Has the 'Our Father' changed? Just a translation

by Sr. Marion Moeser
Wed, Oct 23rd 2019 02:00 pm

The sixth petition of the "Our Father" reads: "and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This gives rise to the question "Does God, who is all good, really tempt a person to evil?" This is along the lines of "God made me do it" as opposed to the "devil made me do it."

Here we are dealing with the "Our Father" as found in Matthew 6:13 (and Luke 11:4), both of which are Greek texts.  Therefore, when we English-speaking Christians recite the prayer we are using a translation. The Greek text of the New Testament writings does not change, but translations can and do change. Change sometimes occurs with further study of the use of a Greek word in ancient times, or with a better grasp of the meaning of a passage, as is the case here.

In the Old Testament, Sirach dealt with our question in 15:11-13: "11 Do not say: 'It was God's doing that I fell away,' for what he hates he does not do. 12 Do not say: 'He himself has led me astray,' for he has no need of the wicked. 13 Abominable wickedness the LORD hates and he does not let it happen to those who fear him."
St. Paul dealt with the question. In I Cor 10:13, he wrote, "No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that
you may be able to bear it."

Also, the Letter of James, a text close in time to Matthew's gospel, states:  "1:12 Blessed is the one who perseveres in temptation, for having been proven, that person will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him. 13 No one experiencing temptation should say, 'I am being tempted by God;' for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and God himself tempts no one.  14 Rather, each person is tempted when that one is lured and enticed by their own desire."

What of the Greek word peirasmos normally translated "temptation"? Scholars tell us not to think of ordinary sin but rather of a situation of "testing," an enticement to evil, wherein one would turn one's back on God and commit apostasy. Gerhard Lohfink, SJ, refers to such a "testing" as refusing one's Christian calling to live as a person who gives honor to God alone and to give service to others.  

Matthew's gospel has already given us an example of such a "testing," peirasmos, in the narrative of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil wherein Jesus would give up his calling and turn his back on God, choosing instead the Evil One. The rest of  the sixth "Our Father" petition is: "but deliver us from evil (or the Evil One)."  Given the seriousness of the "testing" we are speaking of, it would be appropriate to choose the translation, "the Evil One."

Thus, while the Greek text of the "Our Father" has not changed, a newer translation for this petition would read: "Do not let us fall into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One." This is the translation used in France and recently approved in Italy.  While there are no plans now to adopt this translation in our country, it is worth reflecting on this deeper meaning of our ancient prayer. Perhaps the reader remembers a difficult time of "testing" where an awareness of God's presence was what enabled one's faithfulness to gospel living.

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