Praying: good gifts

ask-seek-knockAsk, Seek, Knock and Good Gifts.  9 “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? 12 Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? 13 If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

This section is also found in Matthew 7:7-11, not however connected with the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13). The “ask, seek, knock” are virtually identical in both Gospels. There are a number of differences in the “good gifts” section (listed below). This section of the reading is connected to the previous one by the words “to give” and “to ask”. Both occur five times in the verses. “Asking, seeking, knocking” in vv. 9 and 10 are present tense = “keep on asking, seeking, and knocking” or “continue to ask, seek, and knock.” Perhaps like a young child badgering his parents until s/he gets what is wanted. This would seem to connect with the persistence talked about in the previous parable and in 18:1-8.

Note that there is no mention of believing in these verses for an answer. It seems to be the persistent actions of asking, seeking, and knocking. It would seem that the persistent prayer of an unbeliever is answerable, but if someone were praying, could they be called an unbeliever? It is never said what the “it” is that we receive, find, or is opened for us.

  • Luke present the pairs: fish/snake; egg/scorpion
  • Matthew has: bread/stone; fish/snake.

Luke’s pair of snake and scorpion was used earlier in 10:19 as symbols of the power of the enemy. Perhaps symbols of evil in contrast with the good gifts of v. 13.

  • Luke’s conclusion: the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those asking him. (Is Luke trying to say that “the Holy Spirit” is undefined “it” of the earlier answers?)
  • Matthew’s conclusion: the Father will give good things to those asking him

The logic of Jesus’ words are that if it is unthinkable that men would give such evil gifts to their children. – when they indeed give good gifts, even though they are evil. Then if evil people do not harm their children, how much more will God do for his children?

I think that Luke is saying that those who have asked for the Holy Spirit can be certain that God has given it to them, whether or not they speak in tongues, have had an emotional high, or seen a bright light. It also prepares the readers for the events and Pentecost and the Spirit’s work throughout the Book of Acts.


The story of the midnight visitor and the sayings following it are a strong admonition to perseverance in prayer. God always responds to our prayer in ways that are best for us, though not perhaps in ways that we would expect or like. The extravagant examples of the sleeping friend and the father who would give snakes and scorpions to his children drive home the absurdity of thinking of the heavenly Father as harsh or cruel. God wants the best for us — which ultimately is the Holy Spirit, the gift of the age to come (see Acts 2:17). “Ask … seek … knock” are three different descriptions of petitionary prayer; but “seek” also implies the search for the kingdom of God and union with the Father.


Luke 11:4 sinsdebt: Debts represents the regular Aramaic term for sin, which literally denoted money debt, here put literally into Greek (Luke has the more ordinary term for ‘sins’, but retains the idea of debt in the second clause). The thought is of sins in general, as Matthew using the very general term “trespass” (literally ‘false step’, i.e. wrongdoing), makes clear.

Luke 11:13 how much more will the Father: the phrase poso mallon reflects the Hebrew argument qal wehomer – from the lesser to the greater.

the holy Spirit: this is a Lucan editorial alteration of a traditional saying of Jesus (see Matthew 7:11). Luke presents the gift of the holy Spirit as the response of the Father to the prayer of the Christian disciple.


  • R. Allen Culpepper Luke, vol. 9 in New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN.: Abington, 1995)
  • Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gorden Fee (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997)
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 176-80
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) p.957
  • Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) p. 210.
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at
  • Robert C. Tannehil, Luke in Abington New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN.: Abington, 1996)
  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007) p. 322
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970


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