The Lord’s Prayer-issues and beauty

I am preaching this week. Occasionally congregations ask retired preachers to do this. In my case, I don’t encourage it. It still happens. I don’t mind doing it as long as it doesn’t become a long-term commitment.

My text will be the Lord’s Prayer from Luke’s gospel, Luke 11:2-4.

Recent translations of Luke’s version of the prayer sound even more unlike the one from Matthew 6:9 ff., the one we usually use in church. This is because we now recognize that the oldest manuscripts of Luke do not have the third petition found in Matthew, “Thy will be done.. .” Other manuscripts have it but modern textual scholars assume they are harmonizing Luke with Matthew.

The situation is clear in The Voice translation:

  Father [in heaven], may Your name be revered.
May Your kingdom come.
[May Your will be accomplished on earth
as it is in heaven.]
3     Give us the food we need for tomorrow,
4     And forgive us for our wrongs,
for we forgive those who wrong us.
And lead us away from temptation.
[And save us from the evil one.]

There is a marginal note that says, “The earliest manuscripts omit the bracketed text.”

Since we have that translation before us, let me point out a couple of problems with it.

First, the parallel use of “wrongs” in verse 4 obscures the fact that this parallel does not exist in the Greek. Unlike Matthew, Luke does not use debt in the first part of the verse. But in the second part he retains the idea of debt (a sign that Luke knew the Matthew version?).  Many church-goers in the past did not know any version other than the free translation from the Book of Common Prayer that used “trespasses” instead of “debt” but followed Matthew’s version.

Second, at the end of verse 4 we have a theological attempt to affirm that God never leads us into temptation as the translation “lead us not into temptation” implies. Pope Francis has recently proposed changing the liturgy to make this clear.

However, this may miss the point. Jesus probably meant to pray, “Do not bring us to the crisis of the Last Judgment.” The temptation or, better, trial he was talking about was the eschatological testing expected in the Jewish apocalypses.

I like The New Revised Standard Version, which translates verse 4 like this:

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

It is tempting to think that the very short, unbracketed words represent the prayer as given by the historical Jesus. But the manuscripts of Matthew that include the thy-will-be-done wording are very old and the Didache  (a Christian writing that is close to being as old as the New Testament) version of the prayer also includes it. We just don’t know enough about how the tradition developed to know why the prayer in Luke varies from the one in Matthew.

This is the kind of thing I used to run into in sermon preparation.  It was tempting to spend time trying to figure it out.  But I learned to cut discussion of stuff like this from sermons. Nobody comes to church wanting to hear about textual issues. And nobody wants you to say “on the one hand” and “on the other hand”. There are things that pertain to faith and life that are much more positive and helpful, like encouraging people to actually pray.

The beauty of the Lord’s Prayer transcends all academic discussion.




About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Bible, Church, historical Jesus and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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