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Pope Francis and Changing the Lord’s Prayer

Pope Francis

On Saturday, there was an article about Pope Francis in our city’s secular press. Again. Nothing too unusual for this Christian leader who has managed to attract the attention even of non-Christians and the often-anti-christian media. But this time, the article was complete with complex Greek and Latin word analysis! And it’s not even a slow-news week. Never is, now, in the age of Trump!

The article has Pope Francis critical of “Lead us not into temptation” as a translation in the Lord’s Prayer. God just does not do this – lead us into temptation.

The Pope is enthusiastic about the new French version which came into effect at the start of Advent this year. It was:

Ne nous soumets pas a la tentation (Do not submit us to temptation)

And now it has become:

Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation (Do not let us enter into temptation)

The original Greek is

καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμὸν

and the word being debated is εἰσενέγκῃς (eisenenkes). It is problematic, not just for the theological reason presented by the English of God leading us into temptation, but – it is a word that only occurs here, in the Lord’s Prayer. So it is difficult to work out what it means. Let alone that it (presumably) translates the Aramaic that Jesus was using.

As alluded to in the article, εἰσενέγκῃς is the Aorist Active Subjunctive of εἰσφέρω (eisphero) which occurs 512 times in the New Testament. And εἰσφέρω is pretty easy to translate: εἰσ into; φέρω carry. [Yes, I know – for those of you ready to leap – etymology is not a guarantee of meaning!]

The Spanish have it as “No nos dejes caer en tentación” (“Do not let us fall into temptation”).

There is another problem in the line: πειρασμὸν (peirasmon). In its original context, it does not look to be referring to “temptation” in the sense that we use it now. It occurs 21 times in the New Testament, and can mean a trial, a probation, a testing, a temptation, a calamity, an affliction. In the Lord’s Prayer, it probably has an eschatological focus (a good reflection in Advent): the final ‘time of trial’ which, in biblical thought, marks the last days, the time of apostasy when we might renounce Christ because of suffering and persecution.

The ecumenical, international English Language Liturgical Consultation version, hence, has:

Save us from the time of trial.

That was the version able to be used by Roman Catholics in New Zealand until the latest missal translation (NZ Anglicans and others continue to use it). Maybe this Pope will allow NZ RC bishops (and others) to bring it back.

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12 Responses to Pope Francis and Changing the Lord’s Prayer

  1. In TEC’s 1979 BCP, the traditional rites offer the traditional translation. The contemporary rites offer a choice between the traditional and the ELLC translations. The Canadian Alternative service Book follows the same pattern as TEC.

    The Spanish version of the 1979 TEC BCP is different in that we don’t have traditional and contemporary liturgies and the Lord’s Prayer follows the translation you have mentioned above.

    • Thanks, David. The traditional translation is in NZPB as an option at funerals. I always ask the family which version they would like to use, and always have whichever is chosen printed so that everyone can participate. The contemporary is pretty normal now – it has been used consistently here since 1984. That’s into the fourth decade. Blessings.

  2. I was always taught that the correct translation of “apo tau ponirou” from Matthew’s Greek was “from the evil ONE” and not just “from evil”. I know Leo XIII approved of this translation as it warns us of the existence of a personal Satan.

    • Thanks, Joe. I didn’t know of the Leo XIII translation – fascinating. I think that line would be worth its own blog post (or even a small book!) Latin does not have a definite (“the”) or indefinite article (“a”) – so the distinction (between “from evil” and “from the evil one”) was lost in the West pretty early on. There are heaps who interpret this one way, and heaps the other. John Calvin’s ‘solution’ was to say that the meaning remains nearly the same – we are in danger from the devil and from sin if the Lord does not protect and deliver us. The commentary of to the ELLC translation after discussing the two options says:

      the Greek text does not demand either. It seemed wise to preserve the familiar rendering. That this line begins with ‘and’ rather than ‘but’ is a consequence of the rendering of line 9.

      Blessings.

  3. I don’t have a strong feeling on this except there seems an irony that the most popular public ‘chant’ prayer comes from an exhortation for us to pray quietly alone. It’s a beautiful prayer whatever the language I think, I hate how it’s often done at break-neck speed and think it loses power as a prayer then. ‘Lead me not’ could be a version of ‘divert me’?

    ‘ the age of Trump!’
    deliver us from evil…

  4. I always thought the ICEL was a better translation that the traditional version. But changing has been quite controversial among some Catholics. People get very attached to their traditional forms of prayer.

    I think we should move to agreed ecumenical translations for all our common prayers. That will have many benefits.

    Many Blessings

    • Thanks, Chris. As I said earlier, I was delighted to receive an enthusiastic response from Bishop Patrick Dunn to my hope that Anglicans and Roman Catholics (and others interested) work together to produce English language translations that can, as much as possible, be used by anyone in those denominations. Let us pray that this gets some real traction. Blessings.

  5. Although it’s not strictly a translation, I find Jim Cotter’s elaboration of this line of the Lord’s Prayer helpful:

    In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
    From trials too severe to endure, spare us.
    From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

    I think the ELLC is a better solution for common prayer. Here in Australia the traditional version is used universally by the Catholics, although less common in Anglican and Uniting Church.

    One of my treasured memories of the traditional version comes from when I spent some time with the Christian Scientists, where each line of the prayer is accompanied by Mary Baker Eddy’s gloss, which almost amounts to another translation in itself (see here: https://biblelesson.christianscience.com/related-information/the-lord-s-prayer) Indulge me by imagining the gloss being read in a very thick and animated upper-class Dutch accent — “Our Vaaazer Maahter Gott…”

    In my visiting in aged care over the last twelve months I’ve ended up giving the Cotter version to people as a help when they have spoken about difficulties with the traditional version.

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