The Threefold Daily Prayers:

9 a.m., Noon, 3 p.m.

Were These Times of Prayer Sanctioned by God in the New Testament?

 

Image: The Prayer Foundation logo (with white Celtic cross on a green shield). 

By Monk Preston

(Co-Founder and President, The Prayer Foundation)

 

 

Photo: of a lit candle.

 

Image: portion of illuminated manuscript page from "The Book of Kells."Photo: Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canadian Rockies.  Photo: Copyright 2006 S.G.P.  All Rights Reserved.

"The Basics" of The Threefold Daily Prayers as observed by The Prayer Foundation :

  • 9:00 a.m. - Third Hour (Trece).........................The Lord's Prayer

  • Noon  -  -  - Sixth Hour (Sext).......................................23rd Psalm

  • 3:00 p.m. - Ninth Hour (None)......................................Psalm 117 

(For additional information on this subject, see our webpages Daily Prayer: Praying the Hours; and The Seven (Historical) Hours of Prayer). ____________________________________________________________

A Look at the Greek Text of Acts 2:42

 
"...and the prayers." (kai taiV proseucaiV)

"They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers."  -Acts 2:41-42; American Standard Version (ASV)

The King James Version (KJV) and the New King James Version (NKJV) both translate this verse: "...and in prayers.", omitting the definite article "the" (taiV), as do about half of the modern versions.

The original Greek is actually: "...and the prayers." (kai taiV proseucaiV).  The verse is therefore more accurately rendered as in the American Standard Version as quoted above.  

It is also so translated in the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the English Standard Version (ESV), the Good News Translation (GNT), the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB), The Message (MSG), Young's Literal Translation (YLT), and the New Revised Standard Version (NRS).

What then might this phrase "the prayers" refer to?  There is really only one prayer that Christians were given to pray, The Lord's Prayer.  Could it refer to the Psalms? (these are prayers prayed by the Apostles and early Christians, though they are referred to elsewhere in the New Testament simply as the Psalms).  Or does it refer to the three times of prayer that the Apostles and early Christians observed?

We ourselves refer to these times of prayer as "The Threefold Daily Prayers" or "the prayers" for short.

As a matter of fact, the three daily prayer-times of the Apostles in the New Testament and of the early Christians, consisted of praying first the Lord's Prayer at the three daily times of 9am, Noon, and 3pm; which might be followed according to individual choice (and available time or inclination) with Psalms, Hymns, spiritual songs, and personal prayer.

So there may really be no need to choose between the possible options, as the term "...the prayers", can easily and simultaneously refer to "all of the above".                                                       _______________________

"Without straining the force of the definite article "the prayers (taiV proseucaiV)" in the language of Acts, therefore, it may be permissible to see here at least an inchoate reference to fixed forms of praying, and, by derivation, also to fixed forms of confessing the faith.  Among all these fixed forms of praying and of confessing, the Lord's Prayer was in a class by itself, and it always would be."

(Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition by Jaroslav Pelikan; Pgs. 394-5; Yale University Press, 2003)

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Their observance is found in both the Old and New Testaments.  Nowhere in the Bible is their observance commanded.

When we read of the Apostles in the New Testament praying at the Hours of Prayer: 9 a.m., Noon, and 3 p.m., we think, well, of course, they were Jewish.  As Christians, we don't observe these times of prayer because we're not under the Law.

These Threefold Daily Prayers, however, are not a part of the Law of Moses.  

"The first coincided with the morning sacrifice, at the 3rd hour of the morning, at 9 A.M. therefore (Acts 2:15). The second was at the 6th hour, or at noon, and may have coincided with the thanksgiving for the chief meal of the day, a religious custom apparently universally observed (Matthew 15:36; Acts 27:35). The 3rd hour of prayer coincided with the evening sacrifice, at the ninth hour (3:00 P.M.)" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) 1

Exactly when these three times of prayer first began to be observed by the Jewish people is not known, but we first see them mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Psalms and in the Book of Daniel, where we find that Daniel was thrown into a den of lions because he was faithful in prayer, and in his observance of the Threefold Daily Prayers:

"Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud, and he shall hear my voice."  -Psalm 55:17

"Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he had done aforetime." -Daniel 6:10

Christ "sanctioned" our "saying Grace" before meals, in the New Testament.

"To give sanction to": to ratify; to confirm; to approve.

God desires us to "Pray without ceasing." (1Thessalonians 5:17).  So why would we also want to pray at certain particular times?  You may in fact already be doing so.  A common practice for most people several times a day is "saying Grace" before meals.  

In the New Testament we see our Lord offering prayer before meals.  He did not instruct or command us anywhere to do this; to "say Grace"---like the Threefold Daily Prayers, it was a Jewish custom---not a part of the Law of Moses, and therefore its observance was not required.  But Christ "sanctioned" the practice of "saying Grace" before meals by observing it Himself; when feeding the multitudes, and also when instituting the Last Supper. 

'And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude."          -Matthew 15:36

 And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.        -Acts 27:35

"...the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me."            -I Corinthians 11:24 

"And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink you all of it; For this is my blood of the New Covenant, Which is shed for many, for the remission of sins.”  -Matthew 26:27,28

We find an additional and even more strongly implied sanction for our practice of "saying Grace" before meals, in the Letters of Paul:

 "For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving."  -1 Timothy 4:4

The observance of the three times of daily prayer seems also to be sanctioned and approved by God in the New Testament. ________________________________________________

9 a.m. (The Third hour)

It could have taken place at any time of day or night, but God chose to send the Holy Spirit for the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost at the time of the Morning Prayer (9 a.m., the Jewish "Third Hour"):

"For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day."  -Acts 2:15 ________________________________________________

 Noon (The Sixth hour)

God chose to give Peter a vision that would result in the acceptance of Gentiles into the Church at the time of the Noon Prayer (the Jewish "Sixth Hour").

"On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance..."  -Acts 10:9 ________________________________________________

3 p.m. (The Ninth Hour)

God chose the time of the Evening Prayer (3 p.m.; the Jewish "Ninth Hour") to send an Angel to the Centurion Cornelius:  

 "There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.  He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius."  -Acts 10:1-3

"And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing..."  -Acts 10:30 

God also chose the time of the Evening Prayer (3 p.m.) to heal the lame man through Peter and John:

"Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.  And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.  And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.  And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.  Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk."              -Acts 3:1-6 ________________________________________________

The Testimony of Antiquity: Early Christian Writings

The observance of The Threefold Daily Prayers by the early Christians is taught in the Didache (also known as: "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" -- to be fair to the Reformers, a copy of this book was not re-discovered until the 1800's) a Church manual from the late first or early second century  that is mentioned in Eusebius' "The History of the Church".  Their observance is also mentioned by Tertullian writing around 200 A.D. in "On Prayer" (Chapter 25)

Tertullian speaks of the Christians of his time praying before meals, before going to the public baths, and at sunrise and sunset; but says of the three times of prayer of the Threefold Daily Prayers that these times of prayer are found "in the Scriptures to have been more solemn than the rest."

"Touching the time, however, the extrinsic observance of certain hours will not be unprofitable—those common hours, I mean, which mark the intervals of the day—the third, the sixth, the ninth—which we may find in the Scriptures to have been more solemn than the rest.

The first infusion of the Holy Spirit into the congregated disciples took place at "the third hour." Peter, on the day on which he experienced the vision of Universal Community, (exhibited) in that small vessel, had ascended into the more lofty parts of the house, for prayer's sake "at the sixth hour." -Acts 10:9

The same (apostle) was going into the temple, with John, "at the ninth hour," when he restored the paralytic to his health.  

Albeit these practices stand simply without any precept for their observance, still it may be granted a good thing to establish some definite presumption, which may both add stringency to the admonition to pray, and may, as it were by a law, tear us out from our businesses unto such a duty; so that—what we read to have been observed by Daniel also, in accordance (of course) with Israel's discipline—we pray at least not less than thrice in the day, debtors as we are to Three—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: of course, in addition to our regular prayers which are due, without any admonition, on the entrance of light and of night.

But, withal, it becomes believers not to take food, and not to go to the bath, before interposing a prayer; for the refreshments and nourishments of the spirit are to be held prior to those of the flesh, and things heavenly prior to things earthly." (Tertullian,"On Prayer"). 2 ________________________________________________

The Early Church

The early Christians during the times of persecution held worship services in the catacombs (underground tombs).  They added to the three traditional prayers of the Jewish people that we see the Apostles in the Book of Acts praying, by just continuing in the catacombs to pray every three hours.  After the end of the persecutions, these additional prayer times were continued by the later monastics.

The original practice of the Threefold Daily Prayers over time, therefore, gradually developed into the Canonical Hours of Prayer (Divine Office), still observed by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Communions.  

Four hundred years after Tertullian's time (Ca. 200 A.D.), in the seventh century, Islam borrowed the practice of regular, specific times of prayer from the then still current practice of both Judaism and Christianity, and instituted it as one of the Five Pillars of their religion. ________________________________________________

The Crucifixion of Christ

Christ was crucified for us at the third hour (9 a.m.).  Darkness came over the land at the sixth hour (Noon) and lasted until the ninth hour (3 p.m.), when our Lord gave up His spirit. 

Christ, our Passover, gave up His spirit at the time of the Evening Sacrifice (and therefore also of the Evening Prayer) in fulfillment of his being: "...the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world." -John 1:29

9 a.m. (The Third hour)

"And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the superscription of His accusation was written over, The King of the Jews."

Noon (The Sixth hour)

"And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour

3 p.m. (The Ninth Hour) 

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?"

"And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, He calls Elijah.  And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let him alone; let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down."

"And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the spirit.  And the veil of the Temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom."                        -Mark 15:25,26,33-38 ________________________________________________

Brought to Mind Daily

The Apostle Paul instructed us concerning our observance of Communion: 

"For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord's death till he come."  -I Corinthians 11:26  

The observance of the three times of prayer of The Threefold Daily Prayers can also serve as a reminder of our Lord's ultimate sacrifice of Himself on our behalf, one that is brought to mind daily.

  Photo: of our actual Celtic Cross Shield (TM).  The Prayer Foundation Logo and Trademark.  Phot Copyright 2007 S.G.P.  All Rights Reserved. ____________________________________________________________

1 "Entry for 'HOURS OF PRAYER' by Henry E. Dosker". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia", Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor..

2 Tertullian, "On Prayer": Chapter 25: Of Time for Prayer.

3 The Second Helvetic Confession of 1566, Chapter XXIII; found on P. 417 of Vol. I of "The Creeds of Christendom" by Philip Schaff; Reprinted 2007 by Baker Books. ____________________________________________________________

Related Pages:

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(Except quotations from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, and Tertullian's "On Prayer" which are both in the Public Domain) Copyright © 2008 S.G.P. All rights reserved.

Daily Prayer: Praying the Hours   PRAYER Category

 The Protestant Reformers

The Protestant Reformers seem to have considered praying at certain times of the day to have been the creation of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the Middle Ages, and therefore rejected it (the Anglican Church retained a Morning and Evening time of prayer).  

Fairly representative of the Reformers' view is that put forth in the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566. 

It was composed by Heinrich Bullinger, the successor to Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. 

 It states in Chapter XXIII:

"Canonical hours are not prescribed in the Scriptures, and are unknown to antiquity." 3

The three Hours of Prayer of 9 a.m., Noon, and 3 p.m., may not indeed be "prescribed" in the Scriptures, but they are certainly found there, and even, in my opinion, "sanctioned" by God.

As the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Didache and the writings of Tertullian clearly show, they definitely were not: "unknown in antiquity."  

To use a modern-day expression, we might say that the Reformers "threw the baby out with the bathwater". 

For those of us of Protestant persuasion today who choose to do so, it may now be the time to go out and bring this particular precious 'baby" back in.

-Monk Preston _________