Those familiar Lord’s Prayer phrases at issue: Does God lead us into temptation?


The memorized “Lord’s Prayer” is so frequently recited by countless Christians that it can be easy to slide past what the familiar words are saying.

For instance, how do we understand its most puzzling phrase: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13 per the King James Version and many other English translations. A condensed wording for the prayer also appears in Luke 11:2-4).

So, does God lead us into temptation? Why would He? After all, the New Testament tells us elsewhere, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1:13, also King James wording).

Pope Francis delved into this in December during a series about the Lord’s Prayer on the Italian bishops’ TV channel. “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation,” he said. Rather, “I am the one who falls; it’s not Him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. ... It’s Satan who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.”

The pontiff suggested this colloquial paraphrase: “When Satan leads us into temptation, You, please, give me a hand.” More formally, he embraced the wording recently adopted by the church in France: “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

U.S. Catholics’ New American Bible formerly read “subject us not to the trial,” while the 2011 revised edition says “do not subject us to the final test.” An official footnote explains, “Jewish apocalyptic writings speak of a period of severe trial before the end of the age, sometimes called the ‘messianic woes.’ This petition asks that the disciples be spared that final test.”

Some scholars adopt that end-times interpretation, but there are other choices. Experts also disagree on whether believers ask delivery from abstract “evil” or from a personal “evil one,” namely the Devil. Here The Religion Guy will bypass that one.

Other modern translations:

“Keep us from being tempted” (Contemporary English Version). “Do not cause us to be tempted” (New Century Version. “Don’t allow us to be tempted” (God’s Word). “Do not bring us to hard testing” (Good News Translation). “Keep us clear of temptation” (J.B. Phillips paraphrase). “Keep us safe from ourselves” (The Message paraphrase). “Keep us from sinning when we are tempted” (New International Reader’s Version). “Don’t let us yield to temptation” (New Living Translation). “Rescue us every time we face tribulation” (The Passion Translation).

Roughly similar, but those different shadings are the sort of thing that keeps theologians up nights.

The Pope’s approach drew dissent from Anthony Esolen at the strictly Catholic Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. He defended the old “lead us not” rendition in an essay at First Things, speaking as a world-famous scholar and a stickler on grammar and translation. “The words of Jesus are clear” and “the ancient Greek has not changed,” he declared. The translator’s task is “to render what the words mean, literally, even (perhaps especially) when those words sound foreign to our ears.”

Esolen noted that Jesus himself prayed to be spared from the cross, just as we pray that God will spare us from the tests we all know are inevitable in life.

IMAGE: Word cloud care of the Internet Monk.

Continue reading "The Lord’s Prayer at issue: Does God lead us into temptation?", by Richard Ostling.

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