Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 13, 1950
NUMBER 13, PAGE 2-3b

"Position In Prayer"

Troy M. Cummings, Dallas, Texas

In the May 11 issue of "Gospel Advocate" an article was published, entitled "Position in Prayer," written by our beloved brother David Lipscomb in 1882. The purpose of the article is to set forth the idea that kneeling (or prostration) is the only Scriptural posture for prayer.

Most of us agree that kneeling or prostration are usually better positions in which to pray than standing, for the attainment of humility and reverence. But it is quite a different matter to make a law that erect posture in prayer is unscriptural and therefore not acceptable to God.

The first argument made is on the word "stand," as found in Mark 11:25 "And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." Brother Lipscomb argues that no significance can be attached to "stand" in this verse. "The word translated 'stand' here has no reference to an erect position there is no authority from the use of this word for standing erect in prayer It determines nothing as to the position."

If the word "stand" has no significance as to posture, how would one let it be known that he wants a person to stand rather than sit? At the invitation song we often ask the audience: "Let us stand and sing." Since "stand" has no reference to posture (?), the congregation may just as well remain seated, and tell the preacher: "We are standing seated." Brother Lipscomb said: " ... when the men stood in prayer to God, they stood on their knees." "It means when you have taken position or established yourself in position, or become fixed for prayer, forgive." If that is all that is mean by "stand," one can "stand" lying down (having "taken position"), "stand" sitting, "stand" on your knees, "stand" standing, etc. This is hard to believe.

Like many other words, "stand" is often used tropically (figuratively), but it is obvious that all these figurative meanings are based on the clear literal root meaning: "intransitive: 1. To take, or be at rest in, an upright or firm position: as, (a) To support oneself on the feet in an erect or nearly erect position; —opposed to lie, sit, kneel, etc." (Webster). Also, "transitive: 1. To set upright; to cause to stand; as, to stand a man on his feet." Webster says that the primary meaning of "stand" is: "opposed to lie, sit, kneel, etc." Why should one be so zealous to relieve "stand" in Mark 11:25 of its primary root meaning? Should one insist on the figurative meaning of a word exclusively when the literal meaning suits the context?

The figurative meanings of "stand" show clearly the root idea of standing erect in firm position—not on a root idea of kneeling, or reclining, etc.

The same Greek word, in the participial form, occurs in Mark 3:31 "And there come his mother and his brethren; and, standing without, they sent unto him, calling him." Are we as much at liberty to assume that they were kneeling, or reclining, outside as that they were, as it says, "standing ?"

Brother Lipscomb cites the kindred Greek verb (histemi) in Matt. 4:5, and because it is translated "set" rather than "stand" he sees a point for his position. But "set" is simply the root transitive meaning as given by Webster above: "to cause to stand." Thayer's Greek Lexicon likewise gives this same root meaning in the transitive use: "to cause or make to stand; to place, put, set."

The reference to Luke 7:38 is not at all conclusive that the woman stood all during the time she was wetting his feet with her tears. The Greek word here "stasa" is an aorist participle, denoting momentary action—not the continued "standing" which is indicated by the Greek present and perfect tenses. A study of the verse in the original impresses one quite differently from the English translation.

In Luke 18:11, 13 we find this: "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus " Would it be as safe to say that actually the Pharisee may have been sitting or kneeling or reclining while he prayed? Since "stand" has "no reference to an erect position" in Mark 11:25 (?), perhaps it does not here. Again, verse 13 "But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven... " Is it true that we have no idea whether the publican knelt, reclined, sat, or was erect on his feet when he prayed, since stand "determines nothing as to the position." (?) Here is an example of a man "standing" in prayer whose prayer was accepted.

Another illustration used in the article was that of Solomon when he prayed at the dedication of the temple. Brother Lipscomb used 1 Kings 8:22, 54 to prove that Solomon "stood on his knees" in prayer. "And Solomon stood before the altar... " verse 22; "he arose from before the altar of Jehovah, from kneeling on his knees... " Notice carefully that the text does not say that Solomon "arose from" standing on his knees, but rather "he arose from kneeling on his knees... " A reference to the parallel account in 2 Chronicles 6:12, 13 would have cleared up the matter easily. The answer is, of course, that Solomon first "stood" before the altar, then he "spread forth his hands" and then "kneeled down upon his knees" to pray; finally he "arose from kneeling upon his knees." There is not one reference in all the Bible where a person is referred as "standing" upon his knees in prayer. If he is upon his knees he is always said to be "kneeling," not "standing."

Some who teach that kneeling or prostration are the only acceptable postures of prayer try to make a sharp distinction in "prayer" and "giving of thanks," and even a dismissal prayer. They say that "thanksgiving, or giving thanks, is not praying." They are forced to this extreme and absurd position, in order to keep from insisting that the whole congregation must kneel in giving thanks in the Lord's Supper, and in the dismissal prayers. Thanksgiving should be a vital part of our prayers: see Phil 4:6; Col. 4:2, 3:17; Eph. 5:20, etc. Does one cease to "pray" in his prayer the moment he begins to "give thanks?"

As to the Lord's Supper, let us see what Jesus and the apostles did when it was established. Did they kneel when they prayed? "And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the apostles with him... And he took bread, and when he had given thanks " Luke 22:14-49. The Greek for "sat down" is literally "lie back, lie down; and (for anaklinomai) to recline at table." (Thayer). Shall we today use this posture as the only Scriptural way to give thanks in the Lord's Supper? Is it not easy to see that Christians can pray in any posture if the heart is right? Let us not make a law where God has made none.