Considering the Pope's Proposal on the Lord's Prayer

by Ethan Starr


“And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” Catholics, along with most other Christian denominations, still utter these words, the very phrases Jesus instructed his Apostles to emulate, in what Christians have since referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. This past December, Pope Francis expressed support for an adjustment to the translation of the Lord’s Prayer, specifically advocating for the insertion of “Do not let us fall into temptation.” The Pope went on to reason that God does not lead people into temptation, stating “A father doesn’t do that.” 


The Prayer essentially asks God, in Francis’ words, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You, please, give me a hand.” Francis’ proposal requires consideration of two questions. Firstly, is the English translation an incorrect representation of the Prayer as presented in the Gospels? Further, does the phrase misrepresent the nature of man’s interaction with God?


The Lord’s Prayer is derived from two versions in the Gospels, found in abbreviated form in Luke and a longer version in Matthew. Both prayers begin with an invocation of God as Father, followed by demands of bread and forgiveness, manifested by Greek imperative verbs. The next line, also directly addressed to God, differs in its verbal employment of the subjunctive case, communicating as a hope or a wish that God will “not bring us to the time of trial,but rescue us from the evil one,” according to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation. The Lord’s prayer differs little from this literal translation, and the English text preserves original grammatical features in the direct address to God to which Catholics have grown so accustomed. 


As Francis encouraged Italy and English-speaking countries to change translations of the Prayer, French churches began using an updated form of the “lead us not into temptation” line just earlier this year. From “Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,” roughly translated “do not expose us to temptation,” the French henceforth recite the phrase “Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation,” or “Do not let us enter into temptation.” This adjustment is less drastic than that proposed by the Pontiff, and it responds to what French bishops claimed was “often misunderstood by believers,” according to Guy de Kerimel, the Bishop of Grenoble. As the change in translation had already been in effect in Belgium and Benin, two other French-speaking countries, the French bishops were not left navigating uncharted waters. Francis changed Church policy last year to decentralize decisions of translation to national bishops’ conferences, deferring controversial decisions over continued adjustment of liturgical translations to increasingly empowered and autonomous local authorities. The Church of England maintains two distinct forms of the Lord’s Prayer, one traditional and one contemporary, although the wording of each version surrounding temptation is virtually unchanged. 


Much of Pope Francis’ objection, however, stems from the deduction from the current Prayer that God actively leads man into sin. Some Old Testament examples detail God enticing men to sin, including betting with Satan over the fate of Job and encouraging Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, although both of these examples take place in the form of tests. Detractors of the Pope’s proposal might also point to sections of the New Testament, such as when Jesus is led into the wilderness to face temptation by the Devil in both Matthew and Luke. These passages certainly communicate the understanding of God as Him Whom giveth and taketh away, these isolated instances represent tests of God’s followers, and even His Own Son, that are ultimately meant to strengthen their faith. As expressed in the following phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, the ultimate intention remains always to “deliver us from evil.”


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