Sunday, September 18, 2016

Prayer in the Bible

From Did the First Christians Worship Jesus by James Dunn.

In the synoptic Gospels Jesus speaks on several occasions about praying (proseuchesthai), with the assumption that prayer is made to God [i.e., Mat 6.5-13/Luke 11.1-4]…

The less prominent term deesthai, ‘ask, request’ can be used both of requests to other individuals and of requests to God. In the narratives of Matthew, Mark and Luke we find both usages, with requests made to Jesus[1] and Jesus talking of making requests to God.[2]

Another word with a similar range of usage is aitein, ‘to ask for’ [Mar 6.22-25; Matt. 27.20; Mar 15.43 pars.]…Presumably the request of James and John for the top seats in his glory falls into the same category (Mark 10.35-38). But Jesus also uses it of requests in prayer to God.[3]
John’s Gospel uses none of the common words for prayer (proseuchesthai, proseuche, deesthai, deesis)…[Jesus] repeatedly promises that whatever his disciples ask (aitein) in his name the Father will give them (15.16; 16.23-24), even promising that he (himself) will do whatever his disciples ask (aitein) in his name, ‘so that the Father may be glorified’ (14.13). And he adds, ‘if you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it’ (14.14). Requests to the Father in Jesus’ name are of a piece with requests to Jesus himself; the common factor is ‘in his name’. ‘In that day you will ask (erotan) the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you’ (16.26-27). If the disciples abide in him and his words abide in them they may ask (aitein) whatever they want and it will be done for them (15.7).
Elsewhere in the NT writings, ‘prayer’ as such (proseuchesthai, proseuche), explicitly or implicitly, is always made to God…in Acts 8.22, 24, where Simon is urged to ‘pray (deesthai) to the Lord’ that he might be forgiven; the reference to ‘the Lord’ is ambiguous.[4] But deesis is used in the Epistles always for prayer; that is, prayer to God. 

…in the Epistles aitein is used almost exclusively in prayer contexts. For example, ‘I pray (aitoumai) that you may not lose heart over my sufferings’ (Eph 3.13); God ‘is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask (aitoumetha) or imagine’ (3.20); ‘we have not ceased praying (proseuchomenoi) for you and asking (aitoumenoi) that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will’ (Col 1.9[Jam 1.5-6; similarly 4.2-3; 1 John 5.14-16])…

In Acts and the Epistles [parakalein] regularly appears in the everyday sense of ‘urge, exhort [2Cor 1.3-7; 7.4-7, 13]…The only obvious case [of it] being used in a prayer context is 2Cor 12parakalein here is used in the sense of an appeal in prayer…to the Lord Jesus Christ. This can safely be concluded not only because ‘the Lord’ in Paul is almost always the Lord Jesus (apart from its occurrence in scriptural quotations)[5] but also because the grace and power that the one appealed to promises Paul in answer to his appeal is specifically identified as ‘the power of Christ’…Paul understood the exalted Christ as one who could be appealed to for help, a request or petition that can readily be understood as prayer.[6]
Another passage that calls for attention is [1Cor 16.22; cf. Rev. 22.20]. The fact that it appears in Aramaic strongly suggests that it had become a regular feature in early liturgies—rather like the continued use of the Aramaic ‘Abba, Father’ in the prayers of the Greek-speaking churches (Rom 8.15; Gal 4.6)…Yet perhaps we should recall that according to the Gospels, when Jesus cried out on the cross, some of the bystanders thought he was calling on (phonei) Elijah; that is calling for him to come and help him (Mark 15.35-36). Elijah, it should be remembered, had been taken to heaven…and there was a widespread expectation that he would return from heaven before the day of the Lord [Mal. 4.5; cf. Mark 6.15; 8.28; John 1.21[7]]. However, we have no examples of appeals to Elijah being made in Second Temple Judaism for him to return or to help someone,[8] though we should also recall Alan Segal’s observation that in Jewish mystical texts all kinds of angelic beings are invoked.[9] [Yet, Jesus’ crucifixion] may provide evidence that the contemporaries of Jesus could well conceive of an appeal being made to one who had been transferred to heaven that he come (again) to earth.

To call upon Jesus (in prayer[10]) was evidently a defining and distinguishing feature of earliest Christian worship. 

The most explicit prayer language is used exclusively of prayer to God. Jesus himself is remembered as regularly praying to God and giving instruction on prayer to God. With the less explicitly prayer language of ‘asking, requesting and appealing to’ the picture is somewhat different. Again, where it appears in prayer, the request is normally addressed to God. But in John’s Gospel repeated emphasis is placed by Jesus on his disciples’ future praying to God ‘in his [Jesus’] name’. Paul both appeals directly to Jesus for help from heaven and reflects a commonly used appeal for the Lord Christ to come (again) from heaven. And the earliest Christians are known as ‘those who call upon or invoke the name of Jesus’. If, speaking with tightly focused precision, ‘prayer’ as such was not usually made to Jesus in the worship of the first Christian congregations, at least he was regarded as one, sitting at God’s right hand, who could be and was called upon, and to whom appeal could be made. 

“Looking back over the first centuries of the Christian era, we may come to this conclusion: to judge from all that survives in documents and accounts of the Church’s life in this period, liturgical prayer, in regard to its form of address, keeps with considerable unanimity to the rule of turning to God (repeatedly described as the Father of Jesus Christ) through Christ the High Priest…It was not until the end of the fourth century that we meet by way of exception prayers to Christ the Lord, and these are not within the Eucharistic celebration proper, but in the pre-Mass and in Baptism. On the other hand we know that in private prayers, both in apostolic times and later, the prayer to Christ was well known and customary.” J.S. Jungmann, The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer (London: Chapman, 1965, pgs. 164-6).

This [quote] also reminds us that a more prominent theme in the NT is Jesus as the one who prays for his followers rather than the one prayed to…Hurtado notes that in the NT ‘any direct prayer or appeal to Christ is always to be framed by the sovereignty of the one God, and is in fact very limited in scope and frequency’ (Origins 104)… 

[Another] important side to the question of whether Jesus was prayed to [is] the thought of Jesus as the heavenly intercessor [and his functioning as High Priest, Heb 7.24-25]…intermediary between God and humans [1Tim 2.5]…Christ can emphasize with and help those who come to God through him…Equally, indeed more, important for many of these Christians was the assurance that Jesus was praying for them. Here again we find ourselves with the two-sidedness of the first Christians’ esteem for Christ, both as the mediator between God and man, the one through whom they would come confidently to God, and as the one who was also conjoint with God in the worship [and prayers] they brought to God.

[1] Luke 5.12; 8.28, 38; 9.38 (the same request made to the disciples—9.40).
[2] Matt. 9.38/Luke 10.2; 21.36; 22.32 (Jesus makes a request on behalf of Simon Peter). The noun deesis is used exclusively of requests made to God (Luke 1.13; 2.37; 5.33).
[3] Mark 11.24; Matt. 7.7-11/Luke 11.9-13; Matt. 6.8; 18.19.
[4]…as in the other ‘Lord’ = God references in Acts, the influence of the OT usage suggests that Luke was thinking of worship [and prayer] to God.
[5] 19 times in the Pauline corpus…However…the OT eschatological expectations of ‘the day of the Lord’ seems to have become the Christian hope for ‘the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1Cor 1.8; 2Cor 1.14)…in several instances Paul quotes an OT reference to the Lord (Yahweh) and refers it to the Lord Jesus Christ [Rom 10.9-13]…[this means] for Paul either that Jesus is Yahweh, or, more likely, that Yahweh has bestowed His own unique saving power on the Lord [Jesus] who sits on His right side, or that the exalted Jesus is himself the embodiment as well as the executive of that saving power…
 […if Ps 110.1 allows the concept of two Lords, the second given his plenipotentionary status by the first, then there is presumably no reason (why such passages) should not be referred to the second Lord…That God was understood to pass divine authority to others is indicated by the various individuals who were thought to play the role of heavenly judges—Adam & Abel (T. Abr. 11,13), Melchizedech (11QMelch 13-14), Enoch and Elijah (1 Enoch 90.31; Apoc. Elij. 24.11-15)—including the saints themselves (Matt. 19.28/Luke 22.30; 1Cor 6.2-3). Cf. Hurtado’s careful formulation: ‘Early Christians saw Jesus as the uniquely significant agent of the one God, and in their piety they extended the exclusivity of the one God to take in God’s uniquely important representative, while stoutly refusing to extend this exclusivity to any other figure’ (Lord Jesus Christ 204.)].
[6] ‘Paul’s easy recounting of his actions suggests that he expects his readers to be familiar with prayer-appeals to Jesus as a communally accepted feature of Christian devotional practice [1Cor 1.2] (Hurtado, Origins 75).
[7]…we should stress that there is no thought of Elijah being worshipped [or prayed to] in any of these accounts. But again the precedence for the belief that Jesus had been exalted to share in heavenly glory should not be ignored.
[8] Hurtado, Origins 77.
[9] In common Greek epikaleisthai is regularly used of calling upon a deity [BDAG, 373. Alan Segal, ‘Paul’s “SOMA PNEUMATIKON” and the Worship of Jesus’, in Newman, et al. (eds.), Jewish Roots 258-76, notes that the terminology is characteristic both of pagan magic and of Jewish mystical texts: ‘In the Hekhaloth texts, all kinds of angelic beings are invoked with the terminology’ (274)…the motif of angelic intercessors was already familiar within Second Temple Judaism [e.g., Job 33.23-26; Tobit 12.15; 1 Enoch 9.3; 15.2; 99.3; 104.1; T. Levi 3.5; 5.6-7; T. Dan 6.2].
[10] Cf. “call upon”, Acts 7.59; 9.14, 21; 22.16; Rom 10.12,14; 1Cor 1.2; 2Tim 2.22. This defining feature of these early Christians…marked them out from others who ‘called upon (the name of)’ some other deity or heavenly being...’Jesus’ cultic presence and power clearly operate here in the manner we otherwise associate with a god’ (Hurtado, Origins 80).

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