Do you pray to Jesus or God? Have you ever thought about the mechanics of your prayers? Maybe you haven’t or you think it doesn’t really matter. To be sure, many Christians today pray to Jesus…and God the Father…and even to the Holy Spirit. This same question was asked and answered by Graham Cole and posted by The Gospel Coalition. He opens with:

“Many Christians pray to Jesus. But are they right to do so? It’s certainly a good question. I believe there are at least two sound reasons to pray to Jesus—-one theological and one scriptural.”

Of Cole’s “two sound reasons,” we’re sure that any “theological reason” has no biblical authority so we’ll stick with the scriptural part…which in Cole’s article is the “what passage” of Acts 77. Let’s instead consider all that the Bible says which will demonstrate why Acts 7 isn’t a prayer to Jesus.

How Scripture answers "Do we pray to Jesus or God?"

We pray to God1,2,3,4,5,6,8,11,12,13,14,15,16,18,19,21,23,24, not to Jesus7,11. Specifically, Scripture gives us several foundational points that effectively preclude anything other than prayers to God the Father being offered:

  1. Direct Command. When Jesus was asked about prayer, he directly taught that prayers were directed TO God the Father1,2
  2. Jesus’ Teaching. Furthermore, Jesus made it clear what His role in our prayers would be…not as the recipient but the one through which we approach the Father8. He is at His right hand and “He always lives to make intercession17 in our prayers to the Father. This “prayer structure” (to God, through Jesus) is repeatedly documented as the practice of the early Christians9,12,14,16,17,21,23
  3. The Father Receives/Answers. It is God the Father who answers prayer1,2,8,10,14,17,24. There is no passage about Jesus answering prayer. In fact, Jesus tells His apostles that a time would come when “you will ask nothing of me.”8
  4. Apostolic Teaching and Example. “To God and through Jesus” was practiced by the early church15,16,23 and instructed by the apostles21,24. Paul’s own prayers and instruction about prayer, over and over, is about praying TO God the Father3,4,5,6,9,11,12,13,14,16,18,19.

Attempting to make an argument or justification for offering prayer to Jesus is simply outside any authority of Scripture.

There are several “What about…” passages7,11,19,20,22 that get raised usually when attempting to justify one praying to Jesus. It seems these are most often raised in a vacuum – without first acknowledging all of the clear teaching about prayer from Jesus1,2 and example after example of the Godhead roles in our prayers1,3,4,5,6,8,11,12,13,14,15,16,18,19,21,23,24.

Generally, they have to do with redefining biblical prayer to be essentially any statement uttered. Typically, these “what about” passages never actually say it’s a prayer, nevertheless these still get raised:

  1. The stoning of Stephen7. The text doesn’t say he prayed, rather it says he “called out.” This makes sense, since he is literally looking at Jesus in that moment. To say this is “praying to Jesus” makes the text say something it doesn’t say. It also highlights an important distinction between “praying to” vs simply “speaking to”…in this case, Stephen sees Jesus and calls out to Him.
  2. To “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus”11. However, scripture defines “calling on the Lord” as turning to Christ in obedience and worship. This is in fact how Paul is using it here11 which the context clearly demonstrates.
  3. Paul thanking Jesus Christ19. However, the context shows that it’s a prayer addressed to God…and yet another case of Paul’s repeated statements and examples3,4,5,6,9,11,12,13,14,16,18,19 showing it’s God to whom prayer is directed.
  4. Paul’s pleading to “the Lord”20 regarding his “thorn in the flesh”. Many assume that “Lord” means Jesus since it is the dominant use in the New Testament, but it could also be God the Father23,24. There’s simply nothing contextually forcing “Lord” to mean Jesus, including the “red letter” response (there’s no other indication that it is Jesus responding other than man’s addition of red letters). It’s also one that could fall in the same category as Stephen since it’s in the context of Paul being “caught up”. This is far from a conclusive example of Paul praying to Jesus that would again contradict his many other statements and examples3,4,5,6,9,11,12,13,14,16,18,19.
  5. The conclusion of John’s great vision when he states, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”22. The context just doesn’t support the conclusion that this is a prayer. Furthermore, like Stephen7, it includes the same “proximity” issue (the person literally sees Jesus and is conversing with Him).

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Your prayers are something between you and God the Father. They should be done privately, and God will answer in kind.

In the midst of Jesus’ sermon on the mount and His instruction to the people on how to pray. This immediately precedes His “model prayer” beginning, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus gives specific instruction that prayers be offered to the Father.

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples. And he said to them, When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.
Jesus was in a place praying, and after finishing a disciple asked Him to teach them to pray as John [the Baptist] had taught His disciples. So Jesus taught them to pray saying, “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

Jesus, in the midst of His public ministry, is presumably alone with His disciples. After citing a ‘model prayer’ similar to what He states in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 6), He continues in Luke’s account with a parable (vss 5-8) and further explains it as a lesson to emphasize God’s willingness to provide to His children that ask in prayer (vss 9-13).

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus says that prayers are offered to the Father after specifically being asked how we should pray.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Like the “model prayer” in Matthew1, but here Jesus continues with a parable (vss 5-8) and further explains it as a lesson to emphasize God’s willingness to provide to His children that ask in prayer (vss 9-13).

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
At around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and other prisoners were listening to them.

Paul and Silas were put in prison for preaching in Philippi.

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul and Silas pray to God, the Father.

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,
I [Paul] give thanks to God for you in my prayers.

Paul’s letter to Philemon.

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul prays to God, the Father.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
It’s because of this that I knell in prayer before God, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which continues with an actual prayer through verse 21. His reason for praying is due to the “boldness and access with confidence” in Christ (vs 12) and praying that they do not “lose heart” (vs 13).
Scripture-block application to this question

Paul prays to God, the Father.

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.
I [Paul] pray day and night to the God that I serve with a clear conscience just as my ancestors did, remembering you constantly.

Paul’s letter to a younger evangelist, Timothy, instructing him in matters of doctrine and congregational order.

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul prays to God, the Father.

And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
As the crowd was stoning Stephen, he called out to Jesus to receive his spirit.

Stephen’s testimony of Jesus has enraged the crowd and they are stoning him. Just before him calling out he saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (vs 56)

Scripture-block application to this question

Stephen “calls out” to Jesus.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

In this moment, Stephen is physically seeing Jesus in heaven (vss 55-56). This is not a prayer but rather a simple statement directly to Jesus, therefore, it doesn’t apply here.

In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
A day will come when nothing will be asked of Me [Jesus]. Rather, you will ask the Father in My name, and He will give it to you.

Jesus giving final instruction to the twelve (chap 13-17) before he is crucified.

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus explicitly states the “order” of our prayers – to the Father, through (or by) Jesus’ name.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Jesus is about to depart from earth, marking the time at which “you will ask nothing of me.” Essentially, “God on earth” would no longer be in their physical proximity.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
For there is one God and the man, Jesus Christ, is the only one to advocate to Him on behalf of man.  Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all mankind and was the very testimony at just the right time.

Paul’s letter to a young preacher, Timothy.  This chapter begins with specific instructions on various matters beginning with praying for all.

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus has a specific role to play in our prayer to the Father; only He can mediate17 on our behalf.

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

An angel before the alter carried a censer holding incense and the prayers of the saints. The smoke and prayers came before God.

John is seeing the heavenly throne of God the Father (chap 4,5) and other events unfold.

Scripture-block application to this question

Prayers come before God the Father (not unlike the incense that burned day and night in the temple; the table of incense sat immediately in front of the Holy of Holies, God’s dwelling).

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Salutation to the church in Corinth, those sanctified in Christ and all those that “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s introduction to his letter to the church in Corinth. Just after this Paul says, “I give thanks to my God always for you…” (vs 4)

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul addresses a single, geographic location (e.g. Corinth) of Christ’s body the church [universal], while associating those saints with all saints everywhere that “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Scripture defines “calling on the Lord” as turning to Christ in obedience and worship, which is in fact how Paul is using it here. Prayer is mentioned just two verses later, and it is offered to God (1 Corinthians 1:4).

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.
First, I thank God through Jesus Christ for you all and the witness of your faith to all the world. For God can testify of my service to Him in the ministry in the word of His Son, that I am constantly mentioning you to Him in my prayers and asking that by His will I might finally succeed in visiting you.

Introduction of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul prayed to God1, through Jesus Christ8.

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Give thanks to God, since He chose you to be saved through the setting apart by the Spirit and belief in the gospel – to this He called you by “our gospel” in order that you may obtain glory shared with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica where he is warning them about coming destructive forces to the faithful – those that succumb even being helped by God who “sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false,” (vs 11).
Scripture-block application to this question

We give thanks to God.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
All of God’s promises find their affirmative answer with Jesus Christ. That is why it is through Him that we utter our “Amen” to God for his glory.

Actually Paul’s third letter (13:1) to the church at Corinth, writing to them defending his apostleship and also rejoicing in their handling of the some of the issues/sin he dealt with in 1 Corinthians (his second letter).

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul affirms the role of both the Father and the Son in prayer – they are offered to the Father, thorough the Son (by His authority).

And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
After seizing him [Peter], he [Herod] put him in prison under guard of four squads of soldiers.  His intent was to bring him before the people after the Passover.  While Peter was in prison, the church continued in earnest prayer to God on his behalf.
The early days of the spread of the church from Jerusalem, instigated by persecution of Christians – primarily by Jewish leaders.  Herod the king has already killed the James, the brother of Jesus (vs) and has determined to do the same with Peter (vs 3).
Scripture-block application to this question

The church [in Jerusalem] prayed to God for Peter’s release.

And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one out of reverence for Christ.
Don’t get drunk with wine, which is depravity, but be overcome by the Spirit by speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Sing and make melody in your hearts to the Lord and at all times give thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one in duty to Christ.

Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus giving encouragement and instruction.

Scripture-block application to this question

We give thanks (pray) to God by/in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

As a result, He [Jesus] is able to save all those who draw near to God through Him, since He is alive forever to intercede on their behalf.

This chapter introduces the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood (order of Melchizedek) over that of Aaron’s (tribe of Levi). This “makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant” (vs 22).
Scripture-block application to this question

God is the subject of a person’s spiritual objective, and it is through Jesus and by His authority and intercession that one is able to access God.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
We offer prayers on your behalf to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s opening to the Colossians.

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul prays to God, the Father.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

I [Paul] thank Jesus Christ our Lord who has given me strength and judged me faithful to be appointed to His service, in spite of the fact that I was a blasphemer, persecutor [of His church], and an insolent opponent.  Nevertheless, I was granted mercy since I acted ignorantly in unbelief, the His grace overflowed on my behalf together with the faith and love that are found in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s instructions to the young preacher Timothy, ending chap 1 with two named individuals that were engaged in false teaching and as a result made a “shipwreck of their faith” and have been “handed over to Satan to learn…”

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul begins a prayer giving thanks to Christ Jesus.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

This is a prayer from Paul that is addressed to God the Father, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (vs 17)

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

I [Paul] pleaded to the Lord three times to have it [thorn in the flesh] removed, but He responded that His grace was sufficient for me and that His power is perfected in weakness. As a result, I will boast in exceeding joy about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

In his second letter to the young church in Corinth, Paul must defend his apostleship against what he calls “super-apostles” – false teachers discrediting the gospel message and Paul’s authority.

In this section, Paul adds to his credentials the fact that he had been “caught up” (vs 2) and “heard things” (vs 4), yet at the same time was cognizant of this fact making him conceited (vs 7).

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul pleads to “the Lord”23,24 about an unfavorable physical condition and receives an answer.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
I [John] am writing these things to those that already believe in the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. Our confidence in God allows us to know He hears our prayers, and if we ask according to His will our requests are granted.

John is defining one’s love of God as the obedience (doing) of His word (vs 3).  Opposed to this is “the world” which stands in the way of a “victory” made possible by Jesus Christ (vss 4ff). John wants to remind brethren to remain strong and remember to pray to God for help (vs 13-16).

The pronoun “he” in vss 14-15 is qualified in vs 16 as God the father.

Scripture-block application to this question

John confirms that God hears our prayers and grants our requests that are “according to His will.”

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

He who testifies to these things says, Surely I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
The One testifying to these things [Jesus] says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
The final words in the Revelation of John and the Bible as a whole.
Scripture-block application to this question

John states, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” after hearing/seeing Jesus say, “Surely I am coming soon.”

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

Similar to Stephen7, John testifies that he “turned to see the voice that was speaking to me” (1:12). The entire Revelation account by John is a vision and its conclusion (chapter 22) again confirms that John “heard and saw these things” (vs 8) and further records several direct statements (not “prayers”) between John, an angel (vss 1,6,9,10), and Jesus (vss 7,12,16,20).

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
And now Lord [God, the Father], observe their [Jewish leaders] threats and give your servants [apostles] continued boldness to proclaim your word, while you confirm it with miracles performed by the authority of your holy servant Jesus.

Peter and John have just been released from prison (vs 3) and standing trail before the Jewish council of leaders (vs 5) after preaching and healing a lame man (chapter 3). Having returned to the disciples in Jerusalem (vs 23), they are offering a prayer (vs 24) for their continued safety and boldness.

Scripture-block application to this question

The disciples are praying to the “Lord” (e.g. God the Father).

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

The prayer begins addressed to “Sovereign Lord” and identified by Luke to be God (vs 24). Jesus is identified separately throughout the prayer as “your holy servant” (vss 27, 30).

But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
Peter rebuked him [Simon] telling him that his greed has overtaken him and that his heart was not right before God. Therefore, he should pray to God for repentance that He might possibly forgive him of his sin. Simon penitently responded and asked Peter to pray for him that he might be forgiven.
The apostles in Jerusalem learn that the people in Samaria have received the word of God [gospel message] so they send them Peter and John.  The people there had only been baptized into Jesus but the Holy Spirit had not yet “fallen on them.” (vs 16)

When “Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city” (vs 9) became a baptized believer (vs 13), he wanted the apostles to lay their hands on him so he too could have the power to do miracles (vs 18).

Scripture-block application to this question

Peter instructs Simon to “pray to the Lord” (e.g. God the Father) for his repentance. Simon likewise asks Peter to “pray to the Lord” on his behalf.

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