Would Jesus Pray?
Thompson, reprinted from the
Texas Atheist. Used by permission.
Greetings to Christians,
"Jesus prayed in public," the angry Santa Fe, Texas football fan told
me. I was surprised, for I could not recall any gospel verses where Jesus
prayed in public. It made me realize I had forgotten about the importance
of Jesus in public prayer controversies. Jesus is Christianity's ultimate
moral example. Before they act, Christians are supposed to ask themselves
"What Would Jesus Do?" Christians should do whatever Jesus would do. Christians
should not do what Jesus would not do.
Many Christians want government to sponsor public
prayers, especially in schools. An example is the Texas controversy over
football game prayers. Christians concerned about public prayers should
be asking "Where Would Jesus Pray?"
Christians regard the four gospels as their best
source of information about Jesus. Christians who want to live as Jesus
lived use the gospels as their guide. So, wherever gospel verses describe
Jesus as praying is where Christians should pray. If gospel verses describe
Jesus teaching against praying somewhere, or Jesus not praying there,
then Christians should not pray there.
RESULTS OF "WHERE JESUS WOULD PRAY?" RESEARCH
I examined gospel verses to discover "Where Would
Jesus Pray?" All gospel verses that talked about prayer were examined.
The detailed results are in a separate paper following this one.
Some verses described Jesus praying. Some described
Jesus' teachings on prayer. Other verses had non-applicable usages of
the word "pray," or its variations. These other verses tell Christians
nothing about what Jesus taught on prayer or how hr prayed. Only the verses
where Jesus prayed or taught about praying were analyzed.
There were eighteen gospel verses that described
Jesus praying or probably praying. Depending on the information of the
verse and its surrounding context, each verse was assignable to one of
seven categories. The counts for each kind of prayer by Jesus were:
COUNT KIND OF PRAYER
0 Public/voluntary. Jesus chose to pray in a public
1 Public/involuntary. Jesus had no choice but to pray in public if he
wished to pray.
12 Alone. Jesus separated himself from others to pray alone.
1 Healing prayer. Jesus spoke, or may have spoken, a healing prayer.
1 At religious ritual. Jesus prayed as part of a religious ritual.
1 With disciples. Jesus prayed with, or in the presence of, his disciples.
2 Indeterminate. There was not enough information to make a determination
WHAT DID JESUS TEACH ABOUT WHERE TO PRAY?
Most significant are Jesus' teachings in Matthew
6:5-6. This teaching contains:
* A statement against public prayer. When Jesus
says it is hypocrisy to "pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners
of the streets," we can be sure that "corners of the streets" are in public.
* A command to pray in private. When Jesus says,
"when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy
door ...," we can be sure that Jesus is saying that prayers are private
talking to god and not to be heard by others.
* A description of prayer as "secret." When Jesus
says, "pray to thy father which is in secret," we can be sure that Jesus
is emphasizing the private, non-public nature of prayer.
"WHERE WOULD JESUS PRAY?"
The count of gospel verses that describe Jesus
praying answer the question "Where Would Jesus Pray?" Unless Jesus had
no choice but to pray in public or was praying in a special sense (healing,
religious ritual, with disciples), he went off alone to pray.
There is no gospel evidence that Jesus prayed in
public in anything like the way prayers are conducted at government events,
such as school graduation ceremonies, legislative sessions, swearing in
of public officials, or football games.
There was a Roman Coliseum for sports just outside
Jerusalem. So, Jesus had an opportunity to teach about prayers at sports
events. There is no gospel evidence that Jesus prayed before sports events.
There is no gospel evidence that Jesus said there should be prayers before
The best evidence Christians have about "Where
Jesus Would Pray?" clearly tells Christians that they should pray in private
where no one can hear them. That evidence also tells Christians that they
should not pray in public.
IS PUBLIC PRAYER THE WORK OF SATAN?
Christians who believe Satan is real should be
asking why some Christians want government to conduct public prayers.
Who would be for public prayers in disobedience to Jesus?
The logical answer for Christians who believe in
Satan is that Satan opposes what Jesus taught and did. That makes Satan
a likely cause of the Christian campaign for public prayers.
Why would Satan want public prayers by government?
Since Satan's purpose is advanced when Christians disobey Jesus, Satan
would want Christians to disobey Jesus' teachings and the examples of
Satan would use the government prayer controversy
to tempt Christians with anger, pride, righteous vanity and arrogance.
Satan would tempt Christians into perverting God's spiritual kingdom into
an earthly kingdom of powerful Christians who want the personal triumph
of creating their human idea of God's kingdom on earth.
Christians who believe Satan exists can marvel
at how Satan seduces Christian enthusiasm for Jesus. Satan tempts Christians
into perverting Jesus' teachings and actions on prayer into an earthly
instead of spiritual activity. The "diabolical" cleverness is that Satan
tricks Christians into disobeying Jesus by exploiting Christian eagerness
to glorify Jesus and demonstrate their faith.
I hope this discussion helps Christians understand
what the gospels says about Jesus' position on prayer. The detailed information
in the following research report is provided so that you may easily see
where this information came from.
If you are concerned about public prayer, I hope
you will read this information and give the teachings and example of Jesus
the consideration they deserve.
Sincerely, Howard Thompson Editor: The Texas Atheist
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"WHERE WOULD JESUS PRAY?" FOUR GOSPELS RESEARCH
By Howard Thompson Editor: The Texas Atheist newsletter
Copyright © 1999 by Howard M. Thompson
This paper describes research methodology and gospel
1.0 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
1.1 Categorizing the kinds of prayers. Prayer was
considered to be someone talking to God, silently or spoken, privately
or with others. Examination of gospel versus shows that prayers can be
divided into several categories:
General talking to God. People talk to God, for
whatever purpose, but not while trying to heal someone with their prayers
(which is different from praying for someone to recover from illness),
and not as part of a religious ritual, such as baptism or Temple prayers.
Healing prayers. Requests for God to use his power
to directly heal an illness. This is a special kind of prayer that differs
in quality from the general "talking to god" kind of prayer.
Prayers in religious rituals. Prayers that are
part of religious rituals. The ritual may be in a holy building (Temple
or synagogue), outdoors (baptisms), or as part of daily living (blessing
meals). This is another kind of special prayer that differs in quality
from the general "talking to god" kind of prayer.
1.2 Identifying instances of Jesus praying. Two
methods were used to identify gospel versus where Jesus is described as
A word search on "pray" was conducted with an electronic
King James bible. The search found all occurrences of the word "pray"
and the variations of "prayed," "praying" and "prayer."
The four gospels were also read to identify other
verses that might be prayers but which were not described in the text
as prayers. Several such verses were found, but perhaps some others were
not discovered by this method.
2.0 DIFFERENT USES OF "PRAY" IN THE FOUR GOSPELS
"Pray" was used in several different ways in gospel
verses. The following categories and sub-categories were used to distinguish
between different uses of "pray" and different kinds of prayers by Jesus.
2.1 Category 1) Descriptions of Jesus praying.
All of these verses were examined and assigned to one of the following
2.2 Category 2) Jesus teaching how to pray. These
verses were examined to see if they described anything that related to
the public prayer controversy or where Jesus prayed.
- Public/voluntary. Jesus chose to pray in a public
- Public/involuntary. Jesus prayed in a public
setting, but had no choice but to pray in public if he wished to pray.
- Alone. There was enough information to determine
that Jesus was praying alone.
- Healing prayer. There was enough information
to determine that Jesus may have spoken a healing prayer.
- At religious rituals. Jesus probably praying
as part of a religious ritual.
- With disciples. Jesus prayed with, or in the
presence of, his disciples.
- Indeterminate. There was not enough information
to determine if Jesus was praying alone, with disciples, or in public.
2.3 Category 3) Descriptions of others praying.
These verses were not further analyzed since they don't tell Christians
anything about "Where Jesus Would Pray?"
2.4 Category 4) "Pray" is used to mean approximately
"you should hope" or "you should wish." These verses were not further
analyzed since they don't tell Christians anything about "Where Jesus
3.0 CATEGORIZATION VERSES
3.1 CATEGORY 1: JESUS PRAYING
There are eighteen gospel verses where Jesus prayed,
or might have prayed. All quotes are from the King James Version. Those
eighteen cases and their assigned sub-category are:
1. [INDETERMINATE] Mt 11:25 At that time Jesus
answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because
thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed
them unto babes. (26) Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.
(27)All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth
the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the
Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. (28) Come unto me,
all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29)
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart:
and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (30) For my yoke is easy, and
my burden is light. [NOTE: These words attributed to Jesus read like a
prayer. Because of the "at that time" lead-in to a new section of the
story which separates it from preceding material, and the start of a new
story sequence just after, there is no information about where Jesus was,
who was with him, nor the reason for the prayer.]
2. [ALONE] Mt 14:22 And straightway Jesus constrained
his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other
side, while he sent the multitudes away. (23) And when he had sent the
multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the
evening was come, he was there alone.
3. [HEALING PRAYER W/DISCIPLES & OTHERS] Mt 19:13
Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his
hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. (14) But Jesus
said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for
of such is the kingdom of heaven. (15) And he laid his hands on them,
and departed thence. [NOTE: The gospels treat healing by Jesus differently
than prayers that are in the nature of talking to God for a non-healing
purpose. If we assume that Jesus prayed (at least silently) as he healed,
then most of his healing stories would have been in a group setting of
disciples, those getting healed, and onlookers. Not all Jesus' healings
were by prayer, as when people touched the fringes of his cloak, so the
assumption that Jesus always prayed for healings is probably too broad.
In these verses, Jesus is not described as praying. While the request
was made that Jesus pray, his only described action is laying hands on
the children. ]
4. [ALONE] Mt 26:36 Then cometh Jesus with them
unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here,
while I go and pray yonder. (37) And he took with him Peter and the two
sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. (38) Then saith
he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye
here, and watch with me. (39) And he went a little further, and fell on
his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this
cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
5. [ALONE] Mt 26:42 He went away again the second
time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from
me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
6. [ALONE] Mt 26:43 And he came and found them
asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. (44) And he left them, and went
away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.
7. [PUBLIC/INVOLUNTARY] Mt 27:46 And about the
ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? [NOTE: These
words addressed to god while Jesus is being crucified could be a prayer,
and it is in public. If this is considered a prayer, it is not appropriate
to consider it in the same category as other instances of Jesus praying
to God. Since Jesus is nailed to the cross and has no choice but to pray
in public if he wants to talk to God, this event cannot tell Christians
anything about "Where Would Jesus Pray?" if he were free to choose how
8. [ALONE] Mk 1:35 And in the morning, rising up
a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place,
and there prayed.
9. [ALONE] Mk 6:45 And straightway he constrained his
disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto
Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. (46) And when he had sent them
away, he departed into a mountain to pray. (47) And when even was come,
the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land.
10. [ALONE] Mk 14:32 And they came to a place which
was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while
I shall pray. (33) And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and
began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; (34) And saith unto them,
My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. (35)
And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that,
if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. (37) And he cometh,
and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou?
couldest not thou watch one hour?
11. [ALONE] Mk 14:39 And again he went away, and
prayed, and spake the same words. (40) And when he returned, he found
them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what
to answer him.
12. [PRAYER AT RELIGIOUS RITUAL] Lu 3:21 Now when
all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized,
and praying, the heaven was opened ... [NOTE: This verse reads like Jesus
may have prayed after his baptism by John the Baptist. The oldest Greek
manuscripts are without punctuation, which makes them read less clearly
that Jesus was praying. The other gospel account of Jesus' baptism does
not mention prayers. This may be an example of group prayer, or perhaps
John the Baptist prayed, or perhaps Jesus prayed. This verse describes
other people present with Jesus when a prayer was conducted at a religious
ritual. If Jesus prayed, it is the closest gospel case of voluntary prayer
before a group by Jesus, even if it was only at a religious ritual.]
[ALONE] Lk 6:12 And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into
a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. (13) And
when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose
twelve, whom also he named apostles;
14. [ALONE] Lk 9:18 And it came to pass, as he
was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying,
Whom say the people that I am?
15. [ALONE] Lk 9:28 And it came to pass about an
eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and
went up into a mountain to pray. (29) And as he prayed, the fashion of
his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.
(30)And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias:
(31) Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish
at Jerusalem. (32) But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with
sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that
stood with him. [NOTE: Jesus took three others up the mountain, but they
are described as being asleep at the completion of his praying and talking
with Moses and Elias. This description fits the three sleeping while Jesus
16. [INDETERMINATE] Lu 11:1 And it came to pass,
that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his
disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his
disciples. [NOTE: It is not clear if any disciples were with Jesus while
he prayed or if they approached Jesus after his praying was completed.
The phrase "in a certain place" could be a reference to Jesus separating
himself from his disciples for prayer, as is described in other verses.
If Jesus was praying in the presence of his disciples, then this verse
would be sub-cateorized as "With Disciples."]
17. [ALONE] Lu 22:41 And he was withdrawn from
them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, (42) Saying,
Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not
my will, but thine, be done. (43) And there appeared an angel unto him
from heaven, strengthening him. (44) And being in an agony he prayed more
earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down
to the ground. (45) And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his
disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow,
18. [WITH DISCIPLES] Jn 17:1 These words spake
Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is
come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: ... (9) I pray
for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given
me; for they are thine. ... (15) I pray not that thou shouldest take them
out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. ...
(20) Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe
on me through their word ... [NOTE: This prayer is during the John gospel's
long last supper story. In that context, Jesus prayed with his disciples
present in the room of the last supper. While others were present, this
was not a public prayer.]
3.2 CATEGORY 2: JESUS TEACHING HOW TO PRAY
From the King James Version. Ten other verses where
Jesus teaches about prayer are not shown to save space. These verses did
not give any significant new information about Jesus' teachings on public
prayer beyond Mt 6:5-6.
Mt 6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be
as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues
and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily
I say unto you, They have their reward. (6) But thou, when thou prayest,
enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father
which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward