Thursday, January 4, 2018

Is the Pope Mistaken in his Revision of the Lord's Prayer?

Pope Francis is recommending that the Lord's Prayer be revised in one clause, for use in the Roman Catholic Church.

Namely, he says: "Lead us not into temptation" should be rendered "Do not let us fall into temptation."

There are deep problems with this change, and it is not a matter of distinction between the Roman church on the one hand, and the Orthodox and Protestant communions, on the other. It is a matter of the biblical text to which we all name allegiance.

My concerns are lexicographical, grammatical and theological.

Let's walk through the concerns.

1. Lexicography: In the Greek of Matthew 6:13, the verb in play is eisphero, and most simply means to "bring in." It cannot be rendered "fall into."

2. Grammatically, this verb is rendered eiseinegkes, which means it is in the subjunctive aorist active tense. Subjunctive refers to "possibility" (to be brought or not to be brought into temptation); aorist refers to a simple past or indefinite tense with no sense of duration; and the active refers to actions directly taken, as opposed to falling into something passively. Thus, the actual text in the prayer is: "Do not bring us into temptation."

But the Pope changes it to "Do not let us fall into temptation." Now, the prior renderings of the Lord's Prayer -- in Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism -- use "Lead us not" or "Do not lead us" as a way to say "Do not bring us." And this nuance of difference is not problematic. In both these different renditions, it remains a prayer about how God leads us. He does lead us, he does bring us (or "carry us forward" as it can be additionally rendered in the Greek).

The problem for the Pope is that "lead us not," as opposed to "do not let us fall," suggests that God tempts us to sin, not the devil or sinful human nature (e.g., James 1:13-14). The Pope wants, as it were, to protect God's character as holy, apart from the devil or human sin.

So, out of concern to protect Roman Catholics from such a wrong view of God, the Pope is willing to change the lexicography and grammar of the biblical text. Why? This leads us into theological factors, or how we study and understand the whole Bible.

3. Theology: In Matthew 4:1, we read: "Then Jesus was led (anago) into the wilderness under the Spirit, to be tested [or tempted] by the devil." And in v. 3, "the tempter" comes to test him. When the Lord's Prayer is read by the Jewish audience of Matthew's gospel, in chapter six, it is very soon after the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness in chapter four. These readers, and we, can easily see how Jesus -- as the Son of God -- faces the devil head-on. The devil misquotes Scripture, twisting it to try and deceive Jesus. But Jesus knows the written Word inside out, himself being the Living Word (logos in John 1:1) to begin with, and the devil cannot comprehend/overcome it (katalambano in John 1:5). So the devil departs, and the temptations are vitiated.

Accordingly, we we pray, "Do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one," we do so in light of two realities. First, Jesus has been led into the most severe of temptations to overcome them on our behalf. And second, we know we cannot handle such temptations in our own persons. Thus, there is no sense that God tempts us. He has brought Jesus into the path of temptation so that he delivers us from it.

Thus, I do not see in the Greek text the fear that people will think God tempts them. I am glad for any input.

*** In this language change for the Lord's Prayer, Pope Francis inadvertently renders an active faith passive, and robs believers of spiritual authority in the face of temptation, indeed, of the tempter himself.***

Addendum 16 July, 2018:

In Jeremiah 35, Yahweh instructs Jeremiah to ask the Recabites to drink some wine, to dishonor their Nazirite vows. They refuse, Yahweh vindicates them powerfully, and uses them as an example as to why Judah now faces judgment for their sins. Thus, Yahweh does bring temptation to them as a test, and they pass the test, thus sealing judgment on sin, including the sin they refused to commit. The same ethic of testing is also seen in Ezekiel 3:20, as Yahweh puts a stumbling block before a rebellious Israel, to test them. We pray for the Lord not to bring us into temptation, and hopefully, because we do not want to be in such a place as ancient Israel and Judah, where it was necessary.



Unknown said...

Hey John. I couldn't find a reference in my commentaries, but I have in my margin what I believe I got from my father that in the aramaic, the verb might have been understood as "not yield to" or "keep us from succumbing to." What the commentaries did highlight which is true all through the NT, "temptation" is often testing. So the lord may bring us into, "allow" times of testing. But only the Devil tempts.

John Rankin said...

Mark --

Thank you. If I grasp the Aramaic sense to which you allude, I think this is consonant with the koine Greek in Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich for eisphero, as "not bring in" or "not carry in" or "not carry forward." To "not yield" or "be kept from succumbing" involve the volition, and thus is active not passive, not to mention the grammar in place. And yes, in both the Hebrew (and I assume therefore the Aramaic) and Greek, "to test" and "to tempt" have large interface. I do not have the unabridged Liddell & Scott in my library (wouldn't that be lovely; I go down to Hartford Seminary when I need access), but the shorter version does give the background to classical Greek literature where all its uses are active not passive, e.g., not to "bring in," "contribute," "introduce," "bring forward," or "import." In Plato and Xenophon it refers to "bringing in" or "contributing" the property tax in Athens. In my next post I will add to it my theological take on the whole prayer.

Peter Attwood said...

It's exactly right, with helpful detail. Being led into temptation by God for the purpose of delivering us from evil - and the prayer asks that it be only to that end - is not exactly a minor theme in Scripture. It's everywhere, especially in Job, but in Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, and so much more. James 1:2-5 tells us it's normative. And Revelation 12, which teaches us that the victory in heaven comes through the faithfulness of the disciples below, teaches that we occupy Job's place, accomplishing change in heaven as he did.