Misinterpretation: The Vatican and the Prayer
Most of the religious world, through the centuries, has called the prayer in Matthew 6:6-9, The Lord’s Prayer. It is the best known prayer in the entire Bible. Practicing the teachings of this prayer has had, and will continue to have, a powerful effect on the lives of God’s children.
The Model Prayer (The Lord’s Prayer) is just 65 words and was taught by our Lord in response to the apostles’ request of “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). The prayer is rich in meaning and powerful in practice. The prayer was given by the direction of the Son of God who understood how essential prayer was to Him and is for His children (cf. Hebrews 5:8-9; 4:15-16). The prayer shows man’s needs are real and pressing in living life.
In an interview with Marco Pozza, a prison chaplain in Padua, on channel TV2000 that is owned by the Catholic bishops, Pope Francis created a momentary stir, among many Catholics and Bible students alike, when he made a stunning statement concerning the current translation “lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13; cf. Luke 11:4). Pozza stated that sometimes he was asked, “Father Marco, how can God ever lead us into temptation?” The pope replied that “lead us not into temptation” is “not a good translation” and should be changed to read “do not let us fall into temptation” (National Catholic Register). The pope’s reply to Pozza was: “It is not about letting me fall into temptation. It’s I, the one who falls, not Him pushing me toward temptation. No, well, a father won’t do that. A father will immediately pick you up. Satan’s the one leading you into temptation. That’s Satan’s task” (The Washington Post).
When we examine the background to the pope’s suggestions, we find the following: The French Catholic Church has already made the change from “lead us not into temptation” to “Do not let us fall into temptation.” The French Catholic Church is not the only Catholic Church having made this change. Both the Spanish and Portuguese Catholic Churches made this change in their translations and public worship. Perhaps, serving as an added explanation for the pope’s desire to change the older translation, and go with the current French, Spanish, and Portuguese translations, is that he is a native Spanish-speaker and has used and prefers the Spanish version.
We set forth following evidence that the pope has misunderstood the phrase “lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). He is correct to state that God does not lead man into temptation to sin. Consider the following brief commentary on the pope’s words in reference to the understanding of the phrase under study and realize that a much longer response could be made.
The Greek for the phrase “Lead us not into temptation” is from “ me (not)eisenegkes (lead) hamas (us) eis (into) peirasmon (temptation).” “Lead us not” is from me eisenegkes hamas eis meaning “do not let us fall victim” (Rogers and Rogers 13). Consider the following regarding the meaning of “Lead us not into.” First, “If it be thy will do not permit us . . . to enter into situations which in the natural course of events would expose us to temptation and fall” (Hendriksen 336-37). Second, the one praying “is to be spared time of great pressure, times which would be very trying. The prayer reflects a sense of one’s own futility and limitation, one’s vulnerability to situations in which one is placed” (Noland 292). “Lead us not” involves our limitations and vulnerability when we enter into situations and circumstances that would tempt us and cause us to fall. Trials of life can do that very thing if we do not cleave to the Lord (cf. Acts 11:23). Trials of life are not sinful. Succumbing to them can lead to sin.
It is imperative that we have a proper understanding of the meaning of “temptation” (peirasmon). This seems to be where the pope has confusion and is troubled. Seemingly, he fails to understand the interpretative rule that some word meanings are defined by the totality of their biblical use and, when we define biblical words by their biblical designations, the interpreter has not violated any authority (Dungan 186-87). He used peirasmon as an example.
“Temptation” (peirasmon) has a two-fold meaning: (1) “Trial, proving . . . of man’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy” and (2) “an enticement to sin, temptation, whether arising from the desires [inward] or from outward circumstances” (Thayer 498). The first meaning of “temptation” is what is meant here. Temptation in Matthew 6:13 is not to be understood as the pope reasons: “It is not He that pushes me into temptation and then sees how I fall.”
God has always, through the centuries, tested men’s faith, fidelity, integrity, virtue, and constancy. This is evident in God testing the faith of Abraham in commanding Isaac to be offered on Mt. Moriah (cf. Genesis 22:1-19). Paul gives a litany of his trials of faith in 2 Corinthians 11:16-22. Our trials of life are to be accepted joyfully as a means of maturing and proving our faith (cf. James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5). Unless the reader allows for two meanings to the word “temptation” (peirasmon), he is confronted with creating contradictions within the Scriptures.
It is important to understand the exegetical meaning of lead us not into temptation” and not understanding the text to mean that God leads us into temptation of sin.
The Christian will have various testing of his faith. Inspiration records: “the trial [testing] of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried [tested] with fire, might be found to praise and honor and glory at the coming of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). The word trial or testing refers to the genuineness of our faith as a result of the trial or being tested and refers to the purpose of purifying (Danker 256). The text shows the Christian’s faith is more valuable than gold—the most precious metal known in that day. Gold when tested by fire loses its impurities. So the Christian’s faith—tested by the trials of life; i.e. health, death of loved ones, persecution for Christ’s sake, etc.—is refined, strengthened, and matured. Greater yet, all gold, refined or unrefined, will perish being a part of the perishing world (cf. 2 Peter 3:10-11); whereas, the Christian’s faith refined, strengthened, and matured endures enabling him to live eternally with God. Our victorious faith having endured testing is “more precious (valuable) than gold.” No wonder, our faith “is the victory that overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4).
In that “Genuine faith is more valuable than gold, but like gold, faith is made pure by passing through fire” (Campbell 132), allow us, ever so briefly, to show from the Scripture the value of the Lord’s guidance when He said, “lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).
First, God’s presence is with the Christian in his testing. As God was present with Christ who endured the depth of testing (cf. Isaiah 52:10-53:12; Matthew 26:36-46; et al.), God’s children have always found the comfort of God’s presence in Psalms 23; Hebrews 4:15-16, et al.
Second, the Christian draws both comfort and strength from God’s promises. God’s promises never to leave nor forsake His children (cf. Hebrews 13:5) and that He will supply us with all our needs (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-4; Philippians 4:19). He does so because He is the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). We draw strength from His promise that we are “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Third, God’s providence—care, concern, love, and guidance—is with us through our varied testing (cf. Luke 21:18). The testing we undergo is for our own good “according to His eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:11), even though we do not fully understand the why (cf. Genesis 50:20). His providence is implied in inspiration’s statement: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God to them who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28f.).
Fourth, God’s purpose in testing our faith is expressed that the Christian “might be found to praise and honor and glory at His coming” (1 Peter 1:7; cf. 5:10). The Christian is to imitate the suffering of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 2:21; Romans 8:17). When the Christian bears his cross faithfully through testing (cf. Matthew 10:38; Luke 9:23), he will be praised, honored, and glorified at the second coming by Jesus. It is in his “faith and patience” that he will “inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).
“Lead us not into temptation” involves the personal testing of our faith. It can result in great suffering. Suffering and the problem of evil have been used frequently in an argument, but unsuccessfully, against the existence and the goodness of God. We recommend you consider a serious study of Matthew 6:9-13 for a proper understanding of “lead us not into temptation,” but also the entire prayer as taught to the apostles by Jesus.
W. Terry Varner
Aikin, Jimmy. “No, Pope Francis is Not Changing the Lord’s Prayer.” National Catholic Register.com. 11 Dec. 2017. Web. 31 Dec. 2017.
Campbell, Constantine R. “The Testing of Faith.” Devotions on the Greek New Testament: 52 reflections to Inspire and Instruct. Eds. J. Scott Duvall and Verlyn D. Verbrugge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.
Danker, Frederick William. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P. 2000.
Dungan, D. R. Hermeneutics: A Text-Book. Delight: Gospel Light, n.d.
Hendriksen, William. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973.
Noland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.
Rogers, Cleon L. and Cleon L. Rogers III. The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Thayer, Joseph Henry. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 1885. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956.
Zauzmer, Juan and Stefano Petrelli. “Lead Us Not into What? Pope Francis Suggests Changing the Words of the Lord’s Prayer.” The Washington Post.com. 8 Dec. 2017. Web. 1 January 2018.