(January 22, 2018) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian, shares on understanding an important scripture…
Recently Pope Francis suggested that in the English version of The Lord’s Prayer the phrase, which is usually translated as ‘lead us not into temptation,’ should be revised to ‘do not let us fall into temptation.’
He maintains that the phrase ‘lead us not into temptation’ implies that God tempts humans. One can understand such reasoning in view of what is found in James 1:13-14 which states ‘When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.’
So it states that God does not tempt. Consequently it would seem that the Pope’s suggestion (‘do not let us fall into temptation’) is a good one since it suggests that God will help us when we are tempted… and this seems to be in line with what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13, ‘When you are tempted, he (God) will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’
While that seems to settle the matter in favour of the Pope’s suggestion, let’s look more closely at the actual text of The Lord’s Prayer which is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and a shorter account in Luke 11:2-4.
Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)
9 ‘This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”.’
The following line is often omitted (See *Footnote): ‘For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’
Luke 11:2-4 (NIV)
2 He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation”.’
Before I comment, let me mention two words that Christians are sometimes worried about:
(i) ‘temptation’ – peirasmos
This Greek word refers to testing or proving, so perhaps a better word to replace ‘temptation’ would be ‘test.’
(ii) ‘evil’ – ponēros
This Greek word (found only in Matthew’s version of the prayer), which is translated in the NIV as ‘Evil one’ and in other translations as ‘evil,’ is a noun that means ‘bad’, ‘harmful’, ‘wicked’ or the ‘devil.’ So there is no real problem as to which is the ‘correct’ English word to use in the various English translations. However the interpretation of the phrase is at issue.
Regarding the Pope’s suggestion, on this matter he has not demonstrated his infallibility! His mistake is a grammatical one which leads to an incorrect interpretation.
Please allow me to explain what I mean by looking at Greek grammar. (Bear with me for this will help us understand exactly what Jesus did say). The Greek language has grammatical moods (as we also have in English).
In The Lord’s Prayer we find four sentences addressed to the Father:
1. Your kingdom come
2. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
3. Give us today our daily bread
4. Forgive us our debts
These four statements are in what is grammatically called the imperative mood. This simply means that in such statements make a demand, command or request. (We use this ‘mood’ often, eg ‘Don’t drive too fast!’ or ‘Put more paint on the fence.’).
However the 5th phrase, ‘Lead us not into temptation’ is not in the imperative mood in Greek, but in the subjunctive mood – which is used in the Greek language to express a hope, a wish, a desire, a possibility eg ‘I wish I were able to buy that car,’ or ‘I recommend that you save more and spend less.’
The Pope’s suggestion that the phrase be translated as ‘Do not let us fall into temptation’ is wrong on three counts:
- First because the word ‘temptation’ in English is often associated with evil.
- Secondly the word ‘fall’ does not appear in the Greek text, and
- Thirdly (and importantly), the Pope’s suggestion is in the imperative mood while the verb ‘lead’ is actually in the subjunctive mood.
Now all of this may seem to like gobblygook – and irrelevant. But it’s actually what lies at the heart of the meaning of what Jesus really said.
As the Greek verb used in this phrase here in the subjunctive mood, it is best to include this concept in translating it. A more accurate translation would be ‘May you not lead us into a test.’
This is wholly in keeping with biblical teaching whereas ‘Do not let us fall into temptation’ is not. On the one hand we can be assured that God, however, will never tempt us to trip us up so that we will fall into evil.’ (That is what Satan does.)
But we also know that on occasions God does test the faith of his people – Abraham and Job are prime examples of this. God was actively involved – in the sense that he gave permission to Satan – in the painful tests Job experienced but Job’s faith in God stood firm and he did not deny him. Satan’s sneering jibe concerning Job (Job 1:9-10) was proven wrong while God’s confidence in Job was vindicated.
Humanly speaking, I do not want to be tested in this or any way!
So my request to God – as Jesus suggested – is couched in language that expresses a tentative request rather than make a demand: ‘Please don’t send me things that will test my faith!’
You will notice that the phrase ‘For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen’ is included in some translations at the end of Matthew’s account while other translations omit it. The reason for the omission is not that there is some conspiracy among modern translators to dishonour God! Some translations omit it simply because a number of good manuscripts do not include it and the majority of the early church ‘Fathers’, who commented on the prayer in both Greek and Latin, make no reference to that phrase. The general opinion among scholars today it that the phrase ‘For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen’ is a response of early worshippers to the prayer rather than being a part of the prayer itself.
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Recommended is his enlightening Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org