A Series of Answers to Common Questions
If Jesus is God, then who was he praying to on the cross when he said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? (cf. Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46) Was he praying to himself? If so, was he complaining to himself about why he had forsaken himself?
The Holy Bible teaches that there are three distinct, yet inseparable Persons who exist as the one true God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three Persons of God, because they are personally distinct, have loving communion and dialog amongst themselves. Therefore, the Lord Jesus wasn't praying to himself on the Cross, but was actually praying to the Person of the Father.
Furthermore, the Holy Bible also teaches that Jesus became, and forever will remain, a true human being. It is, therefore, not surprising that Christ did what every God-fearing person is supposed to do, namely pray and worship God. Jesus is man as God intends all men to be, namely a perfect servant who perfectly submits and worships the true God.
Now, as to why the Lord cried out to the Father that he had been forsaken by him, this was due to Christ being our sin-bearer. According to the Scriptures, the Lord Jesus came to die as our substitute in order to take upon himself the judgment and wrath of God which came as a result of sins:
"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" John 1:29
"God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:25-26
"that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:19-21
"All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue TO DO everything written in the Book of the Law.' Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith.' The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, 'The man who DOES THESE THINGS will live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse FOR US, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.' He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." Galatians 3:10-14
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2:24
"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit," 1 Peter 3:18
As we saw in response to the first question, sin resulted in the loss of intimate communion with God and also brought on physical death, where the soul departs from the body and the body returns to the dust from which it originally came. God's wrath is poured out on sinners as a result of their rebellion and wickedness, because of their failure to do what God's Law requires (cf. Genesis 2:17, 3:19; Isaiah 59:1-2; Psalm 66:18; Habakkuk 1:13; Romans 1:18-32).
Jesus' cry and the darkness which came upon the land at noon was an indication that God was punishing Christ in our place, that Jesus suffered the loss of God's intimate, loving fellowship in place of sinners:
"From the sixth hour (noon) until the ninth hour (three o'clock) darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour (three o'clock) Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’" Matthew 27:45-46
Contrast this with the following OT citations:
"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.' So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.'" Exodus 10:21-23
"'And on that day,' declares the Lord GOD, 'I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for AN ONLY SON and the end of it like a bitter day.'" Amos 8:9-10
Thus, Christ, because he is the sinners' substitute who came to die in the place of God's people, suffered the just punishment that all sinners deserve.
Fourthly, the Scriptures say that Jesus is also the believers' High Priest who presents his sacrifice on our behalf before the Father, making intercession for us:
"Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;" Hebrews 3:1
"For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him, 'YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.'" Hebrews 7:14-17
"but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever." Hebrews 7:24-28
Related to this point, the Holy Bible states that Jesus was crucified at the third hour where he then offered a prayer on behalf of those who were crucifying him and dividing his garments amongst themselves:
"It was the third hour (nine o'clock) when they crucified him." Mark 15:25
"When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.' And they divided up his clothes by casting lots." Luke 23:33-34
What is more, Christ's cry to the Father occurred at the ninth hour:
"And at the ninth hour (three o'clock) Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" Mark 15:34
The Lord Jesus' words just so happen to be the opening words of Psalm 22, part of a collection of Psalms which were sung at the Temple by worshipers:
"My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning." Psalm 22:1
This indicates that Jesus was actually praying to God in the very words of this particular Psalm. What makes this so astonishing is that both the third and ninth hours were the times for Temple prayers and the daily sacrifices!
"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem Godfearing Jews from every nation under heaven... Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: 'Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!'" Acts 2:1-5, 14-15
Peter's statement about it being nine in the morning is significant as we will see shortly.
"One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer at three in the afternoon." Acts 3:1
"One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, 'Cornelius!' ... Cornelius answered: 'Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me.'" Acts 10:3, 30
Bible expositor, John Gill, comments on Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:25 and Acts 2:14-15:
And about the ninth hour ...
Or three o'clock in the afternoon, which was about the time of the slaying and offering of the daily sacrifice, which was an eminent type of Christ. The Jews say F9, that
"every day the daily sacrifice was slain at eight and a half, and was offered up at nine and a half:"about which time also the passover was killed, which was another type of Christ; and as they say F11, "was offered first, and then the daily sacrifice." Though the account they elsewhere F12 give of these things, is this;
"the daily sacrifice was slain at eight and a half, and was offered up at nine and a half; (that is, on all the common days of the year;) on the evenings of the passover, it was slain at seven and a half, and offered at eight and a half, whether on a common day, or on a sabbath day: the passover eve, that happened to be on the sabbath eve, it was slain at six and a half, and offered at seven and a half, and the passover after it." ...FOOTNOTES:
F9 T. Hieros. Pesachim, fol. 31. 3, 4.
F12 Misn. Pesachim, c. 5. sect. 1. (Source; underline emphasis ours)
And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
The time of the daily sacrifice of the morning, at which the priests ought to have been; and the time when the sanhedrim usually began to sit F24; for
"the grand sanhedrim sat from the daily sacrifice of the morning, to the daily sacrifice of the evening:" ...FOOTNOTES:
F24 Maimon. Hilch. Sanhedrin, c. 3, sect. 1. (Source; underline emphasis ours)
seeing it is but the third hour of the day;
or nine of the clock in the morning: for till this time it was not usual with the Jews, if men of any sobriety or religion, so much as to taste anything: the rules are these F8,
"it is forbidden a man to taste anything, or do any work after break of day, until he has prayed the morning prayer."Now
"the morning prayer, the precept concerning it is, that a man should begin to pray as soon as the sun shines out; and its time is until the end of the fourth hour, which is the third part of the day F9."So that a man might not taste anything, either of eatables or drinkables, until the fourth hour, or ten o'clock in the morning: hence it is said F11, that
"after they offered the daily sacrifice they ate bread, (Nyev ebra Nmzb), 'at the time of four hours':"or on the fourth hour, and sooner than this it was not lawful to eat, even ever so little; and whoever did, was not reckoned fit to be conversed with.
"Says R. Isaac F12, whoever eats a green or herb before the fourth hour, it is forbidden to converse with him; and the same says, it is unlawful to eat a raw herb before the fourth hour. Amemar, and Mar Zutra, and Rab Ashe were sitting, and they brought before them a raw herb before the fourth hour. Amemar and Rab Ashe ate, and Mar Zutra did not eat: they said to him, what is thy meaning? (he replied) that R. Isaac said, whoever eats a herb before the fourth hour, it is forbidden to converse with him."The time for taking food by persons of different characters, is thus expressed by them:
"the first hour is the time of eating for the Lydians, the second for thieves, the third for heirs, the fourth for labourers, the fifth for every man; is it not so? Saith R. Papa, the fourth is the time of repast for every man; but (the truth is) the fourth is the time of eating for every man, the fifth for labourers, and the sixth for the disciples of the wise men F13."Hence that advice F14,
"‘at the fourth hour’, go into a cook's shop, (or tavern,) if thou seest a man drinking wine, and holding the cup in his hands, and slumbering, inquire about him, if he is one of the wise doctors..."The "gloss" upon it is,
"at the fourth hour, for that is the time of eating, when all go into the shops (or taverns) to eat."Now whereas they that are drunken are drunken in the night, and not in the day, and much less so soon in the day, when it was not usual, at least with religious men, to have tasted anything by this time; and whereas the apostles, and their company, were sober and religious men, and had never done thing to forfeit their character, it was unreasonable to suppose anything of this kind in them.
F8 Maimon. Hilch, Tophilla, c. 6. sect. 4. T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 28. 2.
F9 lb. c. 3. sect. 1. Vid. T. Beracot, fol. 26. 2.
F11 Targum in Eccl. x. 17.
F12 T. Bab. Betacot, fol. 44. 2.
F13 T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 10. 1.
F14 T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 83. 2. (Source; underline emphasis ours)
These practices of offering morning and evening sacrifices and prayers were instituted by King David to be observed during the time the Temple would be standing:
"These were the sons of Levi by their fathers' houses, the heads of fathers' houses as they were listed according to the number of the names of the individuals from twenty years old and upward who were to do the work for the service of the house of the LORD. For David said, 'The LORD, the God of Israel, has given rest to his people, and he dwells in Jerusalem forever. And so the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the things for its service.' For by the last words of David the sons of Levi were numbered from twenty years old and upward. For their duty was to assist the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the LORD, having the care of the courts and the chambers, the cleansing of all that is holy, and any work for the service of the house of God. Their duty was also to assist with the showbread, the flour for the grain offering, the wafers of unleavened bread, the baked offering, the offering mixed with oil, and all measures of quantity or size. And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening, and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the LORD on Sabbaths, new moons and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the LORD." 1 Chronicles 23:24-31
"Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the LORD my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the LORD our God, as ordained forever for Israel." 2 Chronicles 2:4
"They offer to the LORD every morning and every evening burnt offerings and incense of sweet spices, set out the showbread on the table of pure gold, and care for the golden lampstand that its lamps may burn every evening. For we keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken him." 2 Chronicles 13:11
Thus, it is not a coincidence that the Lord Jesus, who as our High Priest, prayed during the very hours that the Jews prayed in the Temple, right at the time when the sacrifices were offered!
Question for Muslims:
The Quran says that Allah prays:
Upon them shall be prayers (salawatun) from their Lord and mercy, and they are the rightly directed. S. 2:157
He it is who sends PRAYERS on you (Arabic- yusallii alaykum), as do His angels ... S. 33:43
Allah and His angels PRAY for the Prophet (Arabic- yasalluuna alan-Nabiyy): O ye that believe PRAY for him (salluu `alayhi), and salute him with all respect. S. 33:56
Allah prays for believers and Muhammad, as Muhammad prays for believers:
Take alms of their wealth, wherewith thou mayst purify them and mayst make them grow, and pray for them (wa salli alayhim). Lo! thy prayer (salataka) is an assuagement for them. Allah is Hearer, Knower. S. 9:103 Pickthall
Since these verses all clearly say that Allah literally prays, and since prayer requires an object, we must therefore ask to whom does Allah pray? Muslims claim that Allah is a singular entity, there being no plurality of persons within his Being, which means that Allah cannot be praying to himself. Or is he? Maybe Allah does in fact pray to himself.
Some Muslims try to redefine words by saying that prayer here doesn't literally mean prayer, but actually means blessings, that Allah is sending down his blessings. The problem with this explanation is that there is an Arabic word for blessing, baraka, which does not appear in the above citations. Rather, the passages use the words salawatun, yusallii, yasalluuna and salluu, all of which are derivatives of the word salah.
Muslim writer Moiz Amjad of "Understanding Islam" provides the lexical meaning of salah in response to a reader's question:
Ibn Al-Atheer in his highly acknowledged dictionary of the Arabic language, 'Al-Nihaayah fi Ghareeb al-Athar' has explained "Sala'h" as follows:
'Al-Sala'h' and 'Al-Salawaat': used for a particular kind of worship. Its literal origin is supplication (prayer). Sometimes, 'Sala'h' is referred to by mentioning any one or more of its parts. It is also said that the literal origin of the word is 'to glorify' and the particular worship is called 'Sala'h', because it entails the glorification of the Lord. (The Meaning of the Word "Sala'h", May 19, 2001; source; bold emphasis ours)
On this same site, a question was asked regarding the literal meaning of the word salah to which the writer responded:
What is the English word that we can use for the word "Salah" ? Is it true that the word "Prayer" is not even close to the meaning of the word "Salah"?
Salah (صلاة) literally means one's calling upon one's God (in a respectful and humble way). It is very much the same as the word Du'a (دعا).
In the Oxford dictionary we read:
"Prayer: a request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity".
I think the above can be seen as a reasonable and literal translation of the word Salah. One might argue that the content of Salah is not excluded to requesting for help or expression of thanks and that other things like uttering God's attributes, glorifying God, etc...can also be included in the meaning of the word Salah. I am, however, sure that this is also true in the case of the word "prayer." (Abdullah Rahim, The Meaning of the Word "Salah", May 18, 2005; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)
Noted Muslim commentator, Ibn Kathir, defines the word as:
The Meaning of Salah
In the Arabic language, the basic meaning of Salah is supplication. In religious terminology, Salah is used to refer to the acts of bowing and prostration, the remaining specified acts associated with it, specified at certain times, with those known conditions, and the characteristics, and requirements that are well-known about it. (Source; underline emphasis ours)
Muhammad's own first cousin, and renowned Muslim scholar, Ibn 'Abbas admitted that Allah prays:
"The people of Israel said to Moses (peace be upon him): Does your Lord pray? His Lord (az wa gal) called him [saying]: O Moses, they asked thee if your Lord prays. Say [to them] Yes, I do pray, and my angels [pray] upon my prophets and my messengers, and Allah (az wa gal) then sent down on his messenger (prayer and peace be upon him): Allah and His angels pray ..." [quoted by Ibn Kathir on Surat Al-Ahzaab 33:56; translated from the Arabic online edition]
[Az wa gal = exalted and majesty, a phrase of praise spoken after God was mentioned.]
The Israelites said to Musa: Does your Lord pray? Musa said: Fear Allah, O Sons of Israel!
Allah said: O Musa! What did your people say? Musa said: O my Lord, You already know? They said: Does your Lord pray?
Allah said: Tell them My prayer for My servants is that My Mercy should precede My Anger. If it were not so, I would have destroyed them.
[Ibn ‘Asakir] (Al-Ahadith Al-Qudsiyyah - Divine Narratives translated by Dr. Abdul Khaliq Kazi & Dr. Alan B. Day, Section 2: Al-Ithafat Al-Saniyya Bi‘l-Ahadith Al-Qudsiyyah by Shaikh Zain al-Din Abdul Ra‘uf b. Taj al-‘Arifin b. ‘Ali b. Zayn al-‘Abidin al-Munawi [Dar Al Kitab Arabi - USA, 1995], pp. 305-306)
The following is a translation of an alleged prayer of Allah taken from Ibn Hishams Al-Sirah Al-Halabiyya:
قلت يا جبريل أيصلى ربك قال نعم قلت وما يقول قال يقول سبوح قدوس رب الملائكة والروح سبقت رحمتى غضبى
I [Muhammad] said, "O Gabriel, does your Lord pray?" He said, "Yes." I said, "What does he say?" "This is what he says. He says: Glory, holy, Lord of the angels and the Spirit. My mercy overcomes my wrath." (Source; translation, bold, underline and comments within brackets ours)
Another Muslim scholar made the following comments about surah 33:56 and Allah praying:
Allah makes the merit of His Prophet clear by first praying blessing on Himself, and then by the prayer of the angels, and then by commanding His slaves to pray blessing and peace on him as well. Abu Bakr ibn Furak related that one of the 'ulama interpreted the words of the Prophet, "The coolness of my eye is in the prayer," as meaning Allah's prayer, that of the angels and that of his community in response to Allah's command until the Day of Rising. The prayer of angels and men is supplication for him and that of Allah is mercy.
It is said that "they pray" means they invoke blessing (baraka). However, when the Prophet taught people the prayer on himself, he made a distinction between the word salat (prayer) and baraka (blessing). We will return to the meaning of the prayer on him later. (Muhammad Messenger of Allah (Ash-Shifa of Qadi 'Iyad), Qadi 'Iyad Musa al-Yahsubi, translated by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley [Madinah Press, Inverness, Scotland, U.K. 1991; third reprint, paperback], p. 25; bold emphasis ours)
The Prophet made a distinction between salat (prayer) and baraka (blessing) in the hadith in which he taught about making the prayer on him. This indicates that they have two separate meanings. (Ibid., p. 250; bold emphasis ours)
Salama al-Kindi said: 'Ali used to teach us the prayer on the Prophet as follows: "O Allah, the One who spread out the flat expanses and created the heavens! Bestow YOUR NOBLE PRAYERS, Your increasing blessing and the compassion of Your tenderness upon Muhammad..."
'Ali also said about the prayer on the prophet in the ayat, "Allah and his angels pray on the Prophet" (33:56) "At your service and obedience, my Lord. The PRAYERS OF Allah, the good and Merciful, the near angels, the true ones, the martyrs, the salihun, and anything that glorifies You, O Lord of the worlds, be upon Muhammad ibn 'Abdullah..." (Ibid., p. 257; capital and underline emphasis ours)
This next one is particularly interesting:
Ibn Mas'ud used to say, "When you bless the Prophet, then make the prayer on him excellent. You do not know; perhaps it will be shown to him. Say, ‘O Allah, bestow YOUR PRAYERS, Your MERCY and Your BLESSING on the Master of the Messengers, the Imam of the God-fearing, the Leader of the Good and the Messenger of Mercy.’" (Ibid., p. 258; underline and capital emphasis ours)
In Ibn Mas'ud’s hadith right above, one clearly sees a distinction being made between Allah's prayers, his mercy and blessings, showing that the word for pray does not have the same meaning as blessing.
Anas ibn Malik related that the Prophet said, "Whoever blesses me once, Allah blesses him with TEN PRAYERS..."
Anas said that the Prophet said, "Jibril called me and said, ‘Whoever prays one prayer on you, ALLAH PRAYS ON HIM TEN TIMES and raises him up by ten degrees.’" ... (Ibid., p. 259; capital emphasis ours)
Moreover, one of the texts which we cited above makes a clear distinction and differentiation between Allah’s prayers and his mercy. Here it is again:
Upon them shall be prayers from their Lord and mercy (salawatun min rabbihim wa-rahmatun), and they are the rightly directed. S. 2:157
This clearly indicates that the word for prayer does not have the same meaning as mercy or blessing but means exactly that, i.e. Allah does actually pray for people.
And it seems that when English-speaking Muslims are not trying to cover up or conceal what Islam truly teaches they will have no qualms admitting that Allah actually prays. For instance, notice how Sunni Muslim author GF Haddad translated surah 33:56:
Perfection of faith is dependent on love of the Prophet because Allah and His angels are constantly raising his honor, as is meant in the verse:
"Allah and His angels ARE PRAYING ON the Prophet" (33:56) …
2. Allah Said: Invoke Blessings on the Prophet
We are encouraged to pray on the Prophet and to praise him, which is an obligation on us through Allah's order in the verse:
"Allah and His angels ARE PRAYING ON (and praising) the Prophet; O believers! pray on (and praise) him and send him utmost greetings" (al-Ahzab 56) … (Love Of The Prophet And Following His Example; source; capital emphasis ours)
Perhaps there is a Muslim out there who can explain to us how can Allah pray if he is a singularity-within-unity Deity?
It seems that Christianity and Islam are not the only religions which teach that God prays; so does Judaism!
Rabbi Yohanan, quoting Rabbi Yose said: "How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be God, prays? Because scripture says, Even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7). Note, it is not said, [house of] their prayer, rather, My prayer; hence [we learn] that the Holy One, blessed be God, prays.
What does God pray? Rabbi Zutra ben Tuviah quoted in the name of Rav: "May it be My will that My mercy suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children with the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice."
It has been taught, Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha said: "I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary - the Holy of Holies] to offer incense, and there I saw Akatriel Yah, Adonai Tzeva'ot - the God of Hosts - seated upon a high and lofty throne. He said to me, 'My son, bless Me!' I replied, 'May it be Your will that Your mercy may suppress Your anger and may Your mercy prevail over Your other attributes, so that You may deal with Your children according to the attribute of mercy, and thus, on their behalf, stop short of the strict limits of justice!' Then God nodded to me."
Incidentally, from this we learn that the blessing of an ordinary person must not be taken lightly. (Babylonian Talmud, Zera'im I, Berakoth 7a; bold and underline emphasis ours)
Thus, all three of the monotheistic religions teach that God actually prays with Christianity being the only one that makes sense out of God praying, i.e. three eternally distinct Persons of God praying to one another as opposed to a singular Monad praying to himself.
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