Questions about Kneeling to Pray and the Fullness of Time

Question: “Since we follow the apostles’ examples for authority, why don’t we kneel when we pray? (References: Acts 7:60, 9:40, 21:5; Mark 1:40, Matthew 17:14, 18:26, 20:20, Psalms 95:6)”

It is true that we must follow the Apostles’ example as the Holy Spirit worked through them in the First Century establishing doctrinal teachings and practices. However, that also implies that we do not follow absolutely everything that the apostles did, only the things that pertain to doctrine. We would weary ourselves trying to do everything the apostles did, whether it be eating only foods with ingredients available in their marketplaces, wearing only materials authentic to their time, and traveling with only their means of transportation. We know all this already, but what is before us now is deciding where kneeling falls; is it a doctrinal example, or is it a piece of their lives and culture that is not bound upon anyone else to do? It’s a good question and worthy of some thought.

The first difficulty with binding kneeling as the authorized way to pray is that the Apostles did not always kneel when praying. Jesus instructed His Apostles concerning praying while standing (Mark 11:25). Paul spoke to Timothy about the public prayers of men, but he mentions nothing about kneeling, only that “the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8). When Jesus was walking with His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane and talking with them along the way, He “lifted up His eyes to heaven” and prayed (John 17:1). Later that night, He told Peter, James and John to “sit here” (Matthew 26:36) in the Garden, then when He found them sleep, He told them to “Rise and pray” (Luke 22:46).

In Acts 10:9, when Peter was at Joppa, “he went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour”. Now, while this is an inspired apostle, we would all admit that this is not a binding example of apostolic authority. We need not go up on a housetop in order to pray, nor does a prayer need to be done at the sixth hour of the day. I believe that these things, like kneeling, were cultural preferences that were not always done at all times and in every situation. Some of the references made by the questioner exemplify kneeling when not in moments of prayer (Acts 7:60, Mark 1:40, Matthew 17:14, 18:26, 20:20), this is good, for it establishes that kneeling was something done by them at other times as well, pointing to the cultural significance of kneeling, particularly in intense, dire, and passionate situations (such as in Mark 1:40). With all that said, kneeling is a great tool for our prayer lives, especially for effective fervent prayers, and should not be ignored or passed off entirely as a cultural difference. In the same manner, closing the eyes, bowing the head, and folding the hands, all hold a place sometimes in staying focused and intent.

Question: “Galatians 4 – Why did the Lord come at this time in history? The fullness of time?”

Galatians 4:4 states that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law”. It is often believed that the fullness of time refers to the time in human history when the world was especially prepared to receive Christ. But this is not what Galatians 4:4 is dealing with. It is true that, from our dim perspective, it appears that there were a number of things in place in the First Century that would have contributed to the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. The vast Roman road system, the somewhat universal Greek language, and the relatively peaceful time among the nations may have been part of God’s determined time to bring the Christ into the world. But this is all looking at the “fullness of time” from a physical perspective; this does not consider the context of Galatians 4.

Paul began the chapter by pointing out that an heir is no different from a slave for “as long as he is a child”. Even though the heir of the house is “master of all”, while he is a child he is kept “under guardians and stewards” and must be told what to do, just like a slave in the house. But this kind of life for the young heir lasts only “until the time appointed by the father” (Galatians 4:2). Paul is referring to the common practice of Roman culture in those days, how every father would set a particular date for their child to reach maturity; this is a foreign concept to American society. Upon the father’s appointed date, the young man is no longer counted as a minor and is loosed from guardians and stewards.

Now that we understand what is happening in the context, we are ready to understand the fullness of time. The fullness of time is referring to the time appointed by the Father in heaven when the people would no longer be like children under guardians and stewards (the Law of Moses and the Prophets) and would now be free (from the Law of Moses), ready to be counted as sons and heirs of the Father’s house. Paul explains that in order for the heirs to obtain freedom from their guardian, The Son of God must come and redeem them, “that they might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5). Thus, the “fullness of time” is not a reference to the situation of the world at that time, nor is it a reference to Christ specifically, but a statement that speaks to the appointed date for the maturity of those under the guardianship of Moses’ Law. It was their “fullness of time”; it was their time for reaching maturity and freedom. In other words, God had predetermined a time for the people to no longer be under Moses’ Law in order to be accountable to Christ. Just as in Roman custom, it may not be that a child has reached the intended maturity level by the time their father’s appointed date for them comes up. Thus also with the Jews, many of them had not paid much mind to their guardian and schoolteacher (the Law of Moses), and as a result, were inadequately prepared for the Father’s appointed date of their maturity. This immaturity is clearly visible throughout the gospel accounts, the book of Acts, and many of the New Testament letters.

Article by Tanner Campbell