In a prayer, you have probably heard or said: “in Jesus’ name.” Why do we say it? What does it mean?
The biblical basis of the phrase occurs in the instructions that Jesus gives to his Apostles on the night of his betrayal (John 14-16).
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:13–14, ESV. See also John 15:16, 16:23-24, 16:26-27.
What does the phrase “in Jesus’ name” mean? Name in biblical thought is closely associated with the person named — his character, authority, and rank. So this phrase evokes several ideas. Pray by Jesus’ authority. Pray in keeping with Jesus’ character. Pray as Jesus would pray for his mission, purpose, and will. For these passages in John, the standard Greek dictionary suggests that it means “with mention of the name, while naming or calling on the name … ask the Father, using my name.”*
Do we always have to say the phrase “in Jesus’ name”? I normally do, although I will admit to some quick, inaudible prayers during the day like “Lord, help me” that lack the phrase. Much depends on what we think the phrase means. If it means by Jesus’ authority or in keeping with his character and mission, then the prayer could have those qualities without necessarily saying those words, and vice versa, we could say the words and lack the meaning if we are not careful. If the Greek dictionary above is correct, then we would want to make certain that we mention Jesus.
As I read on this subject, a few insist that it should always be said. Most would say that it is not required, but appropriate. They would point to prayers in the New Testament like Ephesians 3:14-21 which lack the phrase as evidence. The latter would insist that the meaning of the phrase, however, must be true of our prayers.
What should we do? First, it is important for us to understand the meaning of this phrase. God never wants us to say empty, meaningless things in prayer. Second, saying the phrase is a helpful reminder that our prayer should be according to Jesus’ authority and consistent with his character and will. Third, in public prayer it may be better to say it in order not to be a distraction to others in the assembly. Finally, rejoice that we have the privilege of prayer. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence because we have a mediator — Jesus.
*A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 713