Praying the Lord’s Prayer, is it vain repetition?

Praying the Lord’s Prayer, is it vain repetition? By Jack Kettler

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 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 I posted this prayer at a social media site with no comments and was given a verse from Matthew as a reply. The person posting this passage from Matthew thought that praying the Lord’s Prayer and apparently even posting it was 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 those that wonder, how could someone actually believe such a thing? As a young Christian in the 1970’s “Jesus People” movement, I heard this same question come up numerous times about praying the Lord’s Prayer and vain repetitions.

Let’s consider this dubious injunction against 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. O logic, whence hast thou gone?

A commentary exposition will be helpful at this point.

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.

(h) T. Hieros. Taaniot, fol. 67. 3.((i) Zohar in Exod. fol. 104. 4. (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?

Get out the Dictionary:

Vain: excessively proud of or concerned about one’s own appearance, qualities, achievements, etc.; conceited.

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

If the Matthew 6:7 passage is a warning about the Lord’s Prayer, 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)

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

Additional thoughts and repeated emphasis:

Again, take 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 with the Lord’s Prayer and monkish chants.

If praying the Lord’s Prayer, is 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?

For logical emphasis, is Jesus in Matthew 6:7 contradicting himself when he says how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13? Once more, O logic, whence hast thou gone?

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 waning “Be not ye therefore like unto them…” Like who? The heathen! It is obvious 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 to not “use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do” and two passages later tell the disciples to pray a vain repetitious prayer like 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 how to pray, not an example of a heathen prayer. To say otherwise, is pitting Scripture against Scripture.

Is there another way of looking at this prayer rather than praying it literally?

The Lord’s Prayer, is it a model of how to pray, not the way you should actually pray?

If this is true about the prayer being a model, the burden of proof is on the those advocating this approach. This would need to be proven exegetically since there is nothing in the words of Jesus in Matthew saying the prayer is just a model. That the idea that the prayer is only a model is not explicit in the text. It is possible that it could be deduced, but this would have to be demonstrated.

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 we are to pray using the same 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 repeating the exact words of Christ.

Regarding personnel prayers, it certainly would be helpful to use Lord’s Prayer as a model for prayers. As a model prayer, the various petitions could be expanded upon during private prayers.

Additional information on the Lord’s Prayer:

In the Didache one of the earliest doctrinal treatise in the Early Church, we read:

“And do not pray like the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his gospel, pray in this manner: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come; your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth. Give us today our bread for the day. And forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, for yours is the power and the glory forever…” (Didache 8:2–3)

The Lord’s Prayer is important in Reformed and Presbyterian worship:

Both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms contain an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is particularly useful, they state, as “the special rule of direction” that Jesus taught his disciples “to direct us in the duty of prayer.” (LC 186; SC 99)

In Conclusion:

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

In concluding, 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)

“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 Westminster Shorter Catechism).

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)


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

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

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

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

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 the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks. Available at:

For more Study

Many great Expositions of the Lord’s Prayer. Both print and audio at:

Westminster Statements and the Heidelberg Catechism on the Lords’ Prayer


The Lord’s Prayer by Thomas Watson, Publisher, Banner of Truth Trust

The Lord’s Prayer: An Exposition, John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, pp. 897-917.

* The Regulative principle of worship in Christian theology teaches that the public worship of God should include those and only those 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.

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