On the Pope’s Desire to Change the Wording of the Lord’s Prayer

On the Pope’s Desire to Change the Wording of the Lord’s Prayer December 13, 2017


Pope Francis has challenged the traditional wording of the Lord’s Prayer, suggesting that it be changed.  The news media, as usual, has obscured the fact that the Pope is not wanting to alter the Lord’s words or the Biblical text, just saying that the familiar rendition in the various languages is not a good translation and that we need a version that is clearer.  Nevertheless, the approach to the issue demonstrates the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Here is what the Pope said on the matter in an interview with an Italian journalist, referring to the petition “Lead us not into temptation.”  From The Guardian:

“It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.”

He added: “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 Pope favors the version newly adopted in the French church:  “do not let us fall into temptation.”

Under Catholicism, the authority of the church leader is such that he can say of a Biblical translation “this is misleading, let’s change it.”  The Protestant approach to an issue of translation first asks, “what does the Biblical text say?”

Joseph Hartropp points out that the original Greek of Matthew 6:9-13 clearly supports the traditional translation:

Biblical scholars might take issue with his translation though. After all, the current renderings are the fruit of hundreds of scholars pouring hours of deep study into ancient languages to communicate to the words of Scripture accurately. Others might simply be surprised that the Pope has taken such a clear line against a particular phrasing – one that doesn’t necessarily imply God actively ‘pushing’ people into sin. . . .

The word in contention is the Greek verb eisenenkēsmeaning to ‘lead into’ or ‘bring in’. Grammatically, it is a second-person singular verb, in the active voice and the subjunctive (‘expressing wish or desire’) mood. That means, given that the prayer is directed to ‘our Father’ (who is grammatically singular), that God is the obvious actor of the verb ‘to lead’. That makes it difficult to argue that it is only Satan who ‘leads’ into temptation – the Greek text at least doesn’t suggest that.

Helpfully that verb aligns with the next one used, also clearly referring to God as its agent. The Greek verb rhysaimeaning ‘to deliver’ appears only twice in the New Testament, here and in the Gospel of Luke’s version of the prayer (11:4). It is also in the second person singular form, though here it takes the ‘imperative’ mood – so that while being led into evil is sought against, being ‘delivered’ from evil is positively, emphatically urged by the intercessor.

Besides, “lead us not into temptation” does not mean that God tempts us to sin or is, in the Pope’s words, “pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen.”

What does this mean?  That’s a catechism question.  Here is what that petition means, according to Luther’s Small Catechism:

The Sixth Petition:  And lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

When something in the Bible is confusing or unclear, the solution for Reformation churches is catechesis.  Also, as with other Protestants, Bible study.  And expository preaching of God’s Word.

The Bible is the authority that Protestants have to start with and to work from.  Catholics start with and work from the authority of the Church, as embodied in the teaching office of the Pope.  They do acknowledge the authority of the Bible, but it must be interpreted, which means in practice filtered through the teachings of the Church.

Yes, the press misinterpreted what the Pope was saying, as it always seems to.  (A Protestant question:  If the Pope’s own words are subject to misinterpretation and have to be interpreted, how can he offer authoritatively clear interpretations of Scripture?)  And there is nothing wrong, in principle, with new translations of the Lord’s Prayer.

But should we start with the teaching we want to convey and then devise a translation and an interpretive approach to get us there?  Or should we start with the text of Scripture, translate it accurately, and then interpret it?

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