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The Lord's Prayer

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Question #1:  Dear Bob, I thank you very much for HARMARTIOLOGY, which for me is an extremely rich, uplifting, and helpful study of sin. I have much more to say on what I'm learning but that will come later. You, your work, and your writing are such a blessing. I am exploring becoming a member of the local where they use a translation of a line in The Lords Prayer that puzzles me. It is this:

1. "Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our SINS as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from EVIL."

My personal prayer is this:

2. "Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our DEBTS as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the EVIL ONE."

I grew us with his variation:

3. "Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our TRESPASSES as we for give those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from EVIL."

Number "2" is the most helpful to me in my daily prayers.

The pastor, by the way, has stated that he prefers to talk about individual sins, rather than refer to Satan or the devil, since the personification, in his view, tends to encourage something or someone else for their sins. There seems to be such a vast need for Biblical education.

Thanks again for your profoundly useful work.

Response #1:  As to the particular church you mention, I do have a small background knowledge of that denomination. But nowadays the old line denominations seem to me like so many football teams - the colors and traditions are different, but the players and style of play have become completely interchangeable so that there is in truth not much to choose between them. The upshot of that is - to drop the analogy - that one has to take it church by church (which was always the wise approach in any case).

As to the Lord's prayer, different versions of the "Lord's prayer" abound, and the trend in some places is to substitute some new version for whatever was traditional (although some groups defend their traditional version like it was the holy grail). But regardless of the version used, there are almost always "problems" with the way the pray is translated. For example, the traditional end of the prayer, "For thine is the kingdom and power and the glory forever. Amen.", is not part of the Bible: it does occur in the original Greek text but was a latter addition, no doubt on the part of some monk who felt that it ended too abruptly.

As you are no doubt aware there are two versions in the NT, one in Matthew (Matt.6:9-13) and one in Luke (Lk.11:2-4). It seems clear to me, moreover, that each author is relating a different event, with Matthew giving Jesus' teaching on this subject in conjunction with His "sermon on the mount", while Luke relates Jesus' response to a specific request for information on the subject of prayer put to Him after the sending out of the 72 evangelists.

This is an important point, because it shows definitively what we know instinctively from the study of scripture, namely, that this prayer is not meant to be some unchangeable and unalterable formula - as if one could reduce our conversation with God to a very particular set of words. For not only are the "stanzas" somewhat different in the two versions, but the vocabulary choice is as well. Attempts to harmonize the two prayers miss the point - Jesus is showing us what sort of things we ought to ask in prayer daily, not limiting us to a set formula of how we should pray. For "how we should pray" has to do with how we should orient ourselves to the truth and the proper subject areas for prayer rather than a rote formula which we have so reduced to a mere ritual that we have stopped thinking about what the words and more importantly the truth behind the words means altogether. Your continued interest in this subject shows that you have not fallen into that trap, and I commend you for your determination to discover all the treasures that scripture contains.

To answer your two specific questions, first, "sins", "trespasses", and "debts" do have unique applications, but in terms of what our Lord has to say in the Greek, we are pretty much talking about the same thing, namely, the fact that since we owe God everything on account of His sacrifice of His own dear Son to pay off our sins, it is incredibly hypocritical for us to fail to reciprocate in kind and not forgive others as Christ forgave (and paid the price to forgive) our sins. Matthew has literally has "debts" (opheilemata); Luke literally has "sins" (hamartias). "Trespasses" comes from a tradition other than the KJV, and the word is often used in many OT translations for the Hebrew word pesh'a, which is essentially a synonym for chata`, the Hebrew word for "sin" (hamartia is usually used to translate it in the LXX). So there is not much difference in truth between a "trespass" and a "sin" - except as people have come to think about these things differently from their reaction to the different English words. "Debts" is clearly talking about personal sins as well, and it is clear from the close parallels between these two versions of the prayer that Jesus thought of them as synonyms, not exact equivalents perhaps, but referring to the same essential thing: our violation of God's will by the substitution of our own will. "Debts" focuses the issue and that attention of the attentive pray-er on the fact that we owed a debt to God that could never have been paid without Jesus' sacrifice, while "sin" focuses in sharply on our own personal failings.

Both of these aspects are important, and no doubt explain at least in part why the two versions - one of the things we need to do on a daily basis is to confess our sins and appreciate as we do so 1) our utter sinfulness, 2) the fact that we could never have gotten out from under sin, sins and their penalty without Jesus, and 3) that since we have now been forgiven, we had better walk in His footsteps and forgive our brothers rather than holding grudges against them (the same exact point as is made in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt.18:21ff.).

Secondly, "evil" as opposed to "evil one" is best explained as a controversy by the comment of your pastor. From the Greek, it is very clear that "evil one", which you prefer, is indeed the preferred translation since the adjective, poneros, has the definite article. Now while it is certainly possible in Greek for an adjective plus the article to be acting as a concept noun, not using the neuter for this sense and with this adjective would be unusual, to say the least. So usage and common sense suggest that the personal devil is in view here - our Lord was certainly not shy about identifying the personal origin of evil, after all. It is uncomfortable for some people for some reason to think about sin and evil in anything but abstract and impersonal ways, but scripture identifies the source and the effluent in very concrete, earthy, and tangible ways. So while it is not indefensible to say "evil", in my view it is plainly wrong and an easy mistake to catch and avoid.

There is a lot more to say on this subject (see the link for the Satanic Rebellion series), this prayer, and prayer in general, but that must wait for another time. In any case, I hope you find this helpful.

Yours in the One through whom we have the right to bring our prayers before a merciful and loving Father, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Bob, what is the meaning of "Lead us not into temptation" in the context of our individual choice and God's purity, as discussed in Harmartiology. I can feel an answer but I'd appreciate a more precise reading of what this means.

In Jesus Christ, At All Times,

Response #2: 

The Greek word peirasmon usually translated "temptation" in our Lord's prayer is the same word used for "testing" (cf. 1Cor.10:13). I'm not sure it's an issue with free will as much as it is a divinely provided help to orient our thinking (as is true of the entire prayer).

Our Lord's stunningly beautiful prayer, perfect in its simplicity, starts by orienting us to the eternal future which we have, through our commitment to Him ("our Father who art in heaven"), placed above everything in this life ("thy Name be holy"), and which we desire more than any wealth or success on this present earth ("thy kingdom come"); and moves next to the essential attitude we should have time-ward towards our few days on this earth ("thy will be done"). If we actually listen to what we are praying and take it to heart, these first four elements of the prayer serve to focus us on eternity and eternal rewards, and motive us to yield up our will to His for whatever may come during this short time we are spending on the transitory earth we see. After we have shaken ourselves out of being overly occupied with this world of dust and have through this prayer re-oriented ourselves to the reality, the majesty, the imminency, and the authority of our heavenly Father, Jesus next moves us along to the three essentials for believers to live life in a sanctified way: 1) basic provision for that earthly life ("daily bread"); 2) basic provision for spiritual health and life ("forgive us"); and 3) basic provision for negotiating the "combat zone" that is the devil's world ("deliver us").

Each of these three petitions has an associated element that likewise helps us to have the proper perspective as strangers in the world, helping us to avoid the trap of getting over-involved in the things of this world to the extent that we lose our spiritual focus. We ask for bread - but it is bread appropriate for that day only. Like manna, we need to get into the habit of seeing the possessions we may currently be blessed with as useless beyond today and insecure at that. We are called to live one day at a time for Jesus and to avoid the trap of over-planning (obviously, we do have to plan, but we should maintain the "one more day to eternity" perspective as we do so).

We ask for forgiveness - but that forgiveness does not come if we are walking in hypocrisy towards our fellow believers. We are here, after all, for Jesus, for the good of His Body, our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are even unwilling to forgive them, what sort of shape are our personal ministries in (not to mention our personal spiritual growth and walk with Christ)? We are called to minister to others and must avoid the trap of falling into a pattern of thinking that imagines we are here for our own selfish interests.

Finally, we ask for deliverance. No matter how good or careful or smart we may be, we cannot avoid coming under fire from the adversary. Indeed, the better job we are doing for the Lord, the more intense that fire is likely to be! We would not survive a moment, not the blink of an eye, if God were not the shield at our right hand, if the Lord Jesus were not our Rock and our Deliverer. We ask to be kept from things that are too tempting for us to handle in our own strength and from tests that are too difficult to endure in the weakness of our flesh (a very legitimate prayer: cf. Ps.141:4). Beyond all question, our Lord knows what we can and can't handle ahead of time (just as He knows we need forgiveness and sustenance). So we ask not for His sake but for ours. We ask so that we may remember that apart from His protection we would swiftly be destroyed, and apart from His mercy we would easily fall into tests, with or without culpability (i.e., testing and temptation respectively) which would be impossible for us to endure. We ask, and we know that He hears us, and, by asking, we remember that He has made all such provision before we ever got around to asking, before we even thought to ask, before, in fact, the foundations of the world were even laid. We ask because we need to ask, not because He needs to hear but because we need to be reminded that He has already heard, and, by asking, we come to appreciate Him all the more, and grow closer to Him too as we meditate upon the sublime wonders of this simple prayer as well upon all of His marvelous truths.

Our Father, the One in heaven,
May your Name be regarded as holy [by us].
May your Kingdom come [soon].
May your will be done as it is in heaven so also on earth [when you return].
Give us today the bread [we need] for the coming day.
And forgive us what we owe you just as we also forgive those who owe us.
And don't bring us into testing [that we can't handle] but deliver us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:9-13

In the dear Lord who bought us, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

I thank you very much for your useful response. It is deeply meaningful to have a deeper understanding of the word "peirasmon." There is ultimately joy, fun, growth, and more in the "testing" of this life.

I am still interested in any additional shades of significance in the words "LEAD US," since it is we who are choosing so much and not God simply telling us what to do.

In Christ Jesus, At All Times, and With His Grace, Forever,

Response #3: 

The question is an interesting one. The Greek actually does have here the simple negative imperative format (as opposed to the repetitive one; i.e., it means "don't do it all" as opposed to "don't keep doing it"). The verb is interesting too. I don't really like the "don't lead" / "lead us not" translation, because the verb has nothing to do with "leading", and maybe that is part of what is bothering you about it. The verb is eisphero, a standard word for bearing / bringing / carrying with the prefix eis meaning "into", so that "don't bring us into testing" would be a better rendering, and I would append in brackets "[that we can't handle]". In many respects, this prayer is at the heart of what all prayer is about. After all, God knows everything and did before He made the universe. He also knows exactly what "we did" (even though we haven't done it all yet). In this part of the prayer we are asking Him for something that may seem to violate free will, but, really, we are 1) asking for it from our free will - if we are praying the prayer in the Spirit and in the knowledge of what it means; and 2) asking of the One who in His divine sovereignty can do anything He wills to do - how much more will He then not honor prayers from His own dear children in this regard; and 3) asking in complete understanding that some testing is essential for our growth and His glorification (and some will inevitably also come as a result of discipline). But perhaps the best way to zero in on precisely what this means is by considering the apodosis, that is, the "but" clause which is the positive petition that balances this negative one: "deliver us from the evil one". Many translations miss the fact that the definite article included with adjective for evil (poneros) rather than the noun (poneria) makes it virtually certain that Satan is meant rather than evil as a concept.

Surely it is a valid and prudent prayer to ask God to run interference for us against the forces of evil as we navigate the world of the evil one. One could say, I suppose, that God is already doing that - it is true - but that is a valid argument against any prayer when one considers that God loves us His children and is always working out everything for good for those who love Him back the way we should (Rom.8:28). And yet we are told over and over again to be diligent in prayer (Lk.18:1-6; cf. 1Thes.5:17). This gets back to the point made in the previous e-mail, namely that God is always doing His job, whether or not we pray, but that praying is definitely good for us since we need to know and experience that He is answering our prayers. Thus by being diligent in prayer we get to experience direct response to what we ask (more and more so and more and more effectively so as we grow in Jesus Christ; cf. Jas.5:16-18). God's will will be done for us whether we pray or not - but it most definitely is His will for us to pray and consistently so, including this daily prayer of (in part) continued deliverance from the worst ambushes of the adversary. I believe that our Lord's choice of words here, i.e., "don't bring us" as opposed to something like "don't let us go into" is really more in keeping with the true biblical notion of free will. For true biblical free will is the opportunity to choose for God and God's will - or not (rather than a menu of alternatives). "Don't let us go into", the other way one could have phrased this, really would be wrong because 1) it would be asking for our free will to be negated altogether, and 2) it would suggest that our free will has more than one possible orientation (i.e., instead of towards God or not towards God, it could be, theoretically, away from God, which is not at all how we are designed, in purpose or in function). By saying "Don't bring us", Jesus both acknowledges for us that God is the One who is directing our path, not ourselves, and that it is even more important to ask Him to help us with that direction than to worry about it ourselves as we put our feet forward. And of course we are responsible for how and where we "walk", but asking Him to steer us out of danger ahead of time is even more important since, obviously, we are seeing very little of what is truly going on around us in the spiritual realm.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.
Proverbs 16:9 NIV

Here are some other treatments of prayer you may find helpful:

Corporate Prayer

Cumulative Prayer

Prayer for forgiveness

Prayer for wisdom

Persistence in prayer

Application of the Lord's Prayer

Jesus' Gethsemane Prayer

Can Prayer be Offered from Heaven?

Lifting up our eyes in prayer

Length of prayers

Posture in praying

Prayer and the Will of God

In the One who ever guides us by His good Spirit.

Bob L.

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