To pray to someone is an act of worship. Most essentially, prayer is transcendent communication with someone who does not, during the communication, share your “plane of existence.” In other words, it is an expression of fellowship with someone with whom you are in a non-empirical relationship. Let me put it another way: I don’t pray to my wife, friends, co-workers, or parents. I have fellowship with them, but this fellowship takes place in the same dimension. We pray to God not only because we believe that he exists, but because we believe that he listens from a “place” of transcendence. We believe he has the power to hear and respond to millions of people at once. It is an act of worship, not only because we believe he is transcendent, but because of the power we must ascribe to him to assume that he hears, engages, and responds. Indeed, it is the power of divinity that must facilitate such an act as prayer.

We believe that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, but they are not each other. We call this “the Trinity.” But when we pray, to whom do we pray? Do we pray to the Trinity (as an ontological unit)? I start prayers out this way all the time: “Dear God, ….” I can see the members of the Trinity looking at each other in confusion as they attempt to figure out which one I am praying to. “Ummm, I think this one is for you, Jesus,” says the Holy Spirit. “No, it is for the Father,” Jesus responds. “Not me! He just said ‘God.’ That could be any one of us. Rock, paper, scissors?”

Forgive my blasphemous humor here. But I think this illustrates an often unspoken issue for those of us who are Trinitarian. To whom do we pray?

In seminary, Dr. Jeffery Bingham, chair of theology and professor of historic theology (an Irenaeus madman), made it clear what the traditional formula was: We are to pray to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. Did you get that?

TO the Father


BY the the Spirit

Christ, when asked by the disciples about how to pray, starts his prayer with, “Our Father…” (Matthew 6:9). Seems to be quite a slam dunk. We are to pray to the Father. Origen backs this up when he says that we pray to the Father alone “through Jesus” (ANF, Chapter XXXVII). As well, Christ is called the “high priest” who intercedes for us (Heb. 4:15). To whom does Christ intercede? To the Father. Therefore, we enter into the Father’s presence “in his name,” not our own – through the Son (John 15:16).

And there is nothing in the Scripture about praying to the Holy Spirit at all. In fact, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is one of empowerment (Acts 1:8) whose ministry is to point to Christ (John 16:14).

So, it seems pretty clear. We are to pray to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. Right? Not so fast . . .

While I think this is a fine way to think about it, I don’t think we can necessarily go wrong, pragmatically or theologically, when we pray to any member of the Trinity or to God as Trinity alone.

First, concerning Christ’s model prayer to the Father:  it could be that Christ was telling us we are to pray to the Father and not to him, but we may be reading too much into the phrase “Our Father.” It may not be exclusive prayer to the first person of the Trinity, but speaking of God (including all members of the Trinity) as a “fatherly” figure. David Turner says about this passage: “One may think of 6:9-10 as indicating the person to whom prayer is addressed […] and the priorities by which prayers are formed […] This person to whom prayer is addressed is characterized as “Father,” a term inevitably colored by one’s relationship to one’s human father” (Matthew, BECNT, 184). As well, Isaiah speaks of the Messiah/Jesus as “eternal father” (Isaiah 9:6). This is not in the sense of the “first person of the Trinity” (as that would be reading too much into the text, not to mention a promotion of modalism), but in the sense that Christ is an eternal “father figure.” So I am not too comfortable reading our Trinitarian categories into the “our father” of the Lord’s prayer.

Even if we did read “our Father” as meaning the first person of the Trinity, does this exclude a belief that we can pray to Christ? Of course Christ, as our example of prayer, never prayed to himself, so praying to the Father by Christ is on par with his mission. However, once “all authority” was given to him (Matthew 8:28), did some things change? Yes, Christ did say to ask for anything in his name and the Father would do it. However, in John 14:14, he says, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (emphasis mine). There, he is both the agent of representation and the agent of action.

There are other important issues to consider. We are told to call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). In the context, it is Christ upon whom we call. It is his reputation and his activity that we beseech. Stephen clearly prays to Jesus upon his death when he says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). In Revelation 22:20, we have the great “Maranatha!” which means, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (see also Acts 1:24).

We also have our relationship with Jesus to consider. Being a high priest whom we are to love and find encouragement and support from, it is hard to imagine that we don’t foster this relationship through conversation. After all, how can we have a “friend” (John 3:29; John 15:15) to whom we have never directly spoken? I think the Scriptures testify to a relationship with all three members of the Trinity, including the Holy Spirit, with whom we have “fellowship” (2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1).

So while I do find that most of the prayer in the New Testament seems to be directed toward the Father, and I like the theological astuteness of the whole “to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit” (it just sounds like you know what you are talking about!), I don’t think we should be too theologically legalistic about this. We should think deeply about these things and be intentional in our relationship with God, but this intentionality should not cause us too much anxiety as God – our Trinitarian God – loves us deeply and understands the difficulties involved. When you worship, worship the Trinity. Worship the Father. Worship the Son. Worship the Holy Spirit. When you pray, follow the same pattern.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    121 replies to "To Whom Do We Pray? The Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?"

    • *everything

    • C Michael Patton

      Let me apologize very quickly. I am sorry it has taken so long. But I think that my frustration in this post was an over reaction on my part and may have instigated some direction in the conversation that could have hurt some people. For this, I am very sorry. I have no excuse for the tone I took or using this as an example on Theologica.

      I truly appreciate our commentors kind, gracious spirit.

    • cherylu


      Thank you. Apology accepted.

      May God’s grace and peace be with you.

      And to the rest of you I would like to apologize for being in an argumentative mode back there too. That more then likely came through in the way I intereacted in this discussion too and undoubtedly had a share in sending the tone in a wrong direction.

    • C-Town Lady

      Dear God,
      Your Word tells us that all have fallen short of your glory and that each of us is a sheep who has gone astray. However, by your Spirit you continue to lead us and guide us as if the punishment of death was never an option. Whether it’s me, an insignificant pew filler or a discipleship leader, teaching us of your ways on an altar; not one of us can compare ourselves to you. None, but your innocent Son, who by dying himself took our sentence of death and destroyed it. Jesus completed the task set before Him with a tremendous amount of suffering including, you, his Father turning away in his greatest time of need. With a declaration of “IT IS FINISHED” we were mercifully given the undeserved gift of an eternity in your kingdom. You have even given us the gift of the Holy Spirit while we are in this dark world as a strong hold of light to cautiously guide our faith/flesh paths back to you.
      God it speaks in your word that your thoughts are not our thoughts and our ways not yours it also proclaims all things will work to your glory. With that we can trust and believe that you will not hold such things against us when we question how to serve, communicate and worship you best. Thank you for being attentive when we are not. All this I pray in the power of a living Savior. Amen.

    • Ananya

      WOW is all I can say. I’m one of those that follows CMP’s work but rarely read the comments. Boy, did I pick a doozie to read the fine print.

    • Karen

      This topic was something that corrupted my simple faith many years ago when I first heard “radical” views of the Trinity.This led me on a quest for Truth.More recently a man online told me my very salvation was at stake because basically I did not deny Isaiah 9:6 “Everlasting Father”. Others have literally told me to my face, that that is not what it means. But I saw a window in Isaiah that revealed much to me: Isaiah 40:3 that is quoted in Mark 1:3 and other places in the NT.This same Yahweh in the OT is the same LORD who came in the Flesh. If one looks at Isaiah 63:9 and the next 2 Chapters, there are a number of passages that declare that this same Yahweh/LORD is the Father. John 12:44-45 is a great example. John 14.
      It would be like people arguing that Jesus is the WORD, the Logos, yet state it is the Father that speaks from Heaven. How many I AM’s are there? Why did Jesus state that the Holy Spirit could not come if He did not go away? James 2:26 might make an impression. What is the difference between Conceived by the Holy Spirit and Begotten of the Father? Reconcile John 2:19-21 with Gal 1:1. Is the Godhead in Jesus or is Jesus in the Godhead?
      Why does a person have to deny Matt 28:19 OR OR OR Acts 2:38? Can we cut and paste? Don’t we have to embrace all of the Bible? However, I don’t think Jesus knuckled anyone down and made them change their faith or belief in Him. Some people see Three Persons in Heaven, while others see One. Why destroy each other?

    • Roger Goultry

      From what I can tell, we pray to Jesus’s mother Mary, and she then goes to see if Jesus isn’t too busy to take care of the stuff. Sometimes she knocks on his door but he’s got the headphones on and listening to some loud music so he might not answer .

    • brittany

      wow, I just read through all of this
      I actually searched ‘do I pray to the father, son, or spirit’ on bing and wound up here, truth be told. I’m a newer, actually serious Christian so this is an issue I’ve always had and am trying to work out..
      I’ve always prayed to the father, through Jesus.. never knew where to fit the spirit in, though. /: to be honest, these comments only really confused me more, but I’m going to keep searching for what feels right to me, I suppose. thank you for the very interesting read.

    • Steve

      Specifically to 106
      If you (and others)seem confused it is because the premise to all these discussions is the Trinity. Jesus tells the Jews who his father is in John 8 v 54b , it is my father who honoreth me; of whom ye say he is your God (YHWH). Jesus quite clearly states that he is not YHWH but YHWH is his father. In chapter 7 v16-19 Jesus tells us that when he is speaking he is speaking “God’s” words NOT his own .(Duet. 18 v 18)If he was claiming that they were his own he would be guilty of unrighteousness (sin) for seeking to bring glory to himself by claiming Gods words were his words, because he seeks only glorifying God and not himself there is no unrighteousness in him.
      If we don’t accept Jesus as God’s anointed (Christ, Messiah) we have no access to him (YHWH God). Therefore when we pray to God we acknowledge our faith in Jesus as the “Christ” (God’s Messiah) the son of the living God (Matt 16 v 16), his death and resurrection which makes him our intercessor (our sinless high priest, the go between of God and humanity Rom 10 v 9) and as the human whom God has exalted and set over his creation (lord) 1 Cor.15 v 27, Phil 2 v 9-11. God has put all things under Jesus feet except of course God himself remains above him!!!!!!!!!!
      It’s very clear the son will remain subject to God. Read the scriptures and not commentaries which are full of “jangling” (1 Tim 1 v 1-6)

    • Marc Taylor

      If we are to read the Scriptures and not commentaries does that mean we should not read your comments?

    • Steve

      I’m not sure you are going to read this Marc but “commentary” has a wide application. From a few short sentences to a literary work of hundreds (or thousands) of pages as in “Commentary of The New Testament” .My reference would be to the latter. Sorry for the confusion I will try to be more specific in the future.

    • Marc Taylor

      Ok thanks.

      The Lord Jesus did not teach He is not YHWH.

      The fact that the Lord Jesus is the proper recipient of prayer/worship necessitates that He is God.

    • G Dunn

      To Marc Taylor:

      The fact that the Lord Jesus is the proper recipient of prayer/worship necessitates that He is God.

      This comment of yours is quite rational, yet false. Just as the Pharisees’ rationale to eat of the ‘corn’ on sabbath was rational in light of Numbers 15 when the picking up of sticks on the sabbath was ‘making oneself equal to YHWH.’ Rational yet false.

      You cannot say this if Jesus never said he was God. So then where does he do so? EVER? ONLY one time, EVER is Jesus said to be ‘God’ and this by Thomas in a single gospel, John. So what happened, that the other authors of gospel forgot to mention the single formulation? Too important to include? And if you did not have THIS gospel on your mantle in the first generation, then were you out of luck?

      I submit the ‘my God’ clause was in fact ‘my elohim.’ And that THIS meant the resurrected man, just as they all knew Jesus now to be, except the doubter.

    • Marc Taylor

      Your example is false. As Lord of the Sabbath Jesus is not bound to it.

      Many times in life there is more than one way to express a truth claim. Since the Lord Jesus is all-powerful (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 5:12) this is the same thing as saying He is omnipotent/Almighty – God. This ties into the fact that He was prayed to/worshiped.

      Those that say the Lord Jesus isn’t God either deny how words are defined or they have two that are Almighty.

    • Steve

      You say,
      Those that say the Lord Jesus isn’t God either deny how words are defined or they have two that are Almighty.

      Omnipotence is infinite power. If you are omnipotent you cannot receive power .
      Matt. 28 v 18 is authority,(given unto me) it is delegated and so is Rev 5 v 12 (to receive power). Jesus even confirms that his power is not infinite in John 5 v 19 and v 30, “I can of myself do nothing” and people who observed Jesus were recognized by the writer in Matt. 9 v 8. ” But when the multitudes saw it ,they marvelled , and
      glorified God , which had given such power unto men.
      The God inspired writer commenting that “God” had GIVEN such power(authority) to a human. The authority to forgive sins!
      John 20 v 23, Jesus to the disciples “Whosoever’s sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them,…”
      Jesus is giving his disciples the authority to forgive sins. It’s the same word in Matthew 9 v 5,6. “forgiven”.
      The same principle applies to immortal. If Jesus is immortal that means he could never die. If he did he was never immortal there is no other way these are absolute qualities. 1 Cor. 15 v 12-19.
      If God is immortal (1 Tim 1 v 17) and Jesus died, Jesus is not God, Same verse if Jesus is not invisible same thing.(John 1 v 18, No man hath seen God at anytime.)
      I think if you look in the concordance you will find that several different Greek words are translated into the same English word. In the KJV power is at least 5 different Greek words and they don’t all mean exactly the same thing.
      Also to your comment “The Lord Jesus did not teach He is not YHWH.” Please read John 7 v 17. “whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself”. I would like hear your definition of what Jesus is trying to say. Please carry on with v18.

    • Marc Taylor

      Theos primarily (although not exclusively) refers to the Father so John 7 does not refute the Lord Jesus is God.

      Matthew 28:18 – Authority in this passage embraces power and there is no limitation of it – “all power”.
      a. Danker: the right to control or command, authority, absolute power, warrant
      Of Jesus’ total authority Mt 28:18 (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, exousia, page 353).
      b. NIDNTT: All power in heaven and on earth has been given to the Risen One (Matt. 28:18) (NIDNTT 2:194, Heaven, H. Bietenhard).
      c. TDNT: His omnipotence, in which Christ shares as kurios (1 C. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Mt. 28:18), extends over the whole world, over heaven and earth (1:679, ge, Sasse).
      d. TDNT: The inclusion of heaven and earth in the saving event in Jesus Christ means that no entity in heaven or on earth can possess autonomy: Mt. 28:18. By the resurrection all power has been placed exclusively in the hands of the risen Lord (5:518, ouranos, Traub).
      e. NIDOTTE: Jesus Christ, after his resurrection, was given all power in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18)… (4:166, samayim, David Toshio Tsumura).
      f. Thayer: the power of rule or government (the power of him whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed, [generally translated authority]); a. univ.: Mt. 28:18 (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, exousia, page 225).
      g. Vine: the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by others, e.g., Matt. 28:18 (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Authority, page 81).
      h. The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible: Christ possesses the attributes of God: omnipotence (Matt. 28:18; Rev. 1:8); omnipresence (Matt. 28:20; Eph. 1:23); omniscience (Matt. 9:4; Jn. 2:24-25; Acts 1:24; 1 Cor. 4:5) (2:92, deity of Christ, A.H. Leitch).

    • Marc Taylor

      The Lord Jesus during His humiliation renounced the use of His power.
      1. TDNT: Elsewhere, however, it is said of the Redeemer during His earthly life that He has laid aside His power and appeared in lowliness and humility, Mt. 11:29; 12:18-21; 2 C. 8:9; Phil. 2:5-8 -> kenow 3, 661, 13-28, cf. the temptation of Jesus, Mt. 4:8 f. par. Lk. 4:5 f. Thus, when the full power of Jesus is occasionally mentioned during the time of His humiliation, it is merely a proleptic fact.
      A new situation is brought into being with the crucifixion and resurrection. The Chosen One seizes the full power which He had from the beginning of the world, Mt. 28:18: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth”. Cf. the proclamations of the heavenly King in Rev., e.g., concerning Alpha and Omega (5:895, pas, Reicke).
      2. TDNT: Here the phrase morphe doulou acquires its significance from the contrast on the one side with morphe theou and on the other with the title and dignity of kurios with which Jesus is invested at the end of the passage. It denotes the entry of Jesus into humanity, or more strictly what this means for Him in relation to the power and glory which He possessed and which He therefore renounced (2:278, doulos, Rengstorf).
      Renounce: to give up or put aside voluntarily (Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, page 1215, Gramercy Books, c.1996).
      The Lord Jesus simply refused to always employ His omnipotence.

      The Trinitarian can account for the fact that the Lord Jesus was “given” all power but those who deny the Lord Jesus is God are at a loss in explaining how being omnipotent (all powerful) is in anyway devoid of being Almighty.

      I touched on Christ’s omniscience here:
      Post #31 and #33.

    • dennis heckathorne

      You neglected to finish John 14 14 It says to pray to Jesus in Jesus’s name WHILE HE IS LIVE .but when he is gone pray to the father in his name and the father (God the father) will grant it .Fuss over it all you want but JESUS himself said when I’m gone pray to the Father in my name

      • Marc Taylor

        Many passages teach that the Lord Jesus is the proper recipient of prayer – and these took place after He ascended to the Father.

    • Marnix

      I see much discussion going on regarding our understanding to whom we should direct our prayers.
      As the reformed has always done they direct their prayers to God the Father. He, the creator of all things
      who in the Old Testament was only known as the one to whom the people prayed, is also today our Heavenly Father to whom we direct our prayers but then through His Son who with God and the Holy Spirit, one only God, lives and reigns forever. That should be enough to end your discussion.

    • Matt

      Interesting debate here. I believe we should do as God says, “This is my son: hear him.”
      This same issue was put before Jesus and he gave a format: “Our Father…”.
      Jesus also says, “I do NOTHING without the Father.” So why don’t we obey God and hear Jesus and pray to the Father?
      Does that mean we cannot ask Jesus for stuff? Of course we can but not before acknowledging the Father without whom Jesus would do nothing.
      He (Jesus) would always point us to the Father if we neglect HIM in our prayers.
      Jesus despite being given all authority was never an end but a means to an end: The WAY to the Father, the TRUTH of God and the God-centered LIFE.

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