Posted October 7, 2021
Note: The following was originally printed in the February 2021 edition of the MRM Update, a bimonthly periodical given to financial supporters of MRM. To request a free subscription to Mormonism Researched, please visit here.
Typically members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pray with folded arms. There is nothing found in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price that commands or even suggests such a position when offering prayer. For that matter, there is nothing in the Bible that commands Christians pray with their hands clasped together.
This does not negate the many articles written for the benefit of Latter-day Saints that encourages folding arms when praying. There have been a number of suggestions as to why LDS members do this. For example, one Primary manual explains how the folding of arms is an act of reverence. Some have suggested that this position prevents children from being distracted.
It is to be expected that the Bible offers numerous examples of faithful men and women praying, and the positions they take when doing so are often varied. For instance, when King Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, he “stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven” (1 Kings 8:22). It appears that Solomon also knelt when giving his prayer, for verse 54 says when he “finished offering all this prayer and plea to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven.”
Upon hearing that his sickness would lead to death, King Hezekiah prayed to God while he faced a wall. This resulted in Hezekiah being granted 15 more years of life (2 Kings 20:2). The position of his arms we can assume is not all that important since no description is given.
Lying face down while praying is also mentioned in the Bible. Ezra, “a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses,” prayed and made confession, “weeping and casting himself down before the house of God” (Ezra 7:6; 10:1).
Mark 14:35 describes Jesus as agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane as He “fell on the ground and prayed.” Obviously, such a position would make it difficult to fold one’s arms.
In Luke 18:11, Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee who stood while praying, as a penitent tax collector nearby “beat his breast,” in humble contrition. Luke 22 notes that when Jesus went to the Mount of Olives, “He knelt down and prayed,” though no mention is made of the location of His arms or hands.
Kneeling during prayer was quite common in the New Testament. For example, when summoned by two disciples from Joppa who told Peter of the death of a disciple named Tabitha, Peter followed them to where she lay, “knelt down and prayed,” and, speaking to her corpse, he commanded, “Tabitha arise.” As a result, she did (Acts 9:36-40).
The apostle Paul, prior to departing for Jerusalem, also “knelt down and prayed” with the elders from the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:36).
During a seven-day layover in the city of Tyre when Paul met with some Christians, Acts 21:5ff states that “when our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.”
In the previous examples of Peter and Paul, no mention is made of their arms or hands.
When the available evidence from the Bible is considered, there is no standard procedure about what should be done with our arms or hands while praying. It does not matter whether an individual kneels, stands, folds or, for that matter, clasps their hands.
What is most important when praying is our attitude. We are taught to pray earnestly, with forgiveness in our hearts, while believing that God will hear and answer our petitions.