Intercession (from Latin intercessio, intercede) is entreaty in favor of another, the act or instance of interceding, an interposing or pleading on behalf of another person. In Roman history intercession was the interposing of a veto by a tribune or other magistrate, as an intervention in a matter of law. One who intercedes with intercession is an intercessor.
Intercession and mediation
In ecclesiastical terms, intercession (verb) is the act of interceding or offering petitionary prayer to God on behalf of others, and an intercession (noun) is such a petitionary prayer, also called intercessory prayer. In the Bible St. Paul says
| I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.
(1 Timothy 2:1-3 KJV )
St. Paul says in the same place
| For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
(1 Timothy 2:5-6 KJV )
Catholic and Protestant controversy over intercession and mediation
- Controversy over teachings about the prayers of the saints on behalf of the living is primarily rooted in confusing the meanings of "intercession" and "mediation". They are not the same thing.
- To intercede is to speak on behalf of another, an individual or a collective, to defend their cause, and to seek for favor or forgiveness from an estranged or hostile party (see 2 Samuel 14). In some situations, the intercessor seeks the decision of a judge to render a favorable decision or verdict.
- To mediate is to bring together two parties at odds and estranged from one another by favorably representing the interests of both to each other by intercession, and then actively assisting them to completely remove actual barriers to their unity, by providing when necessary all the means of substantial reparation for all damage done by one party to the other or done mutually by each to the other. The mediator seeks to avoid having any recourse to a judge, and in principle will not himself or herself make a judgment either for or against either party involved in the dispute. In very extreme cases, the mediator, to avoid having the matter brought before a judge and to bring about actual peace, has personally arranged to make the absolutely necessary reparation required to remove the offense, and at great personal cost, solely to bring both parties together totally reconciled. Once this necessary reparation has been made, both of them afterward are able (if they will) to acknowledge that the very cause of what divided them has been completely removed. It no longer exists, and because it is gone there is no longer any substantial reason for their avoidance of each other and for acts of war, the one against the other, and the shutting out of the offending party. The compassionate act of the mediator has made this agreeable union possible. (U.S. law prohibits an authorized mediator acting directly to personally remove the cause of the dispute in order to resolve the conflict. See Conflict of interest.)
- An intercessor pleads the case, seeking a favorable judgment or at best a total dismissal of the charge brought against the accused by the plaintiff.
- A mediator arranges for a full reconciliation through resolution of the conflict by proposing a just reparation or settlement agreeable to both parties, without pronouncing judgment in the matter, and without recourse to a judge. The case has been "settled out of court". See Matthew 5:25-26; Luke 12:57-59.
- In addition to differences in variant Christian understandings and misunderstandings of intercession and mediation, there is also a difference in variant Christian understandings of the meaning of the word "prayer", which anciently meant simply "petition".
- Petitions to the governing authorities of a nation or people were usually introduced with the phrase, "we pray you to [ do this or that ] ". Attorneys for the prosecution and the defense even today frequently address the court (the bar), in words spoken or written, with the word "pray": for example, "Your Honor, the defense prays the court to ...". Formal petitions by governors to the king or queen anciently addressed that sovereign lord or lady first with a preamble acknowledgement of their authority, followed by the words: "The people pray Your Majesty [ to do this or that or to cause to cease this or that ] for the benefit of the realm".
- In ordinary society individuals often begged other individuals for a favor or benefit by praying them to consider some factor in their favor or some distress that needs to be addressed; for example a mother praying her husband, the father of their daughter or son, to forgive what the son or daughter has done. Those who were not members of the court of the emperor or sovereign, nor members of the legislative body of the nation, but who wished to appeal for some relief or benefit for themselves or on behalf of another, normally petitioned a member of the court in favor with the ruler or governing council to favorably represent them and to personally present the petition or prayer on their behalf for due consideration, and request the sovereign or ruling body to render a favorable decision. This is the proper form. (See Esther 4:6-8; Daniel 2:24-25; Romans 13:7; Hebrews 13:17; James 5:16; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Jude 8.) An individual with no official standing in the administration of the nation who entered and approached to represent himself or herself as having a legitimate petition would be held in contempt as presumptuous and bold, as having no respect for the authority of the court by going over their heads. In the military they would be guilty of circumventing the "appropriate chain of command". In none of these instances is divine worship meant by a prayer of petition to authority.
- When the word prayer is narrowly defined and understood to mean only speaking to God, then its fuller meaning has been stripped away and its language has been abused and violated. Most often this occurs unconsciously, because of how the word is normally used in American culture. Many are surprised to discover its broader legitimate meaning as found in authoritative dictionaries of the English language.
- The Protestant Reformers in their struggle against the Catholic Church sought to promote pure piety and worship of God by eliminating the practice of prayers for the intercession of the saints in God's court of heaven by strictly redefining prayer as meaning only petition to God. From this came the understanding that prayers to the saints to pray for us to God is a form of polytheism and pagan idolatry, with the worship of saints taking the place of the worship of God (Colossians 2;18-19). They represented the intercession of the saints as the placing of a barrier between the Christian and the Savior, and as a disguised form of the pagan doctrine of the lesser and greater ascending levels of gods and goddesses who alone had right of access to the throne of God the Unknown. The Reformers sought to emphasize the sovereign dignity of each individual Christian as having a right to bypass the saints with direct access to the Majesty on High through Jesus Christ alone, as having the right to approach "boldly" the throne of grace without any necessity for intercession by any other being in heaven or on earth to support their prayers. (Hebrews 10:19; Ephesians 3:12; 1 John 4:17).
- In the civil sphere of human activity the Reformers also objected to the distance that autocratic rulers maintained between themselves and their subjects by the bureaucratic structure of levels of administrators and ministers, governors and officials, officers and clerks, who were often perceived as interfering and obstructing the petitions of the people and as refusing to reasonably submit them to the ruler.
- However, many regarded the Protestant interpretation of scripture in support of the dignity of individual human autonomy under Christ before God's Throne as an expression of philosophical anarchy, and as subversively dangerous to the stability of Christian society; and also as being at its core strongly opposed to the virtue of humility (Romans 13:1-7). See Individualism. The Reformers were regarded as confusing "arrogance" and "insulting effrontery" with godly "confidence"; and as confusing defiantly arrogant behavior on behalf of the Gospel as confident assurance in the face of ungodly opposition (Acts 4:13). The Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Charles V saw the Reformation movement as subversive to his reign, disruptive of moral, social and civil order, and an attack on Christianity through rejection of the established authority of the Catholic Church, and on this basis persecuted Protestants as fomenters of insurrection and as anarchists.
- Anarchy as a political philosophy is based on the individualist position that no human authority over individuals is ever legitimate and must be either passively disregarded (ignored, the KJV "despised") or actively resisted and overthrown: thus no visible ruling authority or government on earth has been authorized or established by God. The Reformers saw proof of this in the suppression of the Reformation by Sovereigns, Popes and Patriarchs, who saw the leaders of the Reformation as rebelliously resisting what God has appointed (Romans 13:1-4). The Reformation saw the established authorities of Church and State in their day as entrenched and stubborn ungodly evils to be rejected and finally eliminated before the Kingdom of God could be established on earth. They represented the corruption and abuse of authority by particular self-serving leaders in the Church in violation of the doctrine of the Church as evident proof that the whole of the doctrine of the Church itself was corrupted by the Devil. By the same reasoning the treachery and person of Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, is totally representative of the spiritual and moral content of Christ's teaching, because he was an Apostle! see John 12:6. The Reformers condemned those who said the emperor, the pope and the Church should be obeyed in accordance with what Paul had written in Romans 13:1-4. However, the Prophet Jeremiah was condemned by Judean false prophets and influential politicians as a traitor for declaring God's command to submit to the ungodly pagan rule of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Jeremiah 11:21Jeremiah 29:27 and Jeremiah 38:4).
- During the original Communist Revolution in the early 20th century, revolutionary elements were called Anarchists. The anarchist position is represented today in the United States by the Libertarian Party whose members use much milder methods of political persuasion, and in every election for president the Libertarian Party presents a Libertarian candidate.
- Jesus told his followers to obey those corrupt leaders of the Jewish faith who represented Moses, but not to do what they do. (Matthew 23:2-3). As applied in principle to the leadership of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformers in conscience and in full accordance with their interpretation of the Bible found this obedience impossible, because of what they saw as irreparable evils and pagan influences entrenched within the doctrines of Catholicism. The command of Paul in Romans 13:1-4 and of Peter in 1 Peter 2:13-17 and of Hebrews 13:17 when applied with regard to the established authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, of the Pope and of the Catholic Sovereigns of Europe, was for the Reformers equally abhorrent and impossible in conscience for them to obey, even if it was in the Bible. They had reached the conclusion that the Holy Spirit was not guiding the Catholic Church into all truth, but had departed from her, and that Jesus Himself had not remained with her, but that Satan was ruling the Church instead. This is also the fundamental claim of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. On this basis many Orthodox and Catholic Christians depart and join Protestant churches and the Latter-Day Saints.
- Catholic and Orthodox apologists respond that this implies that Jesus broke his promises in John 14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:12-13; 17:9-11; Matthew 16:18-19; 28:19-20; and they point to Jesus' word about the church in Matthew 18:17-20 as being always true and reliable, and to the fact that Paul testified to Timothy that the Church is the "pillar and ground of truth" and to the Ephesians that the wisdom of God is revealed even to the powers in heaven through the Church (1 Timothy 3:15 and Ephesians 3:10). On this basis many Protestant Christians depart from their churches and become Catholic and Orthodox.
- As applied to both sides of the controversy see the counsel of Gamaliel in Acts 5:38-39 and the word of the angel in Revelation 22:10-11. See especially 2 Timothy 2:23-26. These verses express the guiding principle of Ecumenism.
- Generally, abuse of language by changing or narrowing the meanings of key words in the culture of a whole people or within a particular subculture of the population is a strategy of cults and anti-Christian interests as a way to promote their ideas. George Orwell illustrated this in his novel 1984. This has more recently been seen in attempts to redefine the meanings of marriage and gender, and the promotion of murder as compassionate medical care and as preventive medicine.
See Eugenics and Planned Parenthood.
- The Protestant Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches have redefined the word "prayer" to mean only petition to God so that any kind of prayer addressed to any other person on earth or in heaven is a sin of pagan idolatry. But paradoxically they do not hesitate to ask (request, petition) the police and fire rescue teams for help. They do not hesitate to ask (request, petition) their pastors and prayer groups and friends for help to join them in prayer and to pray for them and intercede with them to God on behalf of those who have need of prayer. Orthodox and Catholic Christians claim that this is all that they mean by asking for the intercession of the saints in heaven for their help on behalf of themselves and others, because they are alive (Mark 12:27) and their power and authority comes from God alone who has appointed them as protectors and helpers of souls for their salvation and for his glory alone (compare 2 Maccabees 15:7-16 and Hebrews 12:22-24). They claim that in honoring the saints alive in heaven they are honoring God, "but it is the same God which worketh all in all" 1 Corinthians 12:6, "For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him" Luke 20:38
The Christian Fundamentalist response is that the saints are dead and can do nothing, and only God can answer prayer. Jesus said they are alive. Compare Matthew 17:3; 22:32.
- See article Communion of Saints: Dead or Alive in Christ?
- It is a basic fact of human nature that if any practice, religious or secular, pagan or Christian, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Fundamentalist, Independent, Non-denominational, Humanist, is represented or misrepresented as an evil, then those who believe what they are told about that practice, and who wish to do good, will sincerely avoid that practice as being a sin, a thing harmful to individuals and to society as a whole, and will oppose it, either publicly in speeches, sermons, and public media, or privately.
- The beliefs of committees of biblical translation and of individual translators have directly affected the translation of particular passages of the scriptures into English, sometimes deliberately slanted to support their doctrinal beliefs. 2 Peter 1:15 is only one example.
"Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance."
"Moreover after my decease I will endeavor that ye may be able to have these things always in remembrance."
The structure of the Greek grammar of 2 Peter 1:15 favors the second reading.
See the following:
- 2 Peter 1:15 is read by some as scriptural evidence of the apostolic doctrine of the intercession of the saints after they have departed in sleep to be with the Lord.
- Roman Catholic commentators, Cornelius a Lapide and others, have connected the words “after my decease” with the verb “I will endeavor,” and have thus construed the exegetical meaning of the Apostle’s words into an interpretation that makes them an argument for his continued watchfulness and superintendence over the development of the Church’s doctrine even after his death.
- Others exegetically read it instead as Peter's promise while he is alive to "make every effort that you may always be able to remember these things even after my departure" (that is, so that they will not forget what he taught them concerning all things pertaining to life and godliness, 2 Peter 1:3-11.) It is thus read as an insistent parallel restatement of the immediately preceding verse, "I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to arouse you by way of reminder."
- One reading sees Peter determined to do this both before and after he dies, the other reading sees Peter, while he is alive, determined to make them remember even after he dies, "as long as I am in this body".
- The particular interpretive reading of the Greek text by the individual exegete determines (in this case, for the English translator) where to position the phrase "after my departure" in the translated text. This is expressed in the observation of hermeneutical studies that "the Bible is always read through the doctrinal lenses of the interpreter's personal theology, opening the eyes of some and closing others to what is actually there." Compare the following renderings of 2 Peter 1:15 in English:
- "I will make every effort even after my departure that you may always be able to remember these things."
- "I will make every effort that you may always be able to remember these things even after my departure."
- See the Interlinear Bible link.
Compare multiple versions of 2 Peter 1:15 and multiple commentaries.
The Greek grammar favors the first reading, which supports the interpretation that Peter's stated intention is to assist them from heaven even after he dies. This is also the Orthodox and Catholic doctrine. The words ΔῈ ΚΑΊ following on ΣΠΟΥΔΆΣΩ seem to imply that the author would do something else besides the ὙΠΟΜΙΜΝΉΣΚΕΙΝ, whereby his readers after his death would be put in a position to remember what he now writes to them and all he taught. (Compare Jesus' words in John 14:25-26.)
Other interpreters see some ambiguous evidence of possible grammatical latitude in the Greek structure of the sentence which allows the second reading. Such a reading by not referring to what Peter will do "after my departure" supports the Protestant doctrine that denies the traditional Catholic and Orthodox teaching about the intercession of the saints. The doctrine of the active intercessory ministry of the saints in heaven is dismissed by Evangelical theology as being a corrupt compromise with superstitious pagan polytheism, and a blasphemous denial of the mediation of the One Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5.
No other intercessor
"I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men: for kings and all who are in high places … For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus"
- 1 Timothy 2:1 and 2:5.
If it is blasphemous, and a doctrine of demons from hell, to teach that there is any other intercessor than Jesus, because there is only "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus", then Paul's teaching urging others to make intercession for all men is blasphemy, and a doctrine of demons from hell.
- What is the purpose of Jesus interceding for us in heaven? - Got Questions Ministries (gotquestions.org) "No one else—not Mary, not any previous Christian saints—has the power to intercede for us before the throne of the Almighty. No angel has that position. Christ alone is the God-man, and He mediates and intercedes between God and man. “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)." (boldface emphasis added) Clearly this "no one else" excludes living intercessors who pray for us and for the salvation of sinners.
- Why is Jesus interceding for us?, Esther Visser (biblword.net) "And Jesus is the only One who can intercede for our salvation, not Mary or any 'saint'." (boldface emphasis added) Clearly this excludes the living saints whom Paul addressed in his letters, which includes the living saints who are Christians today who receive his words. From Matthew 27:52 to Revelation 20:9 Strong's lists 60 references to living saints.
- Should we pray to Mary? (biblword.net) "Mary, like all the others prayed to God. ... It is Jesus and not Mary who intercedes for us" (boldface emphasis added)
If Paul's urging of intercessions by others is not blasphemy, but is a teaching inspired by God, because it is in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17), "and the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), then the teaching that there is no other intercessor for all men than Jesus Christ contradicts the Bible, and it cannot be a teaching of God, and on this basis (sola scriptura) those who teach that there is no other intercessor for all men cannot be of God, and their teaching is blasphemy, born of ignorance of the scriptures (Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24; Matthew 15:14; Revelation 22:11) "for some are quite ignorant of God. I say this to your shame" 1 Corinthians 15:34. This is not difficult or hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-18).
Compare Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4; Acts 12:5; Romans 1:9; 8:26; 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11; 9:14; Philippians 1:19; 4:6; Colossians 1:9; 4:2-3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 3:1-2; 1 Timothy 5:5; Philemon 4, 22; Hebrews 13:18; James 5:14-16; Psalm 141:2; Malachi 1:11.
- Let Your Petitions Be Made Known To God: What is Intercessory Prayer, By Betty Miller (bibleresources.org)
- God Seeks Intercessors - Murray Ministry (biblestudytools.com)
- The Saved Dead go to Heaven at Death (logosapostolic.org) This Evangelical Protestant author cites scripture to demonstrate that the saved are aware in heaven and pray.
- 100 Bible verses supporting intercessory prayer to saints (openbible.info) Both the living and the dead in heaven.
- The Intercession of the Saints (catholic.com) Citations from the early Church Fathers A.D. 100 to 500.
Compare 2 Peter 1:15 "And I will strive after my departure you may be able to recall these things." (the word for "that" is not in the Greek text, "strive that" or "that you may be able"—see interlinear text of 2 Peter 1:15 and multiple versions of 2 Peter 1:15)
2 Maccabees 15:12-16 testifies to the doctrine that "dead" saints pray for the people: (c. 152 B.C.) "And Onias spoke, saying, 'This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah the prophet of God.' " 2 Maccabees 15:14. The prophet Jeremiah was already more than 400 years dead at the time, for he died sometime at the end of the 7th Century B.C. into the 6th Century B.C., generally conceded to be about 586 B.C..
Also 2 Maccabees 12:42-45 testifies to the practice of intercessory prayer for those dead who had been believers but had sinned, that they might be delivered from their sin.
Second Maccabees and six other books and parts of books of the Catholic and Orthodox Bible have been rejected because of this and many other doctrines found in them, which have been rejected by the Protestant Reformation as promoting superstition and paganism in opposition to the pure and simple truth of the Gospel of Christ. See Apocrypha and Syncretism, also Great Apostasy.
- See also Jeremiah 7:16; 36:25; Romans 8:26-27; 11:2
- See also Isaiah 53:12; Romans 8:34 Galatians 3:19-20; Hebrews 7:25; 8:6; 9:15; 12:24