The Our Father is a central Christian prayer. It is not originally in English but our English translation has changed over time. Last year, Pope Francis spoke about changing a translation currently used in Italian and English. The Italian bishops have proposed changing “lead us not into temptation” to “abandon us not when in temptation.” Many other languages have this, it is theologically accurate, and it is a good translation. I will cover this new development followed by what Francis said a year ago.
The Current Change
The UK Express reports on this proposal from the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) after 16 years of study.
The words learned by millions of English and Italian-speaking believers are due to be changed after a 16-year long research carried out by experts “from a theological, pastoral and stylistic viewpoint” found a significant mistake in these translations.
According to the project, the line “lead us not into temptation” should be changed to “abandon us not when in temptation.”
This proposal, which has been submitted for approval to the Vatican, is likely to be welcomed by Pope Francis, who last year noted “a father does not lead into temptation, a father helps you to get up immediately.”
He added: “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.”
Pope Francis’s Words on the Our Father
As noted at the end of that quotation, Pope Francis spoke about this a year ago on Italian television. I and a priest-friend both wrote about this point then.
The Our Father in Greek
I began by pointing out the Greek and what each word means.
Here’s the key line in Greek, just as St Matthew wrote it.
καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν [Note: the accents got moved off letters into space and I can’t seem to put them back.]
I know most of you probably don’t understand that. I post it so we can understand translation. First, some words have a pretty easy or direct translation.
καὶ = and
μὴ = negation which we translate as “not” although “do not” or similar would also work
ἡμᾶς = us
εἰς = in or into
However, two words are not so obvious and direct to translate.
εἰσενέγκῃς which we translate as “lead” comes from two words “into” and “to carry.” Strong’s – a top dictionary of Biblical Greek – defines it: to carry inward (literally or figuratively), bring (in), lead into.
πειρασμόν which we translate as “temptation” but some Bibles translate “trial” has a wide range of meanings. Strong’s has a long definition but here’s a summary: an experiment, attempt, trial, proving, an enticement to sin, or temptation. It has a wider meaning than just a temptation.
Thus, the same line could be translated different ways based on those definitions.
Current Our Father Translations
I also note that Spanish and French both have translations along the line the Pope proposes.
[Pope Francis] refers to French and implicitly to Spanish, both of which clarify this point better. Francis mentions, “The French have modified the prayer as ‘don’t leave me to fall into temptation,’ because it is I who fall; it isn’t He who throws me into temptation.”
A literal translation of Spanish also shows the same pattern. It would read, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”
What the Pope is doing is not changing the Our Father. Instead, he is asking translators to make sure they don’t leave the translation open to misinterpretation.
You can read the rest, including the Our Father in Old English.
The Our Father in the Didache
A priest-friend of mine, Fr. Devin Rosa, LC, wrote on the importance of context in theology. His article is well worth a complete read, although it may seem a little theological and thick for some at times. I want to draw out two of his points. First, the Didache:
The oldest instance in history outside the Bible of the Our Father as a prayer is found in the Didache. The Didache was a sort of ancient Catechism, and is currently dated by most scholars to the first century (cf. O’Loughlin). It includes the instruction to pray the Our Father three times a day. What is most interesting, however, is the version of the Our Father it instructs believers to pray. It is generally similar (with three minor differences) to that of the Gospel of Matthew, but includes the ending “because yours is the power and the glory forever” as an integral part of the prayer.
Where did this doxology come from? The minor differences between the Our Father in Matthew and the Didache, together with the addition of the doxology, have lead scholars to conclude that “it is hard to suppose that the Didache quotes directly from the text of Matthew’s Gospel.” Rather, it was “the liturgy that served the Didachist as source” (Niederwimmer). Metzger agrees, writing that the doxology at the end of the Our Father in the Didache and in some (generally late) manuscripts of Matthew “was composed (perhaps on the basis of 1 Chr 29:11-13) in order to adapt the Prayer for liturgical use in the early church” (my emphasis).
The Our Father in Spanish
Second, Fr. Rosa explains the history of Spanish translations of the Our Father:
The Spanish historian and philologist, Dr. Luis Gil Fernández, has studied the history of the Our Father in Spanish in his article Versiones del Pater Noster al Castellano en el Siglo de Oro. He notes that, while in the 16th century, there were still at least three common versions of the Our Father in Spanish (including the translation, no nos metas in tentación [do not place us in temptation]), by the time we reach the mid-17th century, with few exceptions the entire Spanish speaking world, both in Spain and in the New World, had united around the translation no nos dejes caer en tentación [do not let us fall into temptation] for liturgy, personal prayer, and catechesis. Why this change?
Dr. Gil Fernández’s initial hypothesis was that the change was imposed from above, by Church authorities. To his surprise, however, he found that all the evidence points to the change coming from below, as a common conclusion that the translation no nos dejes caer en tentación was more helpful for catechesis (p. 282).
The reasons, he discovered, were two-fold. First, the more literal translations of the Latin ne nos inducas in tentatione had become charged with negative connotations. While the Latin verb inducere means “to bring / lead into”, the Spanish inducir had taken on the meaning “to induce”, that is, “to succeed in persuading or leading (someone) to do something.” It had become what linguists call a “false friend.” Rather than communicating “lead into temptation”, people were hearing “entice to sin”. In a world in which people learned both the Latin and the Spanish Our Father, the Spanish no nos dejes caer en tentación (“abandon us not when in temptation.”) served both to correct a common misunderstanding of the Latin, and to complement its meaning. Between the two versions, believers received a relatively complete picture of what the original Greek means when understood in context.
So, we should welcome changes like saying “abandon us not when in temptation” or “don’t leave us to fall into temptation.” True the first few weeks, we will all struggle a bit with not saying, “lead us not into temptation” in the Our Father but there are numerous benefits. First, it will help a lot with catechesis. Second, it will clarify practice to prevent a possible theological error. Third, it will unify our translation with other languages as at least three of the main languages prayed by Catholics – Spanish, French and Italian – will now all translate it differently from English. We can remember God never tempts us or leads us into temptation.