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Who Do We Pray To? Part 1

by Karl Kemp  
10/03/2011 / Bible Studies

"Scripture Quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible", Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (

This paper can stand by itself, but it was written to supplement, and to help confirm, two of my papers that have already been written, "Who Do We Worship? (Oneness/Jesus-only Worship Songs)" and "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son: The Name Yahweh and a Listing of Some of the Large Number of Passages in the Hebrew Old Testament Where We Can See God the Son Along with God the Father." The information contained in those papers also supplements and confirms what is written in this paper. Also, after working on this paper, I decided that I need to write another companion paper, "More on the Trinity: Some Key Passages from the New Testament Where We See the Full Deity and Preexistence of God the Son with God the Father and Some Key Bible Passages Used to Teach a Oneness View of God."

An understanding of God the Father and God the Son (and the Trinity) is extremely important. We are dealing with a topic at the very heart of Christianity. This topic is also controversial. (I had a footnote here in the original paper: For one thing, the devil does everything he can do to confuse our understanding of Christianity, very much including what it teaches about the triune God [God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit]. We must humble our hearts and seek God for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on this super-important topic. We have to be very careful who we listen to.) It seems to me that the Bible, though it doesn't answer every question, clearly teaches the Trinity. And this has been the orthodox view of Christianity from the beginning. (This is not to say that the early orthodox Christian writers agreed on every detail.) The Trinity was not clearly revealed in the Old Testament, but when we read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament, we can see God the Son many places throughout the Old Testament. See the second paper I listed in the first paragraph. That paper and this present paper are, for the most part, limited to the Persons of God the Father and God the Son, but I fully agree that the Bible (especially the New Testament) teaches the full deity of the Person of the Holy Spirit.

We must have a biblical understanding of the Trinity. We cannot define the Trinity to fit our ideas, as it often happens in our day. I'm often amazed when Christians tell me what they think the Trinity means. We must avoid the idea of three Gods, for one thing, but we must also understand that the Bible (especially the New Testament) clearly teaches three distinct Persons who speak to one another, and about one another, and interact with one another in various ways. All three Persons always existed (before our world and time were created), and they always will exist. God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are fully deity with God the Father, not having been created. Each of the three Persons has different roles, and God the Father is very clearly preeminent in His role, as this paper will demonstrate. For one thing, the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit both intercede for us before God the Father. What a blessing! (I had a footnote: See under John 1:1-5, 9-18 and under Col. 1:15-18, including the footnotes, in my paper titled, "A Verse-by-Verse Study of John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-3:17" on my internet site. (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching.) In footnote 8 under John 1:1, I quoted part of what Wayne Grudem says under the subheading, "The Persons of the Trinity Eternally Existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in his "Systematic Theology." That quotation includes a discussion on the eternal subordination of God the Son and God the Spirit to God the Father in their roles. I quote part of that discussion in an Appendix at the end of this paper.)

When I speak of God the Father being preeminent in His role, I mean the same thing as when I speak of God the Son being subordinate to God the Father in His role. For the Lord Jesus to be subordinate in His role does not mean that He is inferior. The fact that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in their roles helps explain why Christians don't think in terms of three Gods. Three Persons, Yes! Three Gods, No! The preeminent role of God the Father is strongly emphasized in some verses. See, for example, John 14:28; 17:1-5; Rom. 16:26, 27; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 11:3; 15:27, 28; Eph. 4:4-6; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2:5; 6:13- 16; and Jude 1:24, 25. These passages (and there are quite a few more similar passages) are all quoted in this paper. In 1 Tim. 1:17, for example, God the Father is called "the only God." The apostle Paul is not denying the full deity of the Lord Jesus Christ (or the Holy Spirit) in 1 Tim. 1:17, but he is emphasizing the preeminent role of God the Father, as he (and other writers of the New Testament) does on occasion. We don't have to deny the preeminent role of God the Father to believe in the full deity of God the Son (and the Holy Spirit). We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.

It is important for the reader to understand (to believe) that I am not writing this paper to attack anyone. Quite the opposite! I very much want this paper to be a blessing to all the people of God. I'm praying that many (as many as possible) will be blessed by this paper and (anywhere it is required) will come to a more balanced view of what the Bible teaches on this super-important topic. It is a great blessing to come to a more balanced view of what the Bible teaches on every topic. For one thing, it is far better for God to correct us now than when we stand before Him at the end of this age. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on every topic, and the topic of this paper is very important. For some this paper will serve to confirm what they believe already. First and foremost I want this paper to please God and to accomplish His purposes, by His grace, and for His glory. In Jesus' name! Thanks be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit! Anywhere I am missing the balanced truth I want to be corrected.

The New Testament teaches, as I will demonstrate in this paper, that Christians should typically pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus. The primary reason we should typically pray to God the Father is because of His preeminent role in the Trinity. We are exhorted to look to God the Father for everything we need, including our asking for things in prayer, through our saving union with God the Son, in and by the indwelling Spirit of God. Even when we don't say the words "in the name of Jesus," and that is very common in the New Testament, it must be understood that our relationship with God the Father and our access to Him as His born-again children has come to us, and is maintained for us, through the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning death. Of course, there could not have been an atoning death if not for the salvation plan of God the Father and the incarnation of God the Son through the virgin Mary and by the Holy Spirit. Our salvation also required His resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of God the Father, His receiving from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, and His pouring forth the Spirit, starting on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:33, for example).

We desperately need unity in the body of Christ (which embraces all true Christians), but it must be unity in the truth. We cannot unite to any significant or satisfactory extent unless we unite in the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on the basic doctrines of Christianity. I am not saying, however, that we should remain aloof from other Christians until we fully agree regarding the Trinity, for example. But the Trinity is a very important topic because our God is a very important topic. Many (or most) of us Christians need to humble ourselves and seek God for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. I have observed over the years that many (or most) Christians have the mistaken idea that they already are holding the balanced truth on all the basic Christian doctrines, and they have closed their minds. We should not assume we have it right because we have a few verses that seem to back up what we believe on a topic. We could be misinterpreting those verses (that often happens with true Christians), and we desperately need the BALANCED truth of ALL that the Bible teaches on each topic. Furthermore, we should not assume that we have everything right just because God has blessed us and used us. He is merciful, for one thing.

One reason I decided to write this paper is that I see more and more Christians praying to Jesus most of the time, if not all of the time. And I'm speaking in large part about Christians who would say they believe in the Trinity. Does it make any difference who we pray to? (Does it make any difference who we direct our worship to?) Does it really make any difference what the New Testament has to say on this topic? Based on what the New Testament teaches, I have to believe it makes a very significant difference. We should typically pray to God the Father because this is the pattern established in the New Testament, as I demonstrate in this paper. And, significantly, this pattern is based (at least to some significant extent) on the fact that (even though the full deity of God the Son and God the Spirit is clearly taught in the Bible), God the Father has a very obvious preeminent role in the Trinity, according to the Bible (very much including the New Testament).

This paper strongly confirms what I said in my paper, "Who Do We Worship? (Oneness/Jesus-only Worship Songs)." This present paper, by itself, should suffice to demonstrate that God the Father and God the Son (and the Holy Spirit) are distinct Persons in the Trinity and that God the Father has the preeminent role. (For one thing, in most of the passages that are quoted in this study, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are mentioned as distinct Persons.) It seems clear to me that the Bible shows that, even as we should typically pray to God the Father, we should worship God the Father first and foremost, including in our worship songs. The more we are in divine order, the more God (and His Son and the Holy Spirit) will be glorified and His will will be accomplished in us and through us.

I am not suggesting that if we don't make it a top priority to deal with this problem that everything is going to fall apart, but I believe this is a serious problem that we need to HUMBLY and PRAYERFULLY deal with. For one thing, this problem seems to be getting worse all the time. We have to start somewhere. I am not the judge, and I didn't write this paper (or any of my papers) to attack any Christians, including Christians who deny the Trinity (and who say, for example, that Jesus [one Person] is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). I wrote this paper to exhort every true Christian, and especially ministers, to seriously consider the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on these super-important things.

Clearly this topic is controversial, but we cannot afford to ignore such important topics. We aren't competent to fully understand the Trinity, and especially not during this present age before we are glorified, but there is no excuse for the large amounts of error, confusion, and controversy that exist in our day among true Christians. All of us, and especially ministers, need to humble ourselves and seek God for the balanced truth of what His Word teaches on this topic, and on every topic.

I'm going to limit this article, for the most part to, what the New Testament teaches regarding "Who Do We Pray To?" My procedure was to read through the New Testament (most of it twice) and list the passages that seemed relevant to the topic. I didn't list every passage that mentions prayer addressed to God the Father, but I listed most of them, except for in the Gospels and the book of Revelation. I don't believe I missed any passages where prayer was addressed to the Lord Jesus. (If I missed any it was not on purpose.) For this study, I'm using the word prayer in a full sense that includes addressing thanks or praise or glory directly to God the Father or God the Son. I am not including the passages that are typically found near the beginning or end of epistles with words like, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:3) or "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you" (1 Cor. 16:23).

I skipped over many of the prayers in the Gospels for this study. Many of those prayers are prayers of Jesus to God the Father, and apart from the glorious words of the apostle Thomas to the resurrected Christ in John 20:28, "My Lord and my God," there aren't any prayers addressed to Jesus in the Gospels. Also, I didn't include any passages from the book of Revelation. I didn't notice any passages that are especially relevant to this study. For one thing, so much of the worship in the book of Revelation is addressed to God the Father, and sometimes to God the Son, comes from the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders (who are high-level angelic beings), multitudes of angels, etc.

In this paper I'll typically quote the passages I list, often with some discussion, always aiming for the balanced truth of what the New Testament teaches. You might argue about my interpretation for a few of the passages I listed, but most of the passages are so clear that I don't think there is much room to argue. The New Testament is quite clear on this topic, for which I am thankful.

This study confirms that it is biblical to pray to Jesus (which serves as a very strong confirmation of His deity), but that most of our prayers should be addressed to God the Father. I found five prayers addressed to the Lord Jesus in the New Testament, and two prayers that were addressed to both God the Father and the Lord Jesus, for a total of seven prayers addressed to the Lord Jesus. (Actually, as I'll explain below, I found eight prayers addressed to the Lord Jesus, but since two of those prayers are different because of the context, I'll just count them as one prayer for the purposes of this study.) Seven prayers is ten percent of the total number of prayers I listed (sixty eight). Sixty one of the prayers, ninety percent of the total number of prayers, are addressed to God the Father. It really isn't very important for this study whether eighty-seven percent, or ninety percent, or ninety-three percent of the prayers are addressed to God the Father. I am not looking for scientific precision in this study. (If I counted eight prayers addressed to the Lord Jesus, that would yield twelve percent of the prayers being addressed to Him.)

Five of the prayers that are addressed to Jesus are found in Paul's epistles to the Thessalonians, and significantly, both of those epistles confirm the preeminent role of God the Father. Another prayer addressed to Jesus is found in a brief, but important, doxology in 2 Tim. 4:18. I also included the prayer that Stephen prayed to the glorified Lord Jesus, who appeared to him in a vision while he was being stoned to death (in Acts 7:54-60). And I included the glorious words that Thomas spoke to the resurrected Lord Jesus in John 20:28, which can be considered a type of prayer, using the word prayer in a broad sense. Because Jesus appeared to Stephen and to Thomas, it was very natural that they would pray to Him, rather than to God the Father, I thought it would be reasonable to count those two prayers as one prayer for the purposes of this study.

The results of this study are about what we should expect since the Bible makes it clear that the Lord Jesus Christ is subordinate to God the Father in His role as Son; in His role as the One through whom God the Father created all matter, beings, and things; in His role as our great high priest at the right hand of God the Father, etc. As I mentioned, this paper also confirms that God the Father and God the Son (and God the Holy Spirit) are distinct Persons in the Trinity. And we can learn a lot about prayer from the passages that are quoted in this paper.

I'll always quote from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. I frequently make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make the brackets more obvious.

A comment on the use of the words "God" and "Jesus" in the New Testament. The name Jesus is used 911 times in the New Testament. The name is always used of the God-man. (The name Jesus is used for another man in Col. 4:11.) It is never used for God the Father, or the Holy Spirit, or the Trinity. The Greek noun "theos" is translated God or God's 1,294 times in the New Testament. Out of all those uses there are some five to ten uses (depending on how a few verses are interpreted) where the word is used of God the Son. We are very thankful for those few verses that powerfully demonstrate the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. We should also be thankful for the fact that those verses typically make it clear that He is a Person distinct from God the Father. (Maybe there is a better word to use than Person, but I don't know of any better word to use.)

I'll give an important example: In John 1:1 "the Word," referring to God the Son (who existed with God the Father before any person, or physical matter, or thing [including the time system of our universe] was ever created [see John 1:1-4]) is called "God." He is deity. But it is significant that John 1:1 also teaches us that "the Word" (who took on flesh and became a man, the God-man, through the virgin birth [see John 1:14]) was also "with God," with God the Father, the One who is typically called God in the Bible. This confirms (along with multiplied hundreds of verses in the New Testament) that God the Father and God the Son are distinct Persons. God the Son was a Person with God the Father before creation began; He was not just a thought, word, etc. in the mind of God the Father, as some believe. God the Father created everything that was ever created through Him. John 1:4 adds that "in Him [the Person of God the Son] was life, and the life was the Light of men." These words confirm the deity of the preexistent Son of God. And John 1:10 repeats that "the world was made through Him." 1 Corinthians 8:6 says, "yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom [It would be better translate "through whom"] are all things, and we exist through Him." Colossians 1:16 confirms that God created all things through His Son, "by Him [God the Son] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities" and he adds that they were "created through Him and for Him [the Person of God the Son]." In Col. 1:17 Paul tells us that "in Him [in God the Son] all things hold together." Not only were all things created though Him, He has been and is now active in holding all things together since they were created. Hebrews 1:2, says, ...through whom He [God the Father] made the world."

Let's start with Matt. 6:5-15 (also see Luke 11:1-13). Jesus is speaking, "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (6) But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (7) And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. (8) So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (8) Pray then in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. (10) Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. (11) Give us this day our daily bread. (12) And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (13) And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil [or, the evil one]. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (I had a footnote: The NASB has a marginal note here explaining why they put these words in a bracket, "This clause not found in early manuscripts."]' (14) For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (15) But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." This passage, like a very large number of passages throughout the New Testament, makes it very clear that God the Father and God the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ) are distinct Persons. Here, for example, the Lord Jesus talked about the Father and taught His disciples to pray to the Father. Jesus Himself (the God-man) frequently prayed to the Father. Most of the passages cited in this study, including Matt. 6:5-15 and Luke 11:1-13, demonstrate the two distinct Persons of God the Father and the Lord Jesus. And even though the New Testament clearly teaches the full deity of the Lord Jesus as a Person distinct from God the Father (see John 1:1-4, 14, for example), it also makes it clear that God the Son has a subordinate role to God the Father. He always did, and He always will.

Matthew 7:7-11. Jesus is speaking, "Ask [of God the Father], and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (8) For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (9) Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? (10) Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? (11) If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him [very much including the gift of the Holy Spirit, who will enable us, for one thing, to live in the righteousness and holiness of God (see Luke 11:13; Gal. 5:16, for example).]!"

Matthew 18:19, 20. (Also see verse 18.) "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. (20) For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in your midst."

Mark 11:12-14, 20-26. (Also see Matt. 21:18-22.) I'll just quote Mark 11:20-25. "As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. (21) Being reminded, Peter said to Him, 'Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.' (22) And Jesus answered saying to them, 'Have faith in God [God the Father]. [The Lord Jesus is exhorting His disciples (which includes us) to have faith in God so we can be what God wants us to be and to do the things that He wants us to do.] (23) Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, "Be taken up and cast into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart [We must always strongly resist doubting God and His Word in our hearts.], but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. [God is the One who grants it to us and moves the mountains, in answer to our words/prayers of faith, and He must receive all the glory, not us, or our faith. Our faith is in God. And we certainly don't want to try to move any "mountains" that God doesn't want moved.] (24) Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask [of God the Father], believe that you have received them [believe you have received them when you pray, before you have seen the answer to the prayer, because you know that God hears and answers your prayers that are prayed in faith and in line with His will and through His Son.], and they shall be granted you [by God the Father]. (25) Whenever you stand praying [before God the Father], forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will forgive you your transgressions.' "

This paper continues with Part 2.

By Karl Kemp; July 2011

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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