Did Jesus Worship His Father?

I often hear people lambaste Christianity, and one attack frequently arises against the faith.

People will sometimes say that Jesus isn’t God and that the Bible proves this because Jesus is shown praying to the Father before His disciples.

So the question, “Why, and to whom, would Jesus pray if He was God?” is certainly something which a reasonable reader might consider.

And the coherence of the question often beguiles the uninformed, so an explanation for this is desirable.

Jesus worshiped The Father. He did this before His disciples so that they would observe how they were meant to worship. Some have believed that Christ’s actions disprove His divinity, but this is a wrong interpretation. Jesus acted as a man so that man would learn from His example.

When Jesus was on Earth, He often behaved in a way that seemed unfitting for a God. This misled early pagans with the belief that Christ was merely a man, and this belief formed a central tenet of the Arian heresy.

Below, we address the arguments of one of Arius’ most fervent opponents, St. Ambrose of Milan, which were advanced in order to reconcile Christ’s human behaviors with His divinity.

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From Exposition of the Christian Faith – St. Ambrose

Saint Ambrose is one of the four most influential thinkers within the early history of the Western Church. Catholics have recognized him as a doctor of the church alongside the saints Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory. Much of his work was devoted to quelling the Arian uprisings which were common throughout northern Italy because of the Germanic influence in the region.

Arianism advanced an understanding of Christ which was both false and amenable to the German pagans, so it spread easily throughout the sections of the Roman Empire, such as northern Italy, which had been filled with Germans.

Th task Ambrose had before him bore two parts: (1) he needed to clearly articulate proper Christian doctrine, and (2) the saint needed to confront the Arian heresy.

What follows is a commentary on his Exposition of the Christian Faith, which he used to meet the first of his ends.

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The Introduction

It is objected by heretics that Christ offered worship to His Father. But instead it is shown that this must be referred to His humanity, as is clear from an examination of the passage. However, it also offers fresh witness to His Godhead, as we often see it happening in other actions that Christ did.

The saint begins his treatise by addressing how the question of what Christ’s prayer before men arose. A few passages from a gospel recount the event, little exegetical advice is given to accompany it, and the passage is used to justify the view that Christ was not God, thereby destroying His credibility and forcing a reinterpretation of numerous other passages.

Jesus prayed to give His followers clarity

But if any one were to say that the Son worships God the Father, because it is written, “You worship you know not what, we know what we worship,” (John 4:22) let him consider when it was said, and to whom, and to whose wishes it was in answer.

Here, St. Ambrose reminds the pagans of the proper way to interpret scripture.

When a person in the Bible says something to someone, the words which are spoken are not meant to be picked up and used as they are and without elucidation by the casual reader. The words which are written in the Bible possess certain meanings, they do not possess others, and the meaning of the things in the Bible can only be the intended meaning of the person who wrote or spoke them.

If Jesus speaks sone set of words, and if he means one thing by them, and if you interpret them in a way that produces a meaning which is different from what Christ had intended, then you interpretation is wrong. It’s not a different interpretation. It’s a wrong interpretation.

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Jesus is both human and God

In the earlier verses of this chapter it was stated, not without reason, that Jesus, being weary with the journey, was sitting down, and that He asked a woman of Samaria to give Him drink; John 4:6-7 for He spoke as man; for as God He could neither be weary nor thirst.

The Bible is a long book. It contains many passages and verses which can be mixed-and-matched in order to produce a conclusion amenable to the reader’s interests.

This process can create many interpretations which are mutually exclusive. Some will support the notion that Christ was not God,a dn others can support the view that he is.

The fac that this method produces contradictory views means that the method is flawed and that Christians who use it to arrive at truth are in error.

Yet this sort of interpretation is the norm within the Protestant world, and many Catholic and Orthodox Christians have fallen into this same error.

I have also observed some Muslims who have adopted this method as well, yet to do so is as much a sin in Islam as it is in Christianity.

Now, people were using this poor method of determining truth during the time of the Roman Empire. This previews that the cherry-picking problem is one fo the oldest issues to plague Christian theology, so the human factors which produce it must not be culturally instilled. Instead, the cognitive biases within the human psyche must be responsible for the persistence of the cherry-picked scripture.

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Some people addressed Jesus as a human

So when this woman addressed Him as a Jew, and thought Him a prophet, He answers her, as a Jew who spiritually taught the mysteries of the Law: You worship you know not what, we know what we worship. We, He says; for He joined Himself with men. But how is He joined with men, but according to the flesh? And to show that He answered as being incarnate, He added: for salvation is of the Jews. (John 4:22)

Jesus lived His life as a Jewish human. He possesses a human understanding of the Law of God and of the Almighty’s intentions for humanity. Moreover, His divinity was not publicly revealed until after His resurrection, so those who knew Him would treat Christ as a human during those days preceding His death and triumph.

These people included His disciples, and someone may point to their behaviors before the crucifixion as evidence of Christ’s humanity.

Yet this is an error, for these disciples had not yet fully received insight into who Christ was. It is for this reason that the behaviors of the disciples which were recorded after the resurrection are of greater significance than those which preceded it. The disciples at the later time possessed greater knowledge and treated Christ more appropriately then.

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Christ’s followers worshiped the Father

But immediately after this He put aside His human feelings, saying: But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father. (John 4:23) He said not: We shall worship. This He would certainly have said, if He had a share in our obedience.

People are good at noticing what is in front of them, but they’re bad at noticing what isn’t there.

Oftentimes, when a thing is unsaid, people will fail to realize that it has been unsaid,a nd they will draw conclusions which differ from those which they would produce if they had bothered to ask themselves,

“Why was X left unsaid? Why didn’t the speaker say it? Did they just forget? Or is there something else at work?

This blind spot is a common pitfall which people enter into when they try to interpret texts, and errors abound when their interpretations do not account for them.

However, all statement and books are finite works, so many things must necessarily be left unsaid. Therefore, an interpretive method must include a mechanism for discerning which things may be left unsaid and which statements may not.

So any theological understanding which does not include such a mechanism is rightly ignored, because its methods are not yet able to identify truth.

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Jesus was later worshiped as a God

And when we read that Mary worshipped Him, (Matthew 28:9) we ought to learn that it is not possible for Him under the same nature both to worship as a servant, and to be worshipped as Lord; but rather that as man He is said to worship among men, and that as Lord He is worshipped by His servants.

After the full truth of who Christ was had been revealed, then His followers gave the God His proper reverence.

Now, as we have stated in the preceding section, the behavior of Christ’s followers after the resurrection overruled their behaviors preceding it because they had gained needful information which had been absent.

So the arguments which hold that Christ was a man and not God because His followers treated Him as a man are invalid.

St. Ambrose shares his view on the Incarnation

Many things therefore we read and believe, in the light of the sacrament of the Incarnation. But even in the very feelings of our human nature we may behold the Divine Majesty.

St. Ambrose summarizes his account of the Incarnation in this statement. In it, he provides an early hint at the notion of deification, which the Catholic Church would later adopt as the aim of the Christian life.

He holds that Christ became man so that man might realize what he himself could become.

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St. Ambrose on the Meaning of Christ

Jesus is wearied with His journey, that He may refresh the weary; He desires to drink, when about to give spiritual drink to the thirsty; He was hungry, when about to supply the food of salvation to the hungry; He dies, to live again; He is buried, to rise again; He hangs upon the dreadful tree, to strengthen those in dread; He veils the heaven with thick darkness, that He may give light; He makes the earth to shake, that He may make it strong; He rouses the sea, that He may calm it; He opens the tombs of the dead, that He may show they are the homes of the living; He is made of a Virgin, that men may believe He is born of God; He feigns not to know, that He may make the ignorant to know; as a Jew He is said to worship, that the Son may be worshipped as true God.

Here, the saint shares his insight into what it means for God to have become man.

I’ll present it in an abridged list form so that it will be easier to read.

  1. Jesus wearied to refresh the wearied.
  2. He desired food and drink so that He could provide it.
  3. He died to live again.
  4. Christ was buried to rise again.
  5. He hanged to strengthen the dead.
  6. He veiled the heaven with darkness to give it light.
  7. Jesus shook the earth to strengthen it.
  8. He roused the sea to calm it.
  9. He showed the dead are the living.
  10. Christ was born to a virgin so show that he was born of God.
  11. He feigned ignorance to enlighten the ignorant
  12. He worshiped so that He might be worshipped.

In short, Jesus did everything that a man should do so that men would see what they should do and how they should be.

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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