Lead us not into… What?

Lead us not into… What? July 1, 2019
Lead us not into times of trial / Ron Peters

Recently, news broke that the Pope has approved a change to the wording of one section of the Lord’s Prayer. Specifically, the part that is traditionally worded, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The new rendering the Pope approved is “Do not let us fall into temptation.” The guys and I recently addressed this in our podcast. Today, I’d like to summarize a portion of our response. In addition, I’d like to present my own suggestion for how we should understand this section. I will argue that it doesn’t refer to personal temptation. Instead, it is a reference to trials during times of persecution. In this case, the evil one is not Satan. Instead, it refers to human agents who cause Christians to suffer.

A Note on Translation

First, I want to say that the Pope is not out of line by suggesting a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer. I understand that many people have strong connection to the traditional wording. However, language changes over time. This means that we will need to routinely update our translations to reflect those changes and avoid misunderstanding (check out our podcast episode where we discuss this).

Second, it is important to remember that all translation is interpretation, at least to some degree. It’s impossible to translation from one language to another in an exact word-for-word manner. Therefore, some degree of interpretation is necessary in order to formulate the correct rendering in the target language. The amount of interpretation is a matter of degree. Some translations, like the NRSV, overtly strive to keep this to a minimum. Others, like the Message, employ an extremely high degree of interpretation. The Pope’s proposal is merely the product of his interpretation.

Lead us not into… What?

Since all translation is a matter of interpretation, we can subject the Pope’s translation to scrutiny. We can ask a simple question: is it a good interpretation? The Pope has defended his interpretation on theological grounds. However, from a textual point of view, I think that he may have misunderstood Jesus. Let me explain.

The first question has to do with temptation. This is a word that can be translated a number of ways, depending on the context. The first is temptation in the generally understood sense. However, another meaning is trials. In 1 Peter 4:12 the author refers to the fiery trial his audience is experiencing. Rev 3:10 identifies an upcoming hour of trial the Christians in Philadelphia are about to experience.

The obvious question is then, how should we interpret this term? I believe the second option, trial, is correct. The next sections will explain why.

Who is the Evil One?

The next question involves the identification of the evil one. Traditionally, the assumption is that the evil one is Satan. This is certainly a possibility. However, there are numerous passages in the NT in which the evil one clearly refers to a human (Matt 5:38, 13:49, Luke 6:45, 2 Thess 3:3, 1 Cor 5:13, et al). How will we determine which meaning is correct? Is there any evidence that will help us decide? Thankfully, there is.

A Critical Conjunction

This section of the Lord’s Prayer is followed by a brief explanatory aside. Jesus says, “For if you forgive people their transgressions, God will forgive you.” The key word here is for. This is a critical conjunction. It sends a signal to the listener that the speaker is pausing to explain what he just said. For me, this is key to our interpretation.

Jesus says, “For, if you forgive people…” This means forgiving people explains the previous statement. It is therefore logical to conclude that the previous statement must also be about people. This means that the evil one is best understood as a person, not the Devil.

Bringing it all Together

There is one final piece of evidence that I think helps our interpretation. In 2 Thess 3:1-3, Paul asks the Christians in Thessalonica for prayer. Specifically, he asks for prayer so that they will be “delivered from wicked and evil men.” Paul’s wording is very similar to Jesus’ wording, “deliver us from the evil one.” I strongly suspect that Paul’s prayer and Jesus’ prayer express a similar sentiment. In both, we pray that God will deliver us from human persecution.

If I am correct in my interpretation of the evil one, then this helps us identify trials. It is most likely a reference to the kinds of trials we face when wicked and evil people persecute us.

So to bring it all together, this part of the Lord’s Prayer should read, “Do not bring us into times of trials, but deliver us from the evil person.” I might smooth it a little more and suggest it read, “Do not bring us into times of trial, but rescue us from wicked people.” This would be my recommended interpretation and translation of this passage.

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  • cvryder2000

    “Deliver us from the evil one” is what we say in the Orthodox Church, to which I am a fairly new convert (2 years.). It makes so much more sense to me. I think that, rather than doing a “new thing”, Pope Francis may be returning to the old way.

  • Geoff Leslie

    Most Australian mainline churches translate the line, “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil”. It is a reference to the impending fall of Jerusalem, in my view.

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    Why not, “Keep us from being flaming hypocrites in Your Name, Lord; Please!” That’s what the line actually refers to, methinks…

  • 1) While I agree that interpretation is necessarily involved in translation, the Greek verb the pope translates in English as “let … fall into” (with the negative “not”) using Matt. 6:13 in meaning very probably is much closer to the traditional and more active “lead … into” (with the negative “not”). If the pope is taking license to interpret, he is preferring dubious use of the semantic evidence here. God does not tempt anyone to sin (Jas. 1:13), but He does use trials and the demonic hosts for His good purposes (arguably another subject). 2) Use of the given preposition “from” with “deliver us” in Greek (“apo” rather than “ek”) suggests a personal rather than impersonal object (Carson)–i.e. Satan or an evil person rather than evil as a thing like misfortune or pain. The presence of a definite article (“the evil” [one]) may refer to an understood antecedent. “The Evil” as Satan appears for example in Matt. 13:18 and 38, while Satan had tempted Jesus to sin already in 4:1-11. 3) Expansions on part of the Paternoster per Matt. 6:14-15 seem transparently related to v. 12 rather than v. 13 (the subject of forgiveness of others rather than trials and deliverance). 4) The author’s above translation from 2 Thes. 3:3 is strange (“deliver us from wicked and evil men”); most English translations read something like “guard you from the evil one” (meaning Satan); there are no textual variants that might add “wicked and” while “the evil” is clearly singular. 5) While Matthew (and elsewhere) does speak of evil persons and in Matt. 6:13, persecution of disciples for righteousness sake is contextually close to hand, yet Matthean theology reveals Satan as behind the evil kingdoms and persons of mankind. In the absence of contextual clues suggesting a particular evil person in Matt. 6:13, Satan is the more likely as per some Christian traditions.

  • Sorry. “Deliver us from wicked and evil men” is from 2 Thes. 3:2 rather than v. 3. Whether v. 2 or v. 3 is reminiscent of Matt. 6:13 would then be the question. Similarities are divided between them.