Has the Lord's Prayer Been Mistranslated?
Pope Francis on the Lord's Prayer
‘When you pray…pray this way: “Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”’ -Matthew 6:7-131
In December of 2017, Pope Francis suggested that the official Roman rendering of Jesus’ Christ’s exemplary prayer in Matthew 6 should be retranslated. Specifically, the Pontiff wished that translations of Matthew 6:13 should read, “Do not let me fall into temptation,” rather than, “lead us not into temptation.”
“This is not a good translation…I am the one who falls, but it isn’t [God] who throws me into temptation and then looks on to see how I fell. A father does not do this; a father helps us get up immediately.2”
Naturally, such a pronouncement is bound to raise some eyebrows, but nevertheless, as of August 2018 the Italian rendering of the Lord’s Prayer (known to the Roman Catholic Church as the Our Father) has been slated to change. This will bring the official Italian version into line with a French rendering cited by Pope Francis as a more proper translation2.
Was the Lord's Prayer Mistranslated?
This brings up an interesting question, however: has the Lord’s Prayer been mistranslated? Pope Francis’ support for retranslating Matthew 6:13 is primarily theological – God does not tempt us, therefore how could The Lord suggest He would lead us into temptation. (We will revisit this thesis below) However, it would be a severe violation of Roman Orthodoxy even for the Pope to suggest he could re-write passages of the Bible to affirm a theological stance, therefore he cites “mistranslation.”
Matthew, like all New Testament books, was originally penned in Koine Greek*. In the 5th century, Jerome produced a Latin translation of the Bible which became the foundation of the official Latin version accepted by the Roman Catholic Church – The Latin Vulgate. In the 1500’s, Erasmus reintroduced a Greek New Testament from a number of existing Koine manuscripts, this in turn became the basis for translations into other languages made by primarily protestant scholars and theologians such as Luther and Calvin. In response, the Roman Church affirmed the Latin Vulgate as the official version of the Church, to be held above all others – this included even versions in the original Greek.
Therefore, there are two language versions which must be taken into account when considering the “proper translation” according to the Roman Catholic Church – the Latin and the Greek.
Matthew 6:13 in the Latin Vulgate
Although other Latin versions exist, the Latin Vulgate still remains the platform for officially recognized Roman versions. The Vulgate, and the officially sanctioned Douay–Rheims Vulgate English translation renders Matthew 6:13 as follows3:
“et ne inducas nos in temptationem sed libera nos a malo”
“And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.”
Matthew 6:13 in Koine Greek Manuscripts
One of the leading sources in modern scholarship for the original Greek text of the New Testament is the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece^. The Nestle Aland Critical Apparatus collates texts from all available Greek manuscripts, notating important variants, and determining what is the most likely original reading for any given passage.
Matthew 6:13 in the Nestle-Aland, 27th edition, reads as follows4:
“Kai me eisenegkes hemas eis peirasmon, alla rusai hemas apo tou ponerou”
“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from Evil+”
The unconjugated form of eisenegkes is eisphero, from eis – “into” and phero – “to lead, to bring, to carry.” This leaves no room for interpretation when translating eisenegkes. The proper rendering of this verse could only be, “And(kai) [do] not(me) lead(eisenegkes) us(hemas) into(eis) temptation(peirasmon++)…”
In anticipation of a possible objection, it should be noted that the Nestle Aland 27th edition records no variant that replaces or alters eisenegkes4.
Does God Tempt Us?
Ultimately, Pope Francis' revision of the Lord's Prayer is theological, not linguistic. But does he have a point? Surely God doesn’t lead us into temptation, does he?
Is God tempting us? No. The Bible makes it clear, He does not5, but he is sovereign over our temptations. He uses them to test, to grow, and even to condemn.
Even Jesus was tempted6, and because of his testing is “in every way able to sympathize with our weakness,7” though he never sinned^. Furthermore, James exhorts us to count it a joy when our faith is tested, because through trials we are strengthened, and sanctified:
“My brothers and sisters consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials(peirasmon), because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.1” James 1:2-4
God sent deceiving a deceiving spirit in 2 Chronicles 18 and it was only with God’s leave that Satan afflicted Job – one to condemn, one to test.
In Matthew 6:13 we ought to see the complex interplay between God’s sovereignty and prayer. God will test us, and often it is our own sinful nature that is the source of such trials. But we should be repulsed by the prospect of being tempted by sin. One who desires to be tempted has already failed the test. We ought to pray that God leads us away from temptations, as Jesus did, but rejoice even in the midst of struggling against them.
Just as we pray for healing but rejoice in suffering, pray for the repentance of our enemies but find glory under their abuse, we ought to thank God for the strength he gives us in trials even as we implore, “do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from Evil!”
* Some Roman Catholic scholars suggest that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic, primarily based on Eusebius’ interpretation of an account written by Papias (Eccl History, book 3, chapter 39). The actual relation between the “sayings” attributed to Matthew by Papias and the Gospel According to Matthew is somewhat dubious, and few non-Roman scholars place such weight behind it.
^ The Title is in Latin for traditional purposes.
+ Or, the Evil One – the case denotes a likely title.
++ Peirasmon can be rendered “temptation” or “trial” in the sense of “a trial of integrity”
^ An important distinction should be drawn between Jesus’ tempting in Matthew 4 and the temptations we experience. Our temptations are largely internal, caused by our own sinful desires (James 1:14), Jesus’ was external, more akin to that experienced by sinless Adam and Eve before the Fall (Genesis 3). But whereas Adam and Eve fell, Jesus prevailed. (Hebrews 4:15)
1. New English Translation
4. Nestle Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th edition
5. James 1:13-14
6 Matthew 4
7. Hebrews 4:15