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Prayer and Supplication (2)

Howard A Barnes, Westhoughton, England

New Testament Background


The particular Hebrew words we have looked at for ‘prayer and supplication’ appear in the Greek version of the Old Testament (The Septuagint) using exactly the same ‘prayer and supplication’ Greek words as those found in the New Testament expressions being looked at here. Ethelbert Bullinger (The Companion Bible, Appendix 134) highlights the difference between these Greek words for prayer and supplication in stating that the word prayer “is restricted to prayer offered to God, having regard to the power of Him who is invoked and giving prominence to personal devotion”, while supplication is “a petition for a special object having regard to our necessity rather than to God’s sufficiency to supply it: giving prominence to personal need.” Alternatively, MacDonald’s simpler definition of supplication is “specific requests for specific needs.” Additionally, Handley C G Moule (The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, 1891) says ‘prayer’ is the larger word, while ‘supplication’ is the more definite; “[the] former includes the whole attitude and action of the creature’s approach to God; the latter denotes only petition.”

“All continued with one accord in prayer and supplication”

“These [apostles] all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1.14). Having returned “with great joy” from the Mount of Olives (Lk 24.52), the believers were gathered in united prayer in the upper room in Jerusalem. They were there for ten days – although they didn’t know then that it would be ten days - waiting for the “promise of the Father”, so that they would be “endued with power from on high” (Lk 24.49; Acts 1.4). They were engaged in “prayer and supplication”; acknowledging the power of the Father, while at the same time acknowledging their total reliance upon divine help, considering that they had gathered in fear previously, and were still in danger. Commenting on this passage, Harry Ironside wrote “… when God is going to do some great thing he moves the hearts of people to pray; He stirs them up to pray in view of that which He is about to do so that they might be prepared for it” (Lectures on the Book of Acts).

The word “continued” denotes “persevering and constant attention” (Albert Barnes), while the phrase “with one accord” (Gr homothumadon) is literally ‘with one mind’, with the unity of the believers in Acts being expressed many times by this word (1.14; 2.1, 46; 4.24; 5.12; 15.25; see also Rom 15.6). Four groups of those praying in the Jerusalem prayer meetings are distinguished: the apostles, the women, His brethren (the Lord’s half-brothers James, Joseph (or Joses), Simon and Judas), who previously did not believe in Him (Jn 7.5), and Mary the mother of Jesus. This is the last mention of this Mary in the New Testament, and she is praying with others, with no mention having been made of any personal appearance to her by the risen Lord, although certainly He appeared to other women, including another Mary (Jn 20.1). Their “prayer and supplication” was answered, they were preserved safely, and ten days later they “received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2.33).

“All prayer and supplication in the Spirit”

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Eph 6.18). The fully-armed Christian warrior must be constantly engaged in prayer to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph 6.11), praying “always”, literally ‘on every occasion’, since there is never a circumstance when prayer is unnecessary. The terms “all” and “in the Spirit”, which bracket our expression “prayer and supplication”, are very instructive. “All” might be expanded to ‘every kind of’ prayer, for example, private, public, praising or petitionary prayer. At the same time, prayer and supplication must be “in the Spirit”, with the Spirit of God “being the surrounding, penetrating, transforming atmosphere of the spirit of the praying Christian” (Cambridge Bible). The Holy Spirit, via the Holy Scriptures, wants to encourage and educate our prayer life, so that we know both how to pray, as well as what to pray for (see Jude 20).

“Watching” literally means to be sleepless; being or staying awake, and here it signifies remaining spiritually attentive and vigilant. Such watching will result in “prayer and supplication”. How important is watchfulness! “One must watch before prayer, in prayer, after prayer” (Vincent’s Word Studies). The watching should be literally “in all perseverance and supplication”, that is, in an atmosphere of ‘every kind of’ perseverance and supplication. Perseverance has the idea of continuing to do something despite continuing difficulties and disappointments. How easy it is to be put off praying when our prayers are not immediately answered, or not answered in the way that we would have liked. Paul similarly exhorts the Colossians to “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col 4.2).

The Ephesian epistle has more occurrences of the word “saints” (the holy, set-apart ones) than any other book in the New Testament, being found on nine occasions in all (1.1, 15, 18; 2.19; 3.8, 18; 4.12; 5.3; 6.18). This fact fits in with the heavenly character of the epistle. Here it defines the scope and circumference of our supplications, since “all saints” should find a place in our prayers - what a responsibility! (Incidentally, the word “all” is itself found many times in this epistle; some 43 times.)

“In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving”

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil 4.6). A literal translation of this verse makes it clear that Paul instructed the Philippians not to continually be anxious about anything but, on the contrary, that they should keep on making all their requests known to God, by prayer and supplication, and to do this with thanksgiving. Nothing means nothing, and everything means everything! Obviously believing prayer is in mind here, as the Lord Jesus instructed His disciples “All things whatsoever ye pray for … believe that ye receive it, and it shall come to pass for you’ (Mk 11.24, JND¹).

Regarding the phrase – “Be careful for nothing” - some paraphrases are helpful, as well as being challenging:

Amplified: “Do not be anxious or worried about anything.”

Lightfoot: “Entertain no anxious cares.”

Phillips: “Don’t worry over anything whatever.”

Robertson: “Stop being anxious.”

Weymouth: “Do not be over-anxious about anything.”

Wuest: “Stop perpetually worrying about even one thing.”

Young’s Literal: “For nothing be anxious.”

We should certainly care about things, but not to the extent of being over-anxious. As the Lord Jesus emphasised earlier to the disciples; “Take no [anxious] thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on … for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Mt 6.25, 32), and also to Martha; “Jesus … said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and disquieted about many things’” (Lk 10.41, YLT²). Peter shows us that we can only do this “having cast all your care [anxiety] upon him, for he [watchfully] cares about you” (1 Pet 5.7, JND).

¹ J N Darby, The Holy Scriptures - A New Translation from the Original Languages.

² Young’s Literal Translation.

(To be continued …)


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