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In Luke 11:8, Jesus is teaching about prayer using a parable following the teaching of the "Lord's Prayer" a few verses earlier. The important word here is a hapex lemomenon, ἀναίδεια (anaideia) about which BDAG has this to say:

lack of sensitivity to what is proper, carelessness about the good opinion of others, shamelessness, impertinence, ignoring of convention (a fundamental cultural consideration in the Gr-Rom world, here with a focus on tradition and hospitality) Luke 11:8, either of the one calling out (simply εἶπεν vs.5) to his friend within, in which case the "shamelessness" consists in disturbing the peace at an inappropriate hour (ἀναίδεια itself does not mean "persistence" of which the text make no explicit mention; but many translations draw semantic support from explanation - cp. where "knocking" is introduced - render 'persistence') of of the sleepy neighbor who does not wish to lose face by shameless disregard of conventions concerning hospitality.

Some examples of Luke 11:8 -

  • NIV: I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
  • ESV: I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
  • BSB: I tell you, even though he will not get up to provide for him because of his friendship, yet because of the man’s persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
  • NKJV: I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
  • NASB: I tell you, even if he will not get up and give him anything just because he is his friend, yet because of his shamelessness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

The question here is NOT about how this word should be translated, but what Jesus is teaching about how we should approach God in prayer - is Jesus saying His disciples should be impudent, shameless and persistent in prayer?

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    In context the word shameless means to act without pride or concern for propriety, in a way that may exhaust the tolerance of others and test the bounds of friendship. This parable speaks to me personally, for I once considered it beneath me to make constant petitions of God and that it may only annoy Him. But God cannot be understood from a human perspective. Slow to anger and rich in mercy (Ps 103:8), he is not annoyed but moved by the shamelessness with which we approach him in prayer.
    – Nhi
    Apr 13, 2022 at 16:39

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BADG has:

ἀναίδεια, ας, ἡ (...) persistence, impudence, lit. shamelessness Lk 11:8 ... -- Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 54). University of Chicago Press.

There seems to be a sense of all three of these meanings involved here. Whenever Jesus taught persistence in prayer, he did so with including a sense of urgency and utter sincerity.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1–8, ESV)

He condemned the persistency of empty repetition:

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. (Matt 6:7, ESV)

Jesus also condemned the self-righteous prayer, the prayer that ignores asking for what one really needs; as in Matt. 6, the prayer to impress other people than in secret to God.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14, ESV)

Jesus' mother made a request to Jesus which is a good example of διά τὴν ἀναίδειαν, although the phrase is not used here.

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3–5, ESV)

In both cases the embarrassment from the lack of resources was involved, but the request was made to someone who had the resources though not convenient to supply.

Roberston referenced more examples:

Yet because of his importunity (δια γε την ἀναιδιαν αὐτου [dia ge tēn anaidian autou]). From ἀναιδης [anaidēs], shameless, and that from α [a] privative and αἰδως [aidōs], shame, shamelessness, impudence. An old word, but here alone in the N. T. Examples in the papyri. The use of γε [ge] here, one of the intensive particles, is to be noted. It sharpens the contrast to “though” by “yet.” As examples of importunate prayer Vincent notes Abraham in behalf of Sodom (Gen. 18:23–33) and the Syro-Phoenician woman in behalf of her daughter (Matt. 15:22–28). -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Lk 11:8). Broadman Press.

All these cases show an urgency on the part of the requestor.

The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. (James 5:16b, HCSV)

P.S. When it comes to importunity in prayer, we can look at positive examples of importunity in the Scriptures. What stands out is boldness, e.q. Esther (Esther 4:10-11) and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:25-30). In many languages, when entering a superiors office or interrupting a conversation, one starts with a phrase that essentially means, "Pardon my rudeness." Because of Christ's sacrifice, we can approach God with boldness (Heb. 4:14, ESV).

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  • Many thanks for this. I was really taken (having not previously noticed) that Jesus encouraged the disciples to be shameless and "impudent" (ESV) in our requests to God. I am sure there is much over-reach in some quarters about this idea!
    – Dottard
    Apr 12, 2022 at 2:10
  • @Dottard The main idea is to be open and honest, which leads to this attitude. Jesus criticized self-righteousness.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 12, 2022 at 8:57
  • That made me think I should include the Luke 18:9–14 example.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 12, 2022 at 9:06
  • See the P.S.---
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 13, 2022 at 17:38
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Marriage counselors have long recognized the importance of "vulnerability" in a relationship. We usually think of vulnerability as a bad thing (and often it is), but there are circumstances where it's not only a good thing--it's necessary.

For a marriage to thrive, husband & wife have to be their true, authentic selves. Putting on a show may endure a brief courtship, but will not last for a lifetime. In public we're all supposed to pretend that we're normal even though none of us are; we need a private space where we can take off the mask and shamelessly be ourselves. This is vital to an open, honest, healthy, intimate relationship.

--

This Lukan pericope is inserted between the Lord's prayer and the maxim to ask and ye shall receive; these passages emphasize our dependence upon God, our relationship to Him, and the need to ask for His help.

I understand this passage to teach that we are not to put on a show when we pray (indeed, the parallel sermon in Matthew specifically teaches us not to do that, see Matt. 6:5-7). We need to be authentic with God, put away pretenses, and be genuine and vulnerable in our relationship with Him.

Asking one's neighbor for a favor in the middle of the night is generally frowned upon; as such, if a neighbor (a good one, at least) does come asking for help in the middle of the night, they're not trying to keep up appearances, they genuinely need help.

We should likewise recognize that we genuinely need God's help, and focus more on sincerity of heart and less on outward appearances. After all, we're talking about the Being who sees right through us (see 1 Samuel 16:7).

If we focus more on how we appear than how we really are, we'll miss the point of the Sermon on the Mount/Plain. To borrow a common phrase, Jesus teaches we should approach our relationship with God with the idea that "we will come as we are; we will not stay as we are".


Disclaimer

I am not offering relationship advice--being vulnerable with someone untrustworthy or insincere can lead to pain & abuse.

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  • Interesting thought. Do people abuse their relationship with God by insincerity and untrustworthiness, to their own detriment?
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 12, 2022 at 9:10
  • Wow! I had never looked at that parable in that light!! This is so insightful, thank you, honestly. :D +1
    – Rajesh
    Apr 13, 2022 at 3:41
  • @PerryWebb that's an interesting way of looking at it. While God will certainly never betray our trust, we let Him down all the time. I see it that He knows us well enough to be sure how much we can handle (e.g. 1 Cor 10:13), but doesn’t leave us where we are comfortable, He still asks us to stretch. That He can use us as instruments and still get His work done in spite of us strikes me as one of His greater miracles. Apr 13, 2022 at 17:24
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Jesus is teaching about how we should approach God in prayer - is Jesus saying His disciples should be impudent, shameless and persistent in prayer?

No, the teaching for others is not how to approach God in prayer, but the need to approach him. It is an example of minor to major principle of hermeneutics. How much more.

Kal Vahomer (Light and heavy)

The Kal vahomer rule says that what applies in a less important case will certainly apply in a more important case. A kal vahomer argument is often, but not always, signaled by a phrase like "how much more..."

The next verses clearly elaborates the meaning of the parable:

[Luke 11:8-13 RV] I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

The word should be translated importunity, shameless persistence (NLT) or another nuance down the line of audacity is effrontery (SLT) and chutzpah. However, I don't believe the context talks about guts and audacity, but simply persistent begging out of humility in need.

Chutzpah. A colorful Hebrew and Yiddish word that means “boldness, audacity, effrontery, insolence, gall, brazen nerve, presumption, arrogance, persistence and just plain ‘guts,’ ” in varying combinations, proportions and intensities. To me it seems the ideal rendering of Greek anaideia, which Arndt & Gingrich’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament translates as “impudence, shamelessness.” (David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary)

The goal is not to annoy God with our persistence but to be persistent. Like in the parable of the persistent widow. Do not think that God might be annoyed for your persistence. Similarly, the parable of the shrewd manager doesn't teach us to be shrewd in doing something (discarding unrighteous wealth), but to discard unrighteous wealth, for we cannot serve God and money.

Importunity: Persistence, especially to the point of annoyance.

  • (obsolete) Unseasonableness; an unsuitable or inappropriate time.
  • A constant and insistent demanding.
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  • Thanks, Michael - but this has simply placed your opinion about the text rather than arguing from the text itself - how is Jesus' choice of noun not the right choice that for how we should approach God in prayer?
    – Dottard
    Apr 12, 2022 at 21:14
  • My claim is from the text only. The word isn't meant for our imitation, it is a detail in the story to show importunity of the man. Every detail in the Parable isn't meant to be imitated and use as parallel with God. @dottard it's just an analogy. What is meant for us comes after the analogy "same way you should ask etc".
    – Michael16
    Apr 13, 2022 at 2:27
  • OK - but where does "importunity" idea come from but from the word ἀναίδεια (anaideia) which you arbitrarily restrict to the meaning you prefer?
    – Dottard
    Apr 13, 2022 at 3:13
  • That's the closest meaning to context. The sense is not of being shameless although that too is related but insisting to the point of annoying. Same as the persistent widow. That's the plain best meaning of the word also used by Revised Version.
    – Michael16
    Apr 13, 2022 at 6:34
  • You should try searching for the relation of inodiare Latin the root of annoy, coz it maybe related to anaideia. It could be the etymological root for annoyance. etymonline.com/word/annoyed
    – Michael16
    Apr 13, 2022 at 6:39

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