Thursday, July 16, 2009


by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

There is no single word in biblical Hebrew or Greek that signifies “prayer” in general, but rather a whole series of different words with related meanings, such as “praise, adore, give thanks, confess, bless, repent, ask, plea, beg, petition, worship, sacrifice, bow down, sing psalms, etc.”

To learn about the wide variety of “prayer” in the Bible, we can not only look at the explicit teachings about prayer by Jesus, Paul, and other biblical characters and authors, but also consider the situations in which these figures are portrayed as praying, as well as the texts of specific prayers they are said to have spoken. While all four Gospels contain some teachings and examples or prayer, by far the most prayer-related material is found in Luke’s Gospel.

GreekEnglishMattMarkLukeJohnActsPaulHebCathRevNT Total
proseuxomaito pray, speak to God1510190161915085
proseuxhprayer, request223091403336
euxomaito pray, make a vow0000230207
euxhprayer, vow0000200103
deomaito ask, beg, plead10807600022
dehsijprayer, plea, petition003001212018
eulogewto bless551311772041
euxaristewto give thanks224322400138
proskunewto bow down, worship13231141202460
adw & wdhto sing / song000002 / 2003 / 55 + 7
umnew & umnojto sing hymns / hymn1 / 01 / 0001 / 00 / 21 / 0004 + 2
yallw & yalmojto sing psalms / psalm000 / 200 / 24 / 301 / 005 + 7
epaitew & prosaitewto beg0021000002 + 1

Prayers spoken by Jesus himself:

  • While teaching the disciples to pray: The Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4)
  • Thanking the Father for hiding things from the wise, revealing them to children (Matt 11:25-30; Luke 10:21-24)
  • Before curing a deaf man, Jesus looks up to heaven, sighs, and says, "Ephphatha" (Mark 7:31-35)
  • Before calling Lazarus out of the tomb (John 11:41-42)
  • After the Last Supper discourse: Jesus’ Great Prayer to the Father (John 17:1-26)
  • While at Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-44; Mark 14:32-39; Luke 22:41-46; cf. John 18:11)
  • While hanging on the cross (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:34, 46; cf. John 19:30)

Other occasions when Jesus prays:

  • After having been baptized in the Jordan river, Jesus remains praying (Luke 3:21)
  • While living in Capernaum, Jesus goes outside of town to pray by himself (Mark 1:35; cf. Luke 5:16)
  • Before choosing his Twelve Apostles, Jesus spends the night in prayer (Luke 6:12)
  • Jesus give thanks (to God) before distributing food to 5000 people (Matt 14:19; Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16; John 6:11)
  • After feeding the 5000, Jesus goes off by himself to pray (Matt 14:23; Mark 6:46)
  • In feeding the 4000, Jesus gives thanks (to God) before distributing the loaves (Matt 15:36; Mark 8:6-7)
  • Jesus prays alone before asking the disciples who people think he is (Luke 9:18)
  • Jesus goes up a mountain with three disciples to pray, when he is transfigured (Luke 9:28-29)
  • After observing Jesus at prayer, one of his disciples asks him to reach them to pray (Luke 11:1)
  • People bring children to Jesus for him to lay his hands on them and pray (Matt 19:13)
  • Jesus prays blessings over bread and wine at the Last Supper (Matt 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:17-20)
  • Jesus prays the Peter’s faith may not fail (Luke 22:32)
  • Jesus mentions that he could call upon his Father to save him (Matt 26:53)