In the Gospel of John Jesus told his disciples to “ask anything” in his name: “whatever you ask in my name, I will do it…If you ask anything in my name I will do it” (John 14:13-14; see also 15:16; 16:23-24; 16:26). And so the custom has evolved in conservative Protestantism to conclude every prayer with the refrain “in Jesus name Amen.” In fact, many deeply religious folk feel that prayers lacking this refrain are not heard by God (or Jesus, to whom some people also pray).
Adding “in Jesus name” to a prayer is apparently a reminder to Jesus of his promises in John, for Jesus was believed to intercede for believers (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). But the practice of praying in Jesus name appears to have been unknown in the synoptic gospels. For example, in the model prayer where Jesus taught his disciples how to pray there is no instruction that prayers should conclude with “in Jesus name.” This model prayer is a Q tradition, an early source, which Matthew and Luke used in addition to Mark (Matt 6:9-13=Luke 11:2-4), and it appears also in the Didache (8.2; dated from 70-150 CE).
The model prayer Jesus taught his disciples is slightly different in all three versions.
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 thy name. Thy 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.’” (RSV Luke 11:1-4).
But there is no mention of praying in Jesus’ name. The earliest instance of praying in Jesus’ name may be Paul’s prayer language regarding the gathering at Rome: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you…” (Rom 1:8; also Eph 5:20; Col 3:17). But this is likely just a recognition that all approaches to God should be made through Jesus the mediator (Ephesians 2:14-18), rather than a specific indication that early Christians ended prayers “in Jesus name.”
Nevertheless, Jesus’ name does appear in early literature authorizing the performance of miraculous deeds. His name is represented as being a powerful force. Demons are cast out and other mighty works are done using the formula “in the name of Jesus” (Matt 7:22; [Mark 16:17]). Peter, for example, heals a lame man saying: “‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Walk!’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong” (Acts 3:6-7, 16; 4:10). Paul drives a spirit of divination out of a slave girl by saying, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her, and it came out that very hour” (Acts16:18). Unspecified “signs and wonders” are also performed “through the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). In one instance a person who was not even a part of Jesus’ band of disciples was casting out demons by using the name of Jesus (Mark 9:38-39=Luke 9:49-50). So the evangelists apparently regarded power as residing “in the name of Jesus.” Incidentally I know of one contemporary scholar, critically trained, who claims to have stopped a thunder storm and other such things by saying “in Jesus name.”
Perhaps the greatest claim for the name of Jesus is made in the Shepherd of Hermas, Similitudes 14:5: “The name of the Son of God is great and incomprehensible and supports the whole world,” a claim similar to Colossians 1:15-20.
Traditional Reformation-era churches regard the performance of these kinds of mighty deeds performed using Jesus’ name, as restricted to the “Apostolic Age.” That is, such things were actually done, but only during the time of the earliest apostles, which one New Testament introduction dates as 30-65.1 Nevertheless, today in contemporary churches many of these deeds are thought to continue into the modern period. The Catholic Church, for example, has scheduled a week-long international conference in Rome on the exorcism of demons for April of 2018.2 In 1990 the International Association of Exorcists, a Roman Catholic organization, was founded and recognized by the Vatican in 2014.3
Does anyone know the earliest time in recorded history that the words “in the name of Jesus, Amen” (or the equivalent in any language) appeared at the end of a prayer?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1R. W. Crapps, E. V. McKnight, D. A. Smith, Introduction to the New Testament (1969), 373. The apostolic age is generally considered to be the period from around 30 to 100, covering the period of the lives of the earliest disciples/apostles.
2Springfield News-Leader, Feb 25, 2018, B2.
I sometimes use the phase when praying but mainly to remind me that I am praying as Jesus might have prayed with the presence of God.
A number of thoughts come to mind.
(1) Personally, I think that I've prayed in the name of Jesus over the years as an acknowledgement that the primary source of how I think about God is Jesus.
(2) These biblical assertions about using Jesus' name are similar to the outlandish claims about trust/faith that are found on Jesus' lips: throwing a mountain into the sea (Mark 11:23; Matt 21:21, 17:20; Thomas 48); uprooting a mulberry tree (Luke 17:6).
(3) All of the above seems to me to be ridiculous stuff: never is, was, or will be possible. No idea why these early followers of Jesus said such extreme irrational stuff. Those who predict the "end" and when it doesn't come at least ad0pt a new but false rationalization. But in the above biblical assertions it was always obvious that the claims couldn't be true from the first time someone tried to move a mountain with prayer.
(4)Although the prayer/trust claims use literal images, perhaps from a very early time the statements were most often interpreted as symbols of less concrete realities and less provable realities such as causes for recovery from illness, etc.
Why do you write "in Jesus name" without the apostrophe after “Jesus” in the first mentions of the phrase?
Good Morning Alison,
Good Catch! You are correct that the biblical idiom would require the possessive: "in Jesus' name." In talking about the prevailing custom among conservative Protestants, however, I inadvertently reverted to what I always think I hear: "in Jesus name"--without the possessive. But perhaps it is just my tin Mississippi ear and people I hear use the refrain are thinking the "apostrophe s" but speaking over it.
What do the rest of you out there in blogger-land hear when people end prayers "in Jesus name"?
Good Morning Gene,
Do you think that the author dubbed Luke in Acts thought he was passing on historical data? Of course we cannot read minds but that question is a way of getting at the meat of this issue. Should we today think of Luke as writing history or legend? In the latter case the activities of Paul, Peter, and company are simply Paul Bunyon-like folk.
Good Morning Albert,
So you would not think that the refrain "in the name of Jesus" is essential to any prayer?
I know some religions focus on the phrase "in Jesus name" however my focus is on what I am praying for. Sometimes I just say "Amen". I mean, if I am praying to Jesus, I think He knows and I think he knows His name. I usually start my prayers "Dear Jesus", therefore, He already knows who I am referring to. Just my two cents worth. :)
Can we use the phrase historical-legends or legendary-history? I think that the author(s) of Acts took some historical names associated with an historical mission and wrote an imaginative King Arthur and knights of the round table like story.
Good Morning Gene,
I think the technical term would be "historical fiction." That is where one takes historical figures and creates a fictional narrative of events around them that does draw on history here and there to give the narrative verisimilitude. See my article: "Realism in Western Narrative and the Gospel of Mark. A Prolegomenon, Journal of Biblical Literature 126.2 (Summer 2007)345-59.
Good Morning Kerry,
It would seem to me that in praying to Jesus one must rely on a strong belief in the Trinity (something to which the earliest Christians did not subscribe) otherwise you would be ignoring God (the "BIG FELLOW"). Is that the situation in your case?
Wouldn't any prayer be akin to magic, regardless?
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Thank you Charlie! You always offer a unique perspective and prompt me to examine religious customs I've practiced my whole life without question. I've been pondering what you have written. Honestly, I have more questions than answers.
1) Doesn't the OT elaborate on all the different names of God? I do remember attending a church (the church where I met Craig in fact) with all these banners for the names of the God of the OT. The one I remember the most was "Jehovah Jireh" (Incidentally, we even sang a song called "Jehovah Jireh, My Provider.") The banners were all different colors and read "Jehovah Nissi, Jehovah Shalom, Jehovah Rapha, Jehovah Shammah, Jehovah Shekinah, Jehovah Tsidkenu." They were all supposedly referenced at various points in the OT. Have you ever heard of these names for God and their special meanings?
2) I was taken aback by the scripture you referenced in Colossians. (Col. 1:15-20) I don't remember reading it- or if I did, it's been a long while. Who wrote that and what do you think it means for Christians today? (Was it Paul?) I don't know what to think about that.
3) Finally, I echo the sentiments of Dennis Dean... Isn't prayer in and of itself akin to magic??? How can it be otherwise?
4) This is personal, and you do not have to answer unless you feel comfortable doing so: Do you pray? If so, why?
You mentioned that you had knowledge of a critical scholar who claimed to have stopped a thunderstorm in the name of Jesus. I know of a pastor who claimed the exact same thing. I think when someone has a stressful thought of impending harm and prays in a moment of fear and anxiety- then witness a sudden change in the course of events with a favorable result- it is natural to cling to a belief that that prayer was the reason the event suddenly changed. Do you agree?
The only problem is- the next time it happens and that practice doesn't work... What's the deal? My pastor once told me that 88% of Christians are mad at God for that very reason. The very name that is supposed to work like magic doesn't always come through.
Thank you for making me think!!! Elizabeth
Good Morning Elizabeth,
And now you are making me think!
I have heard of the various names for God but have never made a list of them. I wonder what God (if God there be) thinks of as his/her personal name? All the names for God are given by someone else.
I understand Colossians to have been written by a disciple of Paul, not by Paul himself. It is in my view one of the deuteron-Pauline epistles.
Is prayer akin to magic? I suppose that depends on how you conceive what prayer is. If it is conceived as asking for something or begging for forgiveness, then I agree it is pretty much believed to work in a similar manner to magic.
Do I pray, you ask. No, not as most people think of praying. I discovered a long time ago that the only voice in my head was mine, and I never sensed any a connection to any other presence--if I was honest with myself.
The closest thing that I do to what some might graciously grant is somewhat akin to prayer is something like meditation (but really isn't). From time to time I will ponder the imponderables or wonder about the unknown unknowables.
On your last long paragraph: Yes I agree to a point. It does not appear however that prayer with unfavorable results discourages true believers from continuing to pray.
Hi Charlie and Elizabeth,
You've triggered a few more thoughts for me. Why might one benefit from involvement in a religious community? Because it's the job of that community to help one see that life is a series of rewarding connections much larger than the self, even if there is no evidence of a God who/which receives prayer. One's sharing of (prayerful) thoughts with the whole of life as it impinges upon us encourages a commitment to humanity in the context of the earth in the universe and all its spheres of influence. I would argue that humans need to be aggressive in prayer simply to be fully human, which is, to claim the unthinkable for the destitute child that he/she owns the deed to true life, the kingdom of God: "Let the children come to me...it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs: e.g., (Mark 10:14, Matt 19:14, Luke 18:16); "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20).
Good Morning Gene,
I do not understand the following sentence in your comment; can you clarify for me what you are saying?
Here is the sentence: "One's sharing of (prayerful) thoughts with the whole of life as it impinges upon us encourages a commitment to humanity in the context of the earth in the universe and all its spheres of influence."
Yes, the sentence is packed with convoluted imagery. I'm not sure I understand it, the result of trying to form a great thought hurriedly.
A prayer is meant to go out to the whole of life as one has experienced it. One is asking life to cradle the prayer in a purposeful and creative way. The prayer is an expression of hope for self and for the well-being of humanity in the context of commitment to a nurturing earth and universe.
Hi Gene and Charlie,
Charlie, you are very correct. All those names for God were given by someone else. Thank you for pointing that out- I've been thinking about it.
Whether or not I pray depends on whether or not I'm alone or with other people. We did have an alarming medical situation arise in my extended family (that ended up having a positive outcome)- but the family members did offer prayer and I of course joined in. I was told that my prayer was a source of comfort and strength to others and I was of course happy to have been of assistance.
Which brings me to Gene's point about prayer being an expression of hope for self and the well being of humanity and in the context of a nurturing earth and universe... That is exactly what my aim in my prayer was- an expression of hope for the well being for my family. I couldn't agree more with that being the reason for prayer... It is for the benefit of others, not for the benefit of God.
One more thing I forgot to mention- I also agree with Charlie's point that prayer with unfavorable results does not discourage true believers from continuing to pray. In fact, I would add that it makes them pray even harder. However, their state of mind will continue to deteriorate and the tone of the prayer becomes more and more desperate... which does nothing to improve their quality of life. (in most cases anyway) Of course, I'm speaking purely anecdotally and have no data to support this statement. Elizabeth
Sorry I just wanted to clarify one more thing- when I said how I pray depends on whether or not I'm alone. When I am alone, I do not pray in the conventional sense but something akin to what Charlie described. Something more along the lines of meditation or contemplation. I just know that the peace I am seeking comes from myself, not from any other source... And that the peace is already there underneath the mental noise of conceptualizing and analyzing. When I meditate/contemplate- the mental noise stops and I regain a sense of clarity. Elizabeth
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