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Just before Christmas I learnt that pope Francis suggests changes in the Our Father - in Italian, but, it seems, Polish bishops will also take it into consideration, which made me feel uncomfortable. There are many "news" about this in the Internet and a variety of interpretations.


It is about the sixth request which in English reads "Lead us not into temptation". Pope Francis recalled, approvingly, in a TV interview that French bishops changed the text from something meaning "do not submit us to temptation" to "do not let us enter into temptation" and suggested that God as the Father cannot tempt his children. He also said that the version that exists in Italian "is not a good translation".

My first problem, as a classicist, is with the question of translation. Sorry for philological details, but I'll give you some.
The Greek of the sixth request (Mt 6:24 and Luke 11,4) is: "me eisenenkes hemas eis peirasmon", the Latin: "et ne nos inducas in tentationem".
The literal meaning of Greek is: "do not carry us into temptation" - the word "eisenenkes" means to carry something physically in. Metaphorical meanings are: contributing financially, bringing war or destruction on sth, nominating sb for an office. My point is that it is without any doubt a very active verb, which means to take sth and put it into sth else. In the story about paralyzed man whom his friends wanted to bring to Jesus (Luke 5, 18-19) this word is used to describe how they put him through the roof with his bed and placed in front of the Lord. In the Letter to Hebrews the word is used to describe how the Jews were carrying into the temple the blood of sacrificial animals (Hbr 13:11) and in the Acts 17:20, the Athenians say about St. Paul that he is "carrying in some strange message". Jesus himself uses this word in Luke 12:11, saying that in persecutions the disciples will be "dragged into" synagogues or before the authorities.

The Latin translation of St. Jerome (standard from 5th to 20th century) says literally: "do not lead us into temptation", which is, as you can see, an interpretation already, weakening the sense of Greek, since someone being led in is less passive than someone being carried in. But Tertullian in the 3rd century was using a translation meaning "do not suffer us to enter into temptation" which is far from Greek and didn't remain in use.
Therefore, English as well as Italian version is a literal translation from Latin: "do not lead us into temptation" (French was strange, but somehow closer to the powerful Greek version and Polish sounds almost like: "do not tempt us"). The philological facts are that the English, Italian and other versions of the sixth request are not a result of a "bad translation", as pope Francis says in the interview, but, in fact, they even "sweeten the pill" of the Greek version of Matthew and Luke. I've read some articles in the Internet saying that it is about bad translation, so I want to make it clear that the Greek is the "worst" of all.

The second issue is the interpretation. The sixth request is, actually, a stunning thing to say! Jesus' use of the "eisphero/eisenenkes" word in Luke 12:11 suggests dragging people by force to persecute them. Does God do this with us to put us into a situation of temptation? The word "temptation" in Greek is "peirasmos", which also means in the New Testament "trial", like when St. Peter in his First Letter says that our faith, like gold, has to be "tried" in order to purify. So some people say that maybe Jesus doesn't mean in the Our Father that God leads us (carries us) into temptation, but into trial, which is painful, but ultimately good. But Jesus in Mt 26:41 says in the disciples in Gethsemani: "Be wakeful and pray so that you do not enter into temptation". So here he emphasizes that we are active and in charge - we can enter or not enter into temptation. So why ask God not to carry us in temptation? In any case, being "in temptation" means for Jesus something bad, not a positive "trial", I guess. Pope Francis says that Jesus couldn't say such a thing about our good Father, that he tempts us. But, in fact, as far as the Greek gospel goes, he really did say that - maybe not about God directly tempting us, but putting us into a situation in which we are tempted or even, if my reading of Mt 26:41 is correct, yielding to temptation. This is not a question of "bad translation", but of a stunning thing our Lord says here.

But when I looked up how the Church Fathers, Greek and Latin, dealt with that expression, I found that many of them were just as confused as we are today, if we do not explain it away with a "bad translation" argument. Origen, Tertullian, or Augustine they are all puzzled by this and emphasize that God cannot tempt anyone, so we should understand the sixth request in a way different from its literal meaning. Some Latin Fathers, like Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage and Ambrose of Milan use the older version: "do not suffer us to enter into temptation" in order to bypass the problem, but St. Augustine uses the "do not lead us into temptation" version and argues that it means "do not let us fall", just as earlier Origen and Evagrius Ponticus. All the Fathers emphasize that it is our will here that is crucial and that God doesn't tempt us, but rather helps against the temptation. Ambrose says that we pray here to God not to send us trials beyond our capacity to deal with them (I guess, this is what Jesus really meant here) and Origen gives a very long discourse about the usefulness of trials. Anyway, the ancient Christians were as puzzled by the sixth request as we are.

The third problem is the changing of the words of the Our Father. I'd like to hear what you think about this. If already almost 2000 years ago Christians had a problem with the "do not carry us into" or "do not lead us into" temptation, to such an extent that they argued, basically, that Jesus meant something very different from what he actually said, why neither Catholics, nor Protestants, nor Eastern Orthodox Christians changed those words during those centuries? Why should we now? Our Father is the most important prayer there is, it is the only prayer taught by Jesus, the most important in communal practice and the most intimate in private prayer. Why change it? It may seem that we are now perhaps more confused by the sixth request, but it is not so. The Church Fathers were totally confused, the Latin ones even tried a different version, but ultimately the Church accepted the version of St. Jerome and St. Augustine. We believe that it was inspired by the Holy Spirit and Christians through the ages prayed like that, with the same sensitivity and confusion about the meaning.

I'm also not convinced by an argument that "a good father doesn't tempt, so...". Of course, God doesn't tempt. But do we have to change the words of the Our Father to convince people about it? We'd have to "correct" a great deal more passages from the Bible. Some people think that a "good God" couldn't let people go to hell either, so arguments about "good God" lead to strange results.
Of course, a good human father (an analogy) doesn't tempt his child to do sth bad. But I can imagine a "trial" with a good purpose. Let's suppose that I want to help my child to be able to control his impulses and I forbid him to eat candy before dinner. If he's really young, I'd have to put the candy out of his reach. But at a certain point, when he develops to the point of being able to resist the temptation on his own, I have to leave the candy on the living room table and my son alone with it. I go to another room and he has the candy within his reach. This is the only opportunity, when he can learn to control himself. Is this wicked? No. Do I "lead into temptation"? Yes.
This is maybe not a very good example, but I think God is doing the same thing to us. He constantly allows us to experience temptations and since he is the Creator, the First Cause, in a way he is arranging those temptations for us. But I think that God is allowing us the intensity of temptation which is good for us - we can know ourselves, sometimes fall, sometimes win, but ultimately be purified.

In the end, I'd have a problem with having to say the Our Father differently. Maybe I'm too conservative, but I don't think it's a good idea to change the words now, as if we were entitled to upgrade what was good for Christians for almost 2000 years.
Posts: 436 | Registered: 03 April 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Hi, Mt,

The problem with arguing from the Greek is that the original may not have been delivered in Greek at all. Isn't it more likely that Jesus, when speaking to the disciples in Galilee, spoke with them in Aramaic? And Googling around produces results that do indeed give "do not let us enter temptation" as a translation from the Aramaic. So it may be that the problem was caused by a shoddy translation of the Aramaic oral tradition into Greek.

I see this same problem with "the kingdom of heaven is among [according to modern scholars] you," which tradition has always understood as "the kingdom of heaven is within you" (Luke 17:21). The argument for "among" depends on the meaning of the Greek preposition ἐντὸς. But what if, again, ἐντὸς was merely a poor word choice made when the Aramaic was first rendered into Greek?
Posts: 960 | Location: Canada | Registered: 03 April 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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That was a great reflection, Mt. Thanks for covering all those different angles of the issue.

I'm with Derek in wondering what Jesus actually said in Aramaic, and how that was translated into the Greek. I suppose there's no way of knowing for sure, as we would now be translating from Greek back into Aramaic.

I can appreciate the Pope's concern, here. Prayers are really a form of theological expression, and "lead us not into temptation" suggests that God is the one initiating the temptation, which is impossible as God is all good and does not tempt us to do wrong. But of course, God knows that Satan tempts us, and the nature of the temptations. In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus says, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail." This resonates somewhat with "and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (sometimes, the evil one)." We are to be tempted, and need to pray that we come through it.

Personally, I favor theological accuracy over poetic expression, but the translation issue is formidable. I think we need pray for the Pope to find the best way forward.
Posts: 3652 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Mt. 4:1 presents another relevant statement:
"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."

This comes right after his Baptism by John.

Some theologians have wondered whether Jesus, being the incarnate Son of God, could even experience temptation to do wrong, but we can leave that for another discussion.

The structure of this passage is interesting: he is led by the Spirit . . . to be tempted by the Devil. God cannot present the temptation, but the devil can. God can lead one to the circumstance where temptation can happen, however, which is precisely what the Lord's Prayer states as well without the proviso "by the devil."

It may well be that this experience in the desert left a strong impression on Jesus, and he would like to see his followers spared the testing he went through which is why he included it in his prayer.
Posts: 3652 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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That is a great thought, Phil. Jesus also prayed to be spared his Passion so we can also ask God to deliver us from sufferings and trials even though without them we cannot really unite with Christ and say: I live but no longer I, Christ lives in me...

Re.Aramaic. Jean Carmignac argues that synoptic gospels may have been originally written in Aramaic or Hebrew and he sides with Hebrew. He also claims that prayers such as Magnificat or Benedictus probably were uttered and written down in Hebrew, as some of their syntactic elements suggest. After all Hebrew, not Aramaic was the sacred language of Scriptures and Jewish prayer. So maybe Jesus taught Our Father in Hebrew rather than Aramaic?

Anyway, God wanted the gospels to be transmitted in Greek, so... And we are not Muslims, so we're not so much interested in what is literally said, but in the meaning. And everything God wanted to say he said in Jesus, only secondary in the Scripture, right?
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A good thought, Mt. Thanks for sharing.

Jesus said to his disciples, "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” (Lk 10:16)

So Jesus continues to teach through the Church, and Scripture is, of course, foundational to this teaching. But we do indeed go beyond the literal interpretation of the word to the meaning implied, and reflection about that seems to be what's going on these days.
Posts: 3652 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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