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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)
Matthew 6:3a, Luke 11:4: And lead us not into temptation.
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?”
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.
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:
Here’s what Luke has:
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 evidence is absolutely overwhelming that Greek is the original language of the New Testament. There is no Aramaic to translate or compare with. Furthermore, the Greek text often tells us explicitly when Jesus was speaking Aramaic (see Matthew 27:46 or Mark 5:41), and it doesn’t say that about either the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) or the Sermon on the Plane (Luke).
- Matthew and Luke worked independently and reported the Prayer as it was given – differently – on two separate occasions, but this sentence is identical. So even if there were some Aramaic prayer that no one has ever seen, are we to believe that both Jewish Matthew and Gentile Luke translated it (a) incorrectly and (b) identically? No.
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:
- American Standard Version, Revised Version: And bring us not into temptation.
- King James, Douay-Rheims, Darby, English Standard Version, Jubilee, Wingate New Testament, Modern King James: And lead us not into temptation.
- Contemporary English Version: Keep us from being tempted.
- Easy-to-Read Version: Don’t let us be tempted.
- God’s Word: Don’t allow us to be tempted.
- International Standard Version: And never bring us into temptation.
- Goodspeed: And do not subject us to temptation.
- Good News Translation: Do not bring us to hard testing.
- Bible in Basic English: And let us not be put to the test.
James says clearly that God doesn’t tempt us (James 1:12-17):
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under peirasmos/trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is peirazo/tempted, “I am being peirazo/tempted by God,” for God cannot be peirazo/tempted with evil, and he himself [tempts – understood but not in the Greek] no one.
But each person is peirazo/tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
So no, God doesn’t tempt us, so that can’t be what it means.
is also translated test
, as in this famous example:
Genesis 22:1-2 After these things God peirazo/tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Greek from the Septuagint; Hebrew also means either tempt or test.)
Hebrews 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was peirazo/tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
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):
The word translated temptation means trial of any kind. And so the English word temptation was formerly taken in an indifferent sense, although now it is usually understood of solicitation to sin.
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St. James uses the word in both these senses; first, in its general, then in its restrained, acceptation. He takes it in the former sense when he says, “Blessed is the man that endures temptation; For when he is tried,” or approved of God, “he shall receive the crown of life.” (James 1:12, 13) He immediately adds, taking the word in the latter sense, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust,” or desire, exelkomenos, drawn out of God, in whom alone he is safe, – “and enticed;” caught as a fish with a bait. Then it is, when he is thus drawn away and enticed, that he properly “enters into temptation.” Then temptation covers him as a cloud; it overspreads his whole soul. Then how hardly shall he escape out of the snare!
Therefore, we beseech God “not to lead us into temptation,” that is, (seeing God tempts no man,) not to suffer us to be led into it. “But deliver us from evil:” Rather “from the evil one,”; apo tou ponerou. O poneros is unquestionably the wicked one, emphatically so called, the prince and god of this world, who works with mighty power in the children of disobedience. But all those who are the children of God by faith are delivered out of his hands. He may fight against them; and so he will. But he cannot conquer, unless they betray their own souls. He may torment for a time, but he cannot destroy; for God is on their side, who will not fail, in the end, to “avenge his own elect, that cry unto him day and night.”
Lord, when we are tempted, suffer us not to enter into temptation! Do thou make a way for us to escape, that the wicked one touch us not!
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