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Donnybrook Parish



The bishop of Rome has triggered a useful discussion of the Lord's Prayer. In particular, the translation of "do not lead us into temptation" has been contested. Perhaps this much might help. 

(a) The current English translation is surprisingly old (and correspondingly difficult to dislodge). The unusual spelling is original, representing early usage.  

1549 (Cranmer)
And leade us not into temptacion.

1526 (Tyndale)
leede vs not into temptacion
1389 (Wycliffe)
and leede us nat in to temptacioun

(b) Pope Francis, along with many others both ancient and modern, finds the implication that God leads us into temptation problematic. The new Italian translation reads as follows: “non abbandonarci alla tentazione”, lit. do not abandon us to temptation. (Cf. the Quebec version: "ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation.") For a variety of reasons, biblical and ecumenical, the German Catholic Church has decided not to change.

(c) It should, however, be said that in terms of linguistic accuracy, based on the Greek, the translation "do not lead us into" is actually quite accurate. The verb used is "eispherō" which means to lead or bring into. The standard Greek lexicon offers two uses, as follows: 

  1. to bring into an area,bring in 
    2. to cause someone to enter into a certain event or condition, bring in.

    (d) The real problem is with the word "temptation". This can mean, of course, simple temptation to do something wrong. But in the context of the Lord's Prayer, it does not mean ordinary moral temptation but rather the end-time time of trial. What is in mind is the "travails" of the end, when a believer, under the tremendous pressures of the times, might be tempted to give up completely on the whole project of the faith. Thus, it is much more existential than moral, so to speak. 

    In the New Interpreter's Bible, Eugene Boring concludes as follows: 

    In accord with the orientation of the prayer as a whole, it is best to interpret the petition as originally having primarily an eschatological reference. In apocalyptic thought, just before the final victory of God and the coming of the kingdom, the power of evil is intensified, and the people of God endure tribulation and persecution. The disciple is instructed to pray that God, who always leads the people, will not bring them into this time of testing, when the pressure might be so great as to overcome faith itself (see 26:42, where the identical phrase occurs).

    Perhaps something like this might be adequate: "Do not let us come to the time of trial" or "Save us from the time of testing." Such testing is not confined to the end, as we know only too well. 

Kieran O'Mahony, OSA

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