“Your Word Is Truth”
Is It Proper to Pray to Others Aside from God?
THE subject of prayer looms up prominently in the Scriptures from Genesis through Revelation. But just what is prayer?
Among the definitions given to prayer is that of “talking to God.” While prayer is indeed that, this does not mean that all talking to God is prayer. For example, Adam and Eve, after sinning, talked with God, but such talking was not prayer. And when Cain spoke to God after murdering his righteous brother Abel, he was not praying. Prayer is more than mere speech to God. It involves devotion, confidence, respect and a sense of dependence on the one to whom prayer is directed.
For prayers to be answered, they must be offered to the right One, in the right manner and about right matters. First comes the need of praying to the right One. Is it proper to pray to others aside from God?
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, “One prays to the Blessed Virgin, to the angels and saints in heaven, but only in the sense that they may intercede before God for us. To God one prays, ‘Have mercy on us’; to the saints, ‘Pray for us.’”—Vol. 11, p. 673.
But is there any Scriptural basis for the claim that we can pray to Mary and others “that they may intercede before God for us”? No, there is not. Nowhere do we read in the Bible of early Christians asking angels or fellow Christians who had died (like Stephen and James) to intercede for them.—Acts 7:60; 12:2.
One reason why they did not pray to martyred Christians was that they knew these were dead, and that the deceased would sleep in death until the return of Christ Jesus. Did not Jesus tell his apostles that he was going away to prepare a place for them in heaven and that when he returned he would take them there? He most certainly did. (John 14:2, 3) Moreover we repeatedly read of the Christians sleeping in death until Christ returns: “We shall not all fall asleep in death, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:51, 52) And again: “If our faith is that Jesus died and rose again, so, too, those who have fallen asleep in death through Jesus God will bring with him. Because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.” (1 Thess. 4:14, 16) Thus also we find the apostle Paul expressing the hope of receiving his heavenly reward, not at death, but “in that day.”—2 Tim. 4:8.
So during all the time that these faithful Christians were sleeping in death it certainly would have been futile for the living to ask them to intercede for them. But do we not time and again read of Christians being encouraged to pray for each other? Yes, but this is while they are still alive in the flesh. The apostle Paul, not only prayed for others, but also asked others to pray for him. To the Thessalonians he wrote: “Brothers, carry on prayer for us.” (2 Thess. 3:1) He encouraged the Philippians: “I continue praying, that your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment.” (Phil. 1:9) Also the disciple James counseled: “Pray for one another, that you may get healed. A righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.” (Jas. 5:16) Note that in all these instances the prayers are for others. They are not addressed to creatures.
The only one in the heavens that God has authorized to plead for us is Jesus Christ. He has the needed credentials by reason of sacrificing his life on our behalf. (Heb. 7:25-27) If we make our petitions in his name God will hear us, Jesus himself assured. (John 16:23, 24) He also said that “no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) And as the inspired apostle Paul tells us: “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, a man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.” This being the divinely appointed way, it would be an affront to Jesus to ask others to intercede for us as though God’s appointed channel were not sufficient.—1 Tim. 2:5, 6.
Since Jesus Christ is the channel by which we reach God and he also pleads for us, does that mean we can pray to him directly? According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, “on some occasions, . . . prayers are immediately directed to Christ . . . The first known prayer addressed to Christ is that of St. Stephen, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit . . . Lord, do not lay this sin against them’ (Acts 7.60).”
What about this claim? Do the words of Stephen justify our praying directly to Jesus at times? No, they do not. Why not? Because of the circumstances under which he uttered those words. After Stephen had given his lengthy witness to the Sanhedrin, he was being threatened. Doubtless to strengthen him, God caused him to see a heavenly vision, even as we read: “But he [Stephen], being full of holy spirit, gazed into heaven and caught sight of God’s glory and of Jesus standing at God’s right hand, and he said: ‘Look! I behold the heavens opened up and the Son of man standing at God’s right hand.’” Seeing the Lord Jesus Christ in vision, Stephen evidently felt free to direct his request to him as the appointed Head of the Christian congregation, saying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”—Acts 7:54-59.
Thus Stephen was not directing a prayerful expression to Jesus in the way he usually prayed to Jehovah God. He was making a request to one whom he beheld in vision. That this is the correct conclusion can be seen from the fact that the only other instance in which such an expression is directed to the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ is in a situation of a similar nature. The apostle John, in the book of Revelation, tells of seeing Jesus in vision and hearing him say: “I, Jesus, sent my angel to bear witness to you people of these things for the congregations.” Jesus further added: “He that bears witness of these things says, ‘Yes; I am coming quickly.’” Because of having heard Jesus say these words, John responded: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”—Rev. 22:16, 20.
So we see that the Scriptures do not warrant our asking angels, Mary the mother of Jesus nor any other holy ones in the heavens to pray to God for us. There is only one channel for us to come to the Father, that of Jesus Christ, and he alone can plead or make intercession for us. And the only one to whom our prayers can be directed is Jehovah God. This is because “there is actually to us one God the Father, out of whom all things are, and we for him; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and we through him.”—1 Cor. 8:6.