Light for our path: Changing translation of the Lord’s Prayer

There have been news stories of Pope Francis wanting his church to change the translation of Lead us not into temptation in the Lord’s Prayer to something like “Do not let us fall into temptation.” What does our church body think about this? 

James F. Pope 

There is no need to change the translation of that petition in the Lord’s Prayer. There is a need to understand better what Jesus meant with those words. Your question provides an opportunity for that. 

An accurate translation 

There is no mistranslation involved in the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13) is an accurate translation of the Greek. The verb can mean “lead,” “bring in,” or “carry in.” As the Address of the prayer indicates, we make that petition of our Father in heaven. The traditional wording of the Lord’s Prayer—asking God not to lead us into temptation—is accurate. 

Most Bible translations render the Greek in similar ways. There are a few exceptions, including: “And do not cause us to be tempted” (Expanded Bible), and, “Keep us from being tempted” (Contemporary English Version). Those translations drift away from a strict literal translation. 

A consistent meaning 

As far as explaining the petition, I certainly cannot improve on Martin Luther’s explanation in his Small Catechism: “God surely tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or lead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins; and though we are tempted by them, we pray that we may overcome and win the victory.” 

Luther offered similar thoughts in his Large Catechism: “This, then is leading us not into temptation, to wit, when he gives us power and strength to resist, the temptation, however, not being taken away or removed. For while we live in the flesh and have the devil about us, no one can escape temptation and allurements; and it cannot be otherwise than that we must endure trials, yea, be engulfed in them; but we pray for this, that we may not fall and be drowned in them.” 

Luther’s thoughts point to James 1:13-15: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” 

Scripture clearly teaches that God does not tempt anyone to sin. Scripture plainly identifies Satan as “the tempter” (Matthew 4:3). When we use the prayer Jesus taught us, we do what he first told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mark 14:38).  

A meaningful petition 

Because you and I wage daily spiritual warfare against evil, we have reason to speak the words of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer on a regular basis—not in a mechanical way but in a meaningful way. We do that when we recognize our own frailty and seek God’s strength to withstand the temptations that come our way. We do that when we recognize who is the tempter and who is our Friend.  

The wording of the Sixth Petition is like other parts of Scripture in that we need to let “Scripture interpret Scripture” to know what it means and does not mean


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 105, Number 05
Issue: May 2018

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