Some English-speaking Christians are under the false impression that the Bible forbids repetitive prayer. This is incorrect, but let’s take a look at their argument.
Matthew 6:7 is the one and only proof-text they use to support this claim. In this verse, the original Greek word battalogeō (βαττολογέω) means to stammer, stutter, or use the same word over and over again in a useless way that has no meaning. The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible translates this word as “vain repetitions” and some Christians have used this as their singular proof-text against prayer ropes, rosaries, prayer beads, and any type of repetitious prayer. However, these same Christians fail to remember the Book of Psalms (particularly Psalm 136), which is highly repetitive, and Revelation 4:8-11 which tells us that repetitive prayer is used constantly in Heaven around the very throne of God.
What these Christians don’t realize is that the King James Version (KJV), which is otherwise a pretty good Bible translation, catastrophically failed to translate this particular verse properly, and that few other English Bible translations do this. Most English Bible versions translate the Greek word battalogeō (βαττολογέω) as: babbling (NIV), empty phrases (ESV), empty phrases (RSV), talk on and on (CEV), and babble (NABRE). Obviously, this verse is in no way a prohibition against praying the same meaningful prayer repetitiously. Rather, it is a prohibition against long-winded prayers that are meant to sound flowery, sophisticated, and superior, using useless words that don’t mean much in the prayer itself, but are rather designed to impress the listeners. This understanding fits more in line with the context of the rest of the chapter (Matthew 6) which has to do with making prayer flashy, so as to call attention to one’s self.
This is why the ancient Eastern Christians had no problem with prayer ropes and repetitious prayer. It’s because they actually spoke Greek, and read the ancient Scriptures in the original Greek. They knew what the word battalogeō (βαττολογέω) meant, and never in their wildest dreams would they interpret it to mean that you can’t say a short, meaningful prayer over and over again. Only modern English translators, who have a poor understanding of ancient Greek, and don’t speak it fluently, would translate Matthew 6:7 so poorly as “vain repetitions.” The ancient Eastern Christians would laugh at such a poor translation of the word battalogeō (βαττολογέω).
We can look at the use of prayer beads in two ways, both scientifically and spiritually. I prefer to see it from both angles…
From a scientific perspective, prayer beads have a meditative quality, forcing the devotee to slow down and focus on something other than his/her problems, and redirecting that focus outside of his/her self, toward an object of absolute beauty, power, love and peace. That object is none other than God himself. The feel of the beads in the hand, the repetitive prayers, the focus on God, the requirement of slowing down and letting go, which is necessary for completing the devotion, all have a soothing effect on both the mind and the body.
From a spiritual perspective, using prayer beads allows the Holy Spirit to pray through us when we don’t know what to pray for, or how we should pray. We can offer our prayer-bead devotion for a specific intention or cause, then simply go into the prayers while focusing on God himself. This time that is spent in prayerful devotion, without focusing on how to say things, allows the Holy Spirit to assist our prayers in ways that surpass our understanding (Romans 8:26-27). This draws us into a deeper relationship with God, sometimes without us even realizing it, which can have the benefit of giving us a greater sense of peace with God and his plan for us, even if we don’t know what that is.
A growing number of Evangelical Christians are discovering the benefit of prayer beads, and for most of them, it is a method that is identical to, or similar to, the Jesus Prayer Rope which is common among Christians in the East. In the West, however, this is done on ordinary Rosary beads, and so many have come to call it the “Jesus Rosary.”
This method is probably based on the Eastern Christian practice of the Jesus Prayer Rope, which is about 1,700 years old. Eastern Christians typically use knotted ropes, while Western Christians typically use beads on a cord or chain. It’s just a cultural difference. Because of the arrangement of the Rosary Beads, the devotion will be slightly different from the prayer rope used by Eastern Christians, but it’s based on the same idea and is very similar. While Catholics are sure to love this, Evangelicals are starting to find this particular devotion highly useful. It’s totally compatible with all Protestant and Evangelical theological understandings, as well as Catholic theology too.
Please note, the purpose of this devotion is pure simplicity. Avoid adding extra prayers or mysteries for contemplation. In this devotion, God himself is the mystery of contemplation. The Jesus Rosary can be prayed on regular Rosary Beads, or it can be shortened to pray on other prayer-bead arrangements, such as the Anglican Prayer Beads for example….
1.) On the Cross: Make the sign of the cross, praying…
“In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
2.) On the first Red Bead above the Cross recite the APOSTLES CREED….
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost: The holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints: The Forgiveness of sins: The Resurrection of the body, And the Life everlasting. Amen.
3.) On the first Blue Antiphon Bead pray:“O God made speed to save us.”
4.) On the second Blue Antiphon Bead pray: “O Lord make haste to help us.”
5.) On the third Blue Antiphon Bead pray the GLORY BE prayer:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
6.) On the Red Decade Bead pray the TRISAGION PRAYER:
Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One,
have mercy on us.
7.) On the Blue Decade Beads pray the JESUS PRAYER:
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
NOTE: When prayed with a partner or in a group, just say it normally out loud. When prayed privately try saying “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God” as you inhale silently, then “Have mercy on me a sinner” as you exhale silently. It’s not necessary to do it that way. Some people just find it helpful for meditative purposes.
8.) Repeat this process for each decade (steps 6 & 7). You may go around the loop once for a short devotion, or twice for a longer devotion, or three times for a really long devotion.
9.) When you decide you’re done, after one, two or three times around the loop, exit the Rosary using the Antiphon Beads again, this time praying the OUR FATHER on the fist Blue Antiphon Bead:
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. (Amen.)
Here you may optionally add the doxology, if so inclined…
“For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory forever and ever. Amen.”
10.) On the second Blue Antiphon Bead pray another JESUS PRAYER, or a HAIL MARY if you’re Catholic.
11.) On the third Blue Antiphon Bead pray the GLORY BE.
Glory be the the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
12.) On the last Red Bead above the cross, pray:
I bless the Lord.
Let us bless the Lord
Thanks be to God.
13.) On the Cross: Make the sign of the cross again, as above.
Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.