Ijaz Ahmad
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The Prayer of Jesus

The Prayer of Jesus

Aug 06, 2023

When Muslims engage in dialogue with the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), there is a tendency to focus on the physical aspects of the prayer (ṣalāh), specifically to point out that Christ Jesus prostrated and fell on his face in worship (see Matthew 26:39). While the method of prayer portrayed in the synoptic gospels is of importance, perhaps there is another question we can ask about prayer that can bridge the gap in our theologies.

Did the Jesus of the New Testament instruct or teach his companions on the how (method) and what (content) of prayer?

The answer is yes and to make matters simple, he taught them exactly one prayer. This prayer is known as the Lord's Prayer and is found in two similar forms in the gospels, Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. The breakdown which follows is unaffected by the variations, but we can keep in mind that the label of this prayer represents it as one and only one prayer, after all, it is the Lord's prayer (singular, not plural). For our purposes we will take a brief look at the version found in Matthew's gospel.

What can a prayer teach us about theology?

Decidedly, a prayer can inform us about the one who is meant to be worshipped. A prayer teaches us about the God or gods meant to be glorified, praised, and petitioned. So we ask the question, in the one and only prayer that Christ Jesus taught (and commanded) his disciples (to perform), did this include worship of him (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit? Or, is this prayer only dedicated to the God of Jesus?

9 So pray this way: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,

10 may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread,

12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.

13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Source: Matthew 6:9-13 (New English Translation, emphasis mines.)

There is no mention of the Trinity, Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Godhead in this prayer. In fact, we can see that only one individual is being called upon and honoured, it's your name, not my name, or our name. It is emphatically monotheistic and wholly devoid of any worship of a Trinitarian Godhead.

There are several objections to the aforementioned points which I believe are not sufficient rebuttals.

Claim: Jesus was merely instructing the disciples how to pray, he is not praying the prayer himself.
Answer: Regardless of whether he was praying the prayer itself or teaching others how to do it, the prayer altogether omits worship of Christ Jesus (the Son) and the Holy Spirit.

Claim: In the gospels Jesus instructs the disciples to pray to him in other places.
Answer: The term used for instructing worship in Matthew 6:9 is προσεύχεσθε (proseuchesthe) which is used 10 times in the gospels, no instance of which alters the Lord's Prayer.

Furthermore, the terms used for instructing worship in the second variation of the Lord's Prayer, found in Luke 11:2 are προσεύχησθε (proseuchesthe - note the difference between the ε [epsilon] & η [eta]) and λέγετε (legete), this gives us the phrase "προσεύχησθε λέγετε"which is found once in the New Testament, only at Luke 11:2. No instance of these individual words or together as a phrase alters the Lord's Prayer.

Claim: This event of teaching the disciples this prayer is before the crucifixion/ resurrection/ ascension, after which the prayer can be changed.
Answer: Yet the gospel authors do not record an instance where this change was made, thus this is a false assertion.

There have been attempts to alter this prayer by scribes and various churches to include Trinitarian language. Most notably, the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church (in Canada - warning large PDF, see page 614), creatively reimagines the prayer as follows (emphasis mine):

O GOD our Father, who makest thy sun to rise upon the evil and upon the good, and sendest rain upon the just and upon the unjust:

Help us to love our enemies, and to forgive those who trespass against us, that we may receive of thee the forgiveness of our sins, and be made thy children in spirit and in truth;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The question remains then, if Christ Jesus taught one and only one prayer, why does it omit both him and the Holy Spirit?

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