I was taught to pray using the name of Jesus, just as Matthew 7:7-8 says “ask and you shall receive…” However, there’s something odd about praying “in the name of Jesus”.
Often, the most “spiritual” people would even go as far as declaring in His name. I can still hear it, even the overly emphatic pronunciation of the Messiah’s name. It is almost as if it was to wake him up, or to get His attention because He’s distracted with something else. What does the Bible have to say about this style of prayer? The prayer style that attempts to harness the power of Christ, and somehow simply because the name is being said, all of the sudden things will be spoken into existence. This is far from the way our Lord taught us to pray. In fact, these “spiritual prayers” (where the person gets louder and more persistent), sound more like magic spells.
Moreover, without getting into the “name in and declare it” fallacy, my hope is to bring light on this subject, and not to offend anyone’s upbringing.
If after reading this, you have questions on the matter, then feel free to message me and we can discuss further.
“Magic, incantation or something else?” this question would have been ever-present in the first century church as “the name of Jesus” was used for healing and exorcising. In the book of Acts, the disciples were known to perform many signs and wonders. These miracles often drew large crowds. They were specifically used to witness and not for the sake of simply performing miracles. At the time, there was a phrase that grew very popular: “In the name of Jesus”. These words were synonymous with something extraordinary waiting to happen. In the current culture, it literally meant to invoke said name’s authority.
“It represents a person and is an extension of that person’s being and personality.”(Polhill, 128) To say “in the name of Jesus” meant to invoke His authority and His power. However, the use of the phrase “in the name of…” was also used by magicians and other occult practices. Due to the popularity of such practices, the use of the name, although understood to be for invoking Christ’s power and authority, could easily be misunderstood as a form of incantation by the ill-informed.
History of Sorcery
It is no secret that sorcerers and magicians lived in the first century. In fact, the Pentateuch mentions such practices “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.”(Deut. 18:10-11 NIV) Therefore, clarifying God’s stance on magic—He opposes it. Understanding this negates the possibility that to say to invoke the name of Jesus is part of a magic incantation. Still, there have been a number of magical papyri discovered from ancient times that involved the invocation of the name of God. These discoveries associated with God, along with other gods, too.
“References to divine names also appear in the Greek Magical Papyri, whose incantations require practitioners to invoke all sorts of divine names in order to heal, exorcise, safeguard from dancer, etc.”(Busch) Magicians and charlatans were pervasive in the first century culture. They would work their magic whilst being financially compensated. One spell recorded in the magical papyri reads “I abjure thee by Jesus, the God of the Hebrews”(Polhill, 403) The name of God was used as well as the name of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. They were primarily used for sounding exotic; the more exotic the spell, the more expensive they would be.
Meaning of Invoking the Name
As previously stated, to invoke the name of Jesus meant to work on behalf of that authority. In other words, it was to say that although Jesus is not present in body, His authority is still active. Acts 3 shows an example in which a Peter invokes the name of Jesus to heal a lame beggar, “It is not Jesus himself who heals the beggar, for he has ascended to heaven and is no longer present. Nor is it even the Holy Spirit, ‘the Spirit of Jesus’, as the reader perhaps expects. Rather, it is Jesus’ name that Peter ‘invokes’ and ‘sets in motion and operation’, miraculously healing the man’s paralysis”(Kittel, 227)
Rather than using the name of the invoked in one’s authority, invoking the name of Jesus was meant for Him to take over. In addition, unless one was under His authority, any efforts to “use Him” would be futile and outright sinful. Invoking Jesus’ name isn’t about harnessing His power, like many magicians at the time would practice when they would perform their rituals. Jesus’ name does not submit to anyone.
The Miracle in Acts 3
“When Peter explains the miracle to the confused onlookers in an impromptu sermon, Jesus’ name becomes extremely obtrusive.”(Busch) Pushing the boundaries of Greek syntax, the sentence structure in Acts 3:16 when read is difficult to comprehend, primarily because Luke must have mistranslated an Aramaic phrase in a hypothetical source.(Torrey, pp.14-16) The verse appears clumsy for this matter and most English translations fix this by change its third reference for Jesus’ name from “him” to “it”. “And the faith which is through him gave to him wholeness before you all” (Acts 3:16 NIV) Peter explains in Acts 3 that, although, Jesus is presently absent,
His name has great power, because He is the risen One, He is the one who is glorified, and just as he was able to defeat death in His resurrection, His name has the authority to heal.
Result of Improperly using the Name of Jesus
The Simon of Acts 6 is remembered as the magician that wanted to use the Holy Spirit’s power for his own advantage. However, he was quickly rebuked and condemned for his actions. Furthermore, in Acts 19:13-16 seven brothers went around driving evil spirits. When they a demon-possessed person, they used the name of Jesus. “They would say, in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.”(Acts 19:13b NIV) Ironically, to their surprise the demon answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you? Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.”(Acts 19:15-16 NIV)
Attempting to use the name of the Lord in the book of Acts shows quick backfires. The nakedness of the Jewish exorcists was almost symbolic of their total humiliation in the incident.(Polhill, 404.) As such, news would spread rapidly and greater reverence for the name of Jesus was gained by those inside and outside the faith. Interestingly enough, a few verses after this event, it is mentioned that many who used to practice magic repented and even burned the equivalent of 137 years’ worth of salary in magical papyri.
Magic and Christianity are incompatible. Jesus has absolutely nothing to do with magic, and His name is not to be used for magical incantations. When invoking His name one must not try to harness Jesus’ power as He does not submit to anyone but God the Father. Jesus’ name is powerful because Jesus is the glorified, and risen One. Invoking His authority is something left only for those who have confessed Jesus as Lord and are themselves submitted to His sovereign authority. The louder the prayer, may elevate adrenaline and mimic spiritual sensations. These have no effect on the already effective authority of the name of Jesus. “In the name of Jesus is all the power needed to drive out demonic forces in every age.”(Polhill, 405.) Amen.
Busch, Austin. “Presence Deferred: The Name of Jesus and Self-Referential Eschatological Prophecy in Acts 3.” Biblical Interpretation 17, no. 5 (October): 521- 53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156851508×401169.
Kittel, Gerhard, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 Volume Set). G. Friedrich. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977.