Prayer, as we concluded in Part 1 was multi-faceted and meant to be a request, a begging, and worship of God, not necessarily of attaining a favor from God, but we know the word still retains the aspect of requesting, begging, or asking. In fact, many times, most especially in the KJV translation of the Bible, the word ‘pray’ is translated from the word that more commonly meant to ask or request of another human. This is a result of the vernacular of the age in which the KJV was produced.
If you are like me at all, too much in love with Medieval history and Sci-Fi/Fantasy genres, you no doubt have heard the Old-English phrase found in books, movies, and plays from the age, ‘pray tell…’ This was a method of saying, ‘please, do go on! tell me…’ It could have been used sarcastically as well. They weren’t saying, ‘Let me kneel down and pray, asking God to coerce you into telling me something…’
Of course, context is king when it comes to historical and Biblical studies. A good portion of Archeology is building a story and a narrative from the clues found in the ground. Context is built by recognizing patterns of cultures and then we can date findings, link to kingdoms, or peoples, cultures, and rulers. The same is generically true for studying the Bible in the modern age. The translation of the Bible we use in any study will be angled towards the understanding of the culture in which it was written.
I’m not against the King James Version, and I know there are those out there who have opposed it, and others who are known as ‘KJV Only’. Ideally, that shouldn’t matter so long as the studier understands and recognizes the history of the translation. A lot can get lost in translation they say…
Studying the Word, Pray
We learned in Part 1 of this course that the word ‘pray’ has been translated by several different Hebrew and Greek words in our Bibles, and many of the words have similar meanings but were used in different cases to infer different emphasis on those meanings. Such as the word read in the English language – which is spelled the same in all of its uses but is pronounced differently and carries a different purpose based on the grammatical context in which it is used.
Genesis 12:13 is the first time we see the word pray used in the King James Version of the Bible;
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.
In the ESV and NIV, we don’t see the word pray until Genesis 20:7;
Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.
Incidentally, other translations such as the Amplified Bible where connotation is inserted into verses via brackets , the word prayer is found as early as Genesis 4:6 about men ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, used in the sense of Worship whereas the preceding verse was a pleading with God to change His righteous judgment against another.
To Seth, also, a son was born, whom he named Enosh (mortal man, mankind). At that [same] time men began to call on the name of the Lord [in worship through prayer, praise, and thanksgiving].
So why the difference? Why would different translations translate the word Pray when they aren’t actually praying? Well, this is why I’m not a KJV Only, or NIV Only, or ESV Only…kind of guy. Looking at different translations of the same verse can open your understanding of the total meaning of root words in their contexts.
I already mentioned each translation aims to use words that their target audience would understand, and we know that over time, and crossing cultures, words can mean completely different things to different people. (Transliteration) I’ve counseled many a person over my career to ‘speak to your audience’. Don’t use words that the majority of a population won’t understand. Your knowledge of the dictionary means nothing if the people can’t understand your message.
Paul spoke about this in 1 Corinthians 14:9 in regards to an abuse of speaking in Tongues, saying, “So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.”
As an example, let’s look at two different versions of Genesis 12:13,
(ISV) Please say that you are my sister, so things will go well for me for your sake. That way, you’ll be saving my life.”
(KJV) 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.
In reviewing the context, Abram (Abraham) is telling his wife Sarai (Sarah) to tell the Egyptians that she is his sister. He is begging her to lie to their host to preserve his life. The implication was that if they knew Abram was Sarai’s husband they would likely kill him so that they could take her for themselves. Scripturally, Sarai is described as an incredibly beautiful (fair to look upon) woman, and Abram was afraid for his life because of this.
*Side note: you’ll also notice a connection here wherein the ISV and other versions translated life correctly, where the KJV version references Abrahams soul.
So in essence, certain Bibles (mostly KJV) translated a word that means to beseech or to plead with another human as ‘pray’, and we typically associate pray and prayer with speaking to God. Understanding this and where certain words are translated helps us to capture the meaning of Prayer. In many cases, our prayers to God are very similar, we are pleading for Him to save us, help us, support us!
The Power of Prayer, Intercession
The first reference to praying directly to God comes in Numbers 21:7 (ESV) where Scripture says,
And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
This was during the time of the Prophets and the Priests, where God spoke directly to His chosen man and that man relayed God’s will to the people. God had made a judgment against the people of Israel and the people cried to Moses that he would plead/intercede with God for them, to save them from His wraith. Abraham did this as well when it came to God destroying Soddom and Ghammorah.
This continued unto the day of Christ’s death upon the Cross and his resurrection from the tomb. In fact, Christ made intercession for his disciples, and as Paul said in Romans, he is still interceding for us today;
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. ~ Romans 8:33-34, ESV
You can also read in John 17:6-26 where Jesus intercedes for his Disciples, claiming they belong to God and that they would be kept unto God, protected by the Spirit, just as they were protected while he (Son) was with them. This was a prayer to God to intercede on behalf of others, and when done correctly, it worked.
Catholicism has traditionally taught a chain of intercessions in their adoration of Mary, as the Mother of Jesus. We know that Jesus intercedes for us and that his sacrifice atoned for our debt to the Righteousness of God. However, Catholicism has gone a step farther in their doctrines and now teach their congregants to pray to Mary, who then intercedes on our behalf to her Son, Jesus, who then intercedes on our behalf, to God the Father.
That of course, is not a Scripturally sound dogma or belief, but it is true that Jesus now intercedes for us, his fellow-heirs to the Promise of the Father. What has changed is that God, since the death and resurrection of Christ, no longer speaks only through an intercessory Priest of Man of God, or in the case of Catholic beliefs, Mary.
Rather, we now all have access to the Holy of Holies via the Spirit of God and as such, can intercede on our own behalf and for the well-being of others, speaking directly to God and in the authority of us being fellow-heirs with Christ.
In Part 3 we will talk about the three types of prayer found in Scripture but one thing I’ve discovered is that in many post-modern Christian circles today, prayer seems to be a slot-machine system of attaining what we want, that God is waiting for our requests to shovel out whatever desire we have. It’s a new job, a new house, a new car, a new spouse, a new product, a new vision, a new…A common phrase is, “I believe God wants you to have…” and that becomes a prayer-chant.
The Prosperity Gospel has crept into many nominal Christian Churches and thus, has affected peoples prayers. You will hear endless comments by main-stream, TBN televangelists like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn and TD Jakes (Benny Hinn recently recanted the Prosperity Gospel…saying the Spirit was sick of it, but we’ll see how that fad plays out) who sell millions of books and sermon CD’s full of ‘name it and claim it’ promises.
Even in my Fundamental background that condemned the likes of Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn (I was Oneness/United Pentecostal) we consistently did the same things! We even had songs we sang often that said, I’m claiming my Promise God has promised to me…I’m standing my ground, His word I believe. The devil can’t stop it, blessings on the way, I’m claiming my promise today.’ And we would sing that chorus over and over again until everyone was getting a raise, a Mercedes and whatever else they could conjure up in their heads to pray for.
The blessings were never Spirit-led understanding of God’s word, or endurance through tribulation, or the promise of eternal life with God, rather it was always some physical thing we hoped to grasp, feel, and prosper by. That our company would get an influx of business and I could afford that home, that boat, that car, that toy. I could give more to the church, and sponsor a kid in our private Christian School…It didn’t matter if our ideas were selfish or not, they were not scriptural.
The bottom line is prayer has a purpose in Scripture and Jesus gave us the example of how and why to pray! There were many cases we’ll review in Part 3 where prayer did change an outcome, both in the person praying, in the purpose of God, and for the subject of our prayers.