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Why don’t Latter-day Saints pray to Jesus?

By Eric Johnson

Latter-day Saints are taught to pray to God the Father (Elohim or Heavenly Father) and not to Jesus. Beth T. Spackman, a seminary teacher in Midnapore, Alberta, said Jesus should not be prayed to in her answer to a question in the June 1988 Ensign magazine. She wrote,

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave specific instructions about whom we should pray to: “Our Father which art in heaven.” (See Matt. 6:5-13.) He gave similar instructions to the Nephites. (See 3 Ne. 13:5-13.) The Father’s name is hallowed. It is to him that we should pray, asking that his will be done. During his ministry, both in the Old World and in the New, Jesus, our exemplar, always prayed to the Father. In the pattern of prayer given to the Nephites, the direction was to “pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus.” (See 3 Ne. 19:6-8; see also 3 Ne. 18:19,21.) Jesus is our Mediator with the Father, and all we do in our attempts to approach the Father must be done in his name. (See 1 Tim. 2:5.)

There are three reasons why Spackman’s response makes no sense:

  1. According to the Book of Mormon, Jesus allowed the Nephite disciples to pray to Him

According to the Book of Mormon, Jesus’ Nephite disciples prayed directly to him. Third Nephi 19:17-18 says, “And it came to pass that when they had all knelt down upon the earth, he commanded his disciples that they should pray. And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.” (This is puzzling is that this comes after Jesus had supposedly told the disciples in 3 Nephi 18:19 that “ye must always pray unto the Father in my name.”) When the Nephite disciples prayed, Jesus does not correct them; rather, He goes away so He can pray to the Father.

Spackman tried her best to explain away the passage:

Perhaps the key to this unusual behavior is found in verse 22, where Jesus explains that “they pray unto me because I am with them.” (Italics added.) Jesus made this comment while praying to the Father for the welfare of his disciples. Apparently, on that occasion, while he was in their presence, praying to him was acceptable. After he left them, however, the Nephites continued the pattern of praying to the Father in Jesus’ name, as we are directed to do also. (See 3 Ne. 20:30-31; 3 Ne. 27:2, 28-29.) Source 

This does not take away the fact that Jesus allowed for these disciples to pray to Him. If it was right merely because He was in their presence, it is an argument from silence to say it is wrong when Jesus is not there! Of course, this is the Book of Mormon, an LDS scripture that I do not hold as authoritative. Still, the answer provided to explain this situation seems inadequate.

And it all stems from the fact that Mormonism’s view of Jesus is also inadequate. It is true that Jesus did not teach the disciples of the Bible to pray to Him. However, Jesus was human as well as in very nature God. Philippians 2:5-11 says,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Greek word for “empty” is “kenosis.” According to this passage, Jesus was fully God but also took on a fully human nature and became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” During His time on this earth, Jesus was not looking for the glory. He said in John 14:28 that “the Father is greater than I.” He knew that His purpose on earth was not to glorify Himself. In John 16:14-15, He said that the Holy Spirit “will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

According to Paul, “God has highly exalted him,” so that “every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”! Jesus did not intend to have anyone pray to Him during His time on earth, but much awaited Him after His resurrection. Consider the dialogue Jesus had with Thomas a week after the resurrection, as explained in John 20:

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas called Jesus “My Lord and my God!” These are serious words of worship. Thomas declared that not only was Jesus “Lord” but also “God.” If this wasn’t true, one would think that Jesus should have corrected Thomas. Instead, He commended Him as well as the future belief of those who would not be given a chance to put their hands into Jesus’s wounds.  This leads us to the second point:

2. Praying to Jesus makes great sense if He really is “God” in the flesh

Mormonism misunderstands the nature of the Trinity. This causes doctrinal problems. Mormons claim to pray to God the Father and worship Him, but what do they do with the other two “gods” in their tritheistic model? Jesus and the Holy Ghost/Spirit are “gods,” but they appear to be in an awkward place. In his classic book Jesus the Christ, Apostle James Talmage lifts up the credentials of Jesus. He wrote,

Jesus Christ was and is Jehovah, the God of Adam and of Noah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel, the God as whose instances the prophets of the ages have spoken, the God of all nations, and He who shall yet reign on earth as King of kings and Lord of lords (p. 4).

We claim scriptural authority for the assertion that Jesus Christ was and is God the Creator, the God who revealed Himself to Adam, Enoch, and all the antediluvial patriarchs and prophets down to Noah; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Israel as a united people, and the God of Ephraim and Judah after the disruption of the Hebrew nation; the God who made Himself known to the prophets from Moses to Malachi; the God of the Old Testament record; and the God of the Nephites. We affirm that Jesus Christ was and is Jehovah, the Eternal One (p. 32).

As Talmage puts it, Jesus is the “God of Adam and Noah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel,” etc. He is “God the Creator,” the “God of Israel,” and the “Eternal One.” If that is the case, it would seem wholly appropriate to pray to Him. Referring to Jesus as Jehovah, Christian scholar Rob Bowman writes,

The Old Testament constantly represents Jehovah as the only God to whom people should pray (e.g., Deut. 9:26; 1 Kings 8:22-30; Ps. 5:1-3). The New Testament teaches believers to pray both to the Father (e.g., Matt. 6:6-13; Luke 11:1-3; Eph. 3:14-16), and to Jesus (John 14:14; Acts 1:24-25; 7:59-60; Rom. 10:12-13; etc.). (The Evangelical Dictionary of World Religions, p. 262).

Regarding praying to Jesus, let’s cite two of those post-resurrection passages given by Bowman:

Acts 1:24-25:

24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

Acts 7:54-60 (notice especially verses 59-60):

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

These are powerful passages. Regarding the example in Acts 7, Stephen prayed directly to Jesus (“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”) Before he prayed in verse 56, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This is powerful imagery. It ought to be noted that the Son of Man is a messianic title originally written about in Daniel 7:13-14. When referencing Jesus, it refers to His deity. Christian scholar William Lane Craig writes,

“Son of Man” is often thought to indicate the humanity of Jesus, just as the reflex expression “Son of God” indicates his divinity. In fact, just the opposite is true. The Son of Man was a divine figure in the Old Testament book of Daniel who would come at the end of the world to judge mankind and rule forever. Thus, the claim to be the Son of Man would be in effect a claim to divinity (The Son Rises: Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1981), p. 140).

To sit or stand at God’s right hand is a symbolic way of saying that the resurrected Christ is in a special place of honor. As the Book of Hebrews puts it, Jesus took this place after He as the high priest volunteered Himself as the blood sacrifice that would be sufficient to forgive the sins of the believers. As Hebrews 9:26b puts it, “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” To be at God’s right hand signifies that Jesus–as the second member of the Trinity–holds the same status as God. For more on the Trinity, click here.

Second Timothy 2:15 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” A person can pray directly to Jesus, as these passages show, and it is as if praying to God the Father.

Bowman continues:

Yet Mormons refuse prayer to Jesus Christ. This fact, in the broader context of the LDS worldview, calls into question the validity of concessions by some evangelical scholars that Mormons affirm “the full divinity of Jesus Christ” (Blomberg and Robinson, 142) or “that Jesus was fully God” (Millet and McDermott, 16). To affirm that Jesus is fully divine or full God while redefining divinity and God in unbiblical ways is unacceptable. (Ibid).

A page found in the 1972 Family Home Evening Journal to help parents teach the “Virgin Birth” to their children. The chart is very specific on the process of how Mary was impregnated by Heavenly Father.

Back to the question raised at the beginning of this point: “If Jesus is God, wouldn’t it make sense to pray to Him?” The problem is that the LDS version of Jesus is not as elevated as what the Bible teaches about Him. In fact, the LDS version of Jesus is that he is nothing more than “our elder brother” and just one of billions of God. As Bowman puts it, “Mormonism flatly rejects any permanent or essential qualitative difference between Jesus Christ and the rest of the human race.” (Ibid) Consider these citations:

  • (Referring to Lucifer): “He is a spirit brother of ours and of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Elder Brother in the spirit world” (Apostle Joseph F. Merrill, Conference Reports, April 1949, p. 27).
  • “Every person who was ever born on earth is our spirit brother or sister. Because we are the spirit children of God, we have inherited the potential to develop His divine qualities” (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 9).
  • “Fundamental to our understanding of the reason for existence in mortality is our knowledge that men and women were born as spirit children of the Eternal Father and that Jesus Christ is our elder brother in the spirit. (Roy W. Doxey, “Accepted of the Lord: The Doctrine of Making Your Calling and Election Sure.” Ensign, July 1976, p. 50 ).
  • “We read in modern revelation that Jesus Christ was and is our elder brother, the ‘Firstborn’ unto the Father. . . . You and I were sons and daughters of our Eternal Parents in the spirit world. In fact, all the people in this world were of that family, and Jesus Christ was the Firstborn” (Seventy Milton R. Hunter, Conference Reports, October 1949, p. 69).

The way the Jesus of Mormonism was created is another problem. Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson explained,

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 7. See also the Church News, December 18, 2004, p. 16).

Bowman writes,

The logical implication is that Jesus was conceived through a procreative act of God and Mary, a conclusion that Mormons often dismiss as an anti-Mormon slur. If so, though, it is odd that the LDS Church has never officially repudiated the idea . . .  By contrast, in orthodox Christian theology such an idea is adamantly and consistently rejected. God is incorporeal Spirit, and Jesus Christ was conceived in the Virgin Mary through the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:35). (The Evangelical Dictionary of World Religions, p. 263).

The high view of Jesus according to biblical Christianity as compared to the inadequate view of Jesus offered in Mormonism are at polar opposites.

3. There is much power by praying “in the name” of Jesus

Latter-day Saints are taught that they should pray to God the Father but end their prayers “In Jesus’ Name.” One verse that is used to support this idea is John 14:13-14 where He said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Notice how Jesus said 1) we could ask in His name; 2) “this,” he said, “I will do”; 3) the purpose was that Jesus would glorify the Father; 4) ask for anything and it would be given.

Does the Latter-day Saint not see that merely ending a prayer “in Jesus’ name” is more than just a cursory formality? Bible commentator Merrill C. Tenney writes,

The phrase “in my name,” however, is not a talisman for the command of supernatural energy. He did not wish it to be used as a magical charm like an Aladdin’s lamp. It was both a guarantee, like the endorsement on a check, and a limitation on the petition; for he would grant only such petitions as could be presented consistently with his character and purpose. (Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 9:146).

In John 16:23-24, Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Referring to the “name of the Son of God,” the apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:14-15:

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

It is powerful to use the “name” of Jesus. One Bible encyclopedia says,

Jesus’ disciples prophesied “in his name” (Mt. 7:22), cast out demons “in his name” (Mk. 9:39), etc. With the use of this expression it becomes evident that the disciples spoke and acts like Jesus, in His place and with His authority, as did the prophets of Yahweh in the OT (see Acts 4:7-10). Similarly, the gospel is to be preached in all the world “in his name,” i.e., by His authority, and thus be made effectual to save people (Lk. 24:47), justify sinners (Acts 10:43), and forgive people their sins (1 John 2:12). (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 3:482).

To show even more power in the name of Jesus, consider how the disciples baptized new believers. In Matthew 28:19-20, it said that they were to baptize in the “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Yet the disciples baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5). In other words, baptizing in the name of Jesus was the same as baptizing in the name of God! The encyclopedia expounds that

in the name of Yahweh was named over Israel with the result that Israel became His people, His special possession, so the name of Jesus has replaced the name of Yahweh, with the result that the Church becomes His peculiar treasure, His very own people. And when it is said that Christians bear the name of Jesus, or that the name of Jesus is pronounced over them, this is more than a metaphor. For in baptism the name of Jesus is named over those who are baptized as a sign that they are now the possession of Jesus. (Ibid., p. 483).

What about the way Jesus taught His disciples to pray?

(Note: The following is an addition to this article based on several LDS responses. This has been added on 9/17/2020)

Many Latter-day Saints bristle when told that it is possible for Jesus to be addressed in prayer. The most popular response to this article is making a reference to the “Lord’s Prayer,” which is recounted in Luke 11. It says,

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

If this is how Jesus taught us to pray, the argument goes, then only the Father ought to be addressed. Such logic is faulty on several levels:

  1. Jesus had not yet ascended into heaven, so it would make sense He did not teach them to pray to Him at that time

Remember, Philippians 2:5-11 says that Jesus, while He retained His deity, humbled Himself and became a man. In John 20:17, Jesus told the women who were trying to hold onto Him, “Do not cling to Me for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and tell My brothers, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’” When He taught the prayer in Luke 11, Jesus had not yet ascended to the right hand of the Father (e.g. Matt. 26:64; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Heb. 8:1, 10:12, 12:2). Today, however, Jesus can receive our prayers. After all, He is God. 

2. The Nephites prayed to Jesus

As referenced above, the Book of Mormon portrays the Nephite disciples praying to Jesus. It says in 3 Nephi 19:18 that “they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.” It appears Jesus heard them, for the next verse says He went away from them so that He too could pray. I have yet to hear refutation to this event. If the Nephite disciples prayed to Jesus

3. Jesus didn’t say “only” pray this prayer

If the Lord’s Prayer is the only valid way to pray, then the only way Christians should pray is, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be they name . . .” No other prayers would be allowed. I don’t know anyone who prays the Lord’s Prayer as their sole petition to God. Can we imagine Jesus praying all night saying the Lord’s Prayer over and over again (see Luke 6:12)? Rather, Jesus said in Mark 11:24 that believers could pray asking God for their needs and, if they believe, they would receive whatever they asked.

There are many instances in the Bible where the apostles didn’t limit themselves to the Lord’s Prayer. For instance, consider Paul who:

  • Gave thanks to God for the Roman believers (Rom. 1:8-10)
  • Gave thanks for the grace given to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:4)
  • Remembers the Ephesians (Eph. 1:16)
  • Prayed for the Philippians (Phil. 1:3-4), the Colossians (Col. 1:3), the Thessalonians (1:2-3), Timothy (2 Tim. 1:3), and Philemon (Philemon 4)
  • Prayed for wisdom and revelation (Eph. 1:17, Col. 1:9)
  • Prayed for hope (Eph. 1:18; Rom. 15:13)
  • Prayed for peace and unity (Rom. 15:5-6; 2 Thes. 3:16)
  • Prayed for spiritual power (Eph. 1:18-19; 3:16; Col. 1:11a)

Paul encouraged the Christians to pray to Jesus. For instance, in 1 Cor. 1:2, he wrote,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.

 In addition, Paul prayed directly to Jesus when He asked for the thorn to be taken away. Second Corinthians 12:8-9 says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In both examples, Jesus was being directly addressed. How else can a person call upon Jesus in these ways unless it is through prayer?

4. Ending prayers in “Jesus’s Name”

Latter-day Saints typically finish their prayers by saying “In Jesus’s Name, Amen.” The Lord’s Prayer does not end this way. Does this mean prayers ending in Jesus’s name are invalidated? I doubt any Mormon would think so.

The point is that Jesus did not say that we could only pray to the Father. Because His disciples asked, Jesus provided a model prayer that they could use while they were with Him. Thus, referring to the Lord’s Prayer as the reason why only the Father can be addressed is not a strong argument.

Conclusion

Despite having the name of Jesus in their church’s title, Latter-day Saints need to possess a higher view of Jesus. If they understood that Jesus is not just “a” god but God in the flesh, they will understand the power they have to pray directly to the very creator of the universe. When this is understood, they will never pray the same way again.


For more, see 10 Reasons Why the Jesus of Mormonism is Not the Same as the Jesus of the Bible.

 

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