Why we need a new Lord’s Prayer

I have a confession: I find myself increasingly fidgety every time I say the Lord’s Prayer according to one of the accepted forms in English language. It all began with a post I wrote five years ago on the poetic structure of Jesus’ teaching, including the Lord’s Prayer, and the fidgetiness gets worse each time I say the prayer with others. Let me explain.

The ‘traditional’ version of the Lord’s Prayer as currently used is actually slightly different from the historical version found in the BCP, which is slightly different again from the version of Matt 6.9–13 in the AV. But they share a very particular poetic shape in the first half, and this determines both the rhythm by which the prayer is said and also affects the way many people understand it. The shape consists of a two sets of three phrases:

1a    Our Father
2a       who art in heaven
3a           hallowed be thy name

1b    thy kingdom come
2b       thy will be done
3b           on earth as it is in heaven

This shape is effected by three things. First, the opening address ‘Our Father in heaven’ has been extended by turning God’s location ‘in heaven’  into a relative clause ‘who art…’. This leads to the second feature: the pause introduced between the first clause and the second. You will be aware of this if you ever lead this prayer in public; if you say ‘Our Father [pause]’ then those you are leading will automatically revert to the traditional form ‘who art…’, whereas if you keep going, everyone will join you in the modern form ‘Our Father-in-heaven’. The third feature effecting this 3 x 2 structure is the inversion within ‘hallowed be thy name’ where the verb comes first, in contrast to the following two phrases where the verb comes at the end.

These three features are in contrast to the way Jesus actually says the prayer in Matt 6.9–13. As David Wenham explored in his article in Expository Times 121.8 (May 2010), the Greek text reads as follows:

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 bread ours the coming-day give to-us today
And forgive to-us the debts of-us
As even we forgive the debtors of-us
And not bring us to temptation
But deliver us from the evil

As Wenham points out, the structure then is:

6 words Opening address
4 words        First invocation in relation to God
4 words        Second invocation in relation to God
4 + 6 words Third invocation in relation to God with second clause
8 words invocation for our needs
6 + 7 words First invocation in relation to ourselves with second clause
6 words        Second invocation in relation to ourselves
6 words        Third invocation in relation to ourselves

It is immediately apparent that, in the Greek text, the opening address consists of a single phrase, that the basic word order is the same in the three sayings about the name, kingdom and will of God, that these three belong together, and therefore that the concluding invocation to the first half (‘as in heaven even on earth’) would naturally be read as applying to all three.

What is truly fascinating is to see the way that modern versions of the Lord’s Prayer attend to some aspects of the actual text, but (constrained by the weight of tradition) do not correct them all. So we have lost the relative clause ‘who art…’ but we have retained the change in word order between the first and the second of the three invocations. This is even found in actual Bible translations, so (for example) the TNIV retains the form of the modern Lord’s Prayer inherent from the traditional form, rather than actually translating the Greek text faithfully as you might hope.

Come and join us for the second Festival of Theology on Wednesday October 17th!

What impact does this have on the meaning of the prayer as we pray it? There are two things to note. First, since the ‘hallowed by thy name’ is attached to the opening address, it loses all its force, and becomes a polite term of deference. There is a parallel here with Muslim practice in mentioning the name of Mohammed, which is customarily followed by the phrase ‘peace be upon him’ (PBUH). In terms of language effects, this phrase does not function as a request or invocation that Mohammed might be blessed with peace; it simply functions as a customary term of respect, much as we would refer to the Queen as ‘Your majesty’. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are in this form effectively saying ‘Your are our Father, you dwell in heaven, and your name is holy’.

The second thing this does is then separate the hallowed of God’s name from the doublet of asking that God’s kingdom come and that God’s will be done. I am currently at our diocese conference, and was struck by the comment of a national church leader who is one of the guest speakers who stated that ‘the prayer starts with the kingdom and ends with the kingdom.’ You can only think the prayer starts with the kingdom if ‘Hallowed be thy name’ has lapsed into a customary term of deference instead of being the first invocation.

But in the prayer as Jesus taught it, the prayer starts with the desire that God’s name (that is, his character) be acknowledge as holy, alongside his kingdom coming and his will being done. In other words, confession of who God is, and recognition of his holiness, is what Jesus asks us to pray first. If we miss this, then it makes it easier to avoid the ‘proclamation’ aspects of mission and evangelism, and easier to reduction mission to social action.

Last week, the Church of England released a video about ‘The Church and the Estates’:

Stephen Kneale, who is himself involved in ministry in this context, offered some observations from his own perspective as a non-Anglican. He was impressed to see the testimony of those willing to engage:

Now, there is so much right about it. There are people going into deprived communities, clearly wanting to love and serve the people there. I liked the focus on ‘accompanying’ people and taking on some of their issues and bearing their burdens. I really liked the emphasis on living in and among the folk on the estate. There is loads to like.

But, as someone from a more Reformed tradition, he also had concerns about what was being expressed:

Three particular things stood out. One was the vicar arguing that people simply need to know that ‘they’re loved and forgiven by God.’ Now, unless I am badly misreading my Bible, that is not the message people need to hear. They need to hear that they are loved and can be forgiven by God…Second, the same vicar insisted that people need to know they’re loved and forgiven ‘rather than come to church and go on about sin.’ But if they don’t know about sin, what exactly do they need to be forgiven for? If all that matters is God loves them, what on earth is he doing forgiving them when they’re alright as they are?

Third, there was a repeated emphasis on ‘doing good’. Now, I’m all for doing good. I think loving people is important. Here is the nub of the problem: Social action and evangelism are not the same thing. The video emphasises good works and yet says nothing of the gospel. It is all doing good (which is noble in a sense) while incorporating none of the gospel.

Social action and evangelism are inseparable. So, nobody is arguing that doing good is a bad thing. In fact, unless our gospel is backed up by a genuine love for the people we are reaching – and that necessarily includes meeting their physical and emotional needs too – then we may have the right message but it will seem hollow to those we are trying to reach. We need both the right gospel message and the right gospel action to support what we are saying. But to offer people only good works with no gospel is to comfort them in their immediate need, whilst failing to do anything about their deepest need.

These are important criticisms, and we need to listen to them. Stephen doesn’t have much time for those in his own tradition who criticise the message and aren’t willing to make the costly commitment of mission in these areas:

Where Evangelicals should feel a stinging rebuke, however, is in the fact that here are people willing to go. We can decry the message being presented all we want, but all credit to them that they are willing to go to where many of us won’t.

But that is not his position, since he is working in this kind of context. So his critique has credibility.

Now, I am not suggesting that praying the Lord’s Prayer in the way we do causes this loss of connection between proclamation and social action. But perhaps it just makes it a little bit easier. If we prayed the prayer the way Jesus actually taught it, I think we would be reminded of these points: that the central concern of our lives should be both that God is known and that justice, healing, and forgiveness should come. The one cannot be reduced to the others.

But is it possible to pray the prayer differently in practice? The Greek word order would suggest that we should conform the second and third petition to the form of the first:

Hallowed be your name
Come be your kingdom
Done be your will…

but that just sounds odd, and isn’t English. (So was ‘Hallowed be your name’ really ever natural English either?) Instead, it is easy to conform the first petition to the form of the second and third:

Your name be hallowed
Your kingdom come
Your will be done…

From now on, that is what I am going to try and say (though habits take some time to change) and I hope it might catch on. It is a simple reminder that, for Jesus, seeing God known as both loving father and holy lord was his first priority, and that proclamation and action are distinct but belong together. If these are good enough for Jesus, shouldn’t they be for us too?

Additional note: I have just spotted that in a previous post I pointed out: ‘Colin Buchanan (in his Grove booklet) 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…’.

So it is certainly possible!

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91 thoughts on “Why we need a new Lord’s Prayer”

  1. That’s a helpful suggestion. Perhaps the petition could be made more explicit by beginning each clause with ‘may’. That would emphasise the sense that this is not yet what we see but would like to. Thus:
    Our Father in heaven,
    May your name be hallowed,
    May your will be done,
    May kingdom come,
    On earth as in heaven.

    • I was going to say exactly this. For the last few months, inspired by a mention in Tim Keller’s book on prayer about Luther’s habit of writing a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer every day, I have been doing the same (not every day but most). I find myself praying for God’s name to be hallowed much more often when I do it like this rather than simply reciting the prayer in its standard English form, and I will often write something like, ‘May your name be hallowed…’

  2. Very interesting, thank you!
    My main problem with almost all versions of the Lord’s prayer is that the subjunctive mood (“your kingdom come” etc) isn’t normal in standard English. I’d much rather say (and that’s what I say when I paraphrase or use the prayer as a launch for longer prayer):

    May your name be sanctified [well, “hallowed” isn’t exactly common currency either…]
    May your Kingdom come
    May your will be done

    What thinkest thou?

    • I be passing grateful for the question thou poseth.

      I am not sure ‘may your name be sanctified’ quite does it either. It is it more about asking that God’s name be honoured and recognised as holy?

      In the NT, the kingdom of God doesn’t appear every to be detached from understanding about the holy God…

      • I notice that the NET Bible goes for “may your name be honored” (excuse the US spelling!).
        So are you saying that we should retain “hallowed” as a special term for this particular instance of hagiazo ? I’m not sure – isn’t there a better way of highlighting that it is about recognising the holiness of God’s name?
        (Part of the reason I’m not sure is that I prefer to use Christian jargon as little as possible, and “hallowed” must surely fall in that category…)

        • Well, perhaps we should say ‘may your name be holy’. Knowing that God’s name is holy, this confronts us with the jarring idea that it is not yet holy in the world we live in…

    • The three verbs are imperatives, not subjunctives, in Greek: ?????????, ?????? and ????????. So, rather than ‘may your name be holy’ and so forth, wouldn’t ‘let your name be holy, let your kingdom come, let your will be done’ be a better representation?

  3. “Three particular things stood out. One was the vicar arguing that people simply need to know that ‘they’re loved and forgiven by God.’ Now, unless I am badly misreading my Bible, that is not the message people need to hear. They need to hear that they are loved and can be forgiven by God…Second, the same vicar insisted that people need to know they’re loved and forgiven ‘rather than come to church and go on about sin.’ But if they don’t know about sin, what exactly do they need to be forgiven for? If all that matters is God loves them, what on earth is he doing forgiving them when they’re alright as they are?”

    This quote does highlight what is surely the doctrinal disagreement above all others (the others are important, but, relatively not as important as this one) in the Church of England. How many ordained persons believe that Article 9 is true and are willing to preach that terrible truth alongside the wonderful truth that God and Christ sincerely invite all to come to Christ for forgiveness and new life?
    Phil Almond

    • Phil: we have been here so many times before. I have no way of doing the research but it’s pretty obvious that what most people believe is that the Articles are what people believed then. They were what some thought was the truth. But they were written in a very particular political and religious climate. Our understanding of God’s wrath is not the same as it was then – thank God.
      The Articles present a ‘snapshot’. A distorted picture. They are not to be thought of as infallible, surely?

      • That’s true Andrew – but what of Scripture? Scripture is clear that everyone is loved by God but equally clear not everyone stands already forgiven – rather everyone stands already condemned unless they repent and believe the gospel.

      • Andrew

        The Preface to the Declaration of Assent contains the following:

        ‘Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making him known to those in your care?’

        And the Declaration is:

        ‘I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon’.

        Your post states that the Articles present ‘A distorted picture’. The Declaration states that they ‘bear witness’. Since the person making the Declaration is ‘affirming your loyalty to this inheritance of faith etc’ that ‘bear witness’ must surely mean ’bear true witness’. The important point is not ‘what most people believe’ now but what the Holy Spirit taught then and now. Clearly the Preface is implying that the leading of the Holy Spirit was true leading.

        Phil Almond

      • . They are not to be thought of as infallible, surely?

        Not infallible, no, but they’re probably a lot closer to the truth than today’s ‘therapist God’.

        However; I’m not an Anglican myself but I thought all Anglican clergy were supposed to sign up to the Articles? Are you really suggesting some do so deceitfully?

        • What’s today’s ‘therapist God’ S? Where can I read about that so that I can compare what you say?

          The 39 articles ‘bear witness’ and I’m sure they do. I can affirm that. I don’t think anyone affirms it deceitfully. It’s simply that the 39 articles aren’t taught in any detail, if at all, and in most churches you won’t even very easily a copy of them.
          But they bear witness pretty poorly these days. They represent an even more turbulent time in religious history than we are experiencing at present. So they are hardly a very reliable witness are they?

          How, given all of this, can they be a very effective witness?

          • Because, Andrew, as others have already pointed out, Article 9 faithfully summarises the terrible but true truth about the human condition before a holy and just God. That warning is part of a faithful proclamation of ‘the gospel’ alongside the wonderful truth that God and Christ sincerely invite us to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection.
            Phil Almond

          • The therapist god is a projection – nothing is less likely to be true. A designer god. A god who just so happens by coincidence to fulfil our age’s specifications. By further coincidence, he does that for an age which is used to getting exactly what it wants, and sees anything else as an aberration. But the truth is likely to be almost the exact reverse since the possibility that the real God might in one way or even most ways not fit our specifications must be counted (merely by the law of averages) as vastly probable.

          • Andrew
            I invite you to be more specific. What, specifically, in what I have said, is not the whole truth? And why is it not the whole truth?

            Philip Almond

          • Phil: in haste I’m afraid. Total depravity is not the whole truth. You need to consider differences between nature and personhood more carefully. And you need to consider the concept of original blessing particularly as expounded by RIchard Rohr.

          • Andrew
            ‘Total depravity is not the whole truth’. What do you mean – is it part of the truth or is it completely untrue? Are you saying that, contra Article 9, we are not faced with the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards, and we are not all born with a nature inclined to evil- in other words these statements in Article 9 are completely untrue?
            Phil Almond

          • Phil: I’m saying that total depravity is just one interpretation and not the whole truth. I’m sure it contains elements of the truth. But it needs tempering with other interpretations.

            Article 9 is one of a group of articles that are clearly intended to be anti Catholic – which of course was the context in which they were written. In these rather more ecumenical days that’s hardly the way the Church of England thinks is it? We are much more generous in our understanding of other church traditions.

            Richard Rohr clearly is not a heretic – and please do read Ian’s thread but far better to read some of Rohr and come to your own conclusions. He is Franciscan priest in good standing with his own church and his thinking about original blessing presents a good counter to the Calvinistic theology of total depravity, which on its own is lacking in many ways.

          • There are several questions wrapped up here (as usual): whether the Articles are Calvinist; whether Calvinism is scriptural; whether the Articles are known and taught.

            But as a former Roman Catholic, and having been on Synod through the debates about the revision of C of E liturgy, I think I can confidently say that the Articles do still shape Anglican theology. And when I taught in a theological college, we specifically asked every ordinand to read the Articles and state if they would have any difficulty signing up to them.

            Whatever the answer to the other questions, I think it is hard to interpret the Declaration of Assent in any other way than its plain meaning of assent to the essential theological shape of the Articles, even if we might quibble about the details of how the articles are interpreted.

          • Thanks Ian. There are, as you say, many questions.
            You may have done that at St John’s Nottingham when you were there, but that wasn’t always the case. And asking ordinands if they have any problem assenting to them isn’t quite the same as teaching them, is it? And I didn’t hear them mentioned once at my own, rather central, theological college. I have no problem assenting to them as historic formularies, and here’s why.

            Imagine you look out of your window. You can see the world. But is that what the whole world looks like? I doubt it. The picture you get ‘bears witness’ to what the whole world looks like, of course, but it is isn’t the full picture by any means. It’s a small snapshot. So it is with the Articles. And the glass is pretty dark……

            I too have sat through synod debates. The articles barely get mentioned by other than a few predictable conservative evangelical voices.

          • I have no problem assenting to them as historic formularies

            That’s a bit ‘keeping the letter of the law but breaking the spirit’, isn’t it?

            I mean surely the spirit of the requirement isn’t ‘can you sign up to this specific form of words as regards the Articles?’ but ‘do you accept the Articles as broadly accurate in describing the truth?’ and clearly you don’t regard them as broadly accurate in describing the truth.

          • S: do you regard very markedly anti Catholic writings as ‘the whole truth’? I don’t I’m afraid.

          • Andrew

            Further comments on our disagreement so far:

            Perhaps the most significant and worrying thing you have said is: ‘Our understanding of God’s wrath is not the same as it was then – thank God’. Surely the important questions are what the New Testament writers understood by God’s wrath and condemnation when they used those words and whether the Articles and Prayer book and Homilies state the same understanding. Paul says in Romans 8:1’Then [there is] now no condemnation to the [ones] in Christ Jesus’. It follows that there is condemnation to those not in Christ Jesus. The Greek word translated ‘condemnation’ is katakrina, defined by Strong as
            katakrima: penalty
            Original Word: ?????????, ????, ??
            Part of Speech: Noun, Neuter
            Transliteration: katakrima
            Phonetic Spelling: (kat-ak’-ree-mah)
            Short Definition: punishment following condemnation
            Definition: punishment following condemnation, penal servitude, penalty.

            The word appears only in two other places in the New Testament : Romans 5:16 and 5:18. Verse 18 reads, ‘So therefore as through one offence to all men to condemnation, so also through one righteous act to all men to justification of life…’. Clearly the ‘one offence’ is Adam’s sin. In John 3:36 the one disobeying the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him, in contrast to the one ‘believing in the Son has life eternal’. And in Romans 2 Paul says that God will requite wrath and anger, affliction and anguish to those disobeying the truth but obeying unrighteousness. And in Ephesians 2 Paul describes all of us as ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ and ‘by nature children of wrath’.
            From these quotes we see that according to the New Testament wrath and condemnation are deserved by all of us because of Adam’s sin and they result in punishment unless God delivers us from them. That’s what Article 9 and the Prayer Book and the Homilies say.

            With respect to wrath there is little difference between Article 9 and paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Trent decree on original sin which say:

            If any one does not confess that the first man, Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise, immediately lost the holiness and justice wherein he had been constituted; and that he incurred, through the offence of that prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death, with which God had previously threatened him, and, together with death, captivity under his power who thenceforth had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil, and that the entire Adam, through that offence of prevarication, was changed, in body and soul, for the worse; let him be anathema.
            If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death, and pains of the body, into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema:–whereas he contradicts the apostle who says; By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.

            The difference between Rome and the Anglican view concerns concupiscence. Part of paragraph 5 of the Trent decree says ‘This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin.’. This contrasts with the statement in Article 9, ‘And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin’. This difference is disputed by some Anglican theologians but is affirmed in other Reformed confessions.

            Your comments in various posts- : ‘It’s simply that the 39 articles aren’t taught in any detail, if at all, and in most churches you won’t even very easily (find) a copy of them’ and ‘In these rather more ecumenical days that’s hardly the way the Church of England thinks is it? We are much more generous in our understanding of other church traditions’ and ‘And I didn’t hear them mentioned once at my own, rather central, theological college’ and ‘The articles barely get mentioned by other than a few predictable conservative evangelical voices’ lend support to my view that the Articles, in particular Article 9, are believed and preached by only a minority of ordained Anglicans.

            This means that the Church of England as a whole is failing to heed God’s solemn warning to Ezekiel:
            Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

            Phil Almond

          • There are very clear scriptural passages about God NOT dealing with us according to our sins, and extending his compassion and mercy even through we are not worthy of it. These are clearly demonstrated in New Testament passages such as the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the thief at the cross, the Good Samaritan, passages about tax collectors etc etc.

            I suspect that, for some reason that is unclear here, you have particular ‘issues’ about wrath and condemnation. Whilst that theme may emerge in some parts of scripture it is by no means the full picture.

            I am quite content that I understand the clear meaning of the preface and declaration. The words ‘bear/borne witness’ are the key ones. I’m sure the articles bear witness. I have no problem affirming that. But that witness needs to be seen in its historical context and set alongside other witnesses. The articles are not infallible – and far from it.

  4. Thanks for this, such thoughtful stuff as ever. It got me thinking about something you only touched on – the way we translate ‘On earth as in heaven’. I think with the loss of ‘it is’ from the more traditional version of that line, it starts to feel more and more like we are asking for the three petitions to happen on earth and in heaven in roughly equal measure, when we know that one place needs that a lot more than the other! It interests me that German, for example, follows the Greek and has ‘as it is in heaven, so on earth’, which reads really badly in my clunky translation, but adds an emphasis I think would help us. You have done a nice job with the petitions: perhaps you fancy having a crack at that line too?!

    • Thanks. I seem to recall that some sung versions do this, but make it slightly tighter:

      ‘as in heaven, so on earth’

      which I think removes the AV ambiguity.

  5. I very much like your suggestion of ‘your name be hallowed’ – I hope it catches on.

    What about also ‘for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory’, which is more poetic than the clunky ‘for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours’.

    The fundamental reason why many people are happy to do good works without evangelism is because the world appreciates good works but often doesn’t appreciate evangelism (or ‘proselytism’ as they pejoratively term it). Good works are welcome and socially unifying, evangelism is awkward and socially divisive – it is ‘religious’, which is sectarian and (many think) to be kept well away from state and government. There is also an influential strand of thinking both among Christians and more widely that regards the mingling of evangelism and social action as basically unethical, effectively using underhand means to promote religion by exploiting people’s needs. I don’t think we do enough to counter these kinds of ideas theologically and philosophically.

    Christians can come up with all kinds of dubious theological rationales to support their preference for social action, but at bottom it is based on these simple social and psychological facts about what the world appreciates. Which is why we must constantly spur one another on to keep evangelism as a priority and not allow more socially welcome forms of outreach to dominate our efforts. One area where I have been impressed with Welby and Sentamu, despite all my misgivings about their handling of the sexuality issue, is how central evangelism is to their agenda. Sure, they have seen the writing on the wall and that the Church’s survival is at stake, but even so it is an unpopular and non-PC cause that they have consistently promoted.

    • “Which is why we must constantly spur one another on to keep evangelism as a priority and not allow more socially welcome forms of outreach to dominate our efforts.”

      Do you mean like we did during the decade of evangelism? Just look how successful that was!
      Evangelism is a particular charism and calling. I doubt that even all of the first disciples had it.

      • Do you not think that we are all called to give an answer for the faith we share?

        I’d agree that being an evangelist is a particular gifting but not that the rest of us are relieved of the challenge entirely. I think that the call to share the Gospel in words, among Anglicans anyway, has been so long off the agenda that we consider it as default not to do so and that the people who do it to be rather odd/eccentric.

        Surely we need to normalise for all Christians the speaking about God? That’s not to advocate a formulaic approach. If I don’t take the natural opportunities I get to do this then no evangelist is going to step into my life and relationships for me. It may only require a few simple words not a thesis.

        Whatever the faults of the Decade of Evangelism it was a response to Anglicans being loudly silent about Jesus in so many places. Are his kingdom and rule so important that we leave it to “someone” else bring it up why we live as we do?

        “Hallowed be name of you” in my living and in my speaking…

      • Andrew – an evangelist is a particular charism and call, evangelism is surely placed upon all disciples “make disciples…teaching them to do everything I commanded you”

      • I thought the Alpha course took off in the decade of evangelism.

        However, nothing takes off among those who do nothing but sit on the gate and mock.

        • Most of the people going through Alpha are already Christians. It might reinvigorate their faith, but its outreach to the unchurched and the non-believing has been much exaggerated. As has its overall reach. Alpha has influenced a very tiny proportion of the population. So, a good thing, perhaps (especially since it dropped the homophobia). But not a revolutionary thing.

          • Yes, that’s true. Though my observation is that churches where Alpha has been allowed to invigorate the faith of believers also become churches where people come to faith more often.

          • I think that might be true Ian but Alpha has no monopoly on doing that. Churches which undertake programmes by CPAS, or Natural Church Development are equally churches where people come to faith more often. And I think both CPAS and NCD have a great deal more to offer than Alpha. Alpha is just one ‘tool’ in a kit that needs, of course, to address evangelism.
            My simple point was that not many are called to be evangelists. Which is quite a different thing to being able to give an account of the faith that is within you.

          • Yes, I agree with both Ian and Andrew here. Churches which take nurturing disciples more seriously tend to be ‘healthier’ and, therefore, more apt to grow; whatever the ‘programme’ adopted. In a very middle of the road Church I used to belong to, it was mainly house groups and occasional lecture series, and lots of parties!

  6. The sound of nails hit on the head….

    “was struck by the comment of a national church leader who is one of the guest speakers who stated that ‘the prayer starts with the kingdom and ends with the kingdom.” isn’t this the way things are often done by “enthusiasts” to rebalance things? Instead of bringing a new or renewed insight into the formulae they (we?) leave a component out. Sometimes a key component. It’s a casualty of tweet theology.

    Though not in your sights I wondered if you were content with “temptation” or would “trial” the alternative.

    On an historical note…want would Colin Buchanan have made of this?

  7. How much do we have to “hate” ( this was the word used by a well known atheist) someone not to tell them the truth that forgiveness from God and eternity with Him are available to all , but only through repentance and faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross?

  8. I like this. It makes sense. The bit of the Lord’s prayer that I always mentally rewrite is ‘lead us not into temptation’, as if God does that (yes, I know there are times when that happens eg Jesus in the wilderness). I’d rather pray ‘lead us not into hard testing’.

  9. “…in the prayer as Jesus taught it, the prayer starts with the desire that God’s name (that is, his character) be acknowledge as holy, alongside his kingdom coming and his will being done.”
    This makes a lot of sense, and it would be great if “your name be hallowed” caught on.

    I hope this isn’t changing the subject too much. Can I ask about a different phrase in the prayer: “And bring us not to temptation”? James says “count it all joy … whenever you face trials of many kinds”, so was Jesus really telling us to pray not to be led into what is beneficial? Tim Chester (in Exodus for you, good book company 2016 – commenting on th eIsraelites testing God at Massah) suggests that:
    In the Lord’s Prayer when Jesus teaches us to say ‘Lead us not into temptation’, it’s the same word as ‘testing’ in Ex 15-17 in the Septuagint. We are to ask God to help us not to test God, so that we trust God. How do we test God? By putting him on trial for not running the world the way we would like.”
    Your thoughts?

  10. In the passage context, does the prayer not suffer from the twin snares of liturgy and religiosity? Jesus precedes the advice by pointing out the misunderstanding that by speaking religious words we will be heard by God: “do not use vain repetitions”. I mean, how many of us get through the whole of the Lord’s Prayer without our minds wandering off? Using the prayer structure which Jesus gave us as liturgy merely reinforces this. And of course people can speak these words in a ‘religious’ way whilst they are living compromised lives: “they love to pray … that they may be seen by men”.
    Does the introduction of “In this manner therefore pray”, not lead us to think that the prayer is to be used as a scaffold around which to structure our praying to incorporate the different aspects of prayer. I have found this very helpful in trying to discover how to pray effectively (and longer). Then the structure is something like: worshipping God for who he is; our mission in the world; requests for the needs we have as a community of believers; being open about our sins and the sins of our society; and addressing the spiritual warfare in which we are all engaged. In that context the exact words via translation are not so important as they are if we are trying to create a liturgy.

    • Thanks Peter. Yes, I would agree about the scaffold idea…though one of the fascinating omissions is mention of the Spirit. I find it fascinating that Luke ‘corrects’ this by locating the prayer (in a slightly different form) in the context of Jesus’ teaching about the Spirit.

      But Jesus offers a very carefully structured prayer, in a memorable form, with many aids to its being remembered, in a culture which has such set prayers, and after which Christians clearly recited it early on.

      So I am inclined to think it is both/and.

      And see opposite comment from G Poulin below.

  11. Actually, social action is quite separable from evangelism. Evangelism is something that is directed towards people who are outside the Christian community. Social action in the New Testament is directed, with rare exceptions, towards one’s fellow Christians. Miraculous healings, feedings of multitudes, etc., are not “social action” as we understand the term, but rather signs of or testimonials to the truth of the gospel; they are not about creating a better society. They serve a different purpose from the calls to take care of the needier brethren and respect their rights under the covenant. Those norms governing the internal affairs of the church are the only things that may be rightly called “social action” in the New Testament.

      • Paul might – the collection for the saints in Jerusalem, but, surely Jesus’ social teaching does not, mostly, specify the ethnos of those whom we must love (and the Syrophoenician woman!).

  12. Good post – helpful – thanks

    this sunday I have been asked to speak somewhere on the phrase: “hallowed be thy name” –
    the way it is often presented in translation and rushed over in practise leads rather to “hollowed is thy name”

  13. I don’t think the prayer was intended as a general “scaffold” around which to build one’s prayer life (although there is certainly nothing wrong with doing that). It was intended as a community prayer to be said in unison, and is closely modeled upon already-existing Jewish prayers that served the same communal purpose.

  14. No, Ian, I don’t think the New Testament offers a mandate for the care of others in general. I think that is a mistake. Nothing wrong with doing so, but that is not what the New Testament requires. There is no call for a generalized philanthropy. There is a call to take care of one’s own — with a few special exceptions, same as in the Old Testament.

    • What do you make of Gal 6:9-10?

      Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

  15. At least this new version of the Lord’s Prayer may remove the confusion in the minds of some children that God’s name is “Harold”.

  16. Will — Galations 6:9-10 is not a call to universal philanthropy, but rather an admonition to be kind to everyone you meet. The thing that you think is in that passage, isn’t. It does not impose upon believers an obligation to meet the needs of every person on the planet.

  17. My version is more prosaic. Matthew’s grand project was to present Jesus as the new Moses, as part of the gospels’ overall project of presenting Jesus as each of ‘Those Who Were [Expected] To Come’. In order to do that, he had to get a lot more teaching material so that Jesus like Moses could have 5 large bodies of teaching. 13.52 he has an apologia justifying getting some of this from ‘new’ sources. His main new source was James.

    So the beatitudes are the qualities upheld by James, systematised into an 8. The salt and light passage combines the NT sources’ (Mark, 1 Peter, Rev bright city) passages on salt and light. The antitheses are a further systematisation of the places where Jesus seems to teach something different from the OT. This brings us to the passage on prayer where Matthew combines the snippets of Jesus’s teaching on prayer in Mark and John (the first and second gospels) with 2 clauses from the Jewish kaddish prayer (hallowed; kingdom). All of these are systematisations of Jesus’s (or earliest church’s) teaching. In forming such a systematisation, he will have been maximally poetic and neat. HB Green sees him as a fine poet. But from a logical point of view, the non sequiturs (as throughout the Sermon on the Mount) are rife and give away the patchwork nature of the process. Maybe ‘jerky transitions’ or ‘leaping from topic to topic’ is better than ‘non sequiturs’ since ‘son sequiturs’ are usually part of an extended argument, which is not at all the nature of the very piecemeal Sermon on the Mount.

  18. Good article Ian, thanks.

    No comments on the “debt”?

    It seems to me that lending at interest is forbidden in the OT and that the injection stands in the NT. What would be the implication for modern capitalism of all debts being forgiven? (We did a version of that in 2009 when we nationalised the banks and printed money — not forgiving debts but kind of bad grace, imho.)

  19. Many thanks Ian. Quite topical personally as I have recently set myself the task of learning it by heart in the Greek and have been therefore struck by the lovely rhythm, and the emphasis on ‘you’ at the end of lines 2-4…..and yes how line 2 in our traditional English versions seems to be underplayed rather than having the emphasis it seems to have in the Gk. I have just looked up James Moffatt’s new translation from almost 100 yrs ago – I wonder if he was the first who tried to correct this? ( …thy name be revered, thy Reign begin, thy will be done….). The NEB seems to have followed this in the 60’s ( Thy name be hallowed …).. and then the GNB but using a slightly different tack ( May your name be kept holy, May your kingdom come, May your will be done…).

  20. Simon — No, no, a thousand times no. No first-century Jew would have understood “neighbor” to mean “everyone on the planet”. Nor did Jesus himself. In the Good Samaritan parable, he is at some pains to point out that the status of “neighbor” is earned by showing compassion, and that those who fail to do so are definitely not neighbors. You can even find contemporary Jews who will insist that the title of neighbor is reserved for those who accompany you and remain near you, and should not be used promiscuously. “Love your neighbor” most certainly does not mean “Love everyone” — although of course you are free to attempt it.

    • GP – I can’t agree – you seem to be going against the whole direction and interpretation of the Church here – you may find a C1st reference suggesting a limiting of ‘neighbour’ but the Good Samaritan starkly makes the point that ever our despised and ostracised enemy is to be our neighbour. For me the clincher is God’s own profligate love – “God so loved the world” – there is no particularity there – and we are to love like he loved and his Spirit is in us if indeed he is. The majority of the major western world charities were founded by Christians – were they misplacing their altruism?

      • Simon, while your understanding of the Good Samaritan parable seems right to me, I would question the reference to John 3:16. In the Greek the word archaically translated ‘so’ means ‘thus’: God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only Son….
        So [therefore] John is here saying that God’s love is demonstrated by giving his Son as the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
        We thereby come back to the importance of evangelism.

    • Solomon & St Paul – ‘If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. For in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.’

    • That’s interesting. Jesus asks who was the neighbour to the man in need? Answer: the one who had mercy on him.

      So the neighbour is the one who acts well. So “love your neighbour” means “love those who act well towards you”.

      Except . . . I don’t think that what this means. It means that “neighbour” is relationship of ethical or ontological equality and also of reciprocity. The Samaritan is the neighbour to the injured man but ALSO the Samaritan sees injured man as his neighbour, too. They are each other’s neighbour.

      Although I wish that was clearer from the ending of the story (often mis-labeled as a “parable”; it’s not).

      Finally, a straw man but it’s “love your neighbour as yourself” NOT “love your neighbour as you love yourself” — I often think that people take a “love” out of “the love of money is the root of all [kinds of] evil” (rendering it “money is the root of all [kinds of] evil”) and insert that “love” into “love your neighbour as yourself” (rendering it “love your neighbour as you love yourself”). Neither is what the Bible say, although both fit with the soppy self-help theology of hippies and hipsters. In short: money is amoral and love is something we give and receive from others, not ourselves.

  21. Will — I come to Psephizo for scholarship, and instead I get standardized theology and spiel-reciting. I give up. Won’t be back . It’s been swell.

    • ?????

      What about Matthew 5:45-8?
      He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

  22. I wonder if this reflection shows more the disconnect between ‘the church’, theology and society? The rapidly dwindling congregations are already struggling between the perceived traditional Lord’s Prayer and the ‘new’ one. Now a new change is proposed to make it more confusing by reverting back to something long forgotten. Surely the intent and meaning of a prayer in its broader sense is as important as picking over the bones in dry academia? Familiarity and consistency must surely play a role. Going back to the familiar in a consistent fashion is what can help to make things stable. Like rock, stability offers firm foundations on which to build whereas constant changes give the false impression of motion in the same way as sliding on a shingle bank. I’m just an average bod, no clever theologian but in the real world I’d see another change as increasing the step up across the building threshold.

    • Thanks Andrew…though I am not sure where your categorising arises of this as ‘picking over the bones in dry academia’? I myself am ordained, and involved in both academic study and ministry as well as training for ministry. And the person I quote is at the coal face of estates ministry.

      I am also curious about the observation on learning and familiarity. I think it is valuable to learn and recite prayers by heart, and it is something I often commend.

      But the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of the disciple. It was taught by Jesus to the disciples; it addresses God as Father; it calls for the advance of the kingdom. So I wonder what is going on when we have given wider society a prayer that they can remember and recite…but which appears not to make the impact that it was intended to. It suggests to me not a disconnect between academy and ministry, but a disconnect between what might be called ‘folk religion’ and actual discipleship.

      For me, recovering the actual meaning of the prayer might close that gap.

    • Thanks Peter–how interesting.

      BUT there seems to me several questions. First, the major assumptions that Jesus taught in Aramaic always, when Greek was widely spoken in Galilee. Why this assumption?

      Second, I think this question is also raised by the back translation of epiousious. I think it does have eschatological overtones which are omitted in the Aramaic term.

      And why omit ‘in heaven’…?

      • Thanks, Ian. As you know I am a bibliophile and not an academic, but as for the provenance of which language Jesus used, Aramaic or Greek, I think there would be a general agreement on the very poor literacy levels of the crowds that Jesus taught (fishermen, etc.). In which case why would he use such a rare word as ‘epiousious’ if his aim was to make his teaching clear to ‘the common people’ who heard him gladly?

        Yes, it is odd that ‘in heaven’ is omitted and he doesn’t explain why. Other versions I have seen in Aramaic do include it.

        I thought his English transcript agreed very much with your preferences:
        Yithqadash sh‘mak.
        May thy name be holy.
        Tethe malkuthak.
        May thy kingdom come.
        Teh’wey ra’uthak.
        May thy will be done
        Holy does seem an easier word to grasp than ‘hallowed’.

      • Ian,

        I’m sure Jesus spoke Aramaic and Greek and possibly Latin to the centurion and to Pilate. But I also think it highly likely he spoke (not just read) Hebrew. Obviously as a male he was obliged to study Hebrew Torah growing up and he read Hebrew scrolls in the synagogues. Hebrew not Aramaic was the religious language and Large proportion of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew showing it was the religious language of the era – and the Samaritans ‘spoke’ not aramaic but a Hebrew dialect so the woman at the well he would have spoken to in Hebrew.

        Flusser (Prof of early Christianity at University of Jerusalem) makes a compelling argument for Hebrew as Jesus’ language, and I’ve read/discussed with people from the Jerusalem School Hypothesis – and their arguments for Jesus speaking Hebrew normatively are quite compelling, at least to this non academic & non linguist.

        The hebrew of “may your name be holy” yitkaddesh sh’mecha (variously spelt) is a very familiar phrase regularly prayed today by Jews.

  23. Peter Carrell (bishop-elect of Christchurch, NZ) has linked to this article here:

    I reference this as Bryden Black has a comment relating to the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer. The bottom line is, I think, that the prayer is set in a first century Jewish context, with a strong eschatalogical background. The first petition relates strongly to prophecies in Exekiel 36 & 37 and also Isaiah 63 and Jeremiah 3 where the call for a new ‘Exodus’ is connected with this being done for the honour of YHWH’s name.

    This then chimes with other elements – ‘time of trial’, and ‘daily bread’ relating to manna. Interesting…

  24. I see the Lord’s Prayer as a test-case for whether we are prone to view things that are actually only loosely an interconnected whole as entirely logical and as we would have predicted.

    Another example is the Beatitudes. Many (Ravi Zacharias, David Watson) see them as a spiritual/psychological sequence; the insights that can be gained by that approach are good and true, and yet isn’t it stretching things to say that the sequence is more likely than not to be intended? A more likely explanation is that it is completely impossible that a much-analysed passage would escape having systematisation imposed on it.

    On the face of it, the Lord’s Prayer shifts from topic to topic rapidly. This can be tested by comparing other passages re how many words they take before they shift topic again without any particular interconnection. Despite this, we systematisers (well – I exclude myself this time!!) are intent on seeing it as entirely logically interconnected, and just as we might have predicted.

    If we are to systematise at all, there needs to be a compelling kernel-principle that enables us to point out that content is as would naturally have been predicted according to that principle.

    Matthew undertook a very understandable project – gathering together into one the snippets of Jesus’s teaching on prayer (just as he gathered together in ch.5 blest characteristics; salt/light sayings; places where Jesus seems to say different from the OT). These will remain snippets even when sewn together in the most logical and neat way that he could muster. Between clauses we either get no interconnection or at most ‘and/but’. The end is abrupt. We could say that there is a flow of thought, but the only way of testing this is to compare to other comparable writings, and there seems to be less flow here on average than elsewhere.

    • Christopher Shell suggests the prayer is a collection of snippets stitched together.

      I would suggest instead that it is a very concise and coherent summary. Pace Ian’s opening comment the key line, the summary of the summary if you like, is “may your kingdom come”. What does that mean? Well it means that God’s will is done on earth, just like it is in the heavens (where the planets and stars obey the divine law perfectly?). And what does it mean for God’s will to be done? It means that the hungry are fed, and not just fed, but fed at God’s table, just as Jesus himself practised this table-fellowship, and in doing so, he recognised that the sins of his fellow diners were forgiven, as he declares on several occasions. And that forgiveness of sins is coupled with mutual reconciliation — this is the epitome of the kingdom, the kingdom in shorthand. And finally, a petition to remain in the kingdom, not to be tempted away from it, but instead to be freed from the deceits of evil. All very coherent. And remembering the summary of the law — love the Lord your God; love your neighbour as yourself — brings us back to the opening petition, that wherever God’s kingdom is present, there God’s name is hallowed.

  25. Just a thought or two and more if the themes are expanded . I wonder if the prayer is grounded in the Exodus, certainly in all the OT?
    Will Jesus be interceding about this topic?

  26. PS How would you preach the prayer, or would you? Any cross referencing, allusions, echoes of the Old Covenants, Old Testament.

  27. PS Sorry didn’t see David Wilson’s comment above reference Peter Carrell and the link, till after now, after my comments above.

  28. ‘Our Heavenly Father,
    may your name be honoured;
    May your kingdom come,
    and your will be done
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day the bread we need.
    Forgive us what we owe to you,
    as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us.
    Keep us clear of temptation,
    and save us from evil’.”

    J.B. Phillips

    • Thanks for this! Looks like my proposed change isn’t original at all…!

      …although the colon at the end of the second line and the ‘and’ in the fourth suggest a 2 + 2 structure rather than the 1 + 3 structure of the Greek text.

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