“Ye must always pray unto the Father in my name” –3 Nephi 18:19
That quotes comes from the Book of Mormon. Mormon’s believe that the pattern of faith is to pray to God the Father only through Jesus Christ. It’s not only the Book of Mormon that they use, though. They also cite the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. Here Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father”. The model prayer has our prayer directed to the Father, and later verses help us to see that our prayer to the Father is mediated through Jesus our Redeemer.
One Mormon commentator boldly refers to praying to Jesus as an “apostate practice”. Today, I want to consider whether or not this is an apostate practice or if it is in fact an apostolic practice.
References to “the Lord”
In the New Testament, references to “the Lord” are almost always a reference to the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 12:8 is one of these instances. Here we see that Paul, “pleaded with the Lord” to remove the thorn in his flesh. The word for “pleaded” is one that refers to praying in earnest. Here, the apostle Paul is praying to the Lord Jesus.
In Acts 7:59-60, Stephen clearly is praying to the Lord Jesus. Here as he is being stoned, Stephen “calls out”. This again is a term that refers to prayer. And who does he pray to? “Lord, Jesus receive my spirit.” And again in verse 60 he refers to the Lord, asking Jesus to forgive his persecutors.
In fact the Bible ends with a prayer to Jesus as the apostle John, seeing this vision and the coming of the holy city, cries out “Come, Lord Jesus!” He is not beseeching the Father to send His Son. The apostle John is praying directly to the Lord Jesus and begging him to come. It is a prayer that is echoed in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “marana tha”.
There are more instances of praying to the Lord, but these will suffice to show that it was indeed apostolic practice to pray to—and not merely through—the Lord Jesus.
What does Jesus say?
While it is true that Jesus’ model prayer is a prayer to the Father, this does not mean that this is the only prayer that we are to pray.
In John 14, Jesus is comforting his disciples upon His departure. After saying that He is “going to the Father”, Jesus tells the disciples, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”. That certainly sounds that we pray through Jesus to the Father. But notice how Jesus continues. “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it”.
Now it would be dishonest of me to not mention that some of the earlier manuscripts do not include the word “me”. It is possible that this word is a scribal addition to the text. But even if this were so, I believe it still proves the point that it was apostolic practice to pray to the Lord Jesus. Why else would a scribe have added the word “me”. You don’t add something to make it less clear—you add something to make it more clear.
This leaves us with two options. First, that “me” ought to be part of the text and the issue is settled—the Lord Jesus encouraged the disciples to pray to Him. Or secondly, that this was incorrectly added. But such an addition would not have been welcome or have spread if this was not the early church practice. That alone does not make the practice biblical, but that coupled with the references to Lord helps us to see that the early church did indeed pray to Jesus and not simply through Him to the Father.
In my opinion this is not a hill to die on. If somebody is not convinced that we ought to pray to the Lord Jesus, and by conviction they only pray through Jesus to the Father, I don’t know that I would be overly concerned. The bigger concern with Mormonism is their view of Jesus. If you aren’t praying to Jesus because you don’t think He is God, there are bigger concerns than the One your prayer is directed towards.
For Christians, prayer to Jesus is a practice that holds up in Scripture. So does prayer to the Father through Jesus. For an excellent book on praying in Jesus’ name, I recommend Praying Backwards by Bryan Chapell (only $3.99 on the Kindle).
The ultimate answer to the question is actually, “Yes”. You certainly must pray through Jesus and it fits the Scriptures to pray to Jesus as well.