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The Lord’s Prayer

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What do you think of the words “Lead us not into temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer? Is that a good translation? Does it imply that God might lead us into temptation? (2/3/2018) Short Answer: I can state categorically that God does not tempt us or anyone else to do evil (see, for example, James 1:13). The translation as given is correct. In my opinion, therefore, the prayer means just exactly what we’ve all always thought it means, namely, “God, you know that if we are tempted, we’ll fail, so could you please keep us away from temptation altogether?”

An equally valid translation is “Do not put us to the test.” God, like any good teacher, does put us to the test. Again, we are praying, “God, that dog the Devil ate everybody’s study notes! Can we please postpone the test until next Thursday, or Tuesday at the earliest?”

Long Answer:

Our fellow reader asked this question several weeks ago, reminded me a few times (as I had requested), and then sent me the news on December 7 that the Pope is thinking about altering the translation of the Lord’s Prayer. “In the Gospels???” I asked incredulously.

It turns out (I gather, because reports differ) that the Pope is thinking about altering the translation of the Lord’s Prayer for Roman Catholic liturgy, which is quite a different thing, because he thinks the current Italian and English translations imply that God might lead us into temptation. In this, he may have a point, since I got this question from our fellow reader before the Pope’s comments.

(If you want to see for yourself exactly what the Pope said, you can go to the interview on YouTube, which is in Italian.)

If what he wants to do is change the words in the Roman Catholic liturgy, the Pope is on stable ground. He – or I, or you, or any believer – has the authority to change the words of the Prayer as prayed today. (We might do this because our living language has changed, for example.) Jesus did not say, “Pray this,” i.e., these words. He said, “Pray thus,” i.e., in this manner. The Lord’s Prayer is a model for group prayer, telling us how to pray and what to pray for. The problem with changing a group prayer is that people then start praying it the old way, the new way, the Catholic way, and the Protestant way, all at the same time, which makes it into a babble and not a group prayer at all. The Pope wants to change it to something like, “Do not let us fall into temptation,” which is how we all understand it anyway.

I will address the Greek and its English translation; how various translations of the Bible render this sentence; the undoubted fact that God does put us to the test; and the comments of John Wesley. Let’s study.

The Translation. Apparently the Pope said about the current English and Italian words, “That is not a good translation.” Good thing I’m a Protestant, because I can say “The Pope is wrong” without any fear of reprisals. The translation is correct in English, so if he was quoted correctly (always up in the air with news reporting), the Pope is wrong.

Here’s what Matthew has:

not(you) lead/bringusintotemptation/testing

Here’s what Luke has:

not(you) lead/bringusintotemptation/testing

Note that they are identical. I make this point because I saw one report where a priest was supporting the Pope’s position on the completely fatuous grounds that even the Greek is a bad translation of the Aramaic. Let me just make two points about that: The verb eisenengkes/lead/bring is second person, singular, subjunctive. God is the actor, not we. The subjunctive form of the Greek verb implies that we are not looking at something being stated as a fact. The farthest I could possibly go from the current translation is “May you not bring us into temptation/testing,” which leaves us exactly where we were in the first place.

Here’s how various translations render this verse: James says clearly that God doesn’t tempt us (James 1:12-17):
So no, God doesn’t tempt us, so that can’t be what it means.

However, peirazo is also translated test, as in this famous example: Do we think God was tempting Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? No.

Comments of Wesley. Now, you know that I’m a life-long Methodist who channels John Wesley at odd moments. I wrote all of the above before wondering if he had preached on this verse. Here’s what he has to say in his Sermon 26 on the Lord’s Prayer, so if you don’t like my answer, read his Section 15. (I’ve added some paragraph breaks and modernized the verbs for easier reading): Copyright 2020 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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