Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 11.1-13
Proper 12 - Year C

Other texts:

For a small group Bible study on the Lord's Prayer, check out this CrossMarks resource.

My exegetical notes will be in five parts:

  1. general comments about prayer in Luke;
  2. the Lord's Prayer (11:1-4);
  3. the friend at midnight (11:5-8);
  4. "Ask, Seek, Knock" and "Good Gifts" sections (11:9-13)
  5. and prayer as relationship -- some thoughts from a sermon


Luke has a greater emphasis on prayer than the other gospels. The following are the occurrence in the Gospels and Acts of words related to prayer.

proseuche/proseuchomai = prayer/pray in the gospels

deomai/deesis = ask, beg, pray/prayer, petition

erotao/eperotao = ask, request, beg/ask for

Although deomai/deesis and erotao/eperotao don't specifically mean prayer, there are instances where requests are made of Jesus or God.

Many times in synoptic events, Luke includes comments about Jesus' praying that are not found in the other gospels.

While the other synoptics indicate that Jesus went into the hills to pray, Luke's particular verse is in a unique context (5:16).

The following parables about prayer are unique to Luke:

Other synoptic passages about prayer in Luke

Why this emphasis on prayer in Luke? Especially the number of times Jesus is pictured praying (and the apostles/disciples in Acts)?

It may be that Luke was writing to a group of people unfamiliar with Christian/Jewish prayer, so he emphasizes the importance of prayer. If Jesus often prayed, how much more do we need to pray?

I often begin classes on prayer by asking these questions:

We might also ask, just because somebody prays, does that make him/her a Christian? (Part of the LCMS's objections to lodges is that they pray, but since they don't use a Trinitarian formula in their prayers, they must be praying to some false god.) Many other religious groups pray to god or gods. Does our God hear the prayers of Muslims and Hindus, etc. If our God hears, does God respond to their requests?

What is the relationship between the Christian faith and praying? Michael Foss (Power Surge) lists "daily prayer" as "The first mark of a disciple." (There are five other marks that he lists. Similarly the ELCA's Seven Faith Practices includes "Pray Frequently".)

Foss begins the section on prayer with these two paragraphs:

Frankly, I was stunned. He approached me after worship and said, "I have really enjoyed the sermon series you and the other pastors have given on prayer. And I really feel called to pray more. The only problem I have is that I just don't know how."

When Rod Kopp, our director of finance and personnel at Prince of Peace, offered a workshop at our annual Changing Church Conference on prayer, we were all excited by the number of participants who attended. But I was stunned again when one of the pastors responded to Rod's workshop with a startling confession, "You are assuming," he said, "that we pastors know how to pray. But many of us don't." [p. 90]

From the first disciples to those of today, we need to ask, "Teach us to pray."


The context for the Lord's Prayer in Luke and Matthew are quite different. The audience in Matthew (6:5-15) seems to know about praying. Jesus says, "When you are praying,..." They seem to know how to pray and the importance of prayer, but they need further instructions about prayer. In Luke, the audience, (including the disciples,) don't know how to pray (at least as Jesus' followers). The disciples (and Luke's readers?) ask Jesus to teach them to pray. This introduction also suggests that we are defined by our prayers: Jesus' disciples would pray differently than John's disciples.

In v. 2b both verbs are second person plural -- y'all. The prayer is intended to be communal, rather than personal. Note also the plural pronouns in the prayer: "our" and "us"

This was given as a prayer to define "us". There seems to have been a prayer that defined the disciples of John. I would suggest that one way the prayer defines us as belonging to Jesus is not necessarily the words, but the fact that we pray it together. We pray/confess that God is "Our Father," etc. Unfortunately, the numerous translations of this prayer has made it difficult for various Christians to pray it together without some embarrassment about some words and the length of the ending. The shift to the ecumenical translation printed in many newer hymnals has met with great resistance. It seems ironic to me that the things that God has given us for our unity in Christ: this prayer, Baptism, Holy Communion, and scriptures; have become sources of differences and even divisiveness among believers today -- but that's because each group takes them so seriously. I wish more people were aware of the differences between the two biblical accounts and the version in the Didache. These indicate that the early church felt some freedom to make minor (translational?) changes in this important prayer.

Culpepper (Luke, New Interpreter's Bible) makes this brief comment:

... use of the first-person plural later in the Lukan prayer shows that it is still understood as the community prayer of Jesus' disciples. Even in Luke, therefore, the prayer is not an expression of individual piety apart from the life and worship of the community. [p. 234]

I've heard it suggested that the opening address, probably "Abba" in the original would be better translated as a young child's "Daddy," rather than the formal, "Father." However, I'm not as convinced of this as I once was. Every time the Aramaic "Abba" appears in the NT, it is followed by the Greek ho pater = "the father" (Mk 14:36; Ro 8:15; Ga 4:6). If the writers wanted to stress the young child's term, they could have used the Greek ho pappas = "poppa" -- the childish pronunciation of pater.

I believe that the address "Abba" or "Father" or "Dada" or "Poppa" refers to an intimate relationship that Jesus had with God, and the intimate relationship that we, who pray this prayer, also have with almighty God. That is another way the prayer defines us. We are people who have a father/child relationship with almighty God. I wonder if the words "Our Father" have become so "churchy" that we miss the radical character of those words? Is there some way that we can recapture the radical relationship that I think was intended by those words?

On the other hand, how can we help children with abusive fathers understand and pray to their loving, heavenly Father?

I like the approach that Catherine Foote takes in the following prayer from Survivor Prayers: Talking with God about Childhood Sexual Abuse.

Daddies hold their babies,
daddies hold them soft.
Strong daddy arms hold babies up
and gentle is the hold.

Daddies laugh with babies,
daddies smile with love.
Warm daddy eyes meet new eyes
and easy is the laugh.

Daddies care for babies,
keep them covered safe.
Big daddy hands reach baby hands
and tender is the care.

Daddies and their babies,
eyes and arms and smiles and love.
Then a daddy hurt a baby
Baby cold with fear,
Baby crying new tears,
Baby frightened, lost.
No more smiles for baby,
No more shelter here.

And God, they call you Daddy,
God, they say you care.
Do you hold your babies?
Do you dry their tears?
Do you match them smile for smile?
Do you shelter safe?

God, that daddy stole your name.
God, that daddy made me mad.
God, I want a daddy back
(daddies hold their babies).
God, please daddy me.
Amen. [pp. 44-45]

I am also intrigued that most of the verbs are imperatives!

What does it mean that we are "commanding" God? Last week Martha was politely chastised for telling Jesus what he should do. It may be that these requests are asking God to do what God would do anyway. Culpepper offers this explanation to the first two petitions:

The petition that God's name might be sanctified is double sided. On the one hand, it is a prayer that God would act to establish God's own sovereignty. On the other hand, it voices the longing for the day when all people will revere God. The second petition, therefore, is an extension of the first. If God's name is sanctified, then God's sovereignty and dominion will have been established (Ezek 36:22-23). [. p 234]

Green (The Gospel of Luke) also comments on this petition: "Why must God sanctify his name? Because it has been profaned by God's own people (cf. Lev 22:32; Isa 52:5-6; Ezek 36:29-21). God's eschatological work to reestablish the holiness of his name, then, invokes shame on the part of his people and invites them to embrace practices that honor him" (p. 442).

In the petition about bread, Luke uses a present tense, which emphasis the continual giving of God (Mt and Didache have aorist). This and the change to "each day," seems to indicate a petition for God to take care of daily needs.

The word translated "daily" (epiousion) is a puzzle to scholars. The ancient historian, Origen, thought that the gospel writers had coined the word. It doesn't appear previously. Lowe and Nida (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains) offer these possible translations:

The word is related providing what is needed, perhaps today or perhaps in the future. Note also that the word "bread" (artos) appears later in the text (v. 5) as does the word for "give" (didomi in vv. 7, 8, 9, 13, 13).

Comparing the versions in Matthew, Luke, and Didache, the major difference is in the forgiveness section. Literal translations follow:

Matthew Didache Luke
forgive us the things-being-owed (participle) by us forgive us our debt (singular noun!)  forgive us our sins (plural noun)
as also we have forgiven the ones owing us as also we are forgiving the ones owing us also for we ourselves would-be-forgiving everything owed to us

Possible reason: Although I haven't done the proper research, the differences may simply be to variations in translating the original Aramaic into Greek. However, I am curious why the forgiveness section has the greatest number of differences in these three early versions. Is it the section that Christians throughout the ages have had the most trouble with -- adapting it slightly to fit their situations? Could the forgiveness of actual debts be related to the year of Jubilee? or the sharing of wealth in the early community?

V. 4b -- "We are forgiving" is present tense = continual action. Forgiving others is more than specific instances in one's life, but the lifestyle or attitude of the followers of Jesus.

How should we understand the word peirasmos? It can mean "the endeavor or attempt to cause someone to sin," namely, "temptation." But James 1:13-14 asserts that God tempts no one. The devil tempts us to sin, not God. God protects us from the hour of temptation/trial (Rev 3:10).

This word can also mean: "that which tries to learn the nature or character of someone or something by submitting such to thorough and extensive testing," namely, "examination, testing." Frequently in scriptures, God "tests" believers: Abraham (Gen 22:1), Job, the children of Israel in the wilderness (Ex 15:25; Dt 8:2), Jesus in Gethsemane (Heb 5:7-8; cf. 12:3-11).

This word group is used of Jesus' temptation by Satan. It is also used of the "testing" of Jesus by other people.

Related to this petition is Jesus' twice-stated command in the garden: "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." (22:40, 46)

I've often used a driving test as an illustration of the general meaning of this word. The tester's purpose is not to make the testee fail, but to discover the character and abilities of the testee. At the same time, there is usually great fear and dread in a 16 year-old at facing such a test.

We call upon our Father to protect us from whatever might threaten our lives or our relationship to the Father.


This parable, which is only found in Luke, is connected to the previous prayer by the words for "bread" (vv. 3 & 5;) and "give" (vv. 3, 7 & 8)

The key word in this section, I think is anaideia in verse 8. This word only occurs here in the NT.

It comes from two words: (1) the verb aideomai, which means "to feel shame, be ashamed or fear; to respect, reverence; and (2) the prefix an which negates the other meanings: e.g., "not to feel shame" or "not to have respect"

From a lexicon: the word means: "a lack of sensitivity to what is proper," and can be translated with "insolence, audacity, impudence, or shamelessness."

The pronouns in this verse make it unclear who is acting shamelessly. Culpepper (Luke, The New Interpreter's Bible) makes these comments about this verse:

Following the normal meaning of the term, we may understand v. 8 as posing a comparison between the obligation of friendship and those of the honor-shame code. The ambiguous pronouns leave room for debate over whether the petitioner is shameless for begging for food in the middle of the night or whether we are to understand that the sleeper would be shameless for refusing a neighbor's request. Either reading is possible, but the latter is preferable. The situation is unthinkable not because of the petitioner's persistence but because honor demanded that a neighbor get up, awaken his whole family if necessary, and supply his neighbor's need -- if not from friendship, then at least to avoid being shamed. [p. 236]

Malina & Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) agree:

Western commentaries not-withstanding, there is no evidence that the Greek word rendered "importunity" (RSV) or "persistence" (NRSV) ever had those meanings in antiquity. The word means "shamelessness," the negative quality of lacking sensitivity (shame) to one's public honor status. Thus the petitioner threatens to expose the potential shamelessness of the sleeper. By morning the entire village would know of his refusal to provide hospitality. He thus gives in to avoid public exposure as a shameless person. (pp. 350-1)

However, Tannehill (Luke) comes to a different conclusion:

Interpretation of this term is difficult. In spite of the NRSV, "persistence" is not quite accurate, for anaideia really means "shamelessness," the negative quality of one who offends social standards. Some interpreters think this refers to the shamelessness of the sleeper in the eyes of the village if he does not get up and help his friend. The alternative is to apply "his shamelessness" to the one asking for bread, with the assumption that, even though the man is preserving his honor by feeding his midnight guests, he is acting shamelessly by rousing a family out of bed. Part of this problem is a confusion of pronouns in verse 8, which leaves uncertain who is meant by "his shamelessness."

In support of the second reading, it might be noted that shamelessness, even though a negative quality in society, is not necessarily so in the Gospel tradition. The "faith" commended in healing stories is a boldness that refuses to be stopped by social proprieties [he refers to comments on 5:20 and 8:47-48], and the widow who approaches the unjust judge (another example of prayer) is not only persistent but bold, even impudent (18:1-5). Although it is true that human requests of God may show ignorance and pettiness, this passage seems to deal with a different problem: an unwillingness to ask, out of fear or deference. The following verses (vv. 9-10) speak to the same issue. [pp. 189-190]

On one hand, we don't have to be afraid of approaching God properly with our prayers with the right words or at the right time. We can be bold and shameless in our requests to God at any time.

On the other hand, does God need to protect his honor by answering our requests? Can we respect a God who tells us to pray for our daily needs, but then doesn't appear to give what we need? However, the man's request isn't just for himself, but for his late-night-visiting friends, that he might properly care for their needs.

Four times in these verses, the word "friend" (philos) is used. There is the friendship between the two neighbors and the friendship between the first man and his midnight visitors. The story then suggests that there is a similar friendship between God and us -- we can approach God as a friend -- even waking him up from a deep sleep -- that is, if God ever slept.

The answer to his "prayer" was to be given what he needed v. 8.


This section is also found in Matthew 7:7-11. There it is not connected with the Lord's Prayer (6:9-13). The "ask, seek, knock" are virtually identical in both Gospels. There are a number of differences in the "good gifts" section (listed below). The two sections are connected by the words "to give" and "to ask". Both occur five times in the verses.

"Asking, seeking, knocking" in vv. 9 & 10 are present tense = "keep on asking, seeking, and knocking" or "continue to ask, seek, and knock." Perhaps like a young child badgering his parents until s/he gets what is wanted. This would seem to connect with the persistence talked about in the previous parable and in 18:1-8.

The "you's" in v. 9 are all plural, but the subjects in v. 10 are singular!

Note that there is no mention of believing in these verses for an answer. It seems to be the persistent actions of asking, seeking, and knocking. It would seem that the persistent prayer of an unbeliever is answerable, but if someone were praying, could they be called an unbeliever? It is never said what the "it" is that we receive, find, or is opened for us.

Luke's pair of snake & scorpion was used earlier in 10:19 as symbols of the power of the enemy. Perhaps symbols of evil in contrast with the good gifts of v. 13.

Is Luke trying to say that "the Holy Spirit" is undefined "it" of the earlier answers?

I think that Luke is saying that those who have asked for the Holy Spirit can be certain that God has given it to them, whether or not they speak in tongues, have had an emotional high, or seen a bright light. It also prepares the readers for the events and Pentecost and the Spirit's work throughout the Book of Acts.

How do we deal with these verses and the reality of some of our people who have spent many years asking and seeking and knocking and received nothing for their efforts? How do we honestly preach these verses and just as honestly reflect the frustrations of many pray-ers?


First of all, we need to admit that prayer is not "putting coins in a vending machine." It is not putting our prayer in the right slot, pushing the right button, and waiting for the vending machine God to spit out exactly what we want. God is not a vending machine. God is "Father" or "Daddy." Prayer is a relationship -- an intimate, loving, caring parent/child relationship.

I image that many of you parents can remember the first time your child uttered "da-da" or "ma-ma". It was the start of a new relationship. The child knew who you were and called you by name. What excitement! At that stage, we care for our children, giving them what they need, even before they can ask.

As the child gets older, "Daddy" or "Mommy" may often be followed by "I want." Sometimes we answer, "Yes." Sometimes we answer, "No." But most often (as any child will attest) the answer is, "We'll see." Does God answer prayers with a "We'll see."? I think so.

What is meant by "We'll see"? Sometimes it is just a sophisticated way of saying, "No". You don't want to hurt the child's feelings right now, and maybe later he or she will have forgotten all about the request.

Sometimes, however, it can really mean, "We'll see." Maybe daddy doesn't know right now if he can afford what you want -- although that logic wouldn't apply to God. Perhaps daddy doesn't know if you are able to correctly handle or understand all the implications about what you ask for -- be it a new rifle or bicycle or make-up kit or motorcycle or paint-by-number picture or a pet dog or cat or bird or $1000. Often God's answer of "we'll see" is precisely this. God knows that we can't really handle whatever it is we asking for. (Although I've seen a T-shirt with prayer something like, "God, let me win the lottery to show that it won't spoil me."

If you think about it, even Jesus' request in the garden was answered with a "We'll see." It may have been possible for Jesus to avoid the suffering and death if all the leaders suddenly converted, repented of sins and believed in him. But, as we know, that didn't happen. We pray for healing. The answer is often, "We'll see." Sometimes our prayers may result in healing, perhaps miraculously or through the human knowledge and skills of the doctor, nurses, and medicines. Sometimes the best efforts of the medical team and our prayers aren't enough and the "we'll see" becomes a "no".

Prayer, most of all, is a relationship: a child with parents, friends talking with each other. The second part of our gospel lesson uses the image of a friend asking another for some food for the sake of another friend.

Sometimes we are able to meet the needs of our friends. "Can I borrow a screwdriver?" "Can you help me with this?" But there are many times -- and perhaps their most important requests, where we can do nothing to change the situation. "I'm out of work, can you get me a job where you work?" "I've got cancer, can you make it better?" "I'm so depressed, that I don't know if I will ever be happy again, can't you do something to help me?"

I remember being a part of an impromptu discussion among some high school kids. One of the boys had recently lost a sister in a car accident. Some in this group confessed that they had thought about going over a visiting after the accident, but they didn't know what to do or what they should say. However, one of the friends didn't let his fears keep him away. He had spent most of that day with his friend. He admitted that he didn't know what to do or say either. The one who had lost his sister said that what was most important to him at that time was just somebody being there with him. He thanked the one who had visited. Even though he couldn't do anything or say anything that would change the tragedy, his presence was a great help and greatly appreciated.

I think that in many ways prayer is like that. It's a relationship. It's the presence of daddy or mommy, not always saying or doing things to change the situation, but their presence can often change you as it brings their comfort and love to the situation -- and perhaps you are better able to accept what lies in the future with their support. You can live with the uncertainty of the "we'll see" answer. Patiently waiting together to see what will happen.

Prayer is the presence of God -- not that God will always change the situation, but knowing that God is with you, that God is going through the tragedy or suffering or depression or even death with you, not as a far off God, way out in space, but as your very close and loving father. "When you pray," Jesus says, "say Father."

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901