Home Features All About Prayer (6) By Babatunde Olugboji

All About Prayer (6) By Babatunde Olugboji


All About Prayer (6) By Babatunde Olugboji

There is disagreement among Bible scholars on the appropriateness of prayers of imprecation for New Testament (NT) believers. 

This week, we’ll examine the position of the school of thought that argues that imprecatory prayers are irrelevant to NT believers and look at the other side of the argument next week. 

Man holding arms up in prayer

This is against the backdrop of the encouragement in the NT that believers should love their enemies (Matthew 5:44), and to “bless and not curse” (Romans 12:14). The idea is that the imprecatory psalms appear difficult to reconcile with such NT teachings. Some scholars go as far as saying that imprecatory psalms should evoke a reaction of revulsion in believers. 

Bible scholars are divided on the seeming dichotomy in OT and NT approaches to imprecation. Some regard the imprecatory prayers as irrelevant in the sense that the ethics reflected in these prayers may not be readily applicable to today’s believers. Others argue that the imprecatory psalms are still relevant and applicable. Such discrepancy between the imprecations and the NT teaching of love raises the question whether it is valid for you and I to use the imprecatory psalms normatively in our contemporary situation in relation to our enemies. This poses an ethical dilemma in that it may be inappropriate for a believer to call down God’s judgment, even on the wicked.

There is an argument that the imprecations in the Psalms are based on the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3), in which God promised to curse those who cursed Abraham’s descendants. On the basis of this, the argument continues, the psalmist could ask God to do what He had promised: heap curses on those who cursed or attacked Israel. 

On the basis of this argument, imprecatory prayers are only appropriate for Israel on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant and inapplicable for today’s believers because we are under a different covenant.

Paul exhorts believers to, “bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not” (Romans 12:14), and that believers should not “take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

In 2 Timothy 4:14, Paul did not pray imprecatory prayers regarding Alexander the coppersmith; rather he said that, “The Lord will repay him for what he has done.” 

The argument against imprecatory prayers for NT believers further sees psalmic imprecations as prophetic and therefore that the imprecations, just like judgment proclamations, cannot be pronounced by believers on their contemporary enemies for two reasons: 

  1. Firstly, the psalmic imprecation had a historical context, that the original audience did not expect the exact terms of punishment to apply to someone other than the intended person, and that as a result we should not use the exact terms on someone today.
  1. Secondly, the prophetic views of history recognize the Messianic era as the cleansing toward which all prophetic messages directly or indirectly contribute. Also, prophecies of judgment should be understood and construed in light of the coming of Jesus, an interpretation reflected in the NT. 

Next week, in the penultimate discussion on the series on prayers, I will proffer the arguments in favor of prayers of imprecation.  

What are your thoughts on praying the prayers of imprecation? Should we, should we not?

Have a great week.

Kingdom Dynamics, a weekly column  written by Dr. Babatunde Olugboji, the President, Kingdom House, a non-profit organization in New Jersey, USA.

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