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The Pope bowdlerizes the Lord’s Prayer

It appears that Catholics in Italy, France and Spain are getting revised translations of the Lord’s Prayer. The problem is the line “Lead us not into temptation”. The Pope complained in 2017 that this is a bad translation, not on exegetical grounds but on theological grounds:

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.

The line is being changed to something like “do not let us fall into temptation.”

I respectfully tried to put the Pope right on this at the time, clearly without success.

  • In both Matthew and Luke the meaning of the Greek is clear: “do not bring (eisenegkēis) us into testing” (Matt. 6:13; Lk. 11:14).
  • I’m not sure that “do not let us fall into temptation” is a theological improvement. Doesn’t it rather imply an abdication of moral responsibility?
  • In any case, Jesus is not talking about “temptation” in the general sense of an inducement to do what is morally wrong. What peirasmos signifies is the particular “testing” of the disciples’ faith and vocation that hardship and persecution presented.
  • Jesus differentiates between God, who might lead the disciples into testing, and Satan, who does the testing. We cannot say, therefore, that Satan leads us into “temptation.” Being led into testing and being tested are two very different things.
  • Jesus was “led up (anēchthē) by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil” (Matt. 4:1). Luke has the simple “was led (ēgeto) by the Spirit” (Lk. 4:1); Mark has the more violent “the Spirit casts him out (ekballei) into the wilderness” (Mk. 1:12). No question though: it is God who leads him into this testing.
  • Jesus meant quite seriously that his disciples should pray not to be led, in the course of their mission, into situations that would test their faith to the breaking point.
  • The Lord’s Prayer, therefore, is an eschatological-missional prayer for the followers of Jesus in the first century. It is how you should pray when you are called to embark on the perilous journey of proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God to rebellious Israel in the period leading up to the war against Rome.
  • If we continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer today, we should not pretend it was composed for us. We pray it at some remove from its original sphere of meaning and application.
  • It’s just one more reason why the church needs to develop a historical consciousness.

Comments

It’s too bad the Pope doesn’t bring that same energy to the “give us this day our daily bread” translation issues.

What’s this about? Transubstantiation? Not following you.

Oh, no. I was just saying that, if someone is concerned about changing popular translations of the Lord’s Prayer, they might focus on something that has actual translation difficulties.

Ah, right.

I have to say that my US Evangelical compatriots (or former compatriots; they would probably regard me to be an apostate) are not going to be happy about proposals like this; it seems to be paring away everything that is familiar. I have suspected that “The Lord’s Supper” may no longer be a mandatory rite (on the theory that Paul seems to regard it as a proclamation of Jesus’ death “until he comes” – and Jesus’ parousia has, from our perspective, taken place in the course of the world reaching the first and second eschatological horizons.

It’s going to be a very unfamiliar way of “being the people of God.”

It’s not so much “paring away”, in my view, as relocating on a temporal or historical axis. Just as Israel remembered the ancient events of exodus or return from exile, the church remembers and celebrates the ancient faithfulness of Jesus and his followers which secured a victory over the destructive forces of sin and gained empire-wide recognition for the lordship of Jesus. But no, your evangelical friends are not going to jump at such a reorientaton of the logic of faith.

Unless I have missed it, I suspect the historical context is still not being given full weight. In the exodus from Egypt and progress to Canaan, Israel was led by Jahweh into the wilderness, where they faced - and failed - a range of tests, from the golden calf to the spies’ pessimistic reports. The prayer, in its context of Jesus’s wilderness temptation, and the declaring of the new covenant law, is therefore a request that this new, redefined Israel should not be put into such a situation of failure.

That’s a very good point.