The sting of Stephen’s final words ring in our ears, but I fear, to some it is more of a cacophony, a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal, instead of a fresh warning, ringing, not to be ‘stiff-necked’ with ‘uncircumcised hearts and ears’ and to resist ‘the Holy Spirit as some of your forefathers in our last generation have done’. In fact, it astounds me that we don’t count Stephen, amongst the number of Ananias and Sapphira, committing one last sin without repentance before he died. But what of angels shall we to pray to them since human and angels conversed? Unfortunately, this argument shows a gross misunderstanding of the nature of deity and the nature of angels or lesser beings—angels never accept prayer (here Stephen is praying to Jesus ‘calling on’, in other cases people are conversing with angels, there is a difference), in fact, they forbid such (Rev 22:8-9). Jesus, even as a human, accepted worship, creation itself must praise him (Matt 28:17; Luke 19:40) if man will not. Yet, we are supposed to believe that a resurrected Jesus in glory is less worthy of worship than on earth? Question, where did Jesus ‘authorize’ people to praise and worship him? I suggest that it is a natural, yes, impulsive response, to glorify the Godhead, so much so that this statement needs no justification, and it is simply axiomatic. According to the good doctor, Stephen, epikaloumenon kai legonta, prayed and said, ‘Lord Jesus receive my Spirit; Lord do not hold this sin against them’, this is an intercessory prayer mimicking that of a dying Jesus (Luke 23.45) and Psalmist in need of deliverance
In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD. I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing…Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD! (Psalm 31)
Stephen appealed to a risen Jesus in the very same way the psalmist appeals to YHWH. Again, it seems to be the western reader who misses the allusion to the Psalm, in favor of an abstract, ahistorical, modern western reading. Why am I being pigeon-holed for allegedly “taking part of God’s word mingle with fear of westernizing” when the exact opposite is true. It is imperfect love unable to drive our fear that has so many of us shaking at the knees and chattering our teeth, malnourished because we are binging at the words of life. If the sum of the sum of God’s word is true (and it is) then Stephens thoughts are bouncing back at us, not stinging, or cacophonous, but as the sound of scripture reverberating like a singing in an amphitheatre, shattering our ‘hard hearts,’ and opening our minds to scripture. As I said before, now I say again, we need to be the Bible as story and not as a doctrine manual.
Gareth Reese rightly commented, “Stephen was praying while they were stoning him. And he was addressing his prayer to Jesus. Stephen full of the Holy Spirit knew well to whom it was right to address prayer. Here in the New Testament we have an example of what Pliny, many years later, tells us Christians did, namely, they addressed prayer ‘to Jesus as God’” (New Testament History of Acts, P.304). Stephen in his last moments invokes Jesus the risen Messiah, and beseeches him to receive his spirit. We do not see Jesus waving his hands and shaking his head at Steven, no, son you can’t pray to me, pray to the Father only! I suppose if Stephen could pray that Jesus not hold their sins against them; I can pray for him to forgive mine. Jesus graciously received his spirit because whatever you ask me in my name I will do it. We must ask ourselves, where did this practice begin? First from the mouth of the Lord (John 14.14) and then it was confirmed to us by them that heard him. Praying to Jesus go as far back as them waiting for the kingdom to further burst on the scene with the Spirit,
Then they prayed, “Lord, you know the hearts of all. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to assume the task of this service and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’” (Acts 1.24)
It was fitting for the Lord to choose the successor to Judas since he called Judas originally (Luke 6.12). The Lord here was already associated with Jesus (21), so I don’t believe it will do to argue that the Lord here means the Father only. Moving forward, may we again turn our pages back to the Psalms, where the beauty of poetry and prayer meet with colorful themes like a splash page,
My heart is stirred by a beautiful song. I say, “I have composed this special song for the king; my tongue is as skilled as the stylus of an experienced scribe.” You are the most handsome of all men! You speak in an impressive and fitting manner! For this reason God grants you continual blessings… Your throne, O God, is permanent. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of justice. You love justice and hate evil. For this reason God, your God has anointed you… I will proclaim your greatness through the coming years, then the nations will praise you forever. (Psalm 45)
Here we have a beautiful prayer song directed to God the king, which we later find is directed to Jesus by the Hebrews writer (Hebrews 1.8). Even the angels are directed to worship the son (Heb 1.6), are we? Paul admonishes us out of a Spirit-filled life, to ‘sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord [Jesus].’ Are we to follow Paul’s directive and sing similar prayers? This is precisely what we find the Psalmist doing, ‘having a little talk with Jesus.’
We would be amiss if we left out Paul invocations where he asked for God’s blessing on the recipients of his letters. The Hebraic “may the Lord X” is volitional and in third person is jussive. According to Hebrew scholar Dr. Allen Ross, Jussives express “a wish, desire, or request” when an inferior is addressing a superior (Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, p.150). Using jussives was a proper form of entreaty and prayer. Further, when God is addressed in prayer he is not always addressed in the vocative or as direct address (i.e. ‘May you’ not ‘God, may you’ but it has the same force):
The majority of the many people from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun were ceremonially unclean, yet they ate the Passover in violation of what is prescribed in the law. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying: “May the LORD, who is good, forgive everyone who has determined to follow God, the LORD God of his ancestors, even if he is not ceremonially clean according to the standards of the temple. “The LORD responded favorably to Hezekiah and forgave the people. (2 Chronicles 30:18-20 see also Psalm 67:1-3, 7; 68:1; Genesis 43:14; Num 27:16-17; Exodus 15, Psalm 23).
In these constructions, God is invoked for his blessings to aid the object or person being called under God’s summon for help, i.e., may God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through (1 Thess 5:23). After receiving good news from Timothy regarding the Thessalonians, he prayed for them day and night (1 Thess 3:10), and then in typical Pauline invocation, offers up a prayer for the Thessalonians:
Now may God our Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we do for you, so that your hearts are strengthened in holiness to be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thess 3:11-13)
Both God and Jesus Christ are the subjects of the aorist optative katethunai invoking both to bless the Thessalonians, followed by the invoking of the Lord Jesus, that he may cause them to pleonasai kai perisseusai in love for one another. Paul, with full confidence, expected a request to be fulfilled, because if you ask Jesus or the Father anything they will do it (John 14:13-14; John 16:23), Paul answers the puzzle that you pose, there is no dogmatic exclusion of Jesus, but a wonderful harmony of the two. Michael Martin writes:
Concluding benedictions requesting grace for his readers are common in Paul’s letters (cf. 1 Cor. 16:23; Gal. 6:18; Phil. 4.23; Col. 4:18) but [they] can show a fair amount of variety regarding the persons addressed (the Lord, the Father and/or the Spirit, by various titles) and the blessings requested (e.g., grace, peace, love, fellowship; cf. Rom. 15:33; 16:24, NIV margin; 2 Cor. 13:14)” (pp. 292-293 1, 2 Thessalonians — The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman).
Once again we turn back, not to western culture or even Grecian culture, but Paul’s own heritage. The idea of gracing or blessing people was understood as a prayer to God, notice, ‘then the priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard their voice, and their prayer came into His holy dwelling place in heaven.’ (2 Chron 30.27). When Paul concludes Thessalonians with, ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.’ We should rightly view this blessing as an invocation prayer directed to Jesus for his grace (and I might add due to the unity of the Godhead, the Father and the Spirit) to be with those new saints.
Jason, I believe you misunderstood what I said about aiteo and erotao I did not say, erotao meant ‘to ask a question’ but erotao in John 16.23 means to question, because that is it must mean in context. The immediate context of John 16.23 deals with the apostles puzzling over Jesus’ statement. The NASB has, ‘In that day you will not question me about anything.’ Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, defines it ‘to put a query to someone’ and under this ‘meaning’ they cite John 16.23 and say, ‘certainly John 16.23 belongs here too.’ (p. 395) As I argued above,
“yet a little while and you will see me no more, again in a little while you will see me again.” Jesus, hearing the quiet chatter knew they wanted to ‘erotan’ (ask a question), answered, but then assured them that later on (when the Spirit of Truth came who would guide them into all truth and bring back everything to their remembrance) they would no longer need Jesus around to ask questions when they were puzzled, as they were in the past, because the Spirit would provide the answers. In John 14:14 and John 16:24 he is speaking of asking (aiteo) for things in prayer and Jesus and the Father giving to those who ask. As I argued before, ” Furthermore, in Johannine literature, Jesus describes the person who is answering a request as the person being requested (John 11:22; John 15:16 John 16:23). Thus, when Jesus states, “he will do it” we have reason to believe that he is the one being entreated (and I might add whether the “me” is present or not).”
A surveying of the text eliminates the need to quibble over synonyms, and perhaps I have missed it, but I have never seen a response to my last two sentences in the above quote. Jason makes a well thought out observation. Yes, its true that just because we thank a person does not mean we are praying to that person. Yet he still seems to be overlooking the difference between giving thanks to a man and giving thanks to God.
I Cease not to give thanks for you [to God], making mention of you in my prayers
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers
I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, (Eph 1.16, 1 Thess 1.2, Philemon 1.4)
The notion of giving thanks to God is associated with prayer, so it is natural to understand ‘I give thanks to Jesus Christ’ (1 Timothy 1.12) as falling under the purview of Paul addressing God in prayer. Paul’s thoughts were often echoes of scripture, we need not overlook the allusions ‘I will present a thank offering to you, and call on the name of the LORD,’ or ‘Give thanks to the LORD! Call on his name! Make known his accomplishments among the nations!’ (Psalm 116.17; Psalm 105.1). In Psalm 105, the Septuagint translated qeri’u beshemo with epikalesthe to onoma (call on the name), Paul uses this same expression to refer to the early Christian in every place that tois epikaloumenois to onoma tou kuriou hmon iesou christou (call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ). Cleon Rogers and Cleon Rogers III, in their scholarly work, New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, conclude panti topo (in every place) be understood as places of prayer (p. 490); this same sentiment was advocated by Keith Mosher (In class at MSOP), as well as church history scholar Everett Ferguson (The Church of Christ an ecclesiology for today pp. 233-234, and Greek Scholar Dr. Robertson in his “word pictures.”
What shall we say then? Was Jesus unjust because he vouchsafed Steven in response to prayer? God forbid! What will we do with scripture? Let us be open to correct interpretation. Let us not gnash our teeth like a howling bloodthirsty mob at explanations that sound foreign. The heavens are open and the son of man sits at the right hand of God, exalted as king, and worthy of all manner of praise. Will we, stand by and hold the coats of those who resist the Spirit and harden their hearts? Will we immediately ‘cry out with a loud voice,’ rush to the rescue of tradition, all the while ‘covering our ears’? Or will we cradle in the loving arms of Jesus and in times of need and in times of praise and ‘call on the name of the Lord Jesus’? Culture or scripture, your choice.