Tuesday, November 06, 2007

To "Pray" in the Bible

Vision of the Blessed Virgin by Isaiah and DavidOne approach that Catholic apologists use when defending prayers to the saints is to explain the nature of this prayer. It is not the act of adoration that we give to God when we communicate with him. Instead, it is an entreaty or exhortation that we make to the saints in pursuit of their intercession, or their prayers. This meaning of the word "pray", while lesser known, is just as legitimate as the more common sense in which we use the word.

What may surprise non-Catholics is to discover that this secondary sense of "praying" is found in the Bible as well. In other words, when the Bible speaks of praying it does not always refer to the act of adoration we give to God. See, for example, the following passages from the RSV:
Gen 32:29 Then Jacob asked him, "Tell me, I pray, your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him.

Gen 37:16 "I am seeking my brothers," he said, "tell me, I pray you, where they are pasturing the flock."

Judges 6:18 Do not depart from here, I pray thee, until I come to thee, and bring out my present, and set it before thee." And he said, "I will stay till you return."

1 Sam 22:3 And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab, "Pray let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me."

Job 8:8 For inquire, I pray you, of bygone ages, and consider what the fathers have found;
The Hebrew word in these OT passages is na' and it means "I (we) pray, now, please; [used in entreaty or exhortation]." This sense of the word pray is also found in the NT, and I think these passages are even more illustrative of the type of prayer that Catholics make to the saints:
Lk 14:18-19 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.' 19 And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.'
The KJV includes several others:
Lk 5:3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.

Lk 16:27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:

Acts 23:18 So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.
Lk 16:27 is particularly interesting b/c it uses pray in the secondary sense and b/c this praying is not between the saints on earth. Instead, it is between the rich man and Abraham, who are now spirits. I think this shows that praying can be a spiritual communication as well as a physical one.

The Greek word in these NT passages is erotao and it means "to question, to ask, to request, entreat, beg, beseech." It is in this sense, a very Biblical sense, that we speak of prayer to the saints.

Pax Christi,


  1. What you are calling the "secondary" definition is the only definition I'm familiar with.

  2. Really? Hmm, that's interesting.


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