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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Prayer

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1. General.-Prayer was to the Apostolic Church the very secret of a ‘life hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3). It was to them the most natural thing in the world to pray for guidance in perplexity, for strength and blessing when the will of God was manifest. In a word, their intercourse with God passed through the whole scale of feeling from the low note of penitence to the highest notes of thanksgiving and praise. Petition for themselves invariably grew into intercession for others and was never the last word of prayer. Alike when the apostles were about to choose a successor to Judas (Acts 1:24) and when the Church of Antioch sent forth Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:3), prayer was offered. When Paul was kept in prison, he desired and expected such earnest prayer of the Church unto God for him as was offered by the Church of Jerusalem for Peter (Acts 12:5).

At first the Temple was the centre for the Christians’ devotions. They clung to it as ‘the house of prayer,’ and used ‘the prayers’ (Acts 3:1) of Jewish devotion at the customary hours. The third hour was marked by the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:15), the ninth by the miracle of the healing of a lame man by Peter and John on their way to prayer (Acts 3:1), the sixth by the vision which taught Peter to receive Gentile converts. The ill-will of priests and Sadducees only drove them to more earnest prayer for grace to speak God’s word ‘with all boldness’ (Acts 4:24-30). There is a deep thought in 1 John 3:22 where prayer is spoken of as the boldness with which a son appears before the Father to make requests. Every such prayer is answered ‘not as a reward for meritorious action, but because the prayer itself rightly understood coincides with God’s will’ (Westcott, ad loc.).

The chief characteristic of Christian prayer is the new power which the fellowship of the Spirit brought to Christians, and the grace of perseverance (Ephesians 6:18). It is the Spirit whose voice within each child of God cries ‘Abba, Father’ (Galatians 4:6)._ And, when we are weak and know not what to pray for, ‘the Spirit itself entreats for us with groans which are not to be expressed in words,’ ‘bears His part in our present difficulties’ and makes ‘our inarticulate longings for a better life … audible to God … and acceptable to Him since they are the voice of His Spirit’ (H. B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the NT, London, 1909, pp. 220, 221). In this deepest teaching of Paul we are led to associate with the work of the Spirit within the intercession of the Son at the Right Hand (Romans 8:34). And we find the clue to the great prayers of Paul.

Beginning with 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, we find that the Apostle includes thanksgiving, intercession, and consciousness of the presence of God as of the needs of others. He lays stress on the need of intelligence if prayer is to edify (1 Corinthians 14:14 ff.). And along with intelligence he demands from the Christian soldier the resolute perseverance which characterizes his own prayers.

Ephesians 6:18.-The universality of the duty as to mode, times, and persons is enforced by the words ‘all prayer,’ ‘at all seasons,’ ‘in all perseverance’, ‘for all the saints.’

Romans 1:8-12.-As elsewhere, Paul begins with thankfulness, offering all prayer through the one Mediator, to whom he commends all the service of the Roman Christians, remembering them, no doubt by name, and desiring to see them both to impart and to receive grace.

Ephesians 1:15-19; Ephesians 3:14-19.-Again, beginning with thanksgiving, he asks that his friends may have the spirit of efficiency, growth in knowledge, enlightenment, issuing in power. Knowledge and power are the keynotes in the second prayer, in which there is remarkable social teaching. As each individual is strengthened, the life of the whole community will be uplifted by the Spirit of the Father from whom every fatherhood is named, and who has sent the Christ to teach love as ‘the characteristic virtue both of the historic Person and of the ideal State’ (Chadwick, Pastoral Teaching of St. Paul, p. 292).

In Colossians 1:9 ff. the same keynotes-knowledge, strength, thankfulness-recur. Knowledge of God’s will affects conduct; under the guidance of the Spirit we are led to new forms of service, are enabled to bear with cheerfulness our difficulties and disappointments, assured that the lot of the saints is a privilege ‘in the [Divine] light.’

In Philippians 1:9-11 Paul prays that love may abound in knowledge and in all perception. All the faculties of reason and emotion will be cultivated in the well-balanced life, in which enthusiasm does not overpower intelligence and tact, but in the long series of moral choices, by which character is built up, the presence and power of Christ will determine the goal which is ‘the fruit of righteousness’ in a life lived in union with Him. ‘Gloria Dei vivens homo.’

These prayers of Paul throw a bright light on the meaning of the different words for prayer which are often discussed from a philological rather than from a religious point of view. The most important are united in the explicit charge given to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:1 f.): ‘I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications (δεήσεις), prayers (προσευχαί), intercessions (ἐντεύξεις), thanksgivings (εὐχαριστίαι), be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity.’ Here προσευχή means prayer in general, always as addressed to God, whereas εὐχή means more often a vow than prayer; δέησις is prayer for particular benefits; ἔντευξις (lit._ ‘a pleading for or against others’) includes the idea of approach (ἐντυγχάνω) which in Romans 8:26 emphasizes its meaning of the intercession of the Spirit, and in Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25 of the Son. Other words are αἴτημα, a petition of man to God (Philippians 4:6, 1 John 5:15); and ἱκετηρία, an adjective used at first with such a word as ῥάβδος or ἐλαία, picturing the symbol of supplication, an olive branch bound round with wool carried by the suppliant.

While all Christians are exhorted to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) it was regarded as a special privilege of those who had leisure, such as ‘widows indeed’ (1 Timothy 5:5), to continue in supplications and prayers night and day. Thus the apostles enlisted the help of the Seven in order to give themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).

There is a deep meditation on the hearing of prayer in Hebrews 5:7, with reference to our Lord’s prayers. ‘True prayer-the prayer which must be answered-is the personal recognition and acceptance of the divine will (John 14:7 : comp. Mark 11:24 ἐλάβετε). It follows that the hearing of prayer, which teaches obedience, is not so much the granting of a specific petition, which is assumed by the petitioner to be the way to the end desired, but the assurance that what is granted does most effectively lead to the end. Thus we are taught that Christ learned that every detail of His Life and Passion contributed to the accomplishment of the work which He came to fulfil, and so He was most perfectly “heard.” In this sense He was “heard for His godly fear” ’ (Westcott). These pregnant sentences go to the very root of the problem of prayer. We learn its meaning as the Apostolic Church learnt it only by following our Lord to Gethsemane and the Cross. The ordinary posture of prayer was standing with arms outstretched, like the Pharisee of our Lord’s parable (Luke 18:11), and the earliest paintings of Orantes in the Roman Catacombs. The well-known words of Tertullian may be quoted (Apol. 30): ‘Gazing up heavenward we Christians pray with hands extended because they are innocent, with the head uncovered because we are not ashamed; finally, without a guide because we pray from the heart.’

Following the example of our Lord, both kneeling and prostration were also adopted; Stephen (Acts 7:60), Peter (Acts 9:40), Paul (Acts 20:36, Acts 21:5), all knelt. Clement of Rome associated prostration with penitence (Ep. ad Cor. i. 48): ‘Let us therefore root this out quickly, and let us fall down before the Master, and entreat Him with tears.’ The value attached by Ignatius to the influence of prayer is expressed in the words (Ephesians 5): ‘For if the prayer of one and another hath so great force, how much more that of the bishop and of the whole Church.’

2. Prayers for the departed.-The possible references to prayers for the departed in the NT taken by themselves are ambiguous, nor is it easy to deal with this subject without reference to authors who wrote outside the limits of this Dictionary. But there is one reference, which may be fairly said to prove the existence of this practice during the first half of the 2nd century.

The epitaph of Abercius (Avircius Marcellus), who was bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia Salutaris c._ a.d. 160, includes: ‘Let every friend who observeth this pray for me.’ This is confirmed by the evidence of Tertullian, de Corona, 3 (written c._ a.d. 211): ‘We offer oblations for the dead on the anniversary of their birth.’ And again (c._ a.d. 217), in de Monogamia, 10, Tertullian describes a Christian widow as one ‘who prays for his [i.e. her husband’s] soul, and requests refreshment for him in the meanwhile, and fellowship in the first resurrection, and she offers [sacrifice] on the anniversaries of his falling asleep.’

There are also many such references in the inscriptions of the Catacombs, some of which may be assigned to the 2nd century. And there is a continuous tradition of such prayers in the ancient Liturgies, in which prayers are offered for those who rest in Christ that they may have peace and light, rest and refreshment: that they may live in God (or in Christ): that they may be partakers of the joyful resurrection, and of the inheritance of the Kingdom of God.

It is clear that such intercessions date from the beginning of the 2nd cent., and that they represent quite faithfully the general tenor of the teaching of the Apostolic Church on the Future State. Without labouring the point we may say that they support the inference that Onesiphorus was dead when Paul prayed for him (2 Timothy 1:16-18): ‘The Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day.’ The Apostle mentions his household in 2 Timothy 1:16 and 2 Timothy 4:19, but says nothing of Onesiphorus himself.

The reference in 2 Maccabees 12:43-45 to sacrifices offered for the dead by Judas Maccabaeus may be taken to prove that prayers for the dead were not unknown in our Lord’s time. But the author speaks in an apologetic way, as if the act of Judas were not a common practice. And the Sadducees who controlled the Temple services did not believe in any resurrection, so we cannot suppose that they would have approved of such prayers.

The central thought of the Apostolic Church with regard to their relationship to the faithful departed is summed up in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 12:22-23) in the words: ‘Ye are come … to the spirits of just men made perfect,’ also described (Hebrews 12:1) as ‘a great cloud of witnesses.’ They are living and they are interested in both our faith and conduct, and the least response of our loyalty to them will naturally find expression in our prayers for their peace and progress.

Literature-W. E. Chadwick, The Pastoral Teaching of St. Paul, Edinburgh, 1907; F. E. Warren, The Liturgy and Ritual of the Ante-Nicene Church, London, 1897; A. J. Worlledge, Prayer, do., 1902; G. Bull, Serm. iii. (= Works, 7 vols., Oxford, 1846, i. 77); H. M. Luckock, After Death: Testimony of Primitive Times4, London, 1832; S. C. Gayford, Future State, do., 1903; J. Ussher, An Answer to a Challenge made by a Jesuite in Ireland, do., 1631; G. H. S. Walpole, The Gospel of Hope, do., 1914.

A. E. Burn.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Prayer'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/prayer.html. 1906-1918.

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Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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