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Reading Into Changes To The Lord's Prayer

Jun 9, 2019

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you practice or are even just somewhat familiar with the Christian faith, you've likely heard these words - our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. It's the Lord's Prayer, and it is a customary feature of church services around the world. And while it's true that different versions of this prayer are already in use in different denominations, Pope Francis has now approved a rewording of the prayer for the Catholic church. Instead of lead us not into temptation, it will now say, do not let us fall into temptation. Joining us now to talk about this change is Meredith Warren. She is a biblical scholar and a professor at the University of Sheffield in England.

Professor Warren, thank you so much for talking to us.

MEREDITH WARREN: No problem. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And I know you have an opinion about it, but I'm going to ask you to hold off on that and just give us the background first. And the first thing I wanted to know is, what can you tell us about the history of the Lord's Prayer? Where does it come from?

WARREN: Well, the first place that we see it turn up is in the two canonical Gospels - Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke. And those are from sort of the first century CE, about 50 years after the death of Jesus. And we also have it in another early Christian text called the Didache, which is a set of instructions for a community of Christians also in the first century.

MARTIN: So it has very ancient roots. What role does it play in Christian worship now? And has it always played that role? Has it always been sort of a constant feature, to your knowledge?

WARREN: Yeah. I mean, since the first century, it becomes sort of the core element of Christian prayer. Obviously, there's a huge amount of diversity today among different groups of Christians and in antiquity. Likewise, there is a huge amount of variation. But in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Luke, it's used to teach Jesus's followers the right way of praying - sort of the model for prayer.

MARTIN: And so why is it that the pope is supportive of the change? I do want to note that it's not that he wrote it. It was approved by the - maybe he did. I don't know. But it was approved by the General Assembly of the Episcopal Conference of Italy last month, and the pope has approved it. But I do understand that he said back in 2017 that he thought the wording should be altered. Why is that? What does he think this new wording does that the old one did not?

WARREN: Well, the old wording - lead us not into temptation - can imply that God has some hand in leading people into sin or allowing people to sin or tempting them. And so I think the pope is uncomfortable with that idea, which is fair enough.

MARTIN: And now to your view of it because you are an expert in, among other things, the Greek New Testament. So tell me your concern - or is it an objection to it?

WARREN: I mean, as far as I'm not a Catholic, but the pope can do whatever he likes. But the gospels are pretty clear in the Greek that the original translation - lead us not into temptation - is the best reflection of that biblical Greek. It's a subjunctive verb. It's used in the second person, addressed directly to God. And it really does say, do not lead us into temptation. Please - I hope that you do not lead me into temptation. And that's really what the Greek says.

MARTIN: And what is the Greek, by the way?

WARREN: (Speaking Greek). That's the end of it. That's the addition - (speaking Greek). There's an addition. So for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory is a later addition. So originally, when they translated the text - the King James version - they thought that that bit was original, but actually, it ends with deliver us from evil, so that for thine is the kingdom is sort of - it's a doxology that was added on later.

MARTIN: Yet another change.

WARREN: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

WARREN: There's - I mean, there's all sorts of changes throughout history, and that's part of - I mean, obviously, today's Christianity is very different from the Christianity in the first and second centuries, and that's part of how religions grow and change and persist in the world.

MARTIN: That's Meredith Warren. She's a biblical scholar and lecturer at the University of Sheffield.

Professor Warren, thank you so much for talking to us.

WARREN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.