Should we change the Lord’s Prayer?

Pope Francis hit the headlines last week, not by offering comment on politics or economics, but by suggesting that one line of the Lord’s Prayer in Italian should be translated differently. One of the better accounts appeared in the Guardian (ably assisted by yours truly):

It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation. I am the one who falls; it’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation, that’s his department.

One of the immediately fascinating things about this is the way that it caught the headlines. I was contacted for opinion by the Guardian, Sky News and the New York Times, and there was some quite technical comment on Christian Today and The Conversation. Though a friend of mine bemoaned online that people prefer to spend more time debating the prayer than actually praying it, it is worth reflecting on why such a change might provoke a reaction. Even for those for whom faith is a whispered hope rather than a tangible reality, there is something significant about the familiarity of things learned in childhood, which is why many people long to hear ‘traditional’ carols at Christmas. Though this can be an inoculation against faith, it can also (if used well) be a bridge into it.

The question of the wording of a prayer of Jesus from the New Testament which now forms a central part of Christian prayer and liturgy raises questions at several levels, and most discussions only tackled one or two of them. First, there is the question of translation itself: how do you render the phrase concerned? Then there is the theological question about God and evil into which the Pope places this. Then there is the issue of how liturgical texts are revised, within a denomination and across the church. Finally, there is the question of the pastoral and spiritual impact of changing something learning by heart.

The prayer itself is given in two versions, in Matt 6.9–13 and a much shorter version in Luke 11.2–4. All liturgical uses in English are based on Matthew’s version, in part because it is fuller, but also because it has a very striking poetic structure and symmetry which suggests it goes back to a form which Jesus expected his followers to learn by heart. On the question of translation, there are two main issues: the way in which we ask God not to ‘lead us’ and the thing that we don’t want to be led into.

On the question of the verb, ‘lead us not’, Meredith Warren points out that the verb used is not an imperative (as the other petitions are) and so Pope Francis is perhaps onto something—but that it is clear God is the person being petitioned.

The next line, about temptation, is not in the imperative, so in some sense the Pope is correct that this verb is different from the others. However, it is still addressed to the subject of the prayer, to God, as a hope or a wish, being in the “you” form of the subjunctive.

In short, the Pope’s declaration that the sentence be changed to “do not let us fall into temptation” does not accurately reflect Jesus’s words in either Gospel. The Bible is clear that God is implicated in both temptation and its avoidance.

Joseph Hartropp agrees: it is not possible at the level of the text to make the side-step that the Pope is suggesting:

The word in contention is the Greek verb eisenenkes, meaning to ‘lead into’ or ‘bring in’. Grammatically, it is a second-person singular verb, in the active voice and the subjunctive (‘expressing wish or desire’) mood. That means, given that the prayer is directed to ‘our Father’ (who is grammatically singular), that God is the obvious actor of the verb ‘to lead’. That makes it difficult to argue that it is only Satan who ‘leads’ into temptation – the Greek text at least doesn’t suggest that.

Helpfully that verb aligns with the next one used, also clearly referring to God as its agent. The Greek verb rhysai, meaning ‘to deliver’ appears only twice in the New Testament, here and in the Gospel of Luke’s version of the prayer (11:4). It is also in the second person singular form, though here it takes the ‘imperative’ mood – so that while being led into evil is sought against, being ‘delivered’ from evil is positively, emphatically urged by the intercessor.

The second translational issue is the meaning of peirasmos, traditionally rendered as ‘temptation’. One of the challenges here is the refutation in James 1.13 ‘God does not tempt anyone’, using the cognate verb peirazo. But only a couple of chapters earlier in Matthew, he (with the other gospels writers Mark and Luke) are clear that it is the Spirit who leads (or ‘throws’, Mark 1.12) Jesus into the desert to be tempted/tested—though it is the devil who is described as ‘the tempter’ (ho peirazon). Warren locates this ambiguity in a longer scriptural tradition of God and Satan at times appearing to work in some kind of partnership:

A clear example of God testing one of his worshippers is the case of Job, where God actually makes a bet with Satan. Satan hints to God that Job only worships God because of his prosperity and tells God that if Job had nothing he would curse God’s name. God takes Satan up on the bet and allows him to put Job in increasingly awful conditions with the aim of tempting him to curse God’s name. While Satan brings about Job’s misery, it’s clear that God is the true the architect of Job’s misfortunes.

Another example comes from Genesis, the familiar story of the Binding of Isaac, where God decides to test Abraham by demanding that he sacrifice his only son. While Genesis isn’t clear about why God tests Abraham’s faith in this way, we know that Jews from around the time of Jesus understood the test to be another incident of Satan and God working behind the scenes to prove a point.

Although Warren is right to point out the challenge of these different perspectives from the texts, what she does not do is locate that in a wider theological question of how a good God can allow evil things to happen. The agency of Satan in this is theologically clear: any actions come under the sovereignty of God. This doesn’t solve the problem for us, but does give a particular perspective. The world is not simply a Fantastic-Four-style battleground between the forces of good and evil, in which the two sides are more-or-less equally matched, and we have to wait until the end to see who will come out on top. The biblical perspective is consistently that God is the one who is ultimately in control—even if we might have to wait to the ultimate end to see that victory realised unambiguously. Another quite different English translation brings in this eschatological perspective by rendering this phrase ‘Save us from the time of trial’, hinting at the ultimate test of the final judgement of God.

(It is fascinating to note that Colin Buchanan, writing in his 1995 Grove booklet on the translation of the Lord’s Prayer, suggested a sense similar to that of Francis:

Those who have wished to translate the text as ‘Let us not be led into temptation’ or even ‘Let us not fall into temptation’ are probably near to the thrust of the original.

It raises the intriguing possibility that the Pope has been reading older Grove booklets…!)

Moving beyond the question of translation and theology, the way that such texts which form part of global Anglophone liturgy is also complex. Although most people think of two versions of the Lord’s Prayer (the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’), there are at least four versions common in England:

  • The BCP traditional form ‘Our Father, which art in heaven…forgive them that trespass…’
  • The modified traditional version ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…forgive those that trespass…’
  • The Church of England modern form ‘Our Father in heaven…lead us not into temptation…’
  • The English Language Liturgical Consultation version ‘Our Father in heaven…save us from the time of trial…’

In the General Synod debates about Common Worship (in the 2000-2005 sessions), the ELLC version was rejected not so much on the basis of translation, but because of its stark difference from the traditional form and its unfamiliarity. Colin Buchanan (in his Grove booklet) also notes the additional versions produced in Australia and New Zealand, which also try to match the Greek text by restructuring the opening petitions ‘Your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done…’. There are no plans in the Catholic Church to make any changes in the liturgy, and it would be a massive undertaking; it seems as though Francis was making a casual observation without much thought about the possible consequences, as he has done before.

Some of the objection to the changing of the known text is based in a love for the poetry and rhythm of the ‘traditional’ version: there is a clear sense of rhythm to the opening invocations ‘Our Father/who are in heaven/hallowed be thy name//Thy kingdom come/thy will be done/on earth as it is in heaven’. The main problem with being attached to this pattern, even if it helps memorisation, is that it is the wrong poetic form, and is created by a rendering in English that does not match the quite clear poetic form of Jesus’ prayer:

Father ours the-one in the heavens
Hallowed-be the name of-you
Come the kingdom of-you
Done the will of-you
As in heaven even on earth

The important thing here is that lines 2, 3 and 4 have the same form and the same number of words, and so both poetically and theologically belong together. We cannot desire God’s will be done or his kingdom come without his name being hallowed.

Stability of texts is pastorally important, though it cannot be used as an excuse to rest easy with poor translation. But the power of tradition is evident whenever you suggest the revision of any well-known text. John 3.16 does not mean what most people think: ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son…’ but rather ‘God loved the world in this way that he gave his only Son…’ That was the meaning of ‘so’ in 1611 but is no longer today—but the traditional rendition is so powerful that even Bible translators (let alone liturgists) have lacked the courage to make this clear.

The pastoral importance of stable, learned texts is widely evident. When we decided to teach our eldest, Lizzi, a prayer when she was 2 or 3, we thought that the Lord’s Prayer might be a good place to start. When we began, she replied ‘Oh, I know that one’ and recited it through—since we had the policy in our church of saying the prayer in the start of each service whilst the children were still in. Tiffer Robinson, a fellow member of General Synod, observed the power of this at the other end of life:

I just heard quite a thing: apparently after I brought communion to a parishioner on the Stroke ward, another patient in an adjoining bed started reciting the Lord’s prayer over and over having not spoken since her stroke, and then later regained her speech.

As I commented to the Guardian, in terms of church culture, people learn this prayer by heart as children. If you tweak the translation, you risk disrupting the pattern of communal prayer. You fiddle with it at your peril.

I don’t think there is a case to make the change Pope Francis suggested on the basis of translating the Greek New Testament, and there are good pastoral reasons not to tinker. But I am grateful that he has drawn attention to the issue—and perhaps this should lead us to focus on our own praying of this great prayer of Jesus, a gift from him to us as we look for the coming of his kingdom. And if there are questions about the meaning of the translation—why not let’s do some more teaching on what this prayer really means?

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40 thoughts on “Should we change the Lord’s Prayer?

  1. I’m a Canadian Anglican and we have officially prayed ‘save us from the time of trial’ since 1985. Our BAs prints both the modified traditional version and the ELLC modern translation. I much prefer ‘save us from the time of trial’ and use it daily myself.

      • That’s a very good question and I’m going to resist the temptation to give a quick answer. Theologically I probably don’t disagree with those who see it as originally a reference to eschatological testing. But when I look into my heart when I’m praying the prayer, I think I probably think that what I’m actually praying is ‘save us’ (not just me) from sorrow and suffering so hard that it might drive us away from you’.

    • I cannot see how ‘Save us from the time of trial’ is a TRANSLATION of the Greek, rather than an interpretation of what somebody thinks it ‘means’. The standard verb ‘to save’ is sozein or rusai while the verb here is eisphero in the standard vetitive form (me + aorist subjunctive – which is how you express a negative aorist command in Greek); nor is there any word for ‘time’ here.

      Greek-speaking Christians have prayed these words without demur for thousands of years. The Pope needs to learn some better biblical theology – or demur to his biblical scholars.

      The simple, if troubling, fact is that Christian theology is riven through with paradox. God is three and God is one. Christ is both God and man. We remain responsible for our actions while God is sovereign. God never repents yet he does change his mind. And so it goes. It is not that Christian theology is incoherent but that it is multi-faceted. God doesn’t test us – but then again, He does …

      • Brian, I’m not a Greek scholar so I can’t debate you there. The ELLC texts have good explanatory notes (you can find them at, but of course every scholarly opinion is going to be debated by other scholars.

        My own feeling is that it’s a mistake to translate ‘do not lead us into temptation/testing’ in isolation from ‘but deliver us from evil’. I think in essence it’s one petition, and so I would argue that the salvation reference is justified.

        But again, I’m not a Greek scholar, so I will have to bow to those on both sides of this debate who know their NT Greek better than me. My comment was simply to report common practice in the ACC (and I believe in TEC as well. since our BAS was based on their 1979 BCP).

        • Tim, thank you for the link. I’m only a ‘Greek scholar’ insofar as any autodidact can be one – by reading the Greek NT daily for 30+ years and by consulting the commentaries and grammars. Having read now the ELLC explanatory notes, I find them contradictory in their translation of Matt 6.13, being both overly specific (rendering the anarthrous ‘peirasmon’ eschatologically as ‘THE time of trial’) and possibly too general (why not ‘THE Evil One’ for ‘tou ponerou’ – too ‘fundamentalist’, perhaps, for those who have ‘demythologised the devil?).

          But in any case the negative command ‘me eisenegkes’ doesn’t mean ‘save!’ (which verb, ‘rusai’, is used positively in the second half of the verse) – it means ‘don’t bring’, as the adversative ‘alla’ ‘but’ stresses – something the ELLC wipes out with ‘and”; while ‘peirasmos’ means either ‘testing’ or ‘temptation’ so the verse easily translates as ‘don’t bring us into testing’ – something an informed Christian can easily understand.

          • Brian, I do agree that the specific (specific trial, specific evil one) is more likely to be the correct understanding than the generalised in each of the last 2 clauses of the prayer; but it is not surprising that the prayer was gradually generalised when it came into general use.

      • Brian, I don’t wish to get into the theology but your paradox argument is true however I don’t think God changes his mind, whether God the Holy Spirit, God the Son, or God, the Father.

  2. You are right Ian – there is no good textual basis and no pastoral reason we should change this.
    We need to bring our theology in line with what Jesus said not what Jesus said in line with our theology.
    We have no authority to change it, just cos we don’t like it, just cos it messes with our notions of God and his sovereignty and prayer. I expect those with a low view of Scripture to mess with sound translations when it messes with their head, but the Pope should know better.

    • I am unconvinced by D.Wenham’s structural suggestion for a number of reasons. But here, I will keep to the final two petitions, I would argue that they are actually a single petition.

      The word before ‘deliver’, which is translated ‘but’ is ‘alla’. It is itself is symmetrical word, and I always find it to be used as a pivot point in Gospel wording. It is central, rather than being at the start of a new structural step as D.Wenham has it here. If his structure was the correct one, I’d expect it to be another ‘kai’ before ‘deliver’, like the ones we find at the beginning of this and the previous invocation.

      What comes before the pivotal ‘alla’ is weighed with what follows – like a see-saw. So we have:-
      “And not bring us to temptation -BUT- deliver us from the evil”.
      The ‘BUT’ (alla) is best thought of as ‘but instead’

      The lack of imperative form of ‘bring’ supports the view that this is not of itself a petition. The invocation comes with ‘deliver’. The word ‘bring’ is, rather, subjunctive. So we have, more accurately:-
      “(You shall) not bring us to a testing -but instead- deliver us from the evil”

      We would then ask what “the evil” is: Is it the evil that WOULD bring us to a testing? – as per what Pope Francis suggests? OR, is it the trial before God for ‘the evil’ that is in ourselves?

      Interestingly, Luke 11’s version didn’t originally have “but deliver us from the evil”, which is something of a spanner in the works for the idea that there was a memorable Greek form which relied on these words being present. If Luke couldn’t remember the words, we’re in trouble! 🙂
      But it looks to me like the words were added later, resulting from the writing down of a post-resurrection interpretation of “And you shall not bring us to a testing”.

      • Yes, Jas, that is a point that I had not fully appreciated (obvious though it may seem). I think ALLA does mean ‘but instead’.

        Having a ‘but instead’ may well lead people to ask ‘Well then, why have the first clause at all?’. Answer: because it belongs, because of Gethsemane, in a compilation of Jesus’s teaching on prayer, and Matthew has made that compilation. As with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, it is source-criticism that primarily helps us understand what Matthew is up to.

        The main point that occurs to me, however, is: why are we (as with the Talents, where the moral, straight out of Mark, is openly stated at the end as the unrivalled and undisputed meaning and distillation of the parable) debating what Jesus has already apparently made clear? There is not much debate about the meaning of his Gethsemane words, and not much mileage in any idea that the same clause in the Lord’s Prayer means anything much different from what it meant in Gethsemane. Most would be happy to affirm that there is both an immediate and an eschatological significance to peirasmos. So I think there is scope for agreement here.

  3. The argument about pastoral texts shouldn’t be tinkered with because they don’t help memorisation is already redundant, surely, in that we all have a modernised version in Common Worship.

    • Not in Torbay Gill, many of the churches and schools still use the traditional version. I would like to change to the modern version in the churches I am involved with, even though I find aspects of it unsatisfactory. For instance why couldn’t the modernisation have said ‘For yours is the Kingdom the power and the glory…’ emphasising whose kingdom etc without breaking the rhythm of the trad version?

      • Yes, I know not in Torbay – and in our own ministry we nearly always settled for the traditional words, because they are familiar and familiarity is important to spirituality. But I have always had to do a few mental gymnastics when I say’ lead us not’ …

    • It’s also basically an argument against any modernized translations of Bible, hymns, liturgies etc.

      To me accurate communication is important. When I ask kids what ‘trespass’ means, they always – no exception – think of it as infringing on someone else’s private property. I’ve never had any young person tell me it means ‘sin’. So when we teach kids the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer, what do they understand it to mean?

      That’s why at St. Margaret’s Edmonton (Alberta) at our main service we always use the ELLC modern translation. I want those kids to grow up with an accurate understanding of what they’re praying.

      • When I ask children what trespass means they usually think in terms of ‘crossing over/outside boundaries’, usually into dangerous places, and I think that’s exactly right. The word carries a note of warning.

        If you ask children where they commonly see the word, they think of two things: trainlines and power substations.

        Perhaps this is a context thing Tim? What is true for the UK is not true for Canada….

        • You may be right Mat. Of course, if we really wanted to be accurate to Matthew’s original we would pray ‘forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors’.

          To be honest I was quite surprised when people reacted so strongly to the Pope’s musings; we’ve been using the ELLC translation for so long here that to us it’s a dead issue (although the issue of trad versus contemporary versions is not dead at all!).

  4. I think you’ve struck a satisfying balance Ian, and I agree. The Pope’s translation may well be unwarranted in scripture, but his desire to acknowledge that limitations of language can distort our notions of God (which seems to me the root of his comments) is a noble one, and asking questions of this sort is both fair and wise. Like you I only wish he’d not done so quite so publically….

    One of your other points that I found interesting was the reflection on the Lord’s Prayer as a familiar habit taught in schools.

    I went to a CofE primary school, and was taught the Lord’s Prayer in two forms, as we had two very different headteachers. I know both the ‘Modified Traditional’ and ‘Modern’ versions, and change between them fairly easily, a blessing I was not aware of until my 20’s. But a blessing it is, and I very much agree that being taught that sort of thing is to “furnish the mind with beauty”.

    My son, who is 6, attends a CofE primary school hasn’t committed their version to memory yet, but they do not use it very regularly. His school have a great many short-form prayers and ‘graces’ they say in assemblies and at meals, but it seems a bit more informal and contemporary; there is little continuity between his christian education and mine…

    (You can edit this last bit out)

    One final comment. Your link above to the ELLC takes you to their homepage, but there is no copy of the text there, or elsewhere on their site (or if there is, it’s not obvious), instead it’s in a linked PDF, which might be the more helpful link?


    • Far be it from me to engage with people whose knowledge of NT Greek is much greater than mine, but I’ve always felt that the problem here is with the meaning of peirasmos. As I understand it, peirasmos could mean a test, trial, or even an experiment. So, if it’s a trial we are praying to avoid, then the more modern rendering of ‘do not bring us to the time of trial’ is more accurate.
      But the verse seems to be part of a two-line couplet in the traditional poetic Jewish form, in which the two lines have similar meaning but expressed in different ways – a form to be found everywhere in the Old Testament, especially in Psalms. If that’s the case, then the meaning of ‘lead us not into temptation’ is actually ‘deliver us from evil’. There is no implication of fault here, just an implication of salvation. The prayer is nothing to do with how sin arises, much more to do with how to cope with it. And, of course, it was directed at a generation who had never had to pray for themselves, because that’s something the priest usually did on your behalf.
      Incidentally, talking of misreadings of the Lord’s Prayer, how many people stress the first word in ‘thy will be done (a meaningless sentence), when they should be stressing the second word?

  5. Great discussion of the question.

    I do think that the tension between God’s agency and Satan’s is the knottiest problem in biblical theology.

    For me the standout example is where Satan prompts Judas to betray Jesus, suggesting Satan is unaware that this will lead directly to Jesus’ death and his own defeat. Yet at other times Satan appears to be aware of what Jesus is doing and tempts him to take another route, as in the wilderness or when Jesus rebukes Peter as ‘Satan’ for suggesting he will not be killed. Is Satan trying to tempt Jesus away from the cross or put him on it (as per the ransom/fish hook theory)?

    There’s also the census of course, where Samuel and Chronicles can’t agree whether it is God (in his anger) or Satan who puts David up to it – though in both it is punished.

    And where does this leave James 1:13? I do wish these things were clearer!

  6. A lot of the views on this, including that of Pope Francis, have been of the nature ‘It’s a bad translation not because I am referring to the Greek words that it is a translation of but because it cannot accurately reflect Jesus’s original intention.’

    But who are we to say it cannot? Is this just another instance of saying we can put ourselves in Jesus’s place where his words seem uncongenial? (I agree that it cannot reflect his intention, by the way, but one has to have a better reason than personal preference for saying that.)

    In the first half of the Sermon, Matthew is gathering and systematising Jesus’s teaching thematically.
    BEATITUDES – the qualities approved by Jesus (as seen in James’s letter, in all 8 cases: James’s letter notably never claims that these derive from Jesus, but of course they do in a way because they are the catechesis of the Jerusalem church, so if in doubt as to whether to include them among Jesus’s teaching then it is better to include than to be in danger of omitting important dominical material. Further evidence: Matt is the mid-term between James and Luke. ‘Poor in spirit’ is redactional and awkward (Matt’s talents and other parables suggest he himself is from a rich background); but Luke’s ‘poor’ is demanded by his Isa 61 template rather than being closer to Jesus, and ‘Blessed are the poor for yours is’ is Luke the editor being hasty).
    ANTITHESES – the ways in which Jesus’s teaching appears to be different from, or to fulfil, OT.
    LORD’S PRAYER – Jesus’s teaching on prayer.
    The second half post Lord’s Prayer shares something in common too, but the only thing it shares in common is the fact that its sources are NT sources. It is easy for Matt as an author to group these together, and as regards location he has few options anyway. I gave a paper on this to Prof Stanton’s junior seminar in 1999.

    Where does Matt find Jesus’s teaching on (and modelling of) prayer?
    Mark 11 and 14 (Gethsemane)
    John 6 and 17
    To which he adds: The kaddish prayer (hallowed be your name; your kingdom come).
    ‘Heaven’ x2 may be his own typical redactional input.
    The Lord’s Prayer seems to jump from theme to theme for the same reason that the Sermon as a whole seems to do that: Matt is collecting from a variety of original contexts in his source-texts.

    Now – the thing is that Matt has to translate James’s and Peter’s (Jerusalem church’s) teaching backwards into (the deduced original deriving from) Jesus, which will often necessarily involve recasting it. That is no easy task. 7.6 is an example of a teaching that looks odd at first sight. Matt is beginning with Jesus’s Gethsemane injunction to the disciples. He (Matt) is stuck with having to produce an awkward petition within a simple prayer (for of course it is the tempter or the individual’s weakness – not God – that would cause temptation & fall in Gethsemane). But there is no way of putting that simply. ‘May we not be led into temptation’ is unclear, and not the sort of wording that someone would pray anyway. The version that Matt comes up with does not reflect the intended meaning either, so is no more ideal than the other. But the clincher is that it enables, with its simple second-person imperative (and avoidance of passives and middles), a good Hebraic double-clause parallel with the Johannine ‘deliver us from evil’. Just imagine *that* being put in parallel with the more circumlocuitous version: it would be almost Clerihew-like in its imbalance.

  7. As for how to translate ‘peirasmos’, the disciples’ present time-specific temptation in Gethsemane is figurative of a more eschatological and definitive final trial, so to have in view both ‘temptation’ and ‘trial’ or (better) a combination is probably correct.

    The disciples’ behaviour is portrayed here in several ways as a warning set in stone for future disciples awaiting the parousia (Marxsen etc.). We need to bear in mind the frustration at the time of writing (early 70 AD?) of the hopes, thought by some (oral tradition, but of what quality? cf. subsequent sects who often share implicit belief that at least one original disciple will survive till the end-game) to have emanated from Jesus, that Peter, John and (a) James would see the parousia. Maybe therefore it was their own fault. In one way, Mark makes an example of them. They are invited by Jesus to 2 death-related incidents. They fall asleep thus disobeying the central injunction to watch (in general and specifically on passover night). The single disciple flees naked as was warned in the Rev. oracle. Peter denies Jesus. Their succumbing to temptation is, more than a momentary thing, more generally a warning to all other disciples who need to be on their guard lest they may receive the verdict of condemnation in the eschatological trial itself.

  8. 2 comments up: the phrase that Matt derives from John refers to ‘the evil one’ (not ‘evil’). So often the originals are in their correct meaning more concrete and specific than later abstract generalisations designed to make them apply more broadly. The phrase we are talking about (which Matt puts in parallel with the Johannine phrase) is another example of that. Matt encounters a further predictable problem here: that when searching for all the things Jesus said on prayer there is unsurprisingly some overlap: the Mark and John phrases overlap in their meaning, and are scarcely different. That is fine in a context of Hebraic parallelism, since the same applies to the 2 halves of psalm-verses etc.. But the rest of the prayer is not particularly a prayer of parallelism. Where parallelism can be attained, Matt (as a neat writer) likes to attain it so far as possible (‘Your kingdom come; your will be done’); but it is more a case that that is the only way he can possibly deal with 2 harvested verses that overlap. And so it is that he puts the final 2 phrases that he has harvested next to each other at the end of the prayer, and in parallel.

    • In fact, he greatly shortens what the kaddish has to say about the kingdom so that the ‘kingdom’ and ‘will’ clauses can be nicely in parallel.

  9. I cannot miss this opportunity to quote the late C H Sisson (“The Alternative Service Book”, TLS, 14 Nov. 1980)

    “The fruit of excessive variety will certainly be even greater ignorance, for let no one suppose that people will possess anything of the wealth of the Christian tradition unless they learn something first. Even the Lord’s Prayer is now on sale in three versions —- that of the Book of Common Prayer, which until recently every decently brought-up child knew; that of Rite A et passim, and that of Rite B et passim. The latter varies from the true English version only by tiny verbal changes so silly that no one but a pedant would have thought of making them at all —- changes which, moreover, no one familiar with any range of English as it is spoken today could imagine would be clearer to anybody.”

    I should add that I am in the UK, a country where 26 per cent of people describing themselves as Christian also claim to believe in reincarnation. Surely, liturgists’ or koine Greek experts’ assessments of further modifications to the Lord’s Prayer ought to take place within a broader context of dispelling ignorance about the key concepts of Christianity.

  10. Notwithstanding fine comments above, I (in New Zealand) am with a Tim Chesterton (in Canada): save us from the time of trial.
    If only Britain had prayed that before the EU referendum …

  11. I find it surprising that, by comparison with these comment threads burgeoning with exegesis, there’s so little scrutiny of Jesus’ own earthly experience of temptation.

    In Matt. 3:1, we read: ’Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.’

    In subtly encouraging Jesus to abandon His mission and then overtly seeking defection to himself, the Devil, rather than God, was the malevolent instigator of temptation.

    In contrast, Hebrews explains God’s benevolent purpose in leading His Son into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil:

    1. High-priestly empathy through shared human experience:
    ’For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.’

    Perfection of redemptive efficacy:
    ’During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Heb. 5:7, 8)

    Yet, as revealed in Job, it is within God’s sovereign power to permit and to set restrictions on our exposure to trials and hardships which lead us into temptation: (Job 1:12)

    Jesus told Peter that God’s permission for him to be tried was similarly petitioned by the Devil, while imparting assurance of the apostle’s ultimate redemption from evil: ’Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:31,32)

    In contrast, God, in His wrath, assured that a retributive outcome would result from Ahab’s demonic deception: ’And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’

    “One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’

    “?‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.

    “?‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.

    “?‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’

    “So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.” (1 Ki. 22:20-23)

    So, these contrasting examples show that, although God is not the instigator of temptation, He can and does permit it in the interest of scrutinising our resolve, encouraging spiritual growth (Rom. 5:3-5), and, even retributive deception for the relentlessly impenitent (2 Thess. 2:11-12).

    Surely, ‘leads us not into temptation’ is consonant with Jesus repeatedly calling on the disciples in Gethsemane to ’“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

    To pray, as Jesus did: ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’ doesn’t turn God into the contents of that cup. Neither does: ‘And lead us not into temptation’.

    But I suppose that to say otherwise brings about the controversy and newsworthiness that is so coveted by public figures.

    • I think this is vitally important. Jesus’ teaching here becomes much more vivid when we read it in the light of his recent temptations, and would he not very likely have prayed this prayer himself before the temptation?
      I take it from this that although at times (as you have said) God may well have a purpose in allowing us to be tempted or even leading us into it, we are not to go seeking it but to avoid it unless God leads us otherwise. It is easy to take a heroic stance of “I’m strong – I can resist temptation” – until we experience it.

  12. Jesus did not teach this prayer in Greek. This is the Abba prayer; so the issue is the reference of the negative in a semitic causative. To succumb to temptation is ‘to enter into temptation’ (cf. Jesus’ words to his disciples in Gethsemane: ‘Pray, lest you enter into temptation’ [in Mark Jesus prays ‘Abba’ in this pericope]). This ‘enter into temptation’ idiom is what Jesus is using in this composed prayer. So Jesus taught his disciples ‘not cause-to-enter-us into temptation’. This is translated, since it is revered liturgy, into Greek word for word. But the translation misapplies the negative, which functions differently in Greek, applying to the whole verb action and not merely to the causative element. Jesus tells us to pray to the Father ‘Cause us not to enter into temptation’, i.e. to pray so that we will not sin again after the fashion of what we have just repented of in the prayer: ‘Forgive us our trespasses … and cause us not to sin again.’

    In the Anglican liturgy, as is entirely natural and correct, the act of repentance is completed with the prayer that God help us walk ‘in newness of life’. Even when the prayer is mistranslated, the Holy Spirit has guided the formulators of liturgy to re-express Jesus’ original prayer. This was all nicely worked out in the 1930s, I believe, the original article in ZTK being cited in Carmignac’s later article on Hebrew and Aramaic versions of the Lord’s prayer as well as in his massive tome on the Lord’s prayer. Once this is understood about Jesus’ original words, there is no need to try to change the natural translation of peirasmos from ‘temptation’ (obviously the point in the prayer, despite ‘eschatological’ interpretations like that of Jeremias), to ‘trial’, and anyway, that attempt at a solution does not work.

    One only has to ask, is peirasmos a good thing for believers in Jesus? If it is, we should not pray not to enter it, and if it is a bad thing, God would not lead us into it (let’s not get back into the ‘pit’ of the original exegetical problem having gotten out of it with the help of the excellent semitists of the last generation.) And this all goes to show that one should not look for imminent eschatology at every point in the Gospels; the ‘days of the Messiah’ came with Jesus, not the New Heaven and the New Earth, as T.F. Glasson showed.

    • At one point (some years ago) I liked the idea that it could be read ‘Lead us – not into temptation’, as though the petition were to be led by God, with a plea that that would be to a path free from the temptations that might ensnare us. But I was then disappointed to learn that the Greek did not allow that reading. If I understand you correctly though, you’re saying that the original Aramaic may actually permit (and suggest) this kind of idea? ‘Cause us not to enter into temptation’, not that God would tempt us, but he does place us in a world filled with temptations, so it is a very sensible thing to ask him to lead us away from them.

      Perhaps the key point is that asking God to lead us not into temptation is not because otherwise he would lead us into temptation but because he would not lead us at all – and we would inevitably fall into temptation (and sin).

    • Thank you so much, Brian – that is extremely illuminating. You probably don’t remember we met briefly at the Rambabu meeting at Gravesend 2001. I have also learnt so much from your articles on the origin of John’s gospel and on Bethany. We ended up calling our 3rd daughter Bethany!

    • But ‘don’t bring us’ (eisphero) and ‘make us not enter’ seem like different ideas to me. What is the hypothetical Aramaic original? My modern Hebrew NT (translated from the Gk, of course) has the hiphil of bo’ ‘do not make us enter’ or ‘do not bring us’.

      Do Syriac-speaking churches give us any insight here?

      (must get in touch, btw!)

  13. I am writing simply at a pastoral level and from my experience as a missionary priest in South America. Out traditional words – in Spanish – are “No nos dejes caer en tentación, y líbranos del mal.¨ Do not allow us to fall into temptation and deliver us from evil.

    Is this a problem then for the english speaking world? I am far from a scholar and have not researched other languages. IMHO, in Peru, this is pastorally helpful.

  14. Our Father (Mark 14.36)
    Father in heaven (typical Matthew editorial)
    Hallowed be Thy Name (kaddish, rather than John 17.11, I think)
    Thy kingdom come (kaddish)
    Thy will be done (Mark 14.36 again)
    in heaven as on earth (kingdom of heaven is likewise typical Matthew editorial)
    Give us today our daily bread (John 6.27/34)
    And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (Mark 11.25 alt.)
    And lead us not into temptation/trial (Mark 14.38)
    But (instead) deliver us from the evil one (John 17.15).

    This however is in the broader context of Matt’s beatitudes, antitheses and light-sayings all being his gathering and systematisation, often of NT sources: the sources in question (Mark, John, Jewish prayer tradition) being among these.

  15. How about “Lead us away from temptation”?

    I’ve grown up with “Lead us not into…” which when I think about it (and have recently, hence why I came across this article) those words should be changed because they don’t seem right. I agree with the Pope –
    leading us into temptation is not in the Lord’s job description… “Save us from the time of trial” is also good but requires a larger change of habit… but would become second nature once you say it enough times. That’s my two cents, anyway…

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