Saturday, June 20, 2009

Prayer To The Dead And Angels In The Psalms?

Below is something I posted in another thread. It might be helpful to some people not reading that thread. The issue under discussion is whether passages like Psalm 103:20-21 justify prayer to the dead and angels.

MG wrote:

"However, addressing angels would be fundamentally different from addressing mountains. Angels are indeed conscious of what is happening on earth to a considerable degree. We know they are the kinds of beings that could, in principle, respond to prayer."

The same can be said of believers who haven't yet died and the unregenerate who have died. I mentioned mountains, but I also mentioned other objects, such as "all you works of His" (Psalm 103:22). We wouldn't use that passage as a justification for praying to a Christian who lives in another country or praying to deceased unbelievers.

You write:

"For any people who are in the vicinity when Psalm 148:11-14, it would make sense for them to take these as requests or instructions."

Only by implication. I wouldn't think that the psalmist was expecting every entity he describes to perceive his request at the time he made it, nor would I expect angels to think that the psalmist was attempting to communicate with them.

You write:

"Yes, there is a poetic element, and it is exclusively poetic in verses like 7 and 8. But when we get to requests to actual people, things become a little different."

See my comments above regarding believers who haven't yet died and the unregenerate who have died, for example. And I've already cited the examples of a Protestant gravestone that's written as if addressed to the dead and a Protestant hymn that's written as if addressed to an angel. We know that people often write that way without any intention of communicating with the dead or angels. As I said earlier, such data is inconclusive at best.

You write:

"So it seems to me the argument from these verses depends on whether or not we have reason to think that angels are aware of what is happening on earth."

As Steve has explained, we don't have sufficient knowledge of what the angels know so as to justify prayer to angels. Our knowledge of what they know about earthly affairs doesn't extend to the point of justifying such prayers.

You write:

"I think you might be assuming that prayer to angels is being thought of as a bigger deal than it actually is. Really, I’m not claiming such prayers are common or extremely important; I would assume they are comparatively rare, and comparatively unimportant."

You've tried to include prayers to the dead in the discussion. And prayer to the dead is common in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, for example. Even prayer to angels is more common in such belief systems than the absence of it in scripture would suggest it should be. Why would prayer to the dead and angels be so "comparatively rare" that there are no examples of it in the sort of narrative portions of scripture I referred to earlier? Why would you have to resort to passages like Psalm 103?

You write:

"The same logic of 'we don’t see any examples of that or explicit prescriptions in its favor' could be used to deny that women can take communion, for there are no clear cases of it in Scripture."

Contexts in which people pray are far more common than contexts in which communion is discussed in such a way that the gender of the participant would be specified. Communion didn't even exist in the Old Testament era and most of the time covered in the gospels.

And there's no significant obstacle to taking female participation in communion as an implication of scripture, whereas there are significant obstacles to taking prayer to the dead and angels as implications of scripture, as Steve and I have explained.

You write:

"The same logic of 'where does that happen in the historical narratives?' could probably be used to deny that the name of David was ever invoked in prayer to God; but the Psalms do this (132:10)."

Some of the same principles I outlined above regarding female participation in communion are applicable here. And I didn't reject your reading of Psalm 103 just because it appears in a psalm. Rather, I cited the context (Psalm 103:22) and similar practices elsewhere (Protestant gravestones, Protestant hymns, etc.) to justify my reading. There is no such qualifying evidence with regard to Psalm 132:10. It's not as though we would expect people to repeatedly be appealing to David in historical narratives as Psalm 132 does. You're comparing two things that aren't comparable.

You write:

"Regardless, I think we have several other references to prayers to angels: Deut 32:43 (Septuagint), Psalm 97:7, Hebrews 1:6 (quoting Psalm 97:7) are the most explicit."

You'll have to explain why you're citing the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy 32:43 (a passage cited in Romans 15:10 without the implications you seem to be drawing from it). And you'll need to explain how you derive your conclusion from Psalm 97:7, a passage addressing idolatry. Hebrews 1:6 says "let all the angels of God worship Him". Not only is there no attempt to communicate directly with angels, but the phrase also is reminiscent of Psalm 97:1, which reads, "let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad" and verse 7, which reads, "Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images". Is the psalmist praying to the earth, the many islands, and those who serve graven images?

If those are your "most explicit" passages, then I think the dispute is settled.

You write:

"I would add that it is a lot harder to write them off as examples of poetic device, as they are far removed from the context of 'praise the Lord all ye his works' etc."

It's not as if there has to be such a phrase nearby in order for the sort of interpretation I've suggested to be reasonable. But there are such phrases nearby. See my comments on Psalm 97:1 above. See, also, Psalm 97:10 and 97:12. Should we use such passages to justify prayer to Christians living in other nations? Should I say a prayer to a Christian in Brazil and expect him to hear me and grant what I request?

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