Glossary of Terms



From the writings of Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), Eastern Church

Clement was a highly educated Christian convert from paganism and a pioneer of Christian scholarship. He became a Christian teacher at Alexandria, Egypt, and in 190 succeeded Pantaenus as head of the catechetical school there. Origen was one of his pupils. In his largest extant work, Miscellanies, Clement attempted unsuccessfully to wrest the term "gnostic" (one who knows) away from heretics and give it a Christian meaning. [To avoid confusion, the David Bercot (editor of A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, the source of most of the quotes on this webpage) rendered Clement's "gnostic" as "spiritual man.") In 202 Clement was forced by persecution to flee. His main works, Protrepticus, the Paedagogus, and the Stromateis, brought Christian doctrine face to face with the ideas and achievements of his time. He agreed with the Gnostics in holding 'gnosis' or religious knowledge to be the chief element in Christian perfection, but for him the only true 'gnosis' was that which presupposed the faith of the Church. Christ, the Logos, was both the source of human reason and the interpreter of God to mankind. He became a man in order to give a supreme revelation, and through Him men might partake of immortality.

The spiritual man prays in thought during every hour, being allied to God by love. First, he will ask forgiveness of sins; and afterwards, he asks that he may sin no more. (195 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 249)

The spiritual man gives thanks always for all things to God -- by righteous hearing and divine reading, by true investigation, by holy oblation, and by blessed prayer. always lauding, hymning, blessing, and praising -- such a soul is never separated from God at any time. (195 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 506)

Someone may say that the voice does not reach God, but is rolled downward in the air. However, the thoughts of the saints pierce not only the air, but the whole world. And the divine power, with the speed of light, sees through the whol soul... If we may be permitted to use the expression, God is "all ears and all eyes." In general, an unworthy opinion of God maintains no piety in hymns, discourses, writings, or doctrines. Rather, it digresses to grovelling and unseemly ideas and notions. (195 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 533)

Prayer, then, to speak more boldly, is conversation with God. Though whispering (and consequently, not opening the lips), we speak in silence, yet we cry inwardly. For God hears continually all the inward conversation. So also we raise the head and lift the hands to heaven, and set the feet in motion at the closing utterance of the prayer, following the eagerness of the spirit directed towards the intellectual essence. Endeavoring to elevate the body from earth along with our prayer -- raising the sould aloft, winged with longing for better things -- we compel it to advance to the region of holoiness, manianimously despising the chain of the flesh. (195 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 534)

God does not wait for talkative tongues ... but knows absolutely the thoughts of all. What the voice communicates to us, our thoughts speak to God. For, even before the creation, He knew what would come into our minds. So prayer may be uttered without the voice. (195 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 535)

The whole life of the spiritual man is a holy festival. His sacrifices are prayers, praises, and readings in the Scriptures before meals. They are psalms and hymns during meals and before bed -- and prayers also again during night. By these, the spiritual man unites himself to the divine choir... The spiritual man does not use wordy prayer by his mouth. For he has learned to ask of the Lord what is necessary. In every place, therefore, but not ostensibly and visibly to the multitude, he will pray. While engaged in walking, in conversation, while in silence, while engaged in reading and in works according to reason, he prays in every situation. (195 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 537)

His whole life is prayer and conversation with God. And if he is pure from sins, he will by all means obtain what he wishes. For God says to the righteous man, "Ask, and I will give you." (195 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 544)

But they are not yet obedient if they do not pray even for their enemies, having become entirely free of resentment. (195 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 548)


From the writings of Tertullian (155/160-225/250 AD), Western Church

Tertullian was a brilliant, fiery Christian apologist and polemicist writer in Carthage, North Africa. He was brought up as a pagan and may have practiced law. As a Christian writer he laid the foundations of Christology and trinitarian orthodoxy in the West. He may have been an ordained presbyter. He wrote numerous apologies, works against heretics, and exhortations to other Christians -- nearly all of which are in Latin. Near the beginning of the third century, he came under the influence of the Montanist sect. Around 211, he seems to have left the church to join an ascetic Montanist congregation, although this is not certain. The Montanist sect differed from the church primarily on matters of discipline, not theological doctrines. Some believe that Tertullian's estrangement from the main church was due to the church's laxity. All the quotes below are all from his orthodox church period.

Let us consider His heavenly wisdom: first, addressing the teaching of praying secretly, whereby He exacted man's faith ... Further, we should not thing that the Lord must be approached with a train of words. (198 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 681)

The exercise of prayer should not only be free from anger, but from all mental disturbances whatever. Pryaer should be uttered from a spirit like the Spirit to whom it is sent. For a defiled spirit cannot be acknolwedged by a holy Spirit, nor a sad one by a joyful one, nor a fettered one by a free one. ... But what reason is there to go to prayer with hands indeed washed, but the spirit foul? (198 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 685)

The sounds of our voice, likewise, should be subdued. For, if we are to be heard for our noise, what large windpipes we would need! But God is the hearer -- not of the voice -- but of the heart. ... What superior advantage will those who pray to loudly gain -- except that they annoy their neighbors? Nay, by making their petitions audible, what less error do they commit the if they were to pray in public? (198 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 686)

How [can we pray] "in every place," since we are prohibited from prayi8ng in public? He means in every place that opportunity or even necessity may have rendered suitable. For that which was done by the apostles (who, in jail, in the hearing of the prisoners "began praying and singing to God") is not considered to have been done contrary to this teaching. (198 A.D., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, page 689)

Oxford Dictionary of the Bible

by W.R.F. Browning (NY: Oxford University Press, 1996)

prayer The act of communicating in words or in silence with the transcendent God. Conversations between God and men are reported in the OT (e.g., Abraham, Gen. 15:1-6; Moses, Exod. 3:1-4; 33:11; prophets, 1 Sam. 3:4-9). OT prayer includes petition, intercession, confession, and thanksgiving, and set hours and days are prescribed for prayer. In the NT Jesus is reported to have prayed to his Father frequently and he gave the 'Lords Prayer' to the disciples (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). The epistles teach that prayer to God is offered through Christ (Rom 1:8). NT prayers include praise (Acts 2:47), thanksgiving (1 Cor. 14:16-17), and petition (Phil. 4:6). Prayer is not regarded as a method for compelling God to act but asking that his will be done and his kingdom come.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

prayer, the act of petitioning, praising, giving thanks, or confessing to God; it is expressed by several different words in both the OT and the NT. Prayer can be individual or corporate, audible or silent. It is conditioned by the biblical understanding of God as a personal being who hears the prayers of his people (1 Kings 9:3; Pss. 34:15; 65:2; Matt. 7:11; 1 John 5:15).

In the OT: The earliest instances of prayer in the OT are conversations between persons and God. Such conversations take place between God and Adam (Gen. 3:9-12), Abraham (Gen. 15:1-6), and Moses (Exod. 3:1-4:17). It is said that God spoke to Moses ‘face to face, as a man speaks to his friend’ (Exod. 33:11). Kings (1 Sam. 23:2-4; 1 Kings 3:5-14) and prophets (1 Sam. 3:4-9; Isa. 6:1-13; Jer. 1:4-19) are portrayed as conversation partners with God (frequently the divine presence is by way of visions or dreams).

The forms of prayer in the OT include petitions for guidance, requests for divine help, intercessions, praise and thanksgiving, and confession. Prayers for guidance are offered by Isaac (Gen. 24:12-14), Moses (Num. 11:11-15), and most notably by Solomon, who asks for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-14). Requests include prayers for the necessities of life (1 Kings 8:22-53; Prov. 30:8), deliverance from enemies (Gen. 32:11; Pss. 31:15; 59:1), and retribution (Judg. 16:28; Ps. 137:7; Jer. 17:18). Intercessions are offered by the patriarchs and Moses (Gen. 18:22-32; Exod. 5:22-23; 32:11-13), David (2 Sam. 12:16-17), and various prophets (Amos 7:1-6; Ezek. 9:8; 11:13). While such intercessions are generally for the whole people, there are instances of intercessions for individuals (1 Kings 17:20-21; 2 Kings 4:32-33) and Gentile governmental authority as well (Jer. 29:7; Ezra 6:10). Praise and thanksgiving are offered to God for his steadfast love (Pss. 100:4-5; 108:3-4), his creation of the world, his rule over it, and his benevolent care for all that he has made (Pss. 145-150). Confession is prescribed for the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:21), but it can be made whenever an offense against God has occurred. Confession is usually made by the confessor on behalf of the people (Exod. 32:31-32; Neh. 9:16-37; Dan. 9:20) or by the community (Judg. 10:10), but there are instances of individual confession (2 Sam. 24:17; Ps. 51). Confession is made in the certainty of God’s promises to forgive (Lev. 26:40-45; Isa. 1:18; Mic. 7:18-19).

The OT assumes that prayer can be offered at any time and place. There are, however, prescribed times: confession is made on the Day of Atonement; hours are set for daily prayer (Dan. 6:10); and the Sabbath and other festivals are days for prayer. The Temple was a place of prayer, as were the synagogue and home in the postexilic era. The prophets taught that prayer is more than a matter of ritual; it must be offered with integrity, pure motives, and only within the context of having attended to ethical concerns (Isa. 1:15-17; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Mic. 6:8; cf. Ps. 24:3-6).

In the NT: Jesus is portrayed as a model and instructor in prayer in the NT, especially in Luke’s Gospel, where he prays at decisive moments: his baptism (3:21), the calling of his disciples (6:12), transfiguration (9:29), Gethsemane (22:39-46), and crucifixion (23:46). The major prayers attributed to Jesus, however, are in Matthew (6:9-13, the Lord’s Prayer; cf. Luke 11:2-4) and John (chap. 17, the High Priestly Prayer). Jesus teaches that prayer should not be ostentatious and verbose but in private and with brevity (Matt. 6:5-8), earnest (Luke 11:5-13), in faith (Mark 11:23-24), and in a forgiving spirit (Mark 11:25). God is to be addressed as ‘Father’ (Matt. 6:9; 7:11).

Within the early church, prayer was addressed directly to God (1 Cor. 1:4; Col. 1:3) or ‘through’ Christ (Rom. 1:8). That prayer should be ‘through’ Christ is based on the prior concept that God’s grace and love come ‘through’ Christ (Rom. 1:5; 5:1; 8:39) and that the reigning Christ is Lord and is accessible as mediator (Rom. 10:9-13; 1 Cor. 1:9).

As in the OT, the prayers of the NT are of several kinds. Paul frequently gives thanks for the faith and witness of those to whom he writes (Rom. 1:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:4; Phil. 1:3-5), and worship regularly includes prayers of thanksgiving (1 Cor. 14:16-17) and praise (Acts 2:47). Prayers are to be offered for daily needs (Matt. 6:11; 7:11; Phil. 4:6) and for the healing of the sick (James 5:13-16). Intercessions are made by Paul for his congregations (Rom. 15:13; Phil. 1:9-11), and he asks for their intercessions (Rom. 15:30-32; 2 Cor. 1:11; 1 Thess. 5:25). Intercessions are to be made for all persons, including rulers, that a peaceable life may be enjoyed by all (1 Tim. 2:1-2). There are prayers for forgiveness (Luke 18:13; cf. Matt. 6:12) and guidance (Acts 1:24-25; 6:6; 13:2-3).

Christ and the Spirit take on special roles in the prayers of the NT. Prayers are offered directly to Christ (Acts 7:59; 1 Cor. 1:2), although not frequently. The language of the ‘Kyrie’ (‘Lord, have mercy’) is found at Matt. 17:15 and 20:30-31 (cf. 8:25), and the prayer ‘Maranatha’ (‘Our Lord, come!’) appears at 1 Cor. 16:22 (cf. Rev. 22:20); both are addressed to Christ. Not only, however, are prayers offered ‘through’ Christ or to him; Christ also prays as intercessor for the saints (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). Likewise, the Spirit’s role in prayer is manifold. Prayer is ‘in the Spirit’ (1 Cor. 14:15; Gal. 4:6; Phil. 3:3), who prompts and guides believers in prayer. On the other hand, the Spirit intercedes for believers (Rom. 8:26-27), because the Spirit knows their weaknesses and the mind and will of God (Rom. 8:27; 1 Cor. 2:10-11).

Prayer is not always answered in the way expected (see 2 Cor. 12:7-9). The picture that emerges from a survey of the biblical materials is that prayer is to be made to God in faith and expectation, but, in the NT, through Christ and in the Spirit. Prayer is not an act of attempting to manipulate God but a means of giving God thanks and praise, calling upon him for one’s daily needs and the care of others, and asking that his will be done and that his kingdom come.

For an index of other web articles on prayer and other references to prayer in the Bible and other writings, browse:


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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