Who is Addressed in Prayer, and Worship in the New Testament?

Who is Addressed in Prayer, Praise,
and Worship
in the New Testament?

Many are confused about who we should address when we give thanks and pray. There seems to be several different views in our contemporary religious world.

First, there are those who make no distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They say that the doctrine of the “trinity” demands this conclusion. Therefore, in song, they address all three “persons” without distinction and sometimes even in prayer they address all three. Perhaps the basis of this view is more theological than Scriptural.

Second, there are “oneness” (“Jesus Only”) adherents who reject the trinity and say that Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (Some of them say that Jesus is no longer the Son.) Therefore, when one addresses Jesus in prayer or song, he is addressing the only personality there is!

Third, others see the emphasis in Scripture on prayer to God the Father and conclude that it would be wrong to address the Son. Therefore, their prayers are always to God the Father. Strangely, many of these violate their own principle and freely sing “prayer songs” to Jesus (and there are many of them in the normal hymn book, e.g., “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” “Abide with Me,” “Jesus Thou Joy of Loving Hearts,” “Jesus, Savior, Pilote Me,” etc).

Fourth, there are some who address human beings in prayer or praise. For example, traditional Roman Catholics may address Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, extolling her imagined virtues and powers. Obviously, since Mary is not deity, this practice is unwarranted and without support from the Word of God.

We would suggest that the truth lies in a fifth direction. Let me explain. If we are to take the Scriptures as our norm, it would seem that we should diligently study to determine what Jesus and the New Testament writers stated on this topic. We should also observe what the apostles and other New Testament writers actually did when they prayed. Who actually was addressed when they prayed? We would suggest the following general observation as to who was addressed:

(1) God the Father

Probably over 95 percent of the passages referring to prayer and worship relate to God the Father Himself. Jesus said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven. . .'” (Matt. 6:9). He said to His apostles, “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you” (John 15:16). In the wilderness, Jesus refused to worship Satan and said, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Matt. 4:10).

The apostles generally prayed to God the Father. Paul, for example, wrote, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all” (Phil. 1:3-4). To the Colossian saints, Paul wrote, “We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Col. 1:3). These references could be multiplied. Study the following passages for yourself:

  • Matthew 6:6,9
  • Matthew 7:11
  • Luke 11:1-2
  • John 16:23
  • Acts 4:24
  • Romans 10:1
  • 1 Cor. 1:4
  • Eph. 3:14
  • Phil. 4:6
  • Col. 4:2-3
  • 1 Thess. 1:2
  • 2 Thess. 1:3
  • Many others

(2) The Lord Jesus Christ

Probably fewer than 5 percent of the references to prayer and worship are to the Lord Jesus Christ. However we believe that there are some passages that do support prayer and worship of Christ Jesus and these must not be overlooked. Some have taken the position that we should never sing praise to Christ or never pray to Him and we think that is unscriptural. When Jesus was on earth in bodily form, the apostles could easily come to Him with their needs and requests. The Lord said that this could continue when He departed: “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14).

Did the apostles ever pray to the Lord Jesus? Did they ever praise Him? Paul wrote, “I thank Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service” (1 Tim. 1:12). It is permissible to “thank” the Lord Jesus! On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21). While the Joel reference is to Yahweh God, Peter evidently has Jesus in mind for he said, “God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36). This agrees with Romans 10:9-13 where Paul also quotes Joel 2:32 in verse 13. But he identifies who the “Lord” is in verse 9: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Consider further the encounter of the Lord Jesus with Ananias in Damascus (Acts 9). Jesus told this disciple to go to see Saul (Paul) the persecutor. Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name” (vv. 13-14). Here we learn that Saul was sent to persecute people who “called” on the name of the Lord Jesus, an obvious reference to addressing Jesus Himself. Verse 17 confirms the fact that it was “the Lord Jesus” who sent Ananias. This is sufficient to establish the fact that we may address the Lord Jesus in prayer. Paul also says that in song we are “making melody with [our] heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Is thie a reference to the Lord God (the Father) or the Lord Jesus? Verse 20 answers by referring to “our Lord Jesus Christ.” This verse reads in full: “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” Therefore, even this verse substantiates the general practice of prayer to God the Father while also establishing that we make melody to the Lord Jesus!

The book of Revelation adds to this evidence. John, in vision, saw “every created thing” worship both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: “To Him who sits on the throne [the Father], and to the Lamb [Jesus], be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Rev. 5:13). The next verse identifies this as “worship” (v. 14).

The following passages should be consulted and studied carefully.

  • Acts 22:16
  • 2 Cor. 12:8-9
  • 2 Tim. 2:22 (?)
  • 1 Cor. 1:2 (?)
  • 1 Cor. 16:22 (?)
  • (3) The Holy Spirit

We know of no Scriptural references to prayer specifically addressed to the Holy Spirit. While the Spirit of God definitely is divine or deity, we yet know of no passages that would speak to the question of prayer to the Spirit Himself. We would suggest that if this were to be our common practice of prayer and praise, there would be some Scriptural evidence somewhere to teach this. The following passages may be consulted:

  • (Eph. 6:18)
  • (Phil. 3:3)
  • (Jude 20)
  • (Rom. 8:26-27)

At this point, we would like to leave this study with you to examine the evidence for yourself. Check the passages listed above and ask yourself who was addressed in prayer and praise. If you do this, I believe you will discover that God the Father was generally addressed. You will find that several times Jesus is addressed. And I doubt that you will find any clear and explicit instances where the Holy Spirit is addressed in prayer.

The general New Testament arrangement is as follows:

Prayer is addressed to God the Father (cf. Col. 1:3)
Prayer is offered in the name of Jesus Christ (cf. John 15:16)
Prayer is in the Holy Spirit (cf. Jude 20)

THOUGHT QUESTION: Would it be wise to make our practice more in conformity with the Scriptural examples and instructions on prayer?


If any of our readers should know of any Scriptural evidence (especially in the New Testament) that would conflict with the main thesis of this short study, please write and inform us!

Richard Hollerman





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