discourse with human beings (Gen 21:17-18; when Jesus Christ was born); this is scarcely distinguishable from invocation of them.

7) Petitions made to angels are granted (Genesis, chapters 19, 32, 48).

8) Therefore, it follows that we can ask either to intercede.

I have many other arguments, too, but that will serve as a good introduction to my overall “case”.

Gavin then does an analysis of “on the ground” practices of Catholics (back in the good ol’ “medieval era”), that cause concern to Protestants. They concern us, too. Theological / spiritual practice always falls short of the ‘books” of any given Christian communion. Gavin agrees with this. I have heard him talk about it in other videos (and he does a bit later in this one). So if he — or anyone — points out the excesses and corruptions, we will always respond in agreement (unless it is dogmatic difference) and point out that they don’t follow Catholic teaching.

And it seems to me that in the end we can only compare “books” with “books” as opposed to official Protestants creeds and confessions vs. the old Catholic lady in a babushka and purple tennis shoes, who at least appears to be putting Mary and other saints above God in the scheme of things. Maybe she is; maybe she isn’t. We can’t know her heart or mind unless we ask her. But it’s still unfair to pit your usual uneducated Catholic against the best minds in Protestantism. I know Gavin knows this, but I am responding generally to a practice that occurs far too often. Catholics do the same in reverse: they see some nonsense committed by less educated Protestants and make out that that is the whole ball of wax. It isn’t.

I find it interesting that, rather than go straight to the Bible to analyze where Catholics get their notions and what Protestants think oppose them in Scripture, Gavin chose instead to first go to history and corruptions of authentic practice. I did the opposite. I went straight to the Bible above, and I can provide a lot more of it. I think the essence of this dispute comes down to competing Bible interpretations. That’s where the [friendly] debate must ultimately be conducted.

Gavin cites the Cursus Honarum of the Blessed Virgin Mary, According to the Ordinarium of the Church of Hildesheim. It includes the words: “We pray thee, Lord, that the merits of blessed Mary . . . may attend us and always implore thy forgiveness for us.”

Now, even before I see what Gavin says about this, I would note that it follows from what he already granted, and shouldn’t be controversial at all. It’s a prayer to God; in effect saying, “please listen to holy Mary on our behalf.” It’s asking for God’s forgiveness, not Mary’s. Gavin already agreed that saints in heaven pray for us. And he is aware of James 5:16: “. . . The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (RSV).

Two verses earlier, James wrote: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man . . .” (Jas 5:14-15). So these three verses express the idea that we should seek out holy men and women to pray for us, and that their prayers have a lot more effect than our own. One could say that it is wise, efficient spiritual practice.

And that’s what lies behind asking Mary and the saints to intercede. We are asking them to go to God, Who alone answers prayers, not to answer the prayers themselves. But even if it appears that they do the latter, it is only by the direct power of God; He brought it about. And above, I laid out the rationale for how and why we should ask them in the first place, from the Bible. Gavin then cites more of this prayer, which includes: “Mary . . . procure for us forgiveness . . . grant us grace . . . prepare glory for us.”

All of this, of course, sounds horrendous and blasphemous to Protestant ears. But I don’t see how, with sufficient reflection. In context, we see that Mary asks for God’s forgiveness of our sins, she “procures” by intercession what comes from God. She’s not ultimately giving it herself. But even when the prayers sound like it is her or some saint answering the prayer, it’s understood (i.e., by the properly catechized) in the way I just described.

Is the idea horrible and immediately false: to say that grace comes to us through Mary? No. In the Bible, there are many passages that describe grace being distributed by someone other than God (2 Cor 4:15; Eph 3:2; 4:29; 1 Pet 4:10), and even of salvation channeled from God through human beings (Rom 11:13; 1 Cor 1:21; 7:16; 9:19-22; 2 Cor 1:6; 1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 2:10; Jas 5:20; 1 Pet 3:1).

Protestants read and accept all those passages and never dream that they interfere with God’s sole prerogative as [the ultimate] grace-giver and savior. So why can’t they accept the same language applied to Mary, who is a creature just like St. Paul and the others? I see no essential difference. It’s simply the bias of 500 years of division, I submit: causing reactions that aren’t warranted by reason or Scripture.

But how about Mary “prepar[ing] glory for us”? Doesn’t that cross a clear line? Not necessarily. After all, the Bible says at least a couple dozen times that man has glory, too, and even that God shares His own glory with human beings:

John 17:22 The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,

Romans 5:2 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Romans 9:22-23 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory,

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Ephesians 3:16, 19 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, . . . [19] . . . to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

1 Thessalonians 2:12 to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

2 Thessalonians 2:14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 4:14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

2 Peter 1:3-4 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, [4] by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

So the notion of Mary preparing glory for us is no problem at all, biblically. She has already attained it herself, and so simply shares it with us, by God’s will. The deeper we delve into the Bible, the less “controversial” Catholic doctrines are. The problem is that so often (ironically) Protestants don’t go deep enough in their arguments and defenses and polemics.

But Gavin cites more of the same prayer, where it says: “make the Lord our God propitious to me by your merits and prayers.” Sure; this is nothing more than what Moses and Abraham (and others) did. Moses said: “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin” (Ex 32:30). So the prayer Gavin references is simply like what one of the sinning Israelites could have asked Moses. Perfectly biblical . . . In Numbers 14:19 Moses prays: “Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray thee . . . ” Moses and Aaron stopped a plague that had already “gone forth from the Lord” (Num 16:46-48). God proclaimed: “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel” (Num 25:11).

Then there is the remarkable passage where Abraham “stood before the LORD” (Gen 18:22) and interceded for the people of Sodom, asking God to spare the wicked city if there were “fifty righteous” there (18:23-26). Then he “bargains down” God to agree to not judge the city if 45 (18:28) or 40 (18:29) or 30 (18:30) or 20 (18:31) or ten (18:32) righteous could be found. But alas, there were not even ten, and so it was destroyed. But this shows the extraordinary power even to “persuade” God that a holy, righteous person has. Since Catholics believe that Mary was without sin and is the greatest creature God ever made, and the Mother of God to boot, we think her prayers have the most power of any creature’s prayer. It makes entire biblical sense.

I have shown in three other cases (along these lines) that Protestants often bring up, how all of this is perfectly biblical if correctly understood. When Mary is spoken of like this, God is spoken of even more highly, in the same prayers. But of course, usually Protestants criticizing them (I speak generally here) frequently omit the mentions of God and stick only to the allegedly “blasphemous” stuff concerning Mary. See:

St. Alphonsus de Liguori: Mary-Worshiper & Idolater? [8-9-02]

Was St. Louis de Montfort a Blasphemous Mariolater? (cf. abridged, National Catholic Register version) [2009]

Maximilian Kolbe’s “Flowery” Marian Veneration & the Bible [2010]

Many of these texts give the overall impression that God is a bit more distant, a bit more uncertain, and Mary is more tender and near, and approachable. And the flat-out soteriology I think is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ, as it’s been revealed in a book like Hebrews, for example. [8:24-48]

This is simply not true, and I have shown why it is not with much Scripture. Sure, any of us can approach God directly if we so choose. That’s what is in Hebrews; why Gavin cited that book in this context. But that’s not in dispute. Nothing in Catholicism precludes or discourages that.

But the Bible also teaches in James 5 and other places (including by implication in the Moses and Abraham passages I cited) the principle of going to a person more holy than ourselves, and asking them to intercede to God on our behalf. Does this detract from God? No. Does it imply that Mary or Moses or Abraham (or someone like Billy Graham or Mother Teresa) is holier or more powerful than God? No; not in the slightest!

It’s merely following these biblical directives. In fact, every time we ask anyone to pray for us for one of our needs, we aren’t going directly to God. Every Protestant I’ve ever known (and I used to be a fervent one myself) does this and so must think it’s spiritually worthwhile and helpful and will help to get the prayer answered. So every Christian does to some extent what this prayer is talking about. Protestants just don’t like the idea of asking a person who has died, to pray for us. I don’t know why (except for it being a passed-down tradition, uncritically accepted). I think it’s quite in harmony with (though not explicit in) the Bible.

Saying that Mary or any saint is more “approachable” is, I would say, self-evidently true, if understood on the level of her being a creature as we are. This is exactly the reasoning the Bible uses in describing Jesus, over against God the Father. We can relate to Jesus more, and He can even relate more to us, from His experience of being a man. The same book of Hebrews that Gavin wants to cite against “Marian prayers” also states:

Hebrews 4:15 For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Catholic Mariology takes this to the next logical step. The holiest creature who ever lived: Mary, is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” because she is human like we are, albeit one given so much grace that she never sinned (similar to Jesus but on an essentially lesser scale). But she is not God, so we can relate to her better as human beings than we can relate to God, and may choose to ask her to intercede for us to God.

She’s not “more tender and near” to God, but she is more “approachable”, just as Jesus is — in a sense — more approachable than the Father, as Hebrews 4 expressly states. It makes this “approachability” to the One Who can better sympathize with our weakness the basis of our being able to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace” (4:16).

Gavin says that these prayers “can come into competition” (i.e., making saints higher than God). Yes, they “can” possibly. But that’s a danger with anything in the life of the Christian disciple. Absolutely everything can be, and is distorted or corrupted. Our responsibility is to be properly educated so that we don’t fall into any of these devil’s traps. The presence of corruption in practice is not a reason to get rid of anything. The Bible would have to be the first thing to go, if so. We must throw out the bathwater; not the baby.

It is detracting from the sufficiency of Christ because the specific tasks that are the property of Christ in the gospel are being assigned to Mary here. [9:34-45]

Again, this is untrue. Above, I have grounded every single “dangerous” element solidly in the Bible. What is “assigned” to Mary has already been assigned to Paul, Moses, Abraham, and others in the Bible. If Holy Scripture shows the same thing applied to those people, then it can’t be said that they couldn’t possibly be applied to Mary as well, without violence to either Scripture or piety or God Himself. If not, then I need to be shown how this is not the case by analogy, “from Scripture and plain reason”: as Luther said in his famous plea.

Gavin cites another prayer, but commits the same error in reasoning again. He presents things that are perfectly acceptable in the Bible for creatures to possess; yet somehow Mary cannot also possess them in the same sense. This additional prayer reads: “Through you forgiveness is granted to the guilty.” This is controversial? The Bible says this about human beings several times:

John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven . . .

2 Corinthians 2:10-11 Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, [11] to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. [18] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; [19] that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. [20] So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

“Through you grace is conferred on the just . . .”

I cited four passage above that stated this about creatures. I will now present them in full:

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Ephesian 3:2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you,

Ephesians 4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.

1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

If Paul (and indeed any of us: Eph 4:29; 1 Pet 4:10) can help spread God’s grace, why not Mary, too? If it’s objected that she is dead, I refer back to Gavin agreeing that dead saints pray for us. By the same token, we can ask them to do so, since they are keenly aware of events on earth. Grace is even said to come from “the seven spirits who are before his throne” (Rev 1:4). All of this means something.

I agree: Gavin’s examples aren’t “crazy” ones, etc. They are genuine prayers. I am saying that he and Protestants generally do not understand them and their background thought and premises; what is presupposed; particularly how Mary fits into the scheme of things in relation to God. In three examples above of such prayers (that I wrote about), I showed how God was prominent in all those prayers, and this clarified the supposed “extreme” descriptions of Mary. Gavin presented a “Prayer of Sixtus.” He gave one sentence. I tried to find this prayer in a search but could not. Thus, without context (if it is longer than that), I can’t see the overall thinking; how much “Jesus” or “God” are mentioned. If Gavin reads this, I ask him to kindly provide me a link.

These prayers (at least the ones he has provided) are perfectly orthodox and not “corrupt” at all. Again, they are misunderstood, not just by Protestants, but by many Catholics, who don’t understand the sorts of things I have been explaining and clarifying. It’s a function of language: definitions, and how one understands certain expressions. Language always occurs in a particular social setting, with shared understandings at a deep presuppositional level.

. . . this error of thinking that Mary or another saint is going to give you something that really, you should be looking to God alone to give you. [13:21-13:30]

But this is typical of the misunderstandings just referred to. We don’t think that Mary gives us things of her own power, as if God isn’t involved. She “obtains” things through intercession, and the power she has as an exceptionally righteous intercessor (James 5:16). It’s all in James 5. “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him . . .” (5:14). “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (5:16). If we want results, answered prayers, and “effects” then we find a holy person, and they help to “obtain” them (all conditional on God’s will, of course). Every Catholic who knows anything knows this, and any who doesn’t is dumber than a doornail and no representative of legitimate Catholic theology and spirituality.

It’s a “good practice” that is thoroughly grounded in the Bible; therefore, for us to give it up, and be convinced by what Gavin is saying, the biblical rationale upon which it is based would have to be overthrown. But Gavin made very few biblical arguments in this video, whereas I have produced tons of them. Protestants always say things should be proven from Scripture. I’m having no difficulty doing this in relation to this issue. What should be front and center from the beginning of these discussions (in my opinion) is: “what does Holy Scripture say about these matters?”

I don’t think that this was a case of a good and apostolic practice that Jesus would want us to practice, that simply got taken too far. I think . . . that it’s a compromising with pagan practices that comes in in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries . . .  [13:58-14:24]

Biblically, I am not aware of any compelling rationale for praying to the saints. There’s nothing clear and compelling. People try to derive it from various passages . . . Revelation 5:8, but none of these passages are actually talking about praying to the saints. [14:54-15:12]

He denies that the story of Lazarus and the rich man, which he erroneously calls a “parable” is a “sound basis” or relevant and says it can’t be used to prove the practice. This was the extent of his biblical argumentation: simply denying that Catholics have anything relevant. But here is my argument from Luke 16:

Praying to saints comes from Jesus Himself, since He told (and didn’t disapprove of) a story which included express prayers to Abraham, not God:

Luke 16:24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’

This is the Abraham of the Bible: long dead by that time, being asked to do something by a “rich man” (16:19, 22), traditionally known as Dives (which is simply a Latin word for “rich man”). His answer was, in effect, “no” (16:25-26). Thus failing in that request, he prays to him again for something else:

Luke 16:27-28 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father [KJV: “I pray thee therefore, father”], to send him to my father’s house, [28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

His request is again declined (16:29). So, like any good self-respecting Jew (Moses even “negotiated” with God), he argues with Abraham (16:30). But Abraham states again that his request is futile (16:31).

This shows (in a fascinating way) that not only can dead saints hear our requests, they also have some measure of power to carry them out on their own. Abraham is asked to “send” a dead man to appear to Dives’ brothers, in order for them to avoid damnation (yet another [potential] instance of dead men — like the prophet Samuel to Saul — communicating to those on the earth). Abraham doesn’t deny that he is able to potentially send Lazarus to do such a thing; he only denies that it would work, or that it is necessary (by the logic of “if they don’t respond to greater factor x, nor will they to lesser factor y”).

Therefore, it is assumed in the story that Abraham could have possibly done so on his own (presupposing that it was through intercession to God). And this is all told, remember, by our Lord Jesus. It is disputed whether it is a parable or not (several textual factors suggest that it is not; e.g., parables do not use proper names), but even if it is, it nevertheless cannot contain things that are untrue, lest Jesus be guilty of leading people into heresy by means of false illustrations or analogies within His common teaching tool: the parable.

Whether Dives was dead or not is also irrelevant to the argument at hand, since standard Protestant theology holds that no one can make such a request to anyone but God. He’s asking Abraham to send Lazarus to him, and then to his brothers, to prevent them from going to hell. That is very much, prayer: asking for supernatural aid from those who have left the earthly life and attained sainthood and perfection, with God.

Quibbling about whether it was a parable (an argument that fails, anyway, as shown) or whether the requester was dead does not allow Protestants to escape the internal difficulties for them, as mentioned.

Abraham is functioning as a mini-mediator. He is being asked to accomplish certain things. An intercessory request was made of him, not God. In fact, God is never mentioned in the entire story. Why did Jesus teach in this fashion? Why did He teach that Dives was asking Abraham to do things that Protestant theology would hold that only God can do? And why is the whole story about him asking Abraham for requests, rather than going directly to God and asking Him: which is required by general Protestant theology?

Folks, this story just ain’t how it’s supposed to be, from a Protestant perspective. All the emphases are wrong, and there are serious theological errors, committed by Jesus Himself (i.e., from their perspective). That should be enough to raise the red flags for any serious Christian who believes in biblical inspiration and the deity of Christ (both of which dictate that no such error can possibly exist). I yield to the Bible over men’s traditions any day. We mustn’t allow our theology to contradict the inspired, infallible Bible.

A second biblical explicit indication of praying to saints, or petitioning them involves King Saul and the prophet Samuel. Catholics agree that seeking him through a medium and occultic techniques is wrong. But the real Samuel does indeed appear. It’s not a “demon impersonating him” as some claim [for the rebuttal of that, see, e.g., New Bible Commentary, p. 301; Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 292. This was also the view of the ancient rabbis, St. Justin Martyr, Origen, and St. Augustine, among others], because Samuel gives an authentic prophecy (that is proven to be such the next day). Demons don’t tell the truth like that. Saul is praying to Samuel insofar as he seeks answers from him:

1 Samuel 28:15 . . . Saul answered, “I am in great distress; for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.”

Now note that Samuel doesn’t tell him — make a Protestant point — that it is utterly impermissible for Saul to inquire of him (i.e., pray to him) in this way. He says something different:

1 Samuel 28:16 . . . “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy?”

In other words, he’s saying, “why do you think I can help you, since God Himself has already turned from you?!” But he doesn’t say what he should say, if Protestant theology is true: “Why do you ask of me a petitionary request and pray to me? Don’t you know that prayer is only to be directed to God, and never to deceased men or angels?” That would be the RPV, or Revised Protestant Version of the Bible [sarcasm]. But I use the RSV.

Then having said that, Samuel actually in effect answers Saul’s prayer, but in a way that Saul doesn’t want to hear: he accurately predicts his death in battle the next day (1 Sam 28:17-19).

There is also a scriptural argument to be made regarding prayer to / invocation of / intercession of angels:

1) Men talk to angels in Holy Scripture [many examples].

2) What’s the difference if they are in heaven or on earth when this happens?

3) Angels are extremely intelligent and can deduce our thoughts and follow our actions, and they intensely care about us and are able to help us.

4) Therefore we can ask angels to pray, and we can also pray to them and make petitionary requests (which they can carry out as representatives of God, on His behalf).

This is not only theoretically possible and theologically permissible; there are actual examples of it in the Bible (and they’re not presented as even improper, let alone blasphemous, idolatrous, or sinful). The petitionary or intercessory requests are in blue below. The angels’ responses to prayer are in green.

Genesis 19:15, 18-21 When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.”. . . And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords; behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me, and I die. Behold, yonder city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there — is it not a little one? — and my life will be saved!” He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken.”

Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament wrote about this passage:

[T]here is nothing to indicate that Jehovah suddenly joined the angels. The only supposition that remains, therefore, is that Lot recognised in the two angels a manifestation of God, and so addressed them (Genesis 19:18) as Adonai (my Lord), and that the angel who spoke addressed him as the messenger of Jehovah in the name of God, without its following from this, that Jehovah was present in the two angels. [the angels distinguish themselves from God in Genesis 19:13 above]

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary states: “His request was granted him, the prayer of faith availed . . .”

Lot petitioned an angel (Gen 19:20) and his request was granted (Gen 19:21). How is this any different from a prayer? Therefore, it is prayer to someone other than God by a man on earth, and the fact that it was granted and that the angel did not tell him, “you must petition / pray to God only!” proves that it was perfectly proper to do so.

Genesis 32:24-29 And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

Genesis 48:14-16 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon the head of E’phraim, who was the younger, and his left hand upon the head of Manas’seh, crossing his hands, for Manas’seh was the first-born. And he blessed Joseph, and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has led me all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and in them let my name be perpetuated, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

Note: the “angel of the LORD” is, in the Bible, on several occasions, but not always (see Ex 23:20-22; 33:14; 2 Sam 24:16; Zech 1:12), equated in context with God Himself. Keep in mind, then, that in those instances it may be God Who is being addressed, not a created angel, which is a different scenario than what my present argument is addressing (when the angel is separate of God but His direct representative).

In the last six minutes, Gavin starts making historical arguments from the fathers. But as with all other doctrines, the development proceeded slowly. He says that St. Augustine contradicts himself. That’s a whole discussion in itself, too.

At the end he stresses that we can and should go directly to God to prayer. No one disputes that (or ever has, if they had a “theological IQ” higher than an ant). For his view to be consistent (prayer to God only!), no Protestant could ever ask another to pray for them, or answer such a request. The answer in the latter scenario would be, “why do you ask me to pray? Don’t you know that Hebrews says you can go directly to God?! But we know, of course, that the Bible also teaches that we can also pray for each other, and that is all intercession of the saints is. Intercession doesn’t “obscure” prayer to God, as Gavin states. It is a form of it. It simply uses an additional channel: a very common biblical phenomenon.

He says, “let me know what you think.” I did!

As always, he says he has no desire to offend anyone (I totally believe that); yet the objective charge he made (albeit sincerely in love, and without malice) concerning this was that it was a completely unbiblical practice, derived from “paganism”; and “idolatrous.” I think, given the grave seriousness of those charges, that he (or if not he, someone equally capable) needs to interact with the many biblical arguments I have here provided. Catholics are owed at least that much, if it is to be claimed that our practices are idolatrous and pagan-derived. I think it could actually be a fun and enjoyable discussion, and that Protestants might be surprised at how much of the Bible Catholics can bring to bear. There is, at the very least, food for thought here, if I do say so.

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Photo credit: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro (9-15-16: baptistry: Padua) [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]
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Summary: Baptist pastor Gavin Ortlund explains why he thinks praying to the saints is a bad thing as it plays out “on the ground.” I provide numerous biblical counter-replies.

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