If you have been following this series on Exegesis, you know that we have been navigating through what I call “The Four P’s.”  These are helpful reminders to Bible students to unlock key exegetical points in every biblical book.  So far, we have looked at Prevalence, Purpose Statements, and Petition Verbs.  In the last article, we began studying the fourth ‘P’: Prayers. As we introduced this section on prayer, it was noted how logical it is to see prayers as key exegetical sections.  It makes no sense, does it, to have an inspired writer state what he is praying about and then proceed to ignore those points of prayer? Of course not!  Rather, logic tells us we should slow down and spend extra time studying and analyzing each prayer.

The first part of analyzing a prayer is to identify keywords in that prayer.  This is what was covered in the last article.  Now, let’s consider something else we can do with that prayer.  We can consider the main points of that prayer. It is common for these prayers to have structure or organization.  We help ourselves considerably when we find and apply that structure.  Let’s consider a few examples.

First, turn to Ephesians 1:16ff.  Paul encourages the brethren by noting how often he prays for them.  It is clear that the core of Paul’s prayer for them is that they have a proper understanding of God’s will and plan for them.  Paul expresses this hope in three terms. Look at verses 17-18 to see if you find the three ways Paul expresses this hope for them to receive good, correct information.  To say it another way, Paul is praying that God might give (δώῃ from δίδωμι): (A) A spirit of wisdom and that he might give (B) A spirit of revelation in the knowledge of Him, and (C) that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.  See it now? There are three terms Paul uses, all of which are directly connected with their need to have the correct information: wisdom, knowledge, and enlightenment.  While it is not our purpose right now to explore this further, don’t you think that Paul is concerned about what the Ephesians are hearing and learning? This three-fold reference to information proves it!  However, we note that this prayer for good information is the overriding point.  Does Paul hint at what he specifically wants them to know and learn?  He does!  Look carefully at verses 18-19.  There is something that happens structurally or grammatically that establishes a list.  Try to find it before reading on.

The answer is found in one little Greek pronoun, tis (τίς).  Translators often translate this word into the English word “what.”  There is your hint!  Do you see how Paul is making a list based on this word?  You should have found three points, prefaced by “so that you will know….”:

  1. What (τίς) is the hope of His calling
  2. What (τίς) are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints
  3. What (τί) is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe?

Preachers should be able to preach these three points, teachers should be able to teach them, and every Bible student should acknowledge them and appreciate them!  These three points form the core of Paul’s prayer.  They identify, in three concise phrases, what Paul needs them to know (and so he prays specifically about them).

Yet we’re not done with this.  Knowing the importance of the 4th “P” is what led us to this text in the first place.  Plus, since it is a prayer, it rises in importance in the book.  Now we can look at each of those points and note how Paul will address each one at different places in the book: 1) What is the “hope of His calling.”  The idea of “calling” (klesis, κλῆσις) is found 16 times in the book.  Even the word “church” includes the word for “calling”! The word “hope” (elpis, ἐλπίς) is important because there are those in the world who have “no hope” (2:12), and there is only one hope! (4:4).

2) What are the “riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,” is a phrase with concepts found throughout the book!  For example, “riches” (ploutos, πλοῦτος) is found in 1:7; 2:4, 7; 3:8, 16), and “glory” (doxa, δόξα) is found 13 times in the book (cf. 1:6, 12, 14, 17; 3:13, 16, 21; 5:27). Even the word “inheritance” is found 4 times (1:11, 14, 18; 5:5).

3) What is “the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” Paul frequently will discuss God’s “power” (dunamis, δύναμις).  See 1:21; 3:7, 16, 20.  Then compare those with how God’s power enables us to be “able” (same root) to be what we need to be (3:20; 6:11, 13, 16).  The word “believe” (pisteuo, πιστεύω) is found 12 times in this book! See 1:1, 13, 15, 19; 2:8; 3:12, 17; 4:5, 13; 6:16, 21, 23).

Let me offer a second (and shorter) example of the value of concentrating on prayers: 1 Thessalonians 1:2. It is easy to blow past these verses as “typical introductory material.”  Don’t do it!  It is a prayer, and if we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned the importance of prayers to discover the purpose of a book!  In this passage, Paul notes how he “gives thanks to God always for all of you.”  Then he gives us another list.  Do you see it?  Each point has a participle in it (that is, a word ending in ‘-ing’).  1) “Making mention of you in our prayers” is important to this letter because Paul is modeling for them how to pray and the importance of prayer (cf. 2:12, 13; 3:9-10); 2) “Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope.”  Each of those points fills the first epistle! Paul will talk about work, faith, love, and hope throughout the letter (cf. 2:9; 3:5; 5:12-13).  3) “Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.” It is clear that Paul wants them to find that ‘blessed assurance’ in their faith.  They chose God (cf. 1:9), so He chose them (cf. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:17; 5:9-11, 24).

It is truly a valuable and enriching practice to focus on prayers!  We learn so much and are rewarded with a glimpse of what is on the inspired writer’s mind and heart.

Denny Petrillo
+ posts

Denny is married to the former Kathy Roberts.  They have been married since January 1978.  They have three children (Lance, Brett, and Laura) and Six grandchildren (Chloe, Ashlyn, Sophie, Easton, Brelyn, and Kyson).  He has served as the President of the Bear Valley Bible Institute since 2004 and has been a full-time instructor since 1985.  He has preached in Mississippi, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Colorado.  He has taught numerous classes for the World Video Bible School and has authored several books and commentaries.  He graduated from the Bear Valley School of Preaching (now the Bear Valley Bible Institute), received an AA degree in Bible (York College, York, Nebraska), BA in Bible and Biblical Languages (Harding University), and an MA in Old and New Testaments (Harding Graduate School of Religion), and a Ph.D. in Religious Education (University of Nebraska).