Prayer to someone other than God

Catholics pray to God. Catholics also pray to the saints. Many non-Catholics claim that it is “unbiblical” to pray to anyone other than God. But a closer look at Scripture reveals that this is not the case. Instead, it is quite “biblical” to pray to others, in addition to praying to God.

Part of the issue is one of language. “To pray” simply means “to ask.” Protestants typically use the word “pray” in a restrictive sense, limiting it to requests made only to God. Catholics sometimes use the word “pray” in a less restrictive sense, allowing its use for requests made to God, but also to other people and to angels. When we pray to God, there is an aspect of worship combined with the asking. When we pray to others, it is merely asking, with no element of worship.

The less-restrictive usage of “pray” is what we find in the Bible, most apparent in the older English translations, like the Protestant King James Version. (The Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible has similar passages, but for this article, I’ll limit citations to the KJV.)

Several verses in the KJV record people praying to God (no surprise there!), but also people praying to other people, people praying to angels, people praying to others asking them to pray to God for them, and even an occurrance of God praying to man. Let’s take a look:

PRAY CAN MEAN TO ASK GOD FOR SOMETHING:

“And he said, O LORD God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham.” (Genesis 24:12 KJV) [One of Abraham’s servants to God]

“And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” (Judges 16:28 KJV) [Samson praying to God]

“And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17 KJV)

“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” (Acts 8:22 KJV) [St. Peter telling Simon the Magician that he needs to pray to God for forgiveness]

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 KJV) [St. Paul praying for his readers]

At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.” (2 Timothy 4:16 KJV) [St. Paul praying for those who forsook him]

PRAY CAN ALSO MEAN TO ASK ANOTHER PERSON FOR SOMETHING:

“Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee” (Genesis 12:13 KJV) [Abram to his wife Sarai]

“And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.” (Genesis 13:8 KJV) [Abram to his nephew Lot]

Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” (Genesis 13:9 KJV) [Abram to Lot]

“And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.” (Genesis 16:2 KJV) [Sarai to Abram]

“And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.” (Genesis 23:13 KJV) [Abraham to Ephron (the son of Zohar the Hittite)]

“And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:” (Genesis 24:2 KJV) [Abraham nearing death, telling his servant to go get a wife for Isaac]

“And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:” (Genesis 37:6 KJV) [The patriarch Joseph to his brothers]

PEOPLE CAN PRAY TO OTHERS ASKING THEM TO PRAY TO GOD FOR THEM:

“Enquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us; if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us.” (Jeremiah 21:2 KJV) [King Zedekiah sent Pashur and Melchiah to Jeremiah to ask him this. They prayed to Jeremiah that he would pray to the Lord for them]

SOME EXAMPLES OF MAN PRAYING TO ANGELS:

“Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree” (Genesis 18:4 KJV) [Abraham to the “three men” who were angels of the Lord]

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.” (Genesis 19:1–2 KJV) [Lot to the angels who visited him at Sodom]

EXAMPLES OF GOD PRAYING TO MAN:

“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.” (Isaiah 5:3 KJV) [God is asking those in Jerusalem to render a judgement]

“And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:9 KJV) [The wording here could indicate that Malachi is asking people to ask God for his graciousness; but the “saith the LORD of hosts” at the end could indicate that God is praying (asking) us to pray to Him.]

SOME ADDITIONAL NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLES:

“And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.” (Luke 14:19 KJV) [from Jesus’ parable of the Marriage Feast; here, Jesus is putting the expression “I pray thee” in the mouth of one of the people in the parable as he addresses another person]

“And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?” (Acts 8:34 KJV) [the Ethiopian eunuch to the deacon Philip]

“Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words.” (Acts 24:4 KJV) [the orator Tertullus speaking to the governor Felix against Paul]

“Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.” (Acts 27:34 KJV) [Paul speaking to the soldiers and others who were shipwrecked with him]

“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20 KJV) [Paul and Timothy writing to fellow Christians]

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4 Responses to Prayer to someone other than God

  1. you have a very good point there but i want to point out something too

    you said is pray = asking, then praying to someone other than God can have restrictions, for example

    – it is ok for you to pray(ask) something from me(or from an angel of God), like if you ask for a pencil, because i(they) have the ability to give it to you as long as they can hear you

    – but if that someone is already dead then it’s like stupidity(sorry for the term) because you are praying(asking) something from someone that is unable to give that something (you are not even sure if he/she can hear you)

    – unlike if you pray to God you are sure He can hear you and He is able to give you that something even though you cant physically feel Him or see him

    so my point is that it is useless (if not stupid) to pray to Mary mother of God or to other saints because they are all dead and they are unable hear you or to give you what you are asking for because unlike God, they dont have Omnipresence Omnipotence Omniscience

    (not even the angels of God nor Satan and his devil has this 3 O’s)

  2. Lawson "Trip" Cox says:

    Thanks for the comment, Rodrigo. You might be interested in reading another post of mine on the intercession of saints called Do I Pray To Dead People?

    In that post, I make the following point:

    Where do we get this idea that the saints in heaven are even aware of our prayers? Consider this passage from scripture:
    And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8).

    Scholars commonly understand that the “twenty-four elders” mentioned are men, most likely the twelve apostles and the twelve sons of Jacob who headed the tribes of Israel. Note what these men do: they take the “prayers of the saints” (i.e., the saints on earth) in the form of incense to the Lamb (i.e., Christ). We see here scriptural support for the Catholic understanding that saints in heaven not only hear the prayers of Christians on earth, they deliver our petitions to Christ’s throne on our behalf.

    So the Catholic practice of asking believers in heaven to intercede for us is quite biblical.

  3. Andrew says:

    First off, let me say that I do not wish to create an argument on the matter, instead I want to think you for the opportunity to organize my own thoughts on something that I have been meaning to get to for some time. This is a long response, but full of valid concerns regarding the catholic tradition of ‘praying’ to saints, and so I hope you do not skim through it. In addition, it is not my intention to come across as rude, aggressive, or cutting, and so I apologize ahead of time.

    I do not believe you’re making the point you think you’re making in this article.

    Every single example of ‘I pray thee’ you used was in a conversational context. As you pointed out it was a word of ‘asking’ someone something. So, you have demonstrated that the KJV uses a valid, but fallen-out-of-use definition of ‘to pray': to ask. Not one of those times is the word ‘pray’ used in the definition that people intend when considering ‘prayer’ to God or saints. You set out to answer if people can ‘pray’ to saints, and have only shown examples in the Bible that people (and God) can communicate to ask for things.

    You did manage to point out that protestants believe ‘prayer’ involves ‘worship’ and that catholics are content to keep it as ‘asking’. You agree that worshiping saints would not be Biblical (Acts 10:25-26, 14:13-14, Rev 19:10, 22:9).

    However, no catholic will conversationally ‘ask’ or ‘pray (in the KJV sense)’ to another person in anywhere near the same way they do with the ‘saints’. I submit to you that though you may define ‘praying’ to saints as merely asking for something, and ‘praying’ to God as asking+worship, your act of praying to saints very much has worship involved.

    If you disagree, try bringing up a conversation with your friend john to ask for a favor, but begin with 50-200 ‘hail john, giver of favors’ and see if there may be a slight difference between ‘asking’ someone for something, and ‘praying’ to someone for something.

    Frankly, yes there is worship involved, regardless of the stated doctrine. To ‘venerate’ (regard with respect or reverence) the saints as Catholics claim to do instead of worship, is really the same thing with a different name. Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to revere anyone but God alone. We can respect those who have come before (Hebrews 11) and follow their examples set in life, but nowhere is there a command or even a suggestion to worship, revere, or ‘venerate’ them now that they are in Heaven.

    Next, if a catholic claims that they are in fact worshiping Mary or a saint, but only insomuch as worshiping God as their creator through the saint (much as praising an artist by admiring his painting), this too would be unbiblical, as we are explicitly commanded not to worship Him through created things (Exodus 20:4-5, Romans 1:25).

    In addition, even with the catholic view that believers in heaven can be in prayer for something alongside us, clearly it is believed that those in heaven hold more weight (otherwise, why go to them at all?). Asking them to pray is more than just asking a fellow believer, its like bringing out the ‘big guns’. The extra reverence held for the ‘saints’ in heaven goes beyond just some logistical idea that since they’re in heaven God can hear them more clearly. No, they are believed to be superior to us (which is not found in the Bible), and can therefore get the job done faster, and it is this view of superiority that is constituting worship in the act of requesting their assistance.

    Now, using your example of Revelation 5:8 and the 24 elders that you brought up in the comments: I don’t think I have problem with those in heaven being aware of what goes on here on earth, but this is not a passage which proves that they are. The prayers of the saints (on Earth) are not directed towards those elders in heaven. They are directed towards God. This is an important distinction. They were not addressed to the elder to then be forwarded on to God. They were to God. This verse only demonstrates that they will be aware of certain prayers at the time of the breaking of the seals, it does not show that they are regularly involved in the process of prayer. In fact, not to confuse the issue, but it is even possible that it is the four living creatures (who are also there with the 24 elders) are the ones who handle the bowls of prayers. At the very least the context shows this is far from a normal situation of prayer. My point is it is unwise to base an entire system of belief on a single difficult prophetic passage.

    So what do we know for certain about prayer?

    -We know that in ‘The Lord’s prayer’ (Mat 6:9-13), we are instructed to direct our prayers to God the father (and Jesus is quite clear that this is every time you pray).

    -We know that the Bible has examples of believers asking other believers to pray for them (with the idea of prayer to God), but has NO examples of believers asking other believers in heaven to pray for them.

    -We know that the Bible has no example of anyone in heaven praying for anyone on earth.

    -We know that Mary and the ‘Saints’ are not omnicient, even glorified in heaven

    -We know that the Bible has no indication that saints in heaven can even hear our prayers, and if they could, being limited beings, how could they hear millions of requests at the same time?

    -We know that the only examples in the Bible of praying to or speaking with the dead are in the context of sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy, and divination—activities the Bible strongly condemns (Lev 20:27, Deut 18:10-13), and in the one example where these methods were used to talk with a ‘saint’ (1 Sam 28:7-19) Samuel was not very happy about being disturbed.

    -We know that Jesus is the ONLY mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5).

    -We know that both believers and angels are not to be worshiped (Acts 10:25-26, 14:13-14, Rev 19:10, 22:9)

    -We know that Jesus put no special emphasis on his mother, Mary, when she came calling (Mark 3:20-21, 31-35). In fact, her goal was to put an end to his ministry, So Christ ignored her! (something I would be surprised if Catholics spend much time thinking about during their ‘worship’ of repeating her name dozens of times, all the while giving her the title ‘mother of God’ which is misleading at best, idolatry at worst). If Jesus did not elevate her above other believers, even though she is supposed to be the most blessed of saints, why should we?

    -We know that 1 Peter 2:5,9 (and other passages) demonstrate how believers are a royal priesthood. It does not say that some believers will have more influence than others if they were extra good.

    -We know that Heb 4:16 tells us that we can approach God with confidence, not requiring someone else with more influence to do it for us.

    -We know that In Mat 18:20 we are promised that when we gather with fellow believers here on earth (who would know us and be personally invested in our request) God will be there. What greater promise do we need?

    -Finally, we know that God does not answer prayers based on WHO is praying, but rather based on if the prayer is in accordance with his will. (1 John 5:14-15)

    If we are merely trying to expand the number of people making a request to God, why look to ‘saints’ in heaven who we don’t know and who may/may not be listening (as they are not limited beings) and, as demonstrated above, hold no special rank above our own?

    If there are fellow believers around, by all means include them, and claim God’s promise to be present with you. They will know us and care about our need. If there are not fellow believers around, and we still need the ‘big guns'; to think that we require the assistance of ‘saints’ in heaven as our only way to get our prayer heard would be to not only risk worship of those believers (as talked about above), but also to imply that Jesus alone, who IS omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, and who mediates our prayers to God, is insufficient to get the job done.

    In conclusion (and not trying to be offensive here), to pray to ‘saints’, emphasizes the ‘pray-er’ instead of the prayer and runs the risk of worshiping them, it may exclude fellow believers here on earth who would have shared your request, is assuming they hear at all, has no foundation anywhere in the Bible, undermines the believer’s own position as royal priest, and may undermine Jesus’ role as the sole mediator between God and man.

    Thank you for bearing with me through this long reply. I hope you found some things to consider, and not just an argument to refute.

  4. Lawson "Trip" Cox says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the comment.

    You stated, “I do not believe you’re making the point you think you’re making in this article.” Perhaps you misunderstood the limited scope. This blog post wasn’t intended to be an exhaustive exposition on the Catholic practice of prayer to the saints. My intent was to narrowly focus on one particular claim I’ve encountered from some non-Catholics: a claim that it is “unbiblical” to pray to anyone other than God. Since the Bible shows people praying to others, therefore it is not “unbiblical.”

    Many of your points or questions about prayer to saints are addressed in an article entitled “Praying to the Saints” offered by Catholic Answers. It covers “Can They Hear Us?”, “One Mediator”, “No Contact with the dead”, how a saint can handle thousands upon thousands of petitions, and more:
    http://www.catholic.com/tracts/praying-to-the-saints

    Your comment about violating Exodus 20:4 is dealt with in two of my other posts:
    http://optionc.net/essays/do-catholics-worship-statues-and-images/
    http://optionc.net/2010/05/making-religious-art-an-overlooked-charismatic-gift/

    You stated that the Bible has no example of anyone in heaven praying for anyone on earth, yet there are two examples in the Old Testament. 2 Maccabees 15:12 shows the departed high priest Onias praying for the entire nation of Israel. 2 Maccabees 15:14 shows that the deceased prophet Jeremiah also prays for the people and the holy city.

    I realize that as a Protestant, you likely only accept a 66-book canon which doesn’t include 2 Maccabees. But please realize that the 66-book Bible is a relatively recent (post-Reformation) novelty. The so-called deuterocanonical books have always been part of the Christian canon:
    http://www.optionc.net/2009/03/where-the-bible-came-from/
    http://optionc.net/2009/04/deuterocanonicals-simply-part-of-the-bible/

    I hope this is helpful information for you.

    God bless you and have a very Merry Christmas!

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