In my local coffee shop today, a very religious elderly Protestant acquaintance of mine asked me, “Did you hear that the Pope is changing the Lord’s prayer”? He did not know much about the issue but added, with a tone of distain, that the Pope was trying to change the phrase “deliver us from evil” by changing the notion of evil.
Well, after he left the shop, I decided to look up the issue and see what the real story was. And indeed, my friend’s biases made him wrong in several ways.
I was raised Protestant, and in my youth, the tension between Catholics and Protestants was high. I grew up with lots of bad talk about Catholics, and back then, it was not about sexual abuse, but then it was tribal. And in my youth, Catholicism focused mostly on theology and how Catholics have a dictator Pope who they almost treat like a god.
My elderly acquaintance was raised in those years too, and he is a fervent Evangelical Episcopal and thus perhaps his anti-Pope tone. His version of the story supported his distain. But he was wrong in several ways.
Before I go further, you should know that the prayer is one that Jesus apparently taught is disciples. If you don’t know the prayer, let me show you the two different Bible versions of this short prayer as translated in the NIV (New International Version) and found in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke. Chapters and verses are listed:
Matthew 6 (source)
9 ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
Luke 11 (source)
2 ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’
Irony of the Prayer
This prayer is hugely ironic in that much of Protestant prayer is contrary to these supposed instructions of Jesus. Protestants love to pray out loud in large groups signaling their sanctity and they often use very long, verbose prayers with pastors often just using prayer time to keep lecturing the congregation and not talking to their god at all.
Finally, if Jesus’ purpose on Earth was suppose to be the new method to get to heaven (instead of obeying rules and making sacrifices, as was the Jewish way), why didn’t Jesus mention himself in the prayer? Why didn’t he add at the end (as in done in most Protestant prayers) “all this I ask in Jesus’ name, and thank you for his sacrifice.” Interestingly, see my deconversion story called, “In Jesus’ Name“.
I am sure you get the point, but I am side tracked.
What is the Lord’s Prayer?
The Christian Bible has four different stories about Jesus. The first three Matthew, Mark and Luke share lots of stuff (thus called the synoptic gospels), but each of these written for a different purpose. The fourth Gospel is very different, written about 30-40 years after these and makes Jesus a full-blown god, but that is a different story.
The earliest synoptic story, Mark, does not have “The Lord’s Prayer”. The writer of Matthew was trying to convince Jewish believers that Christianity was predicted in Jewish scripture and tradition. Paul wanted Gentiles to expand the church but Matthew was afraid of loosing the Jews, so he rewrote Marks story with several things added or changed to fulfill Old Testament predictions about a coming Savior of the Jewish people — the Messiah — to hopeful entice more Jews into their sect. Such stories in Matthew include: Geography locations, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and a colt, Judas being paid a specific money for betrayal, Judas commits suicide, and more. (see this link)
Well, maybe Matthew thus add the Lord’s Prayer also to persuade Jews that his Christianity was really Jewish (and I am speculating here — so please comment). We know that traditional Jewish prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer, had many similar terms such as “Our Father which art in heaven” and “Hallowed be thy name, “lead us not into sin” and more. Maybe Matthew was signaling Jews saying “See, we are still Jewish”. (see this wiki link and “relation to Jewish prayer).
The majority theory is that Luke either borrowed from Matthew or both of them from another document called “Q” in theology circles (see here).
With that background, I continue.
The Real News
Apparently, this is 2017 news when the Pope felt many current translations of the Lord’s prayer are making an important mistake. (see here, The Jesuit Review)
Both Matt 6:13 and Luke 11:4 has Jesus saying to God “And lead us not into temptation,”
But the Pope tells us that God does not lead people into temptation. God does not tempt people but it is either their own desires or the Devil that tempts. Instead, the Pope feels that the more accurate translations would be “do not let us fall into temptation.” I won’t go into the rationale for this translation — you can read the article if you wish. For even without it, my main points have been made.
The Catholic Pope is not trying to change the notion of evil by “changing” the Lord’s prayer. Instead, he is trying to tighten up Christian theology by making clear that the Christian God doesn’t tempt people into evil.
Does this matters to us religion-free folks, no but it can be fun to see how Christians criticize each other and how they tie theological knots (see my post on deceptive knots of certainty).
Questions to Readers
Have I made any mistakes? I wrote this quickly over the two hours and probably slopped into a few mistakes. Of course, if you are a believer, you probably feel I made huge mistakes. But whether you agree or not, hopefully the take-home messages are clear.
All feedback welcome!