Lou: It seems to me that this topic comes under the heading of what we could call “Practical Godliness.” You have been talking about our daily walk with God and practical Christianity. And people have a lot of questions about such things. These questions are not theoretical. They really address how we go about living our lives. The first question has to do with the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, the version you quoted didn’t sound familiar. “If we’re going to pray the Lord’s Prayer, shouldn’t we use the words that Jesus gave us instead of some new translation like this?”
Graham: Well, if we were to use the words that Jesus used, we would have to speak in Aramaic.
Lou: But King James English is so familiar to us, Graham. It’s so ingrained in our lives and in the worship of all Christian churches.
Graham: I think there’s a very important lesson in this. For the Sermon on the Mount, we are most familiar with the version of the Lord’s Prayer recorded in Matthew (6:9-13). But the version recorded in Luke (11:2-4) is the version He gave to His disciples when they came and said, “Teach us to pray.” The two are similar, but they have interesting differences, and that’s the point. As the Preface to the King James Version says, “The Kingdom of God is not words and syllables; it’s the great ideas.” You can translate those into any language. So it’s the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer that counts and not the precise words.
Lou: So this isn’t a prayer to be repeated over and over?
Graham: I don’t think we can pray it too often if it’s a meaningful experience. But the danger is, we can go from “Our Father” to “Amen” and not even remember what we have said in between, because we’ve done it so often.
Lou: That leads to another question: Why is this called the Lord’s Prayer?
Graham: It’s called the Pater Noster in the Latin. “Pater” in Latin means “father,” and “noster” means “our.” Our Father. Actually, Jesus prayed other prayers that could be called the Lord’s Prayer. For example, that magnificent chapter 17 in John, when in the hearing of His disciples He prayed to the Father. Now that’s really the Lord’s Prayer. The title is just tradition, that’s all.
Lou: It might be better to say this is “our” prayer, the one He gave to us.
Graham: Yes. That’s right.
Lou: In many translations, the prayer seems to end abruptly. Those great words, “For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory” (Matt 6:13, KJV) are left out (compare the ESV, RSV and NIV with the KJV).
Graham: That’s because in the early manuscripts of Matthew it’s not there. And it isn’t in any manuscripts of Luke. So apparently when the Lord actually gave the “Lord’s Prayer,” it ended with, “Deliver us from evil or the evil one.” But does that mean we should stop repeating the doxology (a statement of praise) at the end? There’s a doxology in 1 Chronicles 29 that is four times as long as this one (1 Chr 29:10-13). David prayed it himself. It’s simply magnificent. So if one wants to be a purist when doing this, you could switch to 1 Chronicles 29 when you come to the end of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s very biblical and it’s also very beautiful. Personally, I like ending the prayer with a doxology. Jesus on other occasions may well have done the same. So it’s a beautiful custom to say the whole traditional prayer, as long as it’s meaningful and we’re thinking about it.
Lou: There’s something in the Lord’s Prayer as we traditionally use it that has puzzled me. In other churches they say, “Forgive us our trespasses,” while some of us were brought up saying, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Which is right?
Graham: Actually, this was a problem in our home. Growing up in England, it was always “trespasses.” When we moved to this country, we learned “debts,” and the younger members of the family all changed, but my father never did. So even when I took my children home, they always knew, when praying with Grandpa, it was, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But in my own home it was, “Forgive us our debts,” and I don’t recall my children ever making a mistake, although I’ve heard people in church sometimes fumble over this.
Lou: Where did the word “trespasses” come from? Is that a particular translation?
Graham: The English Book of Common Prayer was quite an influence on the way some of these things are phrased. I think of Handel’s Messiah. “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” You look in vain for that in the King James Version. It comes out of The Book of Common Prayer, I believe.
Lou: So maybe the word “trespasses” was used to avoid the idea that debts had to do with a money problem, rather than sin.
Graham: I like the translation that adds “if we’ve wronged anyone.” The meaning is clear. And the variety of words helps us concentrate on the meaning. That’s the all-important thing.
Lou: Now in the New English Bible it says, “Save us from the evil one” (Matt 6:13). The familiar version of that phrase is “deliver us from evil.” What’s the difference between evil and the evil one?
Graham: The Greek is exactly the same. To be delivered from the evil one is indeed to be delivered from evil; so it makes no difference. Many versions prefer “the evil one.” It brings the Great Controversy to mind rather vividly. But either way, the point is clear.
Lou: When we pray “lead us not into temptation,” what are we really praying? Does that imply, “God, be careful; please don’t get me into temptation?” Would God really want to do that?
Graham: It helps to know that the word “temptation” here actually means trial or testing. Some versions have, “Lead us not into hard testing.” The idea that God would tempt is unthinkable; James deals with this (James 1:13-15). He tells us that when we’re tempted, we shouldn’t even blame the Devil. “You are led away by your own lusts and enticements” (based on James 1:14). Certainly don’t blame God. He wouldn’t do any such thing. So “lead us not into temptation” cannot mean, “Please, don’t You tempt us,” but, “Lead us not into difficult trials.” Jesus prayed something similar in Gethsemane. He said there: “Remove this cup from Me, if possible” (based on Matthew 26:39). I don’t think we should pray, “Lord, I’m ready for it. Bring on the trials; I feel very strong today.” I believe we should say, “Lord, in all humility, don’t bring me into trial; nevertheless, Your will be done.”
“Lead us not into testing” must be coupled with, “Nevertheless, Your will be done.” Jesus did it in Gethsemane (Matt 26:39, 42; Mark 14:36), and we do it in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:10). The Lord’s Prayer and the prayer in Gethsemane are very similar in a number of respects. So I think the prayer in Gethsemane helps us to understand the Lord’s Prayer.