Like Button

Friday, December 15, 2017


Pope Francis made the news when he suggested that the Lord's Prayer needs to be reworded. Now, to be fair, he was not suggesting that Jesus was wrong. He was suggesting that the translation is ... questionable. Or, more precisely, that modern language might misinterpret it.

First, let me be clear. I am not taking "the pope" to task. I am examining the idea. So please don't think of this as an "anti-pope rant" or something like it.

So, what was the text in question? When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He included the line, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (Matt 6:13) The pope suggested that this could easily be misconstrued to mean that God is capable of leading us into temptation. "No, no," he offered, "it should be more like 'do not let us enter into temptation'." So, let's think about this.

First, let's ask if he's right. Is it possible for God to tempt us with evil? The Bible is absolutely clear on this point.
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one." (James 1:13)
It is true, then, that God cannot (more accurately "does not") tempt people with evil. Furthermore, the prayer says "deliver us from evil", so clearly the notion of God leading people into evil is not the idea here. In other words, a simple knowledge of straightforward Scripture eliminates the problem.

But that's not a complete answer. I don't think we properly understand what is being said. So let's look at the words used. First is the word "lead" -- "lead us not". The word is εἰσφέρω -- eispherō. It means literally "to carry inward". It means "to bring into" or "to lead into". I'm sorry, but "do not let us enter" is no the same as this word. The thinking in the modified version is that God takes a more "hands off" approach. He doesn't lead us into temptation; He lets us go into temptation. It's not His fault; it's ours. But the language suggests that the prayer actually is that God would not lead us into temptation.

So, what is this thing called "temptation"? That word is πειρασμός -- peirasmos. It is from peirazō, meaning "to test". That test, that "putting to proof", may be by testing good or by experiencing evil. It is often a reference to "trials", another word for adversity. Thus, this "temptation" would not be "tempted to do evil", but "trials". If that is the meaning here, it is precisely the prayer that Jesus prayed at Gethsemane -- "Let this cup pass from Me." (Matt 26:34) The prayer would be, "Please don't take me into trials I cannot bear."1

Now, sometimes the word is used in the "tempted to do evil" sense. If that is the case here, does it mean that Jesus is suggesting that God would tempt us to do evil, so we ask Him not to? Not at all. As we've already seen, God does not tempt to evil and the prayer is for deliverance from evil. That can't be the meaning. We do know, however, that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (as an example) (Exo 9:12, Rom 9:17-18) and that a hardened heart is evil, so in what sense does God not cause evil but does harden hearts (for example)? That would come about by God removing His hand. That is an active event on His part. We know that He is our protection (Psa 121:7; Isa 41:10; 2 Tim 4:18; 2 Thess 3:3; 2 Sam 22:3-4; Phil 2:13). If He withdraws that protection, we are led into temptation, both to evil and as a protection. He doesn't do the leading, but withdrawing His protection allows it.

There is, at its root, another difficulty to examine with the objection to the current reading of the text. What is in mind here is that God does not take an active role in "temptation". The idea is to keep God from getting accused of causing evil. But "is this trip really necessary?" I don't think so. First, Scripture claims that God hardens whom He will (Rom 9:18). Let's not assume what He does not assume. Scripture also claims, as we've already seen, that He doesn't lead us into evil. We also know that God Himself claims, "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isa 45:7). So let's not remove from God what God claims for Himself.

God does allow trials (James 1:2-4) -- "temptations". (Note: That word is the exact word used in the Lord's prayer.) In those cases they are for our benefit. God does allow evil for His purposes (Prov 16:4). While "temptation" may not always mean "tempted to evil" and while God does not tempt to evil, let's not get the idea that God is outside of the business of testing us -- trials. Instead, let's count them "all joy" (James 1:2). And, yes, pray that He doesn't do it too often.
1 I'd like to point out that the word for "evil" in this phrase in the Lord's Prayer is equally ambiguous. The word is πονηρός -- ponēros. It might mean "evil" in an ethical sense (as we normally think of it) but it can also mean physical evil -- disease, etc. -- or even troubles, hardships, perils, that sort of thing. The term would include bad people, bad deeds, bad events, bad troubles, etc.


David said...

I've been more focused on the not into temptation part than the lead us part. I read it as more,"Lead us away from temptation".

Marshal Art said...

I just want you to know how much I value these types of posts. It represents for me a great example of what "Bible study" should look like. Analyzing Scripture in this way provides great insights, often bringing forth that which one doesn't commonly consider, which enlightens in a unique manner. Even in those rare times that I think you might be stretching, I'm always given something to seriously consider and I thank you for it.

Stan said...

Maybe, David, but it seems like "lead me not" is not the same as "lead me elsewhere".

Marshal, it's what I was taught; it's what I hope all believers would do. You're welcome.