Human Agency and the Lord’s Prayer

Caveat: I am neither a theologian nor a specialist in Biblical Greek (my specialty is Homeric Greek). I claim no authority in what follows and will gladly add any comments or corrections.

A twitter correspondent recently noted that Pope Francis wants to change the standard translation of the Lord’s Prater because of the line typically translated as “lead us not into temptation”. The Pope’s objects is that this version might lead people to believe that God is the cause of human sin.

Even though I probably said this prayer a thousand times as a child, I never really thought about it or where it came from. So, Master Clarke’s question made me nervous. I looked at the Greek, and it is straightforward. Then I started thinking about the objection. So, here is my very basic translation (the hubris!) followed by the Greek, the Latin and a short comment. (Wikipedia’s discussion is decent as a starting point)

“Our father, the one in the heavens,
May your name be sacred.
May your kingdom come,
May your desire be done
On the earth as it is in heaven.
Give to us today our bread for the coming day.
Free us of our debts
As we have freed those indebted to us.
And do not compel us to a test
But protect us from wickedness.

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς·
τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον·
καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,
ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν·
καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,
ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

Compare to the King James Version

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Here’s the Latin Vulgate

Pater noster, qui es in caelis,
sanctificetur nomen tuum,
adveniat regnum tuum,
fiat voluntas tua,
sicut in caelo, et in terra.
Panem nostrum supersubstantialem da nobis hodie;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;
et ne inducas nos in tentationem;
sed libera nos a Malo

Image result for lord's prayer greek manuscript

A few notes:

An Anglican scholar (Rev. Ian Paul) suggests that the problem comes from the ambiguity of peirasmos (πειρασμόν) which the Latin vulgate translations as tentationem (“temptation”) but which conveys a sense of “test”, “trial” etc. The root peira is also relation to words of experience. As a Classicist and not a theologian, if I can break away from my own protestant upbringing, I would also add that the “lead” of English is not really appropriate for the Latin (inducas) or the Greek (εἰσενέγκῃς). Both of these verbs seem to imply a request for the deity not to force the speaker of the prayer into a test (perhaps crucible or evaluation). But the peirasmos in the context of the New Testament recalls, for me, Jesus’ testing by Satan in the wilderness.

Late antique and Byzantine lexicographers (Hesychius, Photius, Etymological texts, the Suda) often gloss Ἐπαγωγή with πειρασμός, defining the former as “a punishment, captivity, or anything bad that happens to a person” (Suda, epsilon 1921: ἢ ζημία, αἰχμαλωσία, ἤτοι τὸ ὁπωσοῦν ἐπαγόμενον κακόν). The Etymologicum Gudianum glosses notes that peirasmos is a noun from the verb “to test” which means “to attach or engage in war” (Πειρασμὸς, παρὰ τὸ πειράζω, ὃ σημαίνει τὸ καταλαμβάνω καὶ πολεμῶ). So, rather than denoting a mere solicitation or inducement (as might be implied by our “temptation”) this noun may carry the force of a violent trial.

So—and again, I am not only not a theologian but I am an agnostic who would claim classical atheism if the modern atheists hadn’t made such a mess of things—what I see from my years of reading Greek is not a blaming of sin on God, but rather a plea that God not make a test of man’s ability to resist. The point of the Greek, I think, is that good and evil exist and man has the ability to choose. The first request is one for God not to force us into testing our mettle.

When followed by the next line (ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι) where the speaker requests to be “protected from evil”, it seems to me that we have an expanded idea: essentially, “don’t force me into a test [of good and evil] [which I might fail as an imperfect being] but preserve me from the evil” [so I may choose the good, because, as I said, I am imperfect]. And this binary request within the polarization of good and evil seems as well to dovetail with the previous lines where the speaker asks to be released from “debts” or “obligations”.

So, based just on the English of the King James (“lead us not into temptation”), I think the Pope probably has a point that the translation could mislead people about human agency in error. But the “lead” does not do this alone…Also, I think we must content with the radical difference between the translations “debts” and “trespasses” (property anyone?) in addition to the difference between “temptation” and “test”.

I ignored another important problem:



And this:


But I did get this: