The Lord’s Prayer, should this prayer be used in public worship?             By Jack Kettler


Section One


The first part of this study is a revision of a previous blog post. Although not connected to the title question, this material should answer any additional questions regarding the Lord’s Prayer that may arise.  


“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:9–13)


One Lord’s Day, this writer posted the prayer on a social media site. A response was given with a verse from Matthew as a reply. Unfortunately, the person posting this passage from Matthew thought praying the Lord’s Prayer was a vain repetition.


“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matthew 6:7)


For many, their thoughts would be, how could someone believe such a thing?


Let the reader consider this dubious injunction against praying the Lord’s Prayer:


“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matthew 6:7)


Introductory comments:


Who is Jesus talking about in this passage? Jesus tells us by warning about heathen prayers in Matthew 6:8. Jesus then gives us a Biblical prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. It is the height of exegetical nonsense to say that Jesus contradicts himself two verses later when explicitly saying:


“Pray then like this:” in Matthew 6:9.


A commentary exposition will be helpful.


From Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible:


“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, Saying the same things over and over again, as the Heathens do, as the worshippers of Baal, from morning till noon, 1 Kings 18:26. This our Lord observes, to dissuade from such practices, because the Gentiles, who were odious to the Jews, used them, and the Jews were guilty of the same; had they not, there would not have been any need of such advice:”


“For they think they shall be heard for their much speaking; as did the Jews, who, under pretence of “long prayers,” devoured widows' houses; and with whom it is an axiom, that “everyone, that multiplies prayer is heard” (h); and whoever prolongs his prayer, his prayer does not return empty; and he that is long in prayer, his days are prolonged (i): and, according to their canons, every day a man ought to pray eighteen prayers. Moreover, their prayer books abound in tautologies, and in expressing the same things in different words, and by a multiplicity of them.” (1)


Gill notes the heathen and their “vain repetitions, saying the same things over and over again,” and “long prayers.” Is the Lord’s Prayer a long prayer? It is 70 words. Also, does this prayer say the same things over and over again? Also, what is vain about the Lord’s Prayer?


Consulting the Dictionary:


Vain: Vain is excessively proud of or concerned about one's appearance, qualities, achievements, and conceited.


Repetition: repeating something that has already been said or written.


Suppose someone says the Matthew 6:7 passage is a warning about using the Lord’s Prayer as vain repetition. If so, and in that case, the burden of proof is on the individual making such an accusation to prove it exegetically and through word etymology.


From Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:




A. Adjectives.


“1. KENOS, “empty,” with special reference to quality, is translated “vain” (as an adjective) in Acts 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:10, 14 (twice); Eph. 5:6; Col. 2:8; Jas. 2:20; in the following the neuter, kenon, follows the preposition eis, in,” and denotes “in vain,” 2 Cor. 6:1; Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16 (twice); 1 Thess. 3:5. See EMPTY, B, where the applications are enumerated.'                                                                                  2. MATAIOS, “void of result,” is used of (a) idolatrous practices, Acts 14:15, RV, “vain things” (KJV, “vanities”); (b) the thoughts of the wise, 1 Cor. 3:20; (c) faith, if Christ is not risen, 1 Cor. 15:17; (d) questionings, strifes, etc., Titus 3:9; (e) religion, with an unbridled tongue, Jas. 1:26; (f) manner of life, 1 Pet. 1:18. For the contrast between No. 1 and No. 2 see EMPTY. Note: For, Titus 1:10, see TALKERS (VAIN).”


B. Verbs.


“1. MATAIOO, “to make vain, or foolish,” corresponding in meaning to A, No. 2, occurs in Rom. 1:21, “became vain.”                                                                                                                                            2. KENOO, “to empty,” corresponding to A, No. 1, is translated “should be in vain” in 2 Cor. 9:3, KJV. See EFFECT, EMPTY, VOID.”


C. Adverbs.


“Indicates that all the NT occurrences of the Greek word under consideration are mentioned under the heading or sub-heading.                                                                                                                             1. MATEN, properly the accusative case of mate, “a fault, a folly,” signifies “in vain, to no purpose,” Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7.                                                                                                                                 2. DOREAN, the accusative of dorea, “a gift,” is used adverbially, denoting (a) “freely” (see FREE, D); (b) “uselessly,” “in vain,” Gal. 2:21, AV (RV, “for nought”). See CAUSE, A, under “without a cause.” 3. EIKE, denotes (a) “without cause,” “vainly,” Col. 2:18; (b) “to no purpose,” “in vain,” Rom. 13:4; Gal. 3:4 (twice); 4:11. See CAUSE, A, Note (1), under “without a cause” (2)


Another commentary exposition will be helpful.


From Calvin’s Commentary:


“7. Use not vain repetitions He reproves another fault in prayer, a multiplicity of words. There are two words used, but in the same sense: for battologia is “a superfluous and affected repetition,” and polulogia is “unmeaning talk.” Christ reproves the folly of those who, with the view of persuading and entreating God, pour out a superfluity of words. This doctrine is not inconsistent with the praises everywhere bestowed in Scripture on earnestness in prayer: for, when prayer is offered with earnest feeling, the tongue does not go before the heart. Besides, the grace of God is not obtained by an unmeaning flow of words; but, on the contrary, a devout heart throws out its affections, like arrows, to pierce heaven. At the same time, this condemns the superstition of those who entertain the belief, that they will secure the favor of God by long murmurings. We find Popery to be so deeply imbued with this error, that it believes the efficacy of prayer to lie chiefly in talkativeness. The greater number of words that a man mutters, the more diligently he is supposed to have prayed. Long and tedious chanting also, as if it were to soothe the ears of God, continually resounds in their cathedrals.” (3)


The Reformer John Calvin mentions the heathen and their “long murmurings.” Can the Lord’s Prayer be described as long murmurings?


Additional thoughts and repeated emphasis:


Again, note that Jesus is warning his disciples against praying like the heathen in Matthew 6:7, 8. Considering the warnings in these two passages, is there anything in the Lord’s Prayer that would be mindless, vain, or repetitious in the prayer? Also, there is no similarity between the Lord’s Prayer and monkish chants.


Is praying the Lord’s Prayer a vain repetition? What about reading the Lord’s Prayer? Would that also be vain repetition? What about singing or reading the prayers of David in the Psalms or memorizing and quoting Psalm 23?


For logical emphasis, is Jesus in Matthew 6:7 contradicting himself when he says how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13?


For context in a proper understanding of Matthew 6:7, Jesus goes on and says this: “Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matthew 6:8)


Again, Jesus is warning, “Be not ye therefore like unto them.” Like who? The heathen! It is evident from the context that Jesus is talking about the heathen.


In introducing the Prayer, Jesus says:


“AFTER THIS MANNER THEREFORE PRAY YE: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” (Matthew 6:9) (capitalization emphasis mine)


Jesus instructs his disciples, “After this manner therefore pray ye.…” It seems preposterous that Jesus would forbid something, like not “use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do,” and two passages later, tell the disciples to pray a vain repetitious prayer that He had just forbidden.


Trying to argue for something like this is an example of etymological and false analogy fallacies. Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. The Lord’s prayer is an example of how to pray, not an example of a heathen prayer. To say otherwise is pitting Scripture against Scripture.


Is there another way to look at this prayer rather than literally praying it?


It has been said that the Lord’s Prayer is a model of how to pray, not the way one should pray.


If this is true about the prayer being a model, the burden of proof is on those advocating this approach. An idea like this would need to be exegetically proven since there is nothing in the words of Jesus in Matthew saying the prayer is just a model. The idea that the Lord’s Prayer is only a model is not explicit in the text.


First, Jesus does not tell His disciples that this prayer is a model for private prayers. Instead, He introduces the prayer; “After this manner therefore pray.” The conclusion is that believers are to pray using the exact words that Christ used.


Second, the Lord’s prayer is primarily for corporate use. The prayer starts with “Our Father,” which is corporate, not private like “my father.” In the prayer, the following petitions are corporate: “Give us; forgive us; against us; lead us; deliver us.” These plural corporate expressions are why churches use this prayer in public worship. The regulatory principle* of worship would further stipulate that the prayer be used by repeating the exact words of Christ.


Regarding personnel prayers, it may be helpful to use the Lord's Prayer as a model for prayers. The various petitions as a model prayer could be expanded upon during private prayers.


Section Two


The Lord’s Prayer and public worship:


In the Didache, one of the earliest doctrinal treatises in the Early Church, one reads:


“You shall not pray like the hypocrites but like the Lord commanded in his gospel; in this manner you shall pray: Our Father, who is in heaven, your name shall be made holy, your kingdom shall come, your will shall come to be as in heaven and upon earth; you shall give to us our bread for our need today, and you shall forgive us our debt as also we are forgiving our debtors, and may you not bring us into a trial, but you shall rescue us from the wicked one, since it is your might and glory into the ages. You shall pray three times of the day in this manner.” Didache 8:2–3)


Today, we live in an age of inexcusable evangelical ignorance of theology. Additionally, this is tragic since theology proper leads to the magnification of God’s glory. Therefore, Christians should strive for good, precise theology that magnifies the glorious grace of God.


John Calvin stresses the importance of the Lord’s Prayer:


“48. The Lord’s prayer as a binding rule.”


“We have everything we ought, or are able to seek of God, set forth in this form and, as it were, rule handed down by our best master, Christ, whom the Father has appointed our teacher and to whom alone he would have us harken, and this prayer is in all respects so perfect that any extraneous or alien thing added to it is impious and unworthy to be approved by God. For in this summary, he has set forth what is worthy of him, acceptable to him, necessary for us – in effect, what he would willingly grant. For this reason, those who dare go farther and ask anything from God beyond this: first wish to add to God’s wisdom from their own, which cannot happen without insane blasphemy….” (4)


Calvin goes on:


“We know we are requesting nothing absurd, nothing strange or unseemly—in short, nothing unacceptable to him—since we are asking in his own words.” (5)


The Westminster Assembly’s The Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1645) recommends the corporate use of this prayer in worship:


                                           Of Prayer after the Sermon.


“The Sermon being ended, the Minister is;”


“To give thanks for the great Love of God in sending his Son Jesus Christ unto us; For the communication of his Holy Spirit; For the light and liberty of the glorious Gospel, and the rich and heavenly Blessings revealed therein; as namely, Election, Vocation, Adoption, Justification, Sanctification, and hope of Glory; For the admirable goodness of God in freeing the Land from Antichristian Darkness and Tyranny, and for all other National Deliverances; For the Reformation of Religion; For the Covenant; and for many temporal Blessings.”


“To pray for the continuance of the Gospel, and all Ordinances thereof, in their purity, power, and liberty.  To turn the chief and most useful heads of the Sermon into some few Petitions: and to pray that it may abide in the heart, and bring forth fruit.”


“To pray for preparation for Death, and Judgment, and a watching for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  To entreat of God the forgiveness of the iniquities of our holy things, and the acceptation of our spiritual sacrifice, through the merit and mediation of our great High-Priest and Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.”


And because the Prayer which Christ taught his Disciples, is not only a Pattern of Prayer, but itself a most {32} comprehensive Prayer, we recommend it also to be used in the Prayers of the Church.” (Underlining and bolding emphasis mine)


“And whereas, at the Administration of the Sacraments, the holding Public Fasts and days of Thanksgiving, and other special occasions, which may afford matter of special Petitions and Thanksgivings; It is requisite to express somewhat in our Public Prayers (as at this time it is our duty to pray for a blessing upon the Assembly of Divines, the Armies by Sea and Land, for the defence of the King, Parliament, and Kingdom,) Every minister is herein to apply himself, in his Prayer, before or after his Sermon, to those occasions; but for the manner, he is left to his liberty, as God shall direct and enable him, in piety and wisdom to discharge his duty.”


“The prayer ended, let a Psalm be sung, if with conveniency it may be done.  After which (unless some other Ordinance of Christ that concerneth the Congregation at that time, be to follow) let the Minister dismiss the Congregation with a solemn Blessing.”


Catechetical support:


“The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer, but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught His disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer” (The Lord’s Prayer, the Westminister Shorter Catechism Q.98-107).


In addition, the Westminster Larger Catechism contains an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is particularly useful, as stated:


“The special rule of direction” that Jesus taught his disciples “to direct us in the duty of prayer” (LC 186).


As noted, the Lord’s Prayer is a corporate prayer, as seen by the use of pronouns such as “us” and “we.”


Moreover, the Lord’s Prayer is a communal or community prayer, meaning that it is meant to be prayed together with others, and it reminds believers that they are part of a larger gathering of believers because of its corporate nature.


If the Lord’s prayer is not used in corporate worship, when would God’s people in His Church have the opportunity to pray this prayer? 


The regulative principle of worship in Christian theology teaches that the public worship of God should include elements that are instituted, commanded, or appointed by command or example in the Bible. In other words, it is the belief that God institutes in Scripture whatever he requires for worship in the Church, and everything else should be avoided. In light of this principle and the words of Christ himself, “After this manner therefore pray,” a direct command, therefore, “The Lord’s Prayer,” is required for public worship.


“The order of public worship drafted by Protestant Reformers Martin Bucer (1539), John Calvin (1542), Thomas Cranmer (1552), and John Knox (1556) included the Lord's Prayer as an ordinary part of weekly worship.” – From United Reformed Church website.


In conclusion:


Labeling the Lord’s Prayer as vain repetition is an egregious error of Bible interpretation. Furthermore, the regulative principle of worship requires the public use of the Lord’s Prayer in worship.


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)




1.      John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Matthew, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs, 2011), p. 151.

2.      W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), p. 1193.

3.      John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries, Volume XVI, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), p. 313.

4.      John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, (Philadelphia, PA, Westminster Press), p. 916.

5.      Ibid., (Institutes, 2.20.34).


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of 15 books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at Amazon.