Is the Pope right on the Lord’s Prayer?

I don’t often pay any heed to what the pope says (primarily because the only head of the church is Jesus Christ), but I thought I’d enter the recent fray regarding his comments on the Lord’s Prayer. It should be noted that Francis I is not advocating a change to the original prayer, but rather questioning the traditional translation of the sixth petition: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

According to the BBC, this is what he argued:

“The pontiff said France’s Roman Catholic Church was now using the new wording “do not let us fall into temptation” as an alternative, and something similar should be used worldwide.

“Do not let me fall into temptation because it is I who fall, it is not God who throws me into temptation and then sees how I fell,” he told TV2000, an Italian Catholic TV channel.”

However, there is nothing wrong with the way it has been traditionally translated. The Greek in the Textus Receptus, for those interested reads: “και μη εισενεγκης ημας εις πειρασμον αλλα ρυσαι ημας απο του πονηρου.”

The two Greek words that center in this controversy are εἰσφέρω and πειρασμός. 

  • εἰσφέρω (eisphero) means to “bring in, carry in (Lk 5:18, 19; 12:11; 1Ti 6:7; Heb 13:11+); 2. LN 90.93 cause to, enter into a state or event, lead one (to temptation), (Mt 6:13, Lk 11:4+).”[1]
  • πειρασμός (peirasmos) means “examination, submit another to a test, to learn the true nature or character of (Jas 1:2; 1Pe 4:12); 2. LN 88.308 temptation, trial, given for the purpose to make one stumble (Lk 4:13; Ac 15:26).”[2]

Eisphero is an aorist subjunctive verb in Matthew 6:13. This use of the subjunctive is a negative prohibition and “it is used to forbid the occurrence of an action.”[3] Thus, mē eisphero should (according to its particular verbal form and with the adverb not) be translated as “do not bring/lead.”

Further, there is nothing wrong with translating peirasmos as temptation. Some commentators try to escape a perceived theological dilemma with this translation by arguing that temptation here refers to physical trials or difficult providences. They argue that it does not necessarily mean being tempted to sin. Ceslas Spicq says, “peirasmos . . ., is not an incitation to evil, a wicked solicitation – which is what “temptation” suggests in modern English – but a difficult or painful trial.”[4]

It has been the historic position of the Reformed church to view the Sixth Petition as a very real temptation to sin and not simply difficult providences.

John Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Divines all held to this position.

Calvin remarks on Matthew 6:13:

The word temptation is often used generally for any kind of trial. In this sense God is said to have tempted Abraham, (Gen. 22:1,) when he tried his faith. We are tempted both by adversity and by prosperity: because each of them is an occasion of bringing to light feelings which were formerly concealed. But here it denotes inward temptation [emphasis mine], which may be fitly called the scourge of the devil, for exciting our lust. It would be foolish to ask, that God would keep us free from every thing which makes trial of our faith. All wicked emotions, which excite us to sin, are included under the name of temptation. Though it is not impossible that we may feel such pricks in our minds, (for, during the whole course of our life, we have a constant warfare with the flesh,) yet we ask that the Lord would not cause us to be thrown down, or suffer us to be overwhelmed, by temptations.

In order to express this truth more clearly, that we are liable to constant stumbling and ruinous falls, if God does not uphold us with his hand, Christ used this form of expression, (μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς,) Lead us not into temptation: or, as some render it, Bring us not into temptation. It is certainly true, that “every man is tempted,” as the Apostle James says, (1:14,) “by his own lust:” yet, as God not only gives us up to the will of Satan, to kindle the flame of lust, but employs him as the agent of his wrath, when he chooses to drive men headlong to destruction, he may be also said, in a way peculiar to himself, to lead them into temptation. In the same sense, “an evil spirit from the Lord” is said to have “seized or troubled Saul,” (1 Sam. 16:14:) and there are many passages of Scripture to the same purpose. And yet we will not therefore say, that God is the author of evil: because, by “giving men over to a reprobate mind,” (Rom. 1:28,) he does not exercise a confused tyranny, but executes his just, though secret judgments.[5]

The Heidelberg Catechism says in Question and Answer 127:

127.  Which is the sixth petition?

A.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; that is, since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment; and besides this, since our mortal enemies, the devil, the world, and our own flesh cease not to assault us, do Thou therefore preserve and strengthen us by the power of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may not be overcome in this spiritual warfare, but constantly and strenuously may resist our foes, till at last we obtain a complete victory.

Finally, the Westminster Larger Catechism comments in Question and Answer 195:

195. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?
A. In the sixth petition (which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil), acknowledging that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations; that Satan, the world, and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us; and that we, even after the pardon of our sins, by reason of our corruption, weakness, and want of watchfulness, are not only subject to be tempted, and forward to expose ourselves unto temptations, but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them; and worthy to be left under the power of them; we pray, that God would so overrule the world and all in it, subdue the flesh, and restrain Satan, order all things, bestow and bless all means of grace, and quicken us to watchfulness in the use of them, that we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin; or, if tempted, that by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation; or when fallen, raised again and recovered out of it, and have a sanctified use and improvement thereof: that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected, Satan trodden under our feet, and we fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, forever.

Conclusion:

The pope has a problem with the a God who is Sovereign over Good and Evil.

The problem that the pope has with the Lord’s Prayer is not related to translation. It is related to theology. The pope has a problem with the Sovereign God who is in control of both good and evil. The pope would like to limit the power God to just goodness. He would like to cover the fact that God raises up the wicked solely for their destruction (Psalm 73, Romans 9). He would like to cover up the fact that God preordained that wicked men would commit the greatest injustice and murder in history: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:23). He wants a politically correct god: a god who is respectable according to human definitions of respectability.

However, the Christian must maintain that God is in control of both good and evil. This is the Biblical perspective. This does not mean, as Calvin argues above, that God is the author of evil. Nor does it mean that God is responsible for the evil that man commits. Man is always responsible for his evil actions. For more on this check out my other blog post: Is God sovereign over evil?

Yet, there is great comfort in the words of the Sixth Petition. God, because He is in charge of evil and even Satan, is able to not lead us into temptation. He is able to deliver us from the evil one. He is able, by His Word and Holy Spirit, to guide us in the path of life and godliness. What a joy it is to know that God is absolutely sovereign over everything!

[1] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[2] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[3] Mounce, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 469

[4] Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament Vol. 3, 86

[5] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 328–329.

 

 

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