Posted by Clark Bates
January 9, 2019
Recently, it has been reported that the Pope Francis has been considering an official change to the “Lord’s Prayer” found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4. This is not a new proposal, as it was discussed earlier in 2017. The statement being considered for revision is found in Matthew 6:13/Luke 1:4,
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The proposed change to the reading would render the verse,
“do not let us fall into temptation…”
Why the change? The Pope has said that it leads individuals to believe that God leads us into sin, which He does not do. He told an Italian reporter, “Do not let me fall into temptation because it is I who fall, it is not God who throws me into temptation and then sees how I fell…A father does not do that. He helps you get up immediately.”
Many Christians around the world, Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox, would likely agree with the pontiff’s statements, as this is a sentiment shared in much of Christianity. But the question that presses upon me more than the papal theology is whether or not the change is legitimate? The most important aspect of translation is a fidelity to the message of the original wording, therefore any change made to the wording, must not be made on theological grounds, but primarily on grammatical grounds.
Before I state my position, it must be stated that I am a Reformed Baptist, confessing the London Baptist Confession of 1689. I stand in line with the Protestant Reformers in my belief that the Bible and the Bible alone is the sole, infallible rule and authority for the church. Because of this, I do not recognize any authority of the Pope. That being said, any objections I may have with the Pope or with a decision being made by the Roman Catholic Church does not extend to individual Roman Catholics. If you are reading this and are a Catholic, I am not against you personally; I am for the Word of God.
“Lead us” or “Let us”
In both Matthew and Luke, the verse contains the same Greek phraseology, however Luke lacks the second half contained in Matthew. In Greek, Matthew 6:13 reads,
“καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκης ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ρῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.”
The first clause, “καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκης ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν” currently reads in most English translations, “and do not lead is into temptation.” Two preliminary points to make regarding this clause is firstly, that the use of μὴ (mā) is an emphatic negative particle often translated as “no” but with a more intensive force than its counterpart οὐ (ōō). Therefore, the entreaty to the Lord is emphatic “please do not…” Secondly, the word εἰσενέγκης is an Aorist Active Subjunctive 2nd person singular from the word εἰσφέρω which generally means “to lead into” or “to bring/carry in”. There is no aorist form in English, so it becomes difficult to understand initially, but is best understood as an action that has occurred at some time in the past. The aorist tense only deals with the action having occurred not the duration of the event. As a result, it is often rendered as a simple past tense.
However, there is another caveat to this word. While it is an Aorist, it is Aorist Subjunctive. The subjunctive mood is often defined as the mood of possibility or potentiality, leading many to interpret subjunctives as something that “might” happen. This is not entirely accurate. The subjunctive mood does deal with an indefinite action, but a probable one, therefore it is more the mood of probability. An example of the use of the subjunctive in another context is 1 John 2:28, where it reads,
“And now, little children, abide in him so that when he appears, we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” (ESV)
John uses the subjunctive here, not because he is uncertain if Christ will appear, but because he is uncertain when he will appear. In many cases the English translation of a subjunctive is accompanied with the English gloss “might”. At other times, especially if the subject is plural, it can be glossed with “let us”. Given that the key term being changed in the Lord’s prayer is an aorist subjunctive and the proposed change is “let us not fall into temptation”, this is likely the grammatical reasoning behind the change.
With all this information (assuming you’re still reading) it would appear that there is grammatical justification for the change. After all, the Pope has even argued that the modern French translations of this passage have made this exact change. However, there is one caveat that should give us reason to pause. It’s known as a Prohibitory Subjunctive. A Prohibitory Subjunctive has two features: 1. It is a subjunctive in the aorist-tense form and 2. It is negated with the emphatic μὴ. As we have already seen, both features are present in this passage. When a Prohibitory Subjunctive is used, the proper English translation should be an Imperative, or for lack of better terminology, it should be rendered as a command without any of the glosses that typically accompany a subjunctive. Examples of the Prohibitory Subjunctive are,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets…” (Matt. 5:17)
“Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again…” (John 3:7)
“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch…” (Col. 2:21)
Therefore, if we are to be consistent with our translation, the same should be true of Matthew 6:13. In which case the proposed “let us not fall into temptation” is more accurately rendered as it is currently,
“Do not lead us into temptation.”
Theology or Methodology
This conclusion brings us to another point: if the reason for the change cannot be defended grammatically or syntactically, it must be that it is being determined theologically. In fact, the most recent report on this discussion comes from the Daily Express wherein the council advising the Pope is quoted saying that the reason for the change is “theological, pastoral and stylistic.” An important point must now be made: when it comes to translation, an individual’s theology should not be their primary methodology. Translation from one language into another is never exact, but the determinative factors for proper word choices should be the context of the passage itself and the semantic range of the Greek word(s) being translated. This can be determined from the word’s usage in other Greek texts and the use of forms such as the prohibitive subjunctive in other Greek texts. As Christians, our theology must come from the Scripture, not be imported into it, therefore the method by which we properly translate that Scripture should be the means by which our theology is shaped, not the other way around.
But….Does God “Lead” us into Temptation?
Having established that a proper translation of this section of the Lord’s prayer is how it has always been, we now have to answer the theological question behind the proposed change, “Does God lead us into temptation?” For many, the immediate response is “no.” After all, the epistle of James says as much,
“Let no one say that when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he, himself, tempts no one.” (James 1:13 ESV)
In this case, how do we understand this section of the prayer? Unfortunately, there is no, clear consensus of interpretation through the years of Christendom, leaving us today still struggling in many ways with what we are praying for, exactly. I do not believe that I have the only answer to this question, but I would like to offer, what I feel are some clarifying thoughts:
- The passage in James is specifically referring to temptation to sin. In such a case, were a man or woman to sin in the face of temptation, they alone bear the responsibility for this sin. Because of this, it can rightly be said that God does not tempt anyone to sin in such a way that alleviates them from personal responsibility.
- The word used in both passages translated “temptation” (πειρασμόν) can also mean “testing”. This is the same word used in the LXX reading of Genesis 22:1 where it clearly states that God “tested” Abraham.
What we are left with is a difficult position. Namely, that God does “test/tempt” individuals, but not in such a way as to alleviate their responsibility if they sin. Certainly, most Christians would not object to saying that God “tests” His people, for many of us have faced times of trial wherein our faith has been tested. So, perhaps the struggle for English speakers really is a semantic one.
But there is one more point to consider, the second part of the verse, “but deliver us from evil/the evil one.” Many, such as John Chrysostom and John Calvin, recognized that these were not two separate thoughts, but one and the same, merely stated in two ways. If this is the case, “Lead us not into temptation = Deliver us from evil.” Wherein it may be that the point of this prayer is that God, through His daily guidance and direction of our lives, would spare us from the attack of evil and sin. In essence, it is a request for sanctification.
I will point out that the Vatican has not made this change official, and it has been met with a great deal of resistance, mostly from Protestant circles. Even if the Vatican decides on the change, it is unlikely it will be implemented in any translation other than that used in the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope’s exegetical council has yet to release their reasoning for such a change, so, as yet, my opposition to the change is based on knowledge of the grammar without being able to respond directly to their position. While this passage is a difficult one for many of us, it must be allowed to remain difficult, for if our theology determines how we translate God’s Word, then it ceases to be God’s Word and becomes nothing more than our own. I will leave you to ruminate on this passage for yourself, as it stands, but also leave you with the words of Charles Spurgeon in his elucidation of what is meant here:
“In the course of providence, the Lord tests our graces and the sincerity of our profession;
and for this purpose, he does ‘leads us into temptation.’
We entreat him not to try us too severely.
Lord, let not my joys or my sorrows become temptations to me.
As I would not run into temptation of myself, I pray thee, do not lead me where I must inevitably meet it.
But if I must be tried,
Lord, deliver me from falling into evil,
and specially preserve me from that evil one,
who, above all, seeks my soul, to destroy it.
Temptation or trial may be for my good, if I am delivered from evil.
Lord, do this for me, for I cannot preserve myself.”
 Andreas J. Kostenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle and Robert J. Plummer, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 289.
 Kostenberger, et al., Going Deeper, 202.
Charles H. Spurgeon, Exposition to the Gospel of Matthew.