Can Christians Pray in Public?

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 173

Prayer is one of the most important parts of a Christian’s life. This is the way that believers communicate with God. It is no surprise then that some will use two passages on prayer to teach that Scripture contradicts itself. Take a look at the following passages.

1 Timothy 2:8 says, “So I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or dispute.”

Matthew 6:5-6 says, “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”

Paul tells in 1 Timothy to pray everywhere, whereas Jesus says in Matthew to pray secretly in your room. Who is correct? In order to properly understand what Paul was teaching in 1 Timothy we need to understand the historical context. In Old Testament times, the Israelites are seen praying in many different places, whether it was in Israel, Egypt, or Babylon.

However, by the time of Jesus, many Jews thought that God could only be worshipped and prayed to in Jerusalem. John 4:20-24 gives us a good background:

[The woman said,] “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

One writer believes that Paul’s desire for Christians to pray everywhere may have been a response to the Jewish belief that someone could only worship in Jerusalem. Because of what Jesus did a Christian can now pray anywhere since we are God’s temple (2 Corinthians 6:16).[1]

What about Matthew 6:5-6? Didn’t Jesus say to pray in our rooms? If this was Jesus’ intent then the early church did a horrible job at understanding him (Matthew 18:19-20; Acts 1:24; 3:1; 4:24-30). The point of Jesus’ teaching was not the location of the prayer, but the motive: “to be seen by men.” Jesus is not ruling out the public side of prayer, but is stressing the private side of it.

Scholar Craig Blomberg notes, “Public prayer is very appropriate when practiced with right motives. But public orations should represent the overflow of a vibrant personal prayer life. What is more, prayer ought not to be used to gain plaudits, summarize a sermon, or communicate information to an audience but should reflect genuine conversation with God.”[2]

Another scholar says it well: “The public versus private antithesis is a good test of one’s motives; the person who prays more in public than in private reveals that he is less interested in God’s approval than in human praise. Not piety but a reputation for piety is his concern.”[3]

Matthew 5:5-6 has nothing to do with whether Christians should pray privately or in public. The point is the reason why we pray. We should be selfless, not selfish. In fact, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  And Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God.”

We can even pray privately in public. We should always be praying to God in our hearts; having a conversation with him. This does not require anything that others can see outwardly.

“We can, indeed, pray everywhere, as long as we are praying for the right reasons. Praying for prideful reasons only receives earthly rewards – so there is no contradiction here. In everything we do, our focus should be on Christ, not ourselves. Jesus Christ has done so much for us, and the proper response for the gift of salvation is to show our love to Him and put Him first in our lives. As an added benefit, focusing on Christ will lay up treasures in heaven.”[4]

What do you think? Do Paul and Jesus contradict each other? Leave a comment below and visit us on Facebook.


[1] Jeremy Ham. “Should Christians Pray in Public or Not?” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions. Vol. 2. Ken Ham, Bodie Hodge, & Tim Chaffey eds. (Green Forest: Master Books, 2011). Pg. 91.

[2] Craig Blomberg. Matthew. The New American Commentary. (Nashville: Broadman, 1992). Pg. 117.

[3] D.A. Carson. Matthew. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8. Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984). Pg. 165.

[4] Ham, 93.

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