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Help with the Lord’s Prayer

by on July 9, 2014

We have a bit of liturgy, and it works so well for us, I’m wanting to use more. But I need your help.

Right now I’m thinking about the Lord’s Prayer. I want a page with it in all sorts of languages, in different scripts, and people can say it in their mother tongue. All at once. Sound good? I think it will!

Now here’s where I’m having trouble. The English wording. Different Christian traditions have different wordings. We have, for example, many Catholic people among us. They learned it different from me. Orthodox, different again. I don’t want to impose my version, as though it is the superior one. So which one should I use?

Also, many people will be learning this prayer for the first time. If the English speakers know it already, it’s not much of a level playing field is it?

So I’m thinking it’s a good chance to re-visit the Lord’s Prayer. Here’s where I need you guys to help. I need a brains trust.

What I find is that the version we say in Sydney Anglican-land is open to critique.

First, ‘hallowed’. I would dearly love to retire ‘hallowed’. But what can replace it? I don’t know.

Then,

Your will be done

On earth as in heaven

That’s not an easy translation to get. In the greek Matthew (it’s not in Luke) has more like

May your will be done

As it is in heaven, so also on earth

I.e. he’s saying ‘may your will be done here on earth, the way it is already up there in heaven.’

Then we have

forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us

That’s not real close to Matthew or Luke.

Matthew has ‘debts/debtors’, Luke has ‘sins/debtors’

Scholars suggest the ‘debts’ is a metaphor for ‘sins’. But they give no justification for abolishing the metaphor. If Jesus used this interesting, vivid metaphor, of debt – why don’t we? I reckon saying ‘As we forgive those in debt to us’ has a heck of a lot of punch.

But also, in Luke’s gospel debt is about more than just sin. Luke is very interested in money and poverty and wealth, in the Jubilee tradition of releasing debts, etc. Without doubt some of this broader sense is built into ‘as we forgive our debtors’.

Then we have

and lead us not into temptation

To me this is the strangest line in the whole prayer. Why on earth would God tempt us? Isn’t that the devil’s job?

But the greek word for temptation (peirasmos) often means testing. It is translated that way in the Lord’s prayer in the NRSV version. Elsewhere in Matthew and Luke/Acts, this word normally means testing or trial. So why not give it that meaning here. It would make better sense, don’t you think? How about:

and do not lead us into trials

– or something like that?

So if we made our Protestant English speakers learn a new version of the Lord’s prayer like everyone else in the church has to, it could read something like this:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come,

your will be done on earth,

as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

as we also forgive those in debt to us.

Do not bring us into testing,

but deliver us from evil.

For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, 

forever.

Amen.

I think that would bring it closer to the NT texts. I reckon it would be great if this prayer felt more like something that came from the gospels. It’s sort of got detached, and tends to float free, doesn’t it. In google images you can’t find a picture of this prayer in a bible. It’s always on cards and plaques and tats and stuff.

But I could be on the wrong track. Maybe I’d be better going with the version I’ve been critiquing here?

What do you think?

I’d love to get some feedback before we launch this.

From → General

4 Comments
  1. May people glorify your name? Let’s face it, Hallowed is so meaningless now, that an imperfect replacement is better than keeping it.

    May your will be done here on earth, as it is in heaven.

    Save us from (/ do not bring us into) times of temptation and trial.

    I’m not 100% clear on your philosophy of translation in this case. Is it right to change a metaphor to a completely different metaphor that holds the same cultural connotation? In which case, then maybe sin is the better language than debtor. Or something else?

    And can we change daily bread to daily needs, or food?

    While we are onto it, is the word “may” still valid? Or non-specific imperatives like “your kingdom come”? Is it worth thinking about a complete re-phrase, such as “Please bring in your kingdom, and make your will (/plans?) done here on …”

    Random thoughts

    • Great comments Mike!
      Re. metaphor, I would argue that ‘sin’ is not much of a metaphor here. It’s pretty-much a non-visual, abstract concept that is not a part of most people’s everyday language or thought. Debt on the other hand, is all-too close to home!

      I struggle to know what to do with the third person or impersonal imperatives. I’m willing to retain some older english forms for liturgy if there’s no good modern equivalent that reads well out loud.

  2. I’d argue that temptation is the right word here, beause we’re talking about interactions with the tempter, while people think of tests as being graded optional to pass, rather than about choosing a path of good or evil. Trials likewise has the modern connotation of being something to be endured rather than the understanding that Reformed Christianity has of the word. So temptations indicates the elements of choice and responsibility that might be lacking in the other two.

    I think the Matthew/Luke on is trickier – I see your argument but it might be a question of whether when the monetary term is used, it makes liars out of some of the congregation. Also it is unclear whether modern parlance has any concept of an ethical/emotional type of debt – of pepple being in debt by wronging another in a non-monetary way. I’d argue that sin is also a spectacularly relevant concept that might need to be explained to the audience if they’re lost as to the concept and/or relevance.

    I also like the imperatives being kept, modern Western society is so quick to throw in caveats. A lot of the time they make prayer more man-focused and less God-focused, or stop us being bold.

    PS. I still owe you a heap of money, and have a CD player remote for you, and your Christmas presents!

    • I think the Lord’s prayer makes liars out of use regardless of whether it is “forgive our debtors” or “forgive those who sin against us.”.
      For that matter “I want your will to be done” is a big fat one most of the time. Do you REALLY want ALL his will done? Even in that area of your life?
      So there is an aspirational / formative aspect of the prayer.

      And I agree with you about imperatives, but I think we should be changing them to work how imperatives do in modern English, rather than 16th C.

      If you were praying in your small group, how would you word it? Would it not be something closer to: “Lord, we ask that you would do your will here on earth…?”

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