Notes on Prayer: Luke 11:1-13

As we continue this survey of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, having already explored the core Synoptic traditions, as well as the passages and references unique to the Gospel of Matthew, we now turn to the Gospel of Luke. In considering the Lukan evidence, one is first struck by the emphasis given to prayer as a detail in the narrative, where it is mentioned, by the author (trad. Luke), quite apart from any specific traditions he has inherited. This will be touched on further in a future study on prayer in the book of Acts, but here it suffices to point out how this emphasis on prayer is expressed in the Gospel narrative.

First, prayer is associated with the Temple at several key points in the Infancy narrative (chaps. 1-2). The angelic appearance to Zechariah in the opening episode takes place, in the Temple sanctuary, at a time when people are praying in the precincts, coinciding with the evening (afternoon) sacrifice and the offering of incense (1:10). This is the same public “hour of prayer” which serves as the narrative setting in Acts 3:1ff. Moreover, the angel’s visitation is said to be in response to Zechariah’s own prayer to God (1:13). In a later episode, we read of the aged prophetess Anna, that she was regularly in the Temple precincts (2:37), doing service to God with fasting and prayer (de/hsi$, request, petition, supplication). These details are important in establishing the idea of the Temple as a place for worship, prayer, and teaching—rather than for cultic ritual and sacrificial offerings (see also 18:10ff). While this is part of the wider Synoptic tradition (cf. the discussion in Parts 6 and 7 of “Jesus and the Law”), it is given special emphasis in Luke-Acts, where the early believers in Jerusalem are portrayed as continuing to frequent the Temple (24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:20ff, 42; cf. also the article on “The Law in Luke-Acts”). This new, purified role and purpose for the Temple (in the New Covenant) provides a point of contact between early Christianity and the finest elements of Israelite/Jewish religion in the Old Covenant (as represented by the figures of Zechariah/Elizabeth, Joseph/Mary, and Simeon/Anna in the Infancy narratives).

Second, the Lukan Gospel provides a number of introductory/summary narrative statements which include the detail that Jesus was engaged in prayer, indicating that it was typical of his practice during the period of his ministry. The pattern of these notices, while again related to the wider Gospel tradition, is distinctively Lukan:

    • Lk 3:21—Of all the Gospel descriptions of the Baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:9-11 par), only Luke includes the detail that Jesus was praying when the Spirit descends, etc:
      “And it came to be, in the dunking of all the people, and Yeshua also being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and (at) the opening up of the heaven…”
    • Lk 5:16—Curiously, in 4:42f which is parallel to the Synoptic Mk 1:35ff there is no mention of Jesus praying; this detail is given separately, at 5:16, following the call of the disciples and cleansing of the Leper (par Mk 1:16-20, 40-45):
      “and he was making space (for himself) down under in the desolate places, and (was) speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying]”
    • Lk 6:12—Only Luke mentions Jesus praying on the mountain at the time of his selecting the Twelve disciples/apostles (Mk 3:13ff par):
      “And it came to be in those days, with his going out onto the mountain to speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], he was spending (time all) through the night in th(is) speaking out toward God.”
    • Lk 9:18—Again it is only Luke who mentions Jesus in prayer prior to his question to the disciples regarding his identity (Mk 9:27ff par):
      “And it came to be, in his being down alone speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], his learners [i.e. disciples] were (there) with him and…”
    • Lk 9:28-29—Similarly, in the Transfiguration episode (Mk 9:2-8 par), Luke is alone in stating that the purpose in going up on the mountain was to pray:
      “And it came to be, as if [i.e. about] eight days after these sayings, [and] (with) his taking along (the) Rock {Peter} and Yohanan and Ya’aqob, he stepped up onto the mountain to speak out toward God [i.e. pray]. And it came to be, in his speaking out toward (God)…”
      As in the Baptism narrative, the divine manifestation (and voice) comes after Jesus has been praying.
    • Lk 11:1—The narrative introduction prior to Jesus’ teaching on prayer (cf. below).

Luke 11:1-13

The major section in the Lukan Gospel dealing with Jesus’ teaching on prayer is 11:1-13. It includes the famous Lord’s Prayer, which I discussed in detail in earlier notes in this series. I will not repeat that study here, but will make mention of place of the Lord’s Prayer in the section of the Gospel as we have it. This may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative Introduction, with a request by the disciples (v. 1)
    • The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 2-4)
    • A Parable illustrating the need for boldness in prayer (vv. 5-8)
    • Additional sayings on prayer [Q material] (vv. 9-13)

The narrative introduction is entirely Lukan in style and vocabulary; moreover, it evinces an interest in prayer (and the background detail of Jesus engaged in prayer) that is distinct to Luke among the Synoptics (cp. the passages noted above).

Verse 1

“And it came to be, in his being in a certain place (and) speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], as he ceased [i.e. finished], one of his learners [i.e. disciples] said to him, ‘Lord, teach us (how) to speak out toward (God), even as Yohanan also taught his learners’.”

In spite of the Lukan syntax and specific prayer-emphasis, there is an important matrix of traditional Gospel elements here in this narrative summary:

    • Jesus in the (regular) act of prayer (see above)
    • His disciples observing him, wishing to follow his example (i.e. to pray like he does)
    • The significance of disciples following the pattern of religious behavior established by their master is emphasized by mention of John the Baptist
    • The reference to John the Baptist teaching his disciples how to pray (cf. 5:33 par) indicates the importance of (a certain manner of) prayer within Jewish tradition

This positioning of prayer within the wider Jewish (religious) tradition, is comparable to the teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-15 (cf. the previous study), which also contains a version of the Lord’s Prayer. While Jesus’ instruction on prayer generally continues the Jewish tradition—indeed, there is very little that is distinctively ‘Christian’ in the Lord’s Prayer, etc—he gives to it a number of different points of emphasis and interpretation. This was perhaps more clearly evident in the Matthean teachings (in the Sermon on the Mount), but it is very much at work in this Lukan passage as well.

Verses 2-4

(On the Lord’s Prayer, consult the notes, for both the Matthean and Lukan versions, previously posted as part of this Notes on Prayer series.)

Verses 5-8

This parable is unique to Luke’s Gospel (so-called “L” material). It may well have been told on a separate occasion originally, and included here by way of the thematic association (prayer); either way, in its Lukan context, it serves to illustrate further the disciples’ request on how they should pray. If the Lord’s Prayer presented the proper form and content of prayer, this parable in vv. 5-8 stresses the need for boldness in prayer, regardless of the circumstances. Several points or details in this parable are worth noting:

    • The characters involved are not strangers, but friends—people dear (fi/lo$) to each other, at least to some extent (v. 5, 8)
    • The person making the request does not do so for himself (cp. the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, v. 3), but on behalf of another friend (v. 6)
    • The request is made at an inopportune time (“the middle of the night”), otherwise there would be no problem in meeting the request; moreover, the house is locked up and everyone is in bed (v. 7)
    • Commentators question the significance of the scenario depicted in verse 7, especially the householder’s statement to his friend that “I am not able, standing up (out of bed), to give (anything) to you”; how would this relate to God the Father? The details of the parable should not be pressed so far; it functions as a qal wahomer illustration—if a human being will respond this way, how much more so will God do so for his friends!

In verse 8, Jesus brings out the point of his illustration:

“I relate to you, if he will not even give to him, standing up (to do so), through being [i.e. because he is] his dear (friend), yet through his lack of respect [a)nai/deia], rising he will give to him as (many thing)s as he needs.”

The key word is a)nai/deia, which I translated as “lack of respect”, but it could be rendered even more forcefully as “(being) without shame, shameless(ness)”. Respect for the time and situation ought to have prompted the person making the request to wait until a more appropriate time (i.e. in the morning), yet he went ahead, regardless of the situation, and woke up is friend in the middle of the night to make his request—which, one might add, was not particularly urgent. Thus, contrary to the way this parable is portrayed by many commentators, the stress is not on persistence in prayer (cp. with 18:1-8), but, rather on boldness—or, perhaps, better, that we should be willing to make our request to God without concern for the situation or what people would consider proper. This is surely to be regarded as an aspect of faith in prayer. We ought never to imagine that God is too ‘busy’ or that it might be better to wait until a more opportune moment; rather, when there is a need at hand, we should make our request boldly, at that very moment.

Verses 9-13

The sayings on prayer in these verses have their parallel in Matthew (Sermon on the Mount, 7:7-11), and thus are part of the so-called “Q” material common to both Gospels. Despite the difference in location, these sayings almost certainly stem from a single historical tradition, though, possibly, they may represent separate sayings combined (by theme) at a very early point in the collection of Gospel traditions. I tend to think that, in this particular instance, they were probably spoken together by Jesus.

The saying in vv. 9-10 corresponds with Matt 7:7-8:

“(You must) ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened up for you; for everyone asking receives, and the one seeking finds, and for the one knocking it [will be] opened up.”

The two versions are identical; the only difference being whether the final verb in Luke’s version is present (“it is opened up”) or future (“it will be opened up”, as in Matthew). The message is clear enough: God will answer those who pray to him. The three-fold idiom only emphasizing this point. God’s faithfulness in responding to prayer is further indicated through the illustration in vv. 11-12 (= Matt 7:9-10):

“And for what (one) out of you will the son ask the father (for) a fish and, in exchange for a fish, will give over a snake? or also—will he ask (for) an egg, and (the father) will give over a stinging (creature) [i.e. scorpion] (instead)?”

Here the emphasis is on a father giving a son what he needs (and would naturally ask for), i.e. food and sustenance (cp. the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, v. 3). The point is driven home through exaggeration—the father not only not giving the son what he needs, but giving what is actually harmful (and deadly) for him! Clearly, no human father would behave this way; most would genuinely wish to give their children what they need and request (much like the friend in the previous parable). In Matthew’s version the illustration is a bit different, though the basic point is certainly the same; the first comparison is a rock instead of bread, while the second is the same as the first Lukan comparison (a snake instead of a fish).

In verse 13 (Matt 7:11), Jesus explains the illustration in vv. 11-12 (as if the explanation and application were not obvious enough). It is here that the Lukan version differs most significantly from the Matthean; I give Matthew’s version first:

“So if you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will your Father in the heavens give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him!”

Here the emphasis is on God giving “good (thing)s” (a)gaqa/), or “good gifts” (do/mata a)gaqa/), in a general sense. God will answer requests in prayer, by giving people what they need and which is truly beneficial for them. The Lukan version follows the Matthean rather closely, but there are a couple of key differences (points of difference indicated by italics):

“So if you, beginning under (as) evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will your Father out of heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him!”

It is worth considering each of these points of difference:

1. For the descriptive participle, Luke uses the verb u(pa/rxw (u(pa/rxonte$) instead of the verb of being ei)mi (o&nte$). It is possible that u(pa/rxw was used to soften the implication that the disciples of Jesus were called “evil” (ponhro/$). Literally, the verb means “begin under”, i.e. begin under a particular situation or condition, etc. Frequently it was used in an existential sense, of a person (or thing) coming into being, or for an existing condition, etc. As such, the verb could also be used, loosely, as an equivalent for the ordinary verb of being. Luke appears to have been particularly fond it, as more than half of the New Testament occurrences (31 out of 46) are in Luke-Acts (7 in the Gospel, 24 in Acts). Possibly the use here may relate to the idea of the disciples as human beings (who, generally speaking, are “evil”), without implying that they, specifically, are evil in character.

2. The description of God the Father in Luke’s version is “out of heaven” (e)c ou)ranou=), while in Matthew it the more proper title “the (One) in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$). This latter title is virtually unique to Matthew’s Gospel (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:21, etc), and, as such, likely reflects the distinctive Matthean vocabulary and style (nearly half of all NT occurrences of the expression “in the heavens [pl.]” are in Matthew). If the wording were characteristic of the wider Gospel tradition (in Greek) of Jesus’ sayings, we would expect to see more evidence of it in the other Gospels (it is found elsewhere only at Mk 11:25).

While it is possible that the expression in the Lukan version (“out of heaven”, e)c ou)ranou=) reflects a stylistic difference (in Greek), it seems much more likely that it is meant to stress that the “good gifts” God the Father gives to Jesus’ disciples (believers) come from out of heaven. The manuscript tradition shows some uncertainty in this regard, with some key witnesses including a definite article (Ë75 a L 33), and others not. The presence of a definite article would indicate that the expression should be understood as a title (as in Matthew), i.e. “the Father the (One giving) out of Heaven”, or, perhaps even o( path\r o( as an abbreviation for “the Father the (One in Heaven)”. The lack of a definite article would best be understood as the source/origin for the Holy Spirit—the Father gives the Spirit from out of Heaven.

3. Most notably, Luke’s version makes specific (“[the] holy Spirit”) what is general in Matthew’s version (“good [thing]s”). If both sayings stem from a single historical tradition, as seems likely, it is hard to see how they both could accurately reflect what Jesus said (at the same time). Most critical commentators would regard the Lukan version as an interpretive or explanatory gloss (by the author), reflecting the idea of the Holy Spirit as the “gift” (do/ma) sent by the Father (Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17; Lk 24:49; cf. also John 4:10), and which, in turn, is the source of all (spiritual) “gifts” for believers (1 Cor 12; 14:1ff, etc). The Lukan evidence (from Acts), in particular, is strong confirmation for the critical view. This does not necessarily contradict a sound view of the Gospel’s inspiration, since it is simple enough to consider the Lukan version here as preserving an inspired interpretation of Jesus’ original words. Many similar such examples could be cited, both in Luke and elsewhere.

This emphasis on the Holy Spirit is significant for Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, in a number of ways:

    • It signifies the climax of this teaching—i.e., for the disciples of Jesus who remain faithful, and continue in prayer, following Jesus’ example and instruction, the end result will be the gift of the Spirit.
    • Ultimately, it is the Spirit (of God and Christ) that should be the focus of our prayer, i.e. it is the Spirit (its power, manifestation, etc) that we should be requesting from God the Father (cf. John 15:16, 26, etc); this is a key lesson, one which here is presented in terms of the initial sending of the Spirit (to the first believers).
    • The statement in verse 13, in its literary context, connects back to the Lord’s Prayer, and the request for the coming of God’s Kingdom. As I have noted previously, on several occasions, the framework of Luke-Acts associates the Kingdom with the coming of the Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. especially Acts 1:6-8). There is also the interesting variant reading of Lk 11:2 which reads (or glosses) the coming of the Kingdom as the coming of the Spirit.

March 17: The Lord’s Prayer (concluded)

This is the final note in this series of Daily Notes on the Lord’s Prayer. It is worth summarizing the results of our study. To begin with, the nature of this study requires a comparative analysis of the two versions of the Prayer—the Lukan and Matthean; the version in the Didache generally follows the Matthean, and probably reflects knowledge and use of that particular Gospel. Nearly all critical commentators regard the two versions as deriving from a single historical tradition—i.e. a single prayer (or prayer-format) created and/or uttered by Jesus himself. In this regard, the shorter Lukan version (according to the best manuscript evidence and text-critical analysis) is often thought to be closer to the original Prayer by Jesus, presumably given in Aramaic. At several points, however, the Greek wording in the Matthean version seems to reflect better the underlying Aramaic. Some traditional-conservative commentators operate under the assumption that the two versions actually represent separate historical traditions—i.e., that Jesus spoke two similar, but different, forms of the Prayer (on different occasions).

The shorter Lukan version has a simpler outline and structure. It begins simply with a single word of invocation, the vocative Pa/ter (“[O,] Father”), which almost certainly represents the emphatic aB*a^ (°Abb¹°) in Aramaic (cf. Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). Jesus instructs his followers to address God (YHWH) as “Father”, just as he does. The Prayer itself can be divided into two parts: (1) a pair of petitions related to the manifestation of God’s Presence (and recognition of Him) on earth, and (2) three petitions related to the life of Jesus’ disciples on earth. In both parts of the Prayer, the petitions begin with the experience of the present, and conclude with a eye to the (eschatological) future. The first part:

    • Petition #1—That God’s Name would be treated as holy (“made holy”) by people on earth, i.e., that He would be accorded the honor and esteem that is due to Him.
    • Petition #2—That God’s Kingdom would become manifest (“come”) upon the earth; this petition has a stronger eschatological emphasis, asking that God’s rule and sovereignty would be fully established (and apparent) on earth. The interesting variant reading, perhaps drawn from early liturgy (Baptism), but reflecting early Christian (and Lukan) theology, identifies the Kingdom with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

In the second part, the focus shifts to the needs of Jesus’ disciples (believers) as they live on earth; I have given this a thematic outline as follows:

    • Daily Life (Petition #3)—The basic nourishment and daily needs required to support life and health for human beings.
    • Religious Life (Petition #4)—That our religious obligations (“debts”) would be made right, defined in terms of the forgiveness of sin by God. The important reciprocal principle connects our forgiveness/righteousness in God’s eyes with our attitude and behavior toward our fellow human beings. The Sermon on the Mount (and Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’) provides detailed instruction and examples in this regard.
    • Suffering (Petition #5)—The sin and evil in the world creates a time of suffering and distress, defined in terms of “testing” for Jesus’ disciples (believers); following Jesus’ own example during his Passion (Mk 14:36ff par), his disciples are to ask that they not be brought (by God) into the time of testing, however necessary it might be. Again, the eschatological aspect is stronger here, i.e. the intense period of distress that is coming upon the world (and believers, in particular) at the end-time (Mk 13:9-13 par, etc).

The Matthean version of the Prayer, while following a similar general outline, has a more complex structure, due to the ‘additional’ elements that are included. The invocation itself is expanded, reflecting distinctive Matthean vocabulary “(our/my) Father the (One who is) in the heavens” that occurs only once outside of Matthew (Mk 11:25). As for the first part, the two petitions (of the Lukan version) are enveloped/climaxed by a third which gives greater theological weight and definition to the Prayer:

    • Petition #1—That God’s Name would be treated as holy (“made holy”) by people on earth (cf. above)
    • Petition #2—That God’s Kingdom would become manifest (“come”) upon the earth (cf. also above).
    • Petition #3—That God’s Will would come to be (done) on earth
      Climactic phrase: “as in heaven (so) also upon the earth”

This last phrase reflects the dualism of the Sermon on the Mount as a whole—i.e. the contrast between God the Father in heaven and the religious behavior and attitude of people on earth. Jesus’ disciples are to act and think on earth in a way that reflects God the Father in heaven, and these concluding words of the first part of the Prayer express this theme, while emphasizing the eschatological dimension of that moment, with coming of the Judgment, when everything on earth reflects the true will of God.

The second part of the Matthean version also has an expanded structure, but is generally closer to the Lukan:

    • Daily Life (Petition #4)—The basic nourishment and daily needs required to support life and health for human beings.
    • Religious Life (Petition #5)—That our religious obligations (“debts”) would be made right, defined in terms of the forgiveness of sin by God. The important reciprocal principle connects our forgiveness/righteousness in God’s eyes with our attitude and behavior toward our fellow human beings.
    • Suffering (Petition #6)—The sin and evil in the world creates a time of suffering and distress, defined in terms of “testing” for Jesus’ disciples (believers); following Jesus’ own example during his Passion (Mk 14:36ff par), his disciples are to ask that they are not brought (by God) into the time of testing, however necessary it might be.
      Climactic phrase: “and rescue us from the evil”.

The Matthean version has a more symmetric (3 + 3) structure, with each part ending with a climactic phrase that sums up the petitions of the Prayer and also emphasizes its eschatological dimension. The last petition, with its built-in contrast, effectively sums up and completes the Prayer as a whole:

    • “May you not bring us into testing” (negative)
      but, instead—
    • “may you rescue us from the evil” (positive)

In the previous notes I examined the wording of this petition in detail, arguing that the primary reference is to the evil which dominates the current Age, with the resultant sin and distress (and “testing” for believers) which this brings about, especially as the end-time Judgment comes near. Both phrases of this petition draw upon the language used during the Passion (and death) of Jesus, and the verb r(u/omai in the New Testament (especially the Pauline Letters) often is used in this cosmic and eschatological sense—i.e. God has rescued (and will rescue) believers from the evil that dominates the world, as well as from God’s impending Judgment upon it.

The Doxology

One last item is worth discussing—the so-called “doxology” of the Lord’s Prayer, familiar to most Christians who have memorized the Prayer or recite it during times of worship. In the King James Version translation, this reads:

“For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
The corresponding Greek being:
o%ti sou= e)stin h( basilei/a kai\ h( du/nami$ kai\ h( do/ca ei)$ tou=$ ai)w=na$ a)mhn
which, in more literal modern translation would be:
“(In) that yours is the kingdom and the power and the honor into the Age. Amen.”

While this line is present in the majority of manuscripts, it is absent from a range of witness, include many of the earliest and best manuscripts: a B D Z 0170 f1 205 pc, as well as the Old Latin versions, etc. Virtually all critical scholars (and many traditional-conservative commentators as well) regard it as a secondary addition, and not part of the original text of Matthew. This view appears to be correct, and is confirmed by two other pieces of evidence: (1) the earliest commentators on the Prayer (Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian) do not mention the doxology, and (2) the NT manuscripts which contain the doxology have it in various/variant forms, including ever-expanding versions (Trine forms mentioning the Holy Spirit, etc). Interestingly, we do not see a similar doxology in the manuscript tradition of Luke.

Almost certainly, the doxology reflects early liturgical practice. As soon as it became customary to recite the Prayer with the words of the doxology, it was natural that scribes would be increasingly inclined to include it when copying the text. Even so, there is little in the doxology that is specifically or overtly Christian, and may ultimately be derived from Jewish models adopted by 1st and 2nd century Christians. Some have suggested David’s benediction in 1 Chron 29:11-13 as a source of influence. The main point of contact with the Matthean version of the Prayer as a whole is the declaration of God’s Kingdom (“yours is the Kingdom”), which is a theme that runs through the Prayer (and the entire Sermon on the Mount), and is emphasized in the opening petitions (“may your Kingdom come”). Even though the doxology is likely not part of the original Prayer, in many ways it is a worthy climax to it, especially when recited by believers in the Community, since it affirms an important theological principle (and declaration) that is implied throughout the Prayer.

March 16: Matthew 6:13b (continued)

(This Monday Note on Prayer continues the current series of daily notes on the Lord’s Prayer.)

Matthew 6:13b, continued

In the previous note, I discussed the adjective ponhro/$ (“evil”) and how it is used in the Gospel of Matthew, and, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount. This helps us to understand better its significance here in the Prayer. I laid out five possible lines of interpretation, each of which requires that we take full account of the contrastive parallel between peirasmo/$ (ei)$ peirasmo/n, “into testing”) and ponhro/$ (a)po\ tou= ponhrou=, “from the evil”). These lines of interpretation encompass three basic semantic domains for the word ponhro/$ in the context of the Prayer (and the Sermon):

    • The evil we (i.e. Jesus’ disciples) experience generally, in various ways, during our daily life; this includes sin, misfortune, mistreatment, and persecution (on account of our faith).
    • Specifically the sin and wickedness to which we are tempted by “the Evil One”.
    • The evil which dominates the current Age, manifest especially in the coming suffering and distress (for Jesus’ disciples) at the end-time.

Arguments can be made for all three spheres of meaning:

    • The use of ponhro/$ in the Sermon favors the first option, as it tends to characterize the evil of humankind generally, and the wicked/evil things they do.
    • The common sense of peirasmo/$ as “temptation” (i.e. to sin) would favor the second option, along with the translation of o( ponhro/$ here as “the Evil (One)”, supported by 13:19, 38, and (possibly) 5:37 in the Sermon.
    • In a prior note (on v. 13a), I argued that peirasmo/$ here is best understood in terms of the (eschatological) suffering and distress which Jesus’ disciples will (or may) have to endure. The Synoptic parallels with Jesus’ words in the garden during his Passion strongly point in this direction, as do the eschatological aspects of the Prayer (discussed previously).

Is it possible that ponhro/$ here has a broad significance encompassing all three ranges (or areas) of meaning? While such a possibility ought to be considered, I would still tend to favor the third option above, for a number of reasons:

    1. The eschatological aspect, or dimension, of the Prayer is preserved
    2. It makes better sense of the idea of God bringing believers “into testing”, especially in light of the parallels with Jesus’ words in Mk 14:36, 38 par
    3. It also provides a better context for the idea of God rescuing believers and very much corresponds with the New Testament (esp. Pauline) use of the verb r(u/omai (cf. below)
    4. Its climactic position in the Prayer requires something which matches the Kingdom of God the Father, etc, in the opening petitions.

This line of interpretation is, I believe, clinched by an examination of the verb r(u/omai used in the phrase. While often translated “deliver”, it more properly means “protect”, sometimes in the more active (and dramatic) sense of rescuing one from harm or danger. Unfortunately, it hardly occurs at all in the Gospels; indeed, it is only found here in the sayings and teachings of Jesus. The only other Gospel occurrences are in Luke 1:74 (the Hymn of Zechariah) and in Matthew 27:43. That latter reference, being from the Gospel of Matthew (and the only other occurrence in Matthew), is significant and must be given serious consideration. It is part of the taunts directed at Jesus (by the priests and elders, etc) while he is on the cross:

“He trusted upon God, (so) let Him rescue [r(usa/sqw] him now if He wishes—for he said that ‘I am (the) Son of God’!”

The context clearly is the same as that of Jesus’ Passion prayer in the garden (Mk 14:36ff par), and the idea is that God might rescue Jesus from his moment of suffering (and death). The reference in Luke 1:74 touches upon the more concrete idea of being rescued from the control of one’s enemies. While this differs from the immediate situation in Matthew, it fits the language and imagery used by Paul in his letters, where the majority of occurrences of the verb are to be found—12 instances, including several in letters sometimes considered pseudonymous by critical commentators (Colossians, 2 Timothy). The verb is used two primary ways in the Pauline letters:

  1. References to Paul (and his fellow missionaries) being rescued (by God) from his enemies and opponents, persecution, dangers and perils on the way, etc—Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 1:10 [3 times]; 2 Thess 3:2; also 2 Tim 3:11; 4:17f.
  2. In a soteriological sense—i.e. of God rescuing believers from the power of evil that is at work in the world; this is expressed several ways, with different points of emphasis:
    (a) Rom 7:24: From the power of sin that currently dominates humankind, residing in the flesh—”who will rescue [r(u/setai] me out of this body of death?”
    (b) Rom 11:26: From the wickedness and ungodliness in the world, which currently envelops Israelites along with the rest of humanity (citation of Isa 59:20f): “the (one) rescuing [r(uo/meno$] will arrive out of Zion…”
    (c) 1 Thess 1:10: From the coming (end-time) Judgment by God upon the world (in its wickedness): “…Yeshua, the (one) rescuing [r(uo/meno$] us out of [i.e. from] the coming anger (of God)”.

The last two references have a strong eschatological and Messianic emphasis, shared by both early Christians and many Jews of the period: that the Anointed One (Messiah, according to several figure-types) will appear at the time of Judgment to rescue the faithful of God’s people from both the wickedness in the world and God’s Judgment upon it (see also 2 Pet 2:7, 9). Paul had a very unique way of expressing this idea, which he develops in Galatians and (more fully) in Romans (cf. especially chapters 5-8). Through the person and work of Jesus, God has rescued humankind (believers) from the power of sin (and evil) which currently dominates the world. Two additional passages, reflecting this outlook, are especially relevant to the wording in the Lord’s Prayer:

1. In Col 1:13, Paul refers to God the Father as the One

“who rescued [e)rru/sato] us out of the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness and set us over into the Kingdom of his (be)loved Son”

The identification of evil with “darkness”, as a kind of kingdom in opposition to the Kingdom of God, matches the language and thought of both the Lord’s Prayer and the garden scene of Jesus’ Passion (cf. the previous note). In the Lukan parallel of the garden scene, Jesus’ declares the situation surrounding his Passion (and impending death) in exactly these terms: “…this is your hour and the authority of darkness” (Lk 22:53). According to the earliest Christian thought, the death and ultimate departure of Jesus ushers in an (eschatological) period of suffering and distress, which precedes the coming Judgment. It will be a time of significant suffering and persecution for Jesus’ followers (Mk 13:9-13 par, etc).

2. In 2 Tim 4:17-18, the idea of Paul (and other missionaries) being rescued from wicked people and opponents (v. 17, and cf. above) is broadened to include the end-time deliverance in general, expressed in v. 18 as follows:

“The Lord will rescue [r(u/setai] me from every evil work and will save [i.e. preserve] me into His Kingdom upon [i.e. above] (the) heaven(s).”

The italicized words are very close to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer:

    • “(may you) rescue us from the evil [a)po\ tou= ponhrou=]”
    • “(he will) rescue me from every evil work [a)po\ panto\$ e&rgou ponhrou=]”

There is one other passage in the New Testament which may shed some light on Matt 6:13—namely, John 17:15, where we find another prayer by Jesus to God the Father. This time it is a petition to the Father on behalf of Jesus’ disciples; it is also set prior to Jesus’ Passion (on this context, see above and the previous note). He prays for his disciples as follows:

“I do not ask that you should take them out of the world, but that you should guard them out of [i.e. from] the evil [tou= ponhrou=].”

The genitive substantive (tou= ponhrou=) is the same as we have in the Lord’s Prayer; here, too, it is often translated “the Evil (One)”, but this does not seem correct to me. More appropriate in context would be “the evil (that is in the world)”, since the contrast is with “the world” or “world-order” (ko/smo$). Believers are not to be taken out of the world itself, but protected from the evil that is in it.

In summary, I would argue that it is best not to translate the substantive ponhro/$ in the Lord’s Prayer as “the Evil (One)”, but to adhere to the more literal rendering “the evil”. The reference, in my view, is primarily to the evil that dominates the current Age, the experience of which is to intensify as the end-time Judgment comes near. This idea of evil certainly includes the figure of the Satan/Devil/Belial, as the world-ruler who exercises dominion over the current wicked Age. This worldview, and its eschatological/Messianic dimension, is expressed in dozens of texts from Qumran (where the Prince/Spirit of Darkness is called “Belial”), and was more or less shared by Christians in the first century A.D. The prayer for protection/rescue from the power of evil in the world unquestionably means protection from the Evil One who is the effective world-ruler of the current Age of darkness. Much of this worldview, admittedly, is lost for Christians today; this does not change the fact that it governed much Jewish and early Christian thought at the time, and needs to be recognized in any serious study of the New Testament today. How it relates to current/modern views of eschatology is a separate issue, but one which also is vital as a point of discussion.

This study of the Lord’s Prayer will be concluded in the next daily note.

March 15: Matthew 6:13b

Matthew 6:13b

The final petition in the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer, while present in the majority of manuscripts of Luke, is absent a diverse range of witness, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 a*2 B L f1 700 pc vg, and segments of the Syriac and Coptic tradition). As with the other parts of the Prayer where a shorter Lukan version is attested, the longer form is almost certainly secondary, representing a scribal harmonization (to Matthew), of the sort we see frequently in the manuscript tradition. Here the text-critical axiom lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is preferable”) holds good. This (final) petition in Matthew (followed by the Didache) reads:

a)lla\ r(u=sai h(ma=$ a)po\ tou= ponhrou/
alla rhusai h¢mas apo tou pon¢rou
“but may you rescue us from the evil”

An Aramaic original, insofar as it valid to reconstruct, might be something like:

av*ya!B= /m! an`l=X#a^ <r^B=
b§ram °aƒƒéln¹° min b§°îš¹°
(cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901)

From the standpoint of the Matthean structure of the Prayer, it is better to consider this line as part of the previous petition (cf. the prior note). This is indicated by the contrastive/adversative particle a)lla/ (“but, rather”), establishing a contrast with the previous request, which had been negative (i.e., what God should not do); here is the corresponding positive request:

    • “May you not bring us into testing
      • but (rather) may you (instead) rescue us from the evil”

The main interpretive difficulty involves the precise meaning of the word ponhro/$ (“evil”). There are three question which must be addressed:

    1. Whether the article here is masculine or neuter
    2. The force of the definite article, and
    3. The nature of the “evil” referred to in the context of the Prayer

Each of these will be dealt with in turn. First, it is worth noting that the adjective ponhro/$ is much more frequent in Matthew than in the other Gospels. Mark has it (twice) in just one tradition (7:22-23), while it occurs just three times in John (3:19; 7:7; 17:5). It is a bit more common in Luke (12 times), with another 8 occurrences in Acts. By comparison it appears 25 times in Matthew, including 8 in the Sermon on the Mount; 5 of the 12 Lukan occurrences are in the parallel “Sermon on the Plain”. Overall, the adjective appears to be distinctive of the sayings of Jesus in the so-called “Q” material—sayings and traditions found in both Matthew and Luke, but not Mark.

1. The word with definite article is a substantive adjective (i.e. functioning as a noun), but the particular genitive form tou= ponhrou= is ambiguous in terms of gender: it can either be masculine or neuter. It is helpful to consider first the other 7 occurrences of the adjective in the Sermon on the Mount. It modifies masculine nouns in 5:45; 6:23; 7:11, 17-18—”man” (a&nqrwpo$ [implied]), “eye” (o)fqalmo/$), and “fruit” (karpo/$). In all these instances the adjective is used to describe the character of human beings, their attitude and actions. The same is probably the case in 5:39, where the substantive use (with the definite article) most likely refers to the person doing evil, rather than the evil itself. In 5:37 the substantive genitive tou= ponhrou= has the same ambiguity we see in here in the Prayer. The only certain occurrence of the neuter is in 5:11, where it refers to evil that is spoken against Jesus’ disciples. This neuter usage is similar to the plural substantive in Mark 7:23 (“these evil [thing]s”). Thus, it would appear that it is more common in the Sermon to use the adjective as characteristic of a person, rather than a reference to evil itself.

2. An interesting question is whether the definite article simply reflects a substantive use of the adjective (as a noun) generally, or whether it refers to evil in a specific sense. This will be discussed further under point #3 below. However, it is worth keeping in mind the parallel with the noun peirasmo/$ (“testing”); the rhythm and structure of the petition is aided by the inclusion of the definite article—peirasmo/$/o( ponhro/$—creating two nouns at the center of the contrast: “into testing” vs. “(away) from the evil”. But perhaps true definiteness is intended here as well, and meant to be emphasized, i.e. “the evil”. If so, then there are several possible meanings:

    • The evil which we experience or which comes upon us, specifically as sin, in the course of our life on earth
    • The (power of) evil which dominates the current Age, or, in an eschatological sense, is coming upon the world
    • The Evil One—the personification of evil, or the person most characterized by evil and responsible for it, i.e. the figure known as the Satan (/f*c*[h^]), dia/bolo$ (‘Devil’), or Belial (cf. 2 Cor 6:15 and the Qumran texts).

If we look at other occurrences in Matthew where the adjective is used with a definite article, we see that it is used two ways: (1) for specific person(s) who are evil, and (2) for the specific evil things a person says and does. There are actually two sections where these references occur: the teaching in 12:33-37 (cp. 7:15-20 and Mk 7:21-23), and the Kingdom parables in chapter 13. An examination of these is instructive.

  • Matt 12:35 presents a contrast between the person who is good and the one who is evil:
    “The good man casts out good (thing)s out of the good treasure (of his heart), and the evil man [o( ponhro/$ a&nqrwpo$] casts out evil (thing)s [ponhra/] out of the evil treasure [e)k tou= ponhrou= qhsaurou=] (of his heart).”
    This wording echoes that of 5:37 in the Sermon and may provide the context for the more ambiguous expression there:
    “And (so) your account must be “Yes, yes” (and) “no, no”, and the thing over (beyond) these (words) is [i.e. comes] out of the evil [e)k tou= ponhrou=].”
    It is often assumed that “the evil” that brings about the oath here is “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Devil; however, the parallel in 12:35 suggests that it may actually refer to the evil (treasure) that is in a person’s heart.
  • By contrast, twice in chapter 13, in Jesus’ explanation of both the parable of the Sower and of the Weeds (vv. 19, 38), the expression o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) almost certainly does refer to “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Satan. The evil human beings (“the evil [one]s”) who are separated from the good at the Last Judgment (v. 49) reflect the character of the Evil One himself, even as Jesus’ faithful disciples reflect the character of God Himself (cf. 5:48, etc).

3. Now let us consider further the use of o( ponhro/$ (or to\ ponhro/n) in the context of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount. As documented above, the adjective serves the dualistic contrast present in Jesus’ teaching—that is, as a way of characterizing persons who do not follow his teaching, and who act and think in a way that does not reflect God the Father in Heaven. This continues the dualism we noted in earlier parts of the Prayer, especially in the opening petitions which emphasize God the Father as the One in the heavens. Jesus’ true disciples are those who, by following his teaching and example, actually do the will of God here on earth, even as it is done in heaven. The opposite of God’s will on earth is the presence and manifestation of wickedness and evil, which characterizes much (if not the majority) of humankind (cf. 7:11). Most people act and think in an earthly manner, seeking after earthly (and not heavenly) things. This is a fundamental principle that runs through the Sermon and establishes the contrast for how Jesus disciples are supposed to conduct themselves in their daily life (on earth). At the same time, there is an eschatological dimension, to both the Sermon and the Prayer, which emphasizes the coming Judgment and also the suffering and persecution Jesus’ followers will face on earth from the wicked and the forces of evil.

With all of this in mind, it is time to set forth several lines of interpretation for the phrase a)po\ tou= ponhrou= (“from the evil”) in this petition of the Prayer; bear in mind that each interpretation must also take into account the parallel expression “into testing” (ei)$ peirasmo/n):

  1. The evil we experience, in terms of sin and the temptation to commit sin (understanding peirasmo/$ here as “temptation”).
  2. The evil we experience (from others), and to which we must respond and endure–understood generally as mistreatment and persecution; here the “testing” involves our response to such mistreatment, following Jesus’ own instruction in the Sermon.
  3. The “testing” is temptation (which God allows), and “the Evil One” (i.e. Satan/Devil/Belial) is the one who tempts us to follow the way of evil along with the rest of humankind.
  4. The “testing” is the suffering and distress which Jesus’ followers experience on earth, and the evil is that which dominates the current Age (under the control of the Evil One).
  5. A variation of (d) gives greater emphasis to the eschatological context of the Prayer—i.e. the suffering/distress which is coming upon the world, and especially upon Jesus’ followers in the form of persecution and the danger of being deceived, falling from faith, etc.

In the next note I will discuss these options further, along with what it means to be “rescued” by God from this evil.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 13: Matt 6:13a; Luke 11:4b

Matthew 6:13a; Luke 11:4b

In the final petition(s) of the Lord’s Prayer, the focus shifts from sin and evil at the social (and religious) level, to encompass a wider, cosmic dimension. The petition found in all three versions of the Prayer, and which occurs in the same Greek form in each, is:

kai\ mh\ ei)sene/gkh|$ h(ma=$ ei)$ peirasmo/n
kai m¢ eisenengk¢s h¢mas eis peirasmon
“and (we ask that) you should not bring us into testing”

A possible Aramaic version, as might have been spoken by Jesus, is (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901):

/oys=n]l= an`N^l!u@T^ la^w+
w§°al ta±¢linnán¹° l§nisyôn

The first thing to notice about the Greek text, is that the verb form as changed from a second person imperative to subjunctive: “you should/might…”. This is not as significant as it might seem, since an aorist subjunctive, especially when preceded by a negative particle (mh/) often has the force of an imperative (prohibition); and this is the only petition which makes a negative request of God (“may you not…”), indicating something we would ask God not to do. Still, it is possible that the subjunctive may be intended to soften the idea that we (human beings) are prohibiting God from doing something.

The verb used is ei)sfe/rw (or, more properly, –ene/gkw as an irregular verb form), meaning “carry into, bring into”. It is relatively rare in the New Testament (just 7 other occurrences), sometimes being used in the sense of bringing someone forcefully into a room, or into custody, etc (Lk 5:18-19; 12:11). The noun peirasmo/$, often translated “temptation”, properly means “test(ing)” (cf. the related verb peira/zw). The idea of believers being “tested” sometimes has the positive connotation of coming through the test as a proof of their character, their faith and trust, etc (James 1:12; 1 Pet 4:12-13; Rev 2:10); however, more commonly, the negative sense of temptation to sin and the danger of falling away from the faith is in view. Almost certainly, the latter aspect is intended primarily here in the Prayer. And, if the negative sense is intended, then it raises the problematic theological question of how (or why) God would bring someone into “temptation”. I have discussed the matter briefly in an earlier note on the Prayer, however, it is necessary here to go into the matter in more detail.

To begin with, we should keep in mind the conjunction kai/ which begins this petition, connecting it with the two prior. The Lukan sequence of three petitions (instead of the Matthean four) gives us a more concise set, which relate to different aspects of the life and existence of human beings (believers, in particular):

    • “may you give to us our bread…”
    • “may you release for us our sins…”
    • “may you not bring us into testing”

I would suggest that, in the Prayer itself, the word peirasmo/$ refers, not so much to temptation (to sin), as it does to suffering and distress. Consider the following thematic outline of the petitions in this regard:

    • Daily Life—Our daily needs for physical life and health, etc
    • Religion—Our moral and religious obligations, emphasizing the forgiveness of sin and guilt we hold before God
    • Suffering—The physical and spiritual distress we experience as disciples of Jesus (believers) in the world

This emphasis on peirasmo/$ as suffering and distress helps to explain, I think, the similarity between this petition in the Prayer, and the words of Jesus in the garden at the time of his Passion. Two traditions, in particular, should be noted:

  • First, the prayer Jesus makes to the Father:
    “Father…may you carry along [pare/negke] this drinking-cup from me…” (Mk 14:36 par, cf. verses 33-35 for an expression of his distress)
    The verb parafe/rw (“carry along”) has a similar sense as ei)sfe/rw (“carry/bring into”), expressing the same idea of suffering, from two perspectives: (i) a time of suffering coming to Jesus (or the disciple), and (ii) the disciple coming into a time of suffering; in both instances God is the one who brings this about. And, just as Jesus prays that this time of suffering might not come to him (however necessary it might be), so it is right and proper that his disciples (believers) follow his example and pray that they might not come into the time of suffering.
  • Second, the instruction Jesus gives to his disciples:
    “You must keep awake and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], (so) that you might not come into testing” (Mk 14:38 par, cf. verses 34, 37)
    The phrase “…might not come into testing” (mh\ e&lqete ei)$ peirasmo/n) is very close in form to that in the Prayer. The context suggests that peirasmo/$ here refers not to the temptation to sin per se, but, rather, that the disciples might find protection from the time of darkness and distress coming upon the world (v. 41; Lk 22:53). There is a strong eschatological aspect to this idea (cf. Mark 13:4-23 par) which is often lost for Christians reading the Gospels today. The (end-time) distress which is about to come upon Jesus’ followers includes the very real danger that people will be deceived and led astray, abandoning their faith as suffering and persecution intensifies (cp. Jesus’ prediction in Mk 14:27 par with 13:9-13, 22 par). Only the disciple who endures and remains true to the end will be saved (v. 13 par).

The line of interpretation given above more or less avoids the problematic notion, often discussed, that God might bring believers into temptation (i.e. to sin), quite contrary to other teaching we find in the New Testament (see the famous statement in James 1:13-14ff). However, if one decides that the petition does, in fact, refer to temptation (to sin) in the customary sense, it remains necessary to explain what this might mean in the context of the Prayer. Several possibilities may be adopted by commentators in approaching the issue:

    • God is ultimately responsible for all things, controlling all events which we experience; this is applied to temptation as well, even though He is not the one who (directly) tempts us. In other words, this petition simply asks that we be kept away from sin and temptation, but expresses it in a manner that emphasizes the will and power of God.
    • God may choose, by his sovereign will, to bring us into times of testing (including temptation to sin); even though these might be necessary (Jesus himself was tempted), it is natural that we would wish to avoid such moments. Far from being sinful, or cowardly, it is a sign of faithfulness to express our human fears and desires to God.
    • Temptation involves a legitimate testing by God of His people (for the Old Testament background of this, cf. Exod 16:4; 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16; 13:4; 33:8; Judg 2:22, etc; Fitzmyer, p. 906); as a result, some will fail and fall away, but the true disciples, the faithful remnant, will pass the test. This petition, like others in the Prayer, refers not so much to the temptation of the individual believer as it does to the Community as a whole. There is a natural wish that the Community not have to experience the reality of temptation and sin with the effects it has on the communal identity of Christians. In other words, even if an individual is not immediately affected, sin brings suffering and distress to the Community.

Other possible ways of addressing the question represent, to a large extent, variations on the three given above. I believe that first of these would best represent the ancient worldview and manner of thinking shared by Jews and early Christians at the time.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 12: Matt 6:12; Luke 11:4a, continued

Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4a (continued)

In the previous note, we discussed the petition in the Lord’s Prayer for the forgiveness (lit. release, sending away) of debto)fei/lhma, something which one owes and ought to pay back (vb. o)fei/lw). The Didache (8:2) version of the Prayer uses the singular, but Matthew’s version has the plural: “may you release for us our (deb)ts (that we) owe [o)feilh/mata]”. The corresponding Hebrew and Aramaic root would presumably be bwj, the noun boj referring to an obligation or debt. When used in a religious context, relating to sin, it would mean something like “guilt”. This religious usage is largely absent from the o)feil– word group in Greek, which may explain why the Lukan version of the Prayer reads “our sins [ta\$ a(marti/a$ h(mw=n]” instead of “our debts“.

Taking the Matthean version of this petition, on its own, the person to whom the debts are owed is not immediately clear. However, based the context in the Sermon on the Mount (especially vv. 14-15 which follow) it is apparent that these are things we owe to God, a point the Lukan version makes explicit by referring to sins. But what are these “debts” precisely?

In ancient Israel, sin was closely connected with the holiness expected of the people (Lev 19:2, etc), along with the various religious obligations which that entailed. These obligations are documented and described throughout the Old Testament Torah, the chief ones being related to the ritual purity required for contact with the sanctuary and sacred precincts of the Tabernacle/Temple. There were, of course, various sins and crimes (and other failings) which might be committed at the social level, but a carefully study of the Torah shows that even these are closely tied to the ritual holiness that defined the Israelite religious identity.

Jesus, following a line of teaching begun by the Prophets, turns this around—making the social-ethical aspect of religion take priority over the ritual dimenion. This is a thematic emphasis expressed, for example, throughout the Sermon on the Mount (see esp. the instruction in Matt 5:23-24), and it is certainly present here in this petition of the Prayer. Consider that Jesus might have said “may you release for us our debts we owe, even as we released the debts owed to us”; however, instead, the second half of the petition personalizes the matter, in terms of social relationships—not the debt owed (o)fei/lhma) but the person who owes the debt (o)feile/th$). The Lukan version makes the same point with a verbal participle: “…for (the one) owing [o)fei/lonti] to us”. Indeed, in Luke this is turned into a more inclusive, universal principle: “…for every [panti] (one) owing to us”.

As discussed in the prior note, a precise interpretation of this part of the Prayer depends on how one resolves the (text-)critical question, both in terms of the differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions, and the form of the verb a)fi/hmi (“send away, release”) in the second half of the petition. If the reading a)fh/kamen (“we [have] released”) is correct, then it implies that having our debts released by God requires that we (first) be willing to forgive the things owed to us by others. This condition is expressed a bit differently in the two versions:

    • Matt: “…even as [w($ kai\] we (also have) released our (deb)tors owing (to us)” — i.e., this is something we have done.
    • Luke: “…for we (our)selves also release every (one) owing to us” — i.e., this is something we regularly do (and are willing to do).

Clearly there is a principal of reciprocity involved, and it is conditional—only if we are willing to release (i.e. cancel) the things owed to us can we expect God to release the things we owe. Here, again, debt is understood, not in the sense of money or ordinary social obligations (though that can be involved), but in the ethical and moral sense. The “debts” owed to us (by other people) encompass any wrong or injustice toward us which might come about during the course of our life on earth, whether intentional or unintentional, in simple matters or major violations. We must be willing to “wipe away” and cancel the obligation such persons have to correct the wrong on our behalf. This also extends to any injustice or disruption which affects the relationship between two people. Jesus’ teaching in this regard is surprisingly practical, as we see in examples in the Sermon on the Mount such as 5:23-26. At the same time, the ethic required by Jesus of his followers cuts against the grain of the natural human desire for justice and retribution, especially in the command to love and pray for one’s enemies, refusing to strike back at one who mistreats us (5:38-47). Even if a person wrongs us many times, we must be willing to forgive (cf. below).

The conditional aspect of the petition—we are in a position to ask for forgiveness from God only when we forgive others—can make some Christians uncomfortable, as it suggests a requirement (something we must do) before we are forgiven by God. Yet, this is clearly a significant part of Jesus’ teaching; the saying which follows the Prayer in Matt 6:14-15 leaves no doubt of the condition required:

“For if you would release for (other) men their (moment)s of falling alongside, (so) also will your heavenly Father release (them) for you; but if you do not release (them) for (other) men, your heavenly Father will not release your (moment)s of falling alongside (either).”

The word para/ptwma, usually translated (somewhat inaccurately) as “trespass”, is here rendered more literally “(moment) of falling alongside”; in English idiom we might say “falling over the line”, i.e. any religious or moral failing, usually (but not always) unintentional. Mark 11:25 has a simpler saying which expresses much the same idea, and in language very much reminiscent of the traditions in the Sermon on the Mount:

“when you stand speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], you must release (it) [i.e. forgive] if you hold anything against anyone, (so) that also your Father the (One) in the heavens might release for you your (own moment)s of falling alongside”

Luke 6:37 has an even simpler and more concise saying (utilizing the verb a)polu/w):

“you must loose (others) from (their bond/debt), and you will be loosed from (yours)” [cp. Matt 7:1f].

This basic instruction occurs a number of times throughout the Gospel tradition, including several parables where Jesus employs the concrete metaphor of “debt” (using the verb o)fei/lw), as he does in the Lord’s Prayer:

1. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35). This parable is introduced by the saying of Jesus in v. 22 (preceded by a question by Peter, v. 21):

“Lord, how many (times) shall my brother sin unto [i.e. against] me and I (still) release [i.e. forgive] it for him? until seven (times)?”
Jesus’ answer:
“I do not say to you ‘until seven (times)’, but ‘until seventy (times) seven'” [compare Lk 17:3-4]

In the parable itself, the reciprocal (and conditional) principle in Matt 6:12, 14-15 is illustrated most vividly, in terms of the monetary debt owed by a person. The much larger amount owed by the unforgiving servant to his master, of course, represents the “debt” a person owes to God.

2. The Parable of the “Dishonest Manager” (Luke 16:1-9). This is another parable involving a servant who collects money that is owed—this time it is done on behalf of his master. An interpretation of this parable has proven difficult for commentators, but the thrust of the illustration appears to be that the manager of an estate, who is being relieved of his position, decides, in the course of his final duties, to help his own future interests by deducting a certain amount from the bill owed by the servants (tenant farmers) on the estate. Most likely, the amount he deducts represents his own commission (he is presumably not stealing from what is owed to his master), and, as a result, lessens the burden for the other servants. This is practical advice, similar to the example given in Matt 5:25-26, but it underlies a spiritual principle: one’s relationship with God is based on, and should be reflected by, our wise efforts to make things right with our fellow human beings, acting fairly and mercifully, etc. The reciprocity of Matt 6:12, 14-15 is expressed again in the sayings which follow the parable (vv. 10-12).

3. The Parable on Forgiveness, part of the anointing scene in Luke 7:36-50 (vv. 41-47). Here a different sort of reciprocal principle is expressed, one which is doubtless more familiar (and appealing) to Christians today: our religious (and ethical) behavior should reflect our gratitude to God for his forgiving us our debt (i.e. sins).

All three of these parables use the verb o)fei/lw to illustrate the idea of sin and injustice, etc, as “debt”, something we owe both to God and to others, and the requirement that we “send it way”, by forgiving it (for others) and making things right again. It is important to keep this concept in mind as we consider the Prayer within the context of Jesus’ wider teaching. In the next note, we will turn to the subsequent petition(s) to see how Jesus further instructs his followers to respond to sin and evil in the world.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 11: Matt 6:12; Luke 11:4a

Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4a

The next petition of the Lord’s Prayer, and the 2nd of the second part of the Prayer, has traditionally been translated in terms of forgiveness. While this is generally correct, it obscures the actual Greek vocabulary that is used. There are again certain differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions, but the basic form of the petition is the same; it begins as follows:

kai\ a&fe$ h(mi=n
“and may you release for us…”

The conjunctive particle (kai, “and”) indicates the close connection, in thought and form, with the previous petition, though this may not be immediately apparent to the average reader. This connective sequence for the petitions will be discussed as we proceed. The verb a)fi/hmi, usually translated “forgive” is more accurately rendered as “release”, though a more literal rendering would actually be “set/send (away) from”. In the New Testament, it is used regularly (along with the related noun a&fesi$) in connection with the sins of a person (or people), i.e. “releasing” sin, in the sense of sending it away. The ancient Day of Atonement ritual gives a concrete symbol for this in the “scapegoat” that is sent away into the wilderness carrying the sins of the people (Lev 16:20-22). Of the many New Testament examples where the verb and noun are used in this sense (for release of sins), cf. Mark 1:4; 2:9-10 par; 3:28-29 par; 11:25; Matt 18:35; 26:28; Luke 1:77; 7:47-48; 17:3-4; Acts 2:38; 5:31; Col 1:14; James 5:15; 1 John 1:9, etc. The opposite of releasing sin is to hold it, using a verb such as e&xw or krate/w, as in the famous formula in John 20:23 (cp. Matt 16:18):

“Anyone (for) whom you would release th(eir) sins, they have been released for them, and anyone (for) whom you would hold (them) firm, they have been held firm.”

Indeed, it is the release of sins that is expressed in the Lukan form of the petition: kai\ a&fe$ h(mi=n ta\$ a(marti/a$ h(mw=n, “and may you release for us our sins“. In Matthew’s version, however, the wording is different:

kai\ a&fe$ h(mi=n ta\ o)feilh/mata h(mw=n
“and may you release for us our (deb)ts (we) owe

The Didache (8:2) follows Matthew’s version, but uses the singular noun instead of the plural: “…our (deb)t (we) owe [th\n o)feilh/n h(mw=n]”. The difference here between Matthew and Luke is just part of the textual complication related to the form of this petition. First, we must note that Matthew is consistent in the wording used in both parts of the petition:

“and may you release [a&fe$] for us our (deb)ts (that we) owe [o)feilh/mata], even as we (have) released [a)fh/kamen] our (deb)tors (who) owe [o)feile/th$ pl] (to us)”

In Luke, however, the wording is different, resulting in a (partially) mixed metaphor:

“and may you release [a&fe$] for us our sins [a(marti/a$], for we (our)selves also release [a)fi/omen] every (one) owing [o)fei/lonti] (anything) to us”

How are we to account for these differences? Some commentators would chalk them up to different ways that the original (Aramaic) words of Jesus were rendered into Greek. This is certainly possible. In particular, it is likely that the Lukan form attempts to explain a (Semitic) concept of sin as (religious) debt which might have seemed strange to Greek hearers and readers. In this regard, Matthew’s version is almost certainly closer to the original, the Aramaic of which might have been something like (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901):

an`y+b^oj Hn`l^ qb%v=W
an`y+b^Y`j^l= an`q=b^v= yd]K=
ûš®buq lán¹h µôbayn¹°
k§dî š§báqn¹° l§µayy¹bayn¹°

Fitzmyer (p. 906) also cites an interesting example (in Aramaic) from the Qumran texts (4Q534, col. ii. 17) in which “sin” “debt” (i.e. guilt) are juxtaposed: “its sin and its debt” ([htb]wjw hafj).

In any case, the Lukan ‘modifications’ clarify the text in several important ways:

    • That the debts a person owes to God are to be understood in terms of sin, as opposed to money or other ‘ordinary’ debt.
    • Retaining the specific idea of debt in the second half of the petition implies that what a person must forgive for others includes things like ‘ordinary’ debt—i.e., wrongs and injustices brought about during the course of daily life and business.
    • The final pronoun makes clear that the wrongs to be forgiven are things done specifically to us (believers).
    • The use of the adjective pa=$ (“every [one]”) also gives to the petition a universal context and setting which otherwise has to be inferred in the Matthean version.

The meaning of this petition, both within the Prayer and the wider Gospel context, will be discussed in more detail in the next daily note. However, before continuing it is worth pointing out a couple of other textual variants which can affect how the passage is interpreted. In Matthew’s version, for the second occurrence of the verb a)fi/hmi

    • The majority of manuscripts have the present tense, a)fi/emen/a)fi/omen, “even as we release…”.
    • The aorist form (a)fh/kamen), adopted above, is read by a smaller (but diverse) range of witnesses: a* B Z 1 22 124mg 1365 1582 vulgatemss, and some Syriac and Coptic manuscripts (Metzger, p. 13).

These readings each give a slightly different nuance to the petition. The use of the present tense suggests that the disciples are to follow God’s example—as He has cancelled our debts, so we will forgive the debts of others. The aorist implies a different sort of reciprocal principle, such as Jesus emphasizes in vv. 14-15 (and elsewhere in his teaching): if we want God to forgive us, we must (first) forgive any wrongs others have done to us. Both external evidence, and the context of the Sermon on the Mount, argue in favor of the aorist form. The Didache has the present (a)fi/emen), which also appears in some manuscripts of Luke (instead of a)fi/omen).

References marked “Fitzmyer” above (and throughout this series) are to  the Commentary on Luke by Joseph A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible [AB] series, Vol. 28/A, 1985. References marked “Metzger” are to the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd edition).

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 10: Matt 6:11; Luke 11:3

Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3

The next petition (4th in Matthew, 3rd in Luke) of the Lord’s Prayer to be discussed is the request for “our daily bread”. This begins the second part of the Prayer, focusing specifically on the needs which Jesus’ disciples have, in common with other human beings. The Matthean and Lukan forms differ slightly, though the first phrase is identical in both:

to\n a&rton h(mw=n to\n e)piou/sion
ton arton h¢mœn ton epiousion
“our {…} bread”

The placeholder in braces represents the word e)piou/sio$, which remains difficult to interpret and translate precisely (see the discussion below). The second phrase differs between the two versions:

di/dou h(mi=n to\ kaq’ h(me/ran
didou h¢min to kath’ h¢meran
“may you give (it) to us according to (the) day [i.e. each day]” (Lk)

do\$ h(mi=n sh/meron
dos h¢min s¢meron
“may you give (it) to us t(o)day” (Matt)

Because of these differences, and the difficulties surrounding the word e)piou/sio$, it is harder to reconstruct a possible Aramaic original for this petition; Fitzmyer (p. 901) suggests: laµmán¹° dî mist§y¹° [or laµmán¹° dî limµar] hab lán¹h yôm¹° d§n¹h.

The first phrase of the petition is simple enough to understand, except for the meaning of the adjective that is used. “Bread” (a&rto$) serves as a concrete symbol for food and nourishment generally, as we see numerous times in Scripture.  The plural pronoun “our” (h(mw=n) indicates that it refers to the nourishment required by all human beings, Jesus’ disciples being no different in this regard. However, there is undoubtedly also a communal aspect involved—i.e. the community of Jesus’ disciples (believers); this is true of all the plural pronouns used in the prayer. Early Christians would increasingly have interpreted this petition in light of the “breaking of bread” in the Lord’s Supper (cf. Lk 24:35; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11, etc), though there is no indication that this was meant in the original prayer (cf. below).

As noted above, the main difficulty lies in the adjective e)piou/sio$ (epioúsios), which does not appear to have been in existence as a Greek word prior to its occurrence (only here) in the New Testament. Origen, one of the best informed of all early Christians in terms of the Greek literature and vocabulary of the period, was not aware of any contemporary extra-biblical usage (On Prayer §27), nor have any examples come to light since. Commentators have isolated several possible meanings and derivations:

    1. As a participle, from the verb e)pie/nai, in which case the phrase would mean “coming to be upon (us)”, or “…upon (the previous day)”, i.e. the coming day, the next day, tomorrow.
    2. As a present participle, based on the verb of being (ei)mi, ou@sa), either in the sense of “(com)ing to be upon (us)”, similar to #1; or, as a reference to the current day (“today”), perhaps corresponding to the expression e)pi\ th\n ou@san.
    3. As a compound noun, e)pi + ou)si/a, something which is “upon (our) being”, i.e. being necessary for (our) existence.

The majority of commentators would probably opt for the last of these as (still) the most plausible interpretation. The idea is that this “bread” represents what is needed to sustain life (existence) for human beings. The closest parallel, though with different wording, would seem to be in James 2:15-16, where we find the expressions “food upon the day [e)fh/mero$]” and “the (thing)s for the purpose/need [e)pith/deio$] of the body”. Even if this meaning is adopted, there are still several different ways to understand this petition:

    • As a general request for the food/nourishment (necessary to sustain life) each day
    • An expression of one’s reliance on God for sustenance each day
    • As a request only for what is needed (as food, etc) for each day

At the historical level of the Prayer, the first option is probably most appropriate. However, the Matthean context of the Sermon on the Mount suggests that the second or third (or both) interpretations are in mind, as they reflect themes and principles expressed by Jesus throughout the Sermon—see especially, 6:8, 25-33, 34, also 5:45; 7:11. The teaching in 6:34 seems most pertinent: “You must not be concerned into the (next) morning, for the (next) morning will be concerned for itself—sufficient for the day is its (own) trouble!” This emphasis on being concerned only for the day at hand, of taking each day as it comes, may explain the specific language used in the petition which apparently proved difficult to render into Greek, and thus the resultant differences between the versions in Matthew and Luke. The expression to\ kaq’ h(me/ran in Luke may be intended to clarify Jesus’ meaning—”give to us th(at which is necessary) according to (each) day“. The use of sh/meron (“th[is] day, today”) in Matthew is a bit more ambiguous, and could be read two ways: (a) give to us (only) what is needed today, or (b) give to us today what is needed (for tomorrow); presumably the former is intended.

This apparent emphasis on (ordinary) daily needs was re-interpreted by early Christians as a reference to “bread” in a spiritual sense, either sacramentally, in terms of the Eucharist, or as the word of God/Christ experienced by the believer as spiritual nourishment. The Johannine Bread of Life discourse (chap. 6) certainly would have influenced such a view among believers. The manna tradition (Exod 16:4ff) may underlie the petition in the Prayer as it does the Bread of Life Discourse; it began to be interpreted and applied in a symbolic sense long before the time of Jesus (cf. Psalm 78:23-25; Neh 9:20). Perhaps the earliest interpretation of the Prayer in this light is found in Origen, On Prayer [27.9]. While this is clearly a secondary interpretation or application of the text, it is worth noting again the Lukan context with its emphasis on the presence of the Holy Spirit as as the ultimate goal and purpose of prayer (11:18). This corresponds generally with the climax of the Johannine Discourse of Jesus, where the “bread” as Jesus’ own flesh (as the incarnate Word) is defined entirely in terms of the Spirit:

“the one eating my flesh…remains in me….(and) he will live through me. This is the bread coming down from heaven…the one eating this bread will live into the Age. … It is the Spirit th(at) makes (one) live, the flesh does not benefit anything—th(ese) words which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life” (Jn 6:56-57, 60, 63)

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 9: Luke 11:2 v.l.

Luke 11:2c (continued)

(This Monday Note on Prayer continues the current series of daily notes on the Lord’s Prayer.)

Today’s note on the Lord’s Prayer will examine the interesting variant reading for the petition at Luke 11:2c. Instead of the majority text, “May your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), a few witnesses read (with some variation):

e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ u(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$
“May your holy Spirit come [upon us] and cleanse us”

Two minuscule manuscripts (162, 700) have this version of the petition, but it is attested even earlier in the writings of Maximus Confessor (Commentary on the Our Father §4ff, c. 650? A.D.) and Gregory of Nyssa (Sermon 3 on the Lord’s Prayer [PG 44:1157C, 1160], c. 370? A.D.), upon whom Maximus may be relying. Thus it must have been present in some manuscripts as the Lukan reading by at least the middle of the 4th century. Even earlier, Tertullian may refer to such a reading when he briefly discusses the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer in his treatise Against Marcion (4:26). In between comments on the invocation to the Father and the request for the Kingdom to come, he speaks of an invocation for the coming of the Spirit, which could indicate that it took the place, not of the Kingdom-petition, but the sanctifying of the Father’s Name. However, in his earlier work On Prayer, commenting on the Lord’s Prayer, Tertullian makes no such reference to the Spirit.

The majority text of Luke 11:2 is secure, and there is little chance of this variant reading being original. It may be the result of a marginal note, or interpretive gloss, that somehow made its way into the text proper. Many commentators feel that it stems from early liturgical practice, associated with the Baptism ritual, and this would seem to be confirmed by Tertullian’s discussion in On Baptism (§8). But how did this invocation become specifically associated with the coming of the Kingdom? And why did it end up modifying the Lukan version of the Prayer but not the Matthean? It is worth devoting a little space here to address these questions, as it sheds some light on certain aspects of early Christian thought.

To begin with, once the eschatological orientation of the Prayer began to be lost for early Christians, it became necessary to interpret these petitions in the Prayer in a different way, applying them more directly to the life and experience of believers in the Community. What would be more natural than to associate the coming Kingdom of God with the divine Presence, manifest in the Spirit, which was envisioned as coming upon believers following Baptism and the laying on of hands, etc. Some manuscripts (e.g. Codex Bezae [D]) of Luke 11:2c have the longer reading “May your Kingdom come upon us [e)f’ h(ma=$]” which certainly could suggest the descent of the Spirit.

The Lukan context of the Prayer also has a much stronger association with the Spirit than does the Matthean. The Spirit (Pneu=ma) is not mentioned once in the Sermon on the Mount (though there may be a play on the meaning of pneu=ma in the first Beatitude [5:3]). By contrast, the climax of the section of Jesus’ teaching on Prayer in Lk 11:1-18 involves the Holy Spirit (v. 18). So, too, does the Lukan portrait of Jesus give greater attention to the Spirit, as we see especially at the beginning of his public ministry, following the Baptism (when the Spirit descends upon him, ‘anointing’ him)—3:22; 4:1ff, 14, 18ff. Prior to chapter 11, when Jesus himself prays to God the Father, he is said to be “in the holy Spirit” (10:21). If we consider 11:1-18 as a narrative unit, it is clear that the Lord’s Prayer, for the Gospel writer (trad. Luke), is connected with the idea of the Holy Spirit as the ultimate purpose and goal of the disciples’ prayer. If his followers are expected to ask God for the Spirit, it would be natural enough for early Christians to interpret the Prayer with that in mind. The Kingdom-petition is the best fit to represent a request for the Spirit.

When we turn to the author’s subsequent work on the early Apostolic period (i.e. the book of Acts), the role of the Spirit takes on even greater prominence. At the beginning of the narrative, in a key passage, the disciples ask Jesus if now, as the Messiah, and following his resurrection, he is about to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (1:6). This reflects the tradition eschatological and Messianic expectation of many Israelites and Jews of the period—that the kingdom of God would be manifest, in earthly form, along the lines of the earlier empire of David and Solomon. The actual verb used by the disciples is a)pokaqi/sthmi, literally “set (something) down from (where it was before)”, i.e. restore, re-establish. It would be easy enough to envision this in terms of God setting back down (from heaven) the Kingdom, now under the rule of his Anointed representative (the Messiah, Jesus). Jesus himself never answers the disciples’ question directly. However, without explicitly denying the validity of it, he clearly points them in a different direction for understanding the nature and character of the Kingdom—in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel and the presence and power of the Spirit among believers (v. 8). And, indeed, this is the only idea (and manifestation) of the Kingdom which the author presents in the book of Acts (on the identification of the Kingdom with the proclamation of the Gospel, see esp. the closing words of 28:31). Thus the identification, or association, of the Kingdom with the Spirit is, I would say, a thoroughly Lukan theme.

Paul, in his letters, makes this identification at several points as well. For example, in Galatians 5:21-22, the traditional motif of inheriting the Kingdom of God is connected with the fruit of the Spirit in believers. Similarly, the statement that “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50) implies that it is only through the Spirit (of God and Christ) that this occurs. In Rom 14:17, Paul states bluntly that “the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but justice/righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit” (cf. also 1 Cor 4:20, where “power” can be understood in terms of the Spirit). In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses another traditional motif (“entering the Kingdom”) and, like Paul, defines it in terms of the Spirit (3:5).

It would seem that originally, in the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus, there was, in fact, a general connection between the coming of God’s Kingdom and the work of the Spirit, and that it was understood primarily in an eschatological sense. This is reflected at several points in the Gospel tradition, notably the saying(s) of the Baptist in Mark 1:8; Lk 3:16-17 par, which Luke carries over into the narrative of Acts. In the opening section, a central reference to the Kingdom of God (1:3) is surrounded by two references to the presence and work of the Spirit (vv. 2, 5). Another interesting tradition is the (“Q”) saying in Luke 11:20 (following the section on prayer, 11:1-18):

“if I cast out daimons in [i.e. with] the finger of God, then (truly) the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you”

The Matthean version of this saying (12:28), however, reads:

“if I cast out the daimons in the Spirit of God, then (truly) the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you”

The parallelism between Spirit and Kingdom (in the Matthean version) is especially clear when we look at the syntax of the saying:

    • in the Spirit of God
      • I cast out daimons [i.e. the work of Jesus]
      • it has come/arrived upon you
    • the Kingdom of God

The connecting point between Spirit and Kingdom is the person of Jesus, a fact central to the Sermon on the Mount, as well as the entire witness of the New Testament and the Christian faith.

Finally, perhaps the closest parallel to the Lukan version of the Prayer (with the variant reading on the Spirit) comes from Paul’s letters. Twice (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), he refers to believers praying to the Father, using the Aramaic aB*a^ (a)bba=), just as it presumably would have been spoken by Jesus in the Prayer. In both instances, the presence and work of the Spirit in believers is central; the wording in Gal 4:6, in particular, is significant:

“and, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God se(n)t out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying ‘Abba, Father'”

Conceptually, this is quite close to the Lukan context of the Prayer, which culminates in the promise that God will give the Spirit to Jesus’ disciples when they ask him (11:18).

March 8: Matthew 6:10b

Matthew 6:10b

In the previous notes, we examined the first two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, which are the same in both Luke and Matthew. In the Lukan version, these two petitions form a clear and definite pair—syntactically, thematically, and conceptually. In Matthew’s version of the Prayer, however, there is a third petition not found in (what must be regarded as) the original text of Luke:

genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou
w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$
gen¢th¢tœ to thel¢ma sou
hœs en ouranœ kai epi g¢s
“May your will come to be—
as in heaven (so) also upon (the) earth”

NOTE: The majority of witness here in Luke include this petition, including important uncials such as A C D W D Q. However, it is missing from a diverse range of witnesses, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 B L f1 1342 etc), a fact that is nearly impossible to explain if the longer text in Luke were original. Almost certainly the longer text is secondary, representing the kind of harmonization between Gospels that we find frequently in the manuscript tradition.

The inclusion/addition of this line gives a different structure and rhythm to the Prayer. Some commentators who regard the shorter Lukan version as representing the (original) historical tradition (or, at least closer to it) consider the line to be an addition by the Gospel writer, perhaps drawn from early liturgical tradition. However one judges its status at the historical level, the petition in Matt 6:10b is vital to the Prayer as it appears in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. This point must be discussed.

In an earlier note, I mentioned how the expression “(our) Father the (One) in the heavens” in the Matthean invocation is distinctive of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a dualistic contrast that runs through the Sermon—between (a) the religious behavior of the majority of people on earth, and (b) the behavior of Jesus’ followers which should reflect the character of God the Father in heaven. It is just this contrast which underlies the expression in verse 10b.

As in the first petition, we have here a 3rd person (aorist) passive imperative (“it must [be]…”) rendered as an exhortative request (“may/let it [be]…”). The Greek verb used is gi/nomai (“come to be, become”)—”May it come to be…”. Five of the seven occurrences of this imperative are in the Gospel of Matthew (also 8:13; 9:29; 15:28; 26:42), the other two are in citations from Scripture (LXX); thus, it reflects a distinctive Matthean vocabulary.

The traditional rendering “may your will be done” is somewhat misleading, since there is no actual mention of doing God’s will; rather, the request is that God would see to it that His will comes to pass on earth. This touches upon the complex philosophical/theological question of the will of God. If God is sovereign and all-powerful, then by its very nature His will always comes to pass in all things. At the same time, there is clear and abundant evidence that all things on earth do not always (or often) conform to the declared will (or wish) of God; in particular, human beings typically do not act according to His will. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not address this philosophical dimension directly, but the very point of his teaching throughout is centered on the idea that human beings must (choose to) live and act in a way that conforms with God’s own nature and character (including His will). Thus, there is implicit in this request the concept of doing (or fulfilling) the will of God the Father.

As mentioned above, this continues the contrast of heaven and earth which runs through the Sermon (cf. the previous notes). God’s will is done in heaven, but it is often not done by people on earth. Again, the will (qe/lhma) here refers to something which God has declared for people—i.e., his word or instruction (Torah) which reveals his intention for humankind, to act and think in a way that corresponds with his own character and example. This is unquestionably how qe/lhma is used in most of the occurrences in the Gospel, in the sayings/teachings of Jesus. Most notable in this regard is the Synoptic saying in Mark 3:35 (par Matt 12:50, the Lukan form is rather different):

“Whoever would do the will of God, this (one) is my brother and sister and mother.”
i.e. Jesus’ true family consists of his followers who do the will of God; Matt 12:50 reflects the distinctive Matthean wording:
“For whoever would do the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Three other occurrences of qe/lhma in Matthew express the same basic idea (7:21; 18:14; 21:31); the first of these is also from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone saying to me ‘Lord, Lord…’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens.” (Matt 7:21)

Also noteworthy is the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32 par), which draws upon a similar dualistic contrast: those who do the will of God the Father (i.e. followers of Jesus) and those who do not (i.e. conventional/false religious behavior). In many ways, the closest parallel to the petition in Matt 6:10b is found in Jesus’ prayer in the garden at the beginning of his Passion. In Mark, this (Synoptic) saying reads:

“Abba, Father, all (thing)s are possible for you: (please) carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! But (yet), not what I wish [qe/lw], but what you (wish).” (Mk 14:36)

In Matthew’s version of this scene, this saying is preserved, generally following the Markan phrasing (Matt 26:39); however, words from the second session of prayer are also included which match more closely the petition in the Lord’s Prayer (the words in italics are identical):

“My Father, if it is not possible (for) this (cup) to go along (from me) if I do not drink (it), may your will come to be [genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou] .” (v. 42)

It would appear that the Gospel writer, noting the similarity to the petition in 6:10b, shaped this particular tradition to match it. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Luke records essentially the same saying by Jesus, but with different wording:

“Father, if you wish, carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! (But all the) more—may not my will, but yours, come to be.” (Lk 22:42)

The best explanation for this apparent blending of details is that Matt 26:42 represents a “Q” tradition which Matthew and Luke have each combined with the Synoptic saying (Mk 14:36) in different ways. The Gospel of John, though drawing upon an entirely separate line of tradition, also records numerous statements by Jesus describing how he, as Son, does the will (qe/lhma) of the Father—Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40. The one who follows Jesus likewise does the Father’s will even as he himself does (Jn 7:17; 9:31).

Thus there is a well-established basis in the Gospel tradition, and particularly in Matthew, for the idea that Jesus’ disciples (believers) are to obey the will of God the Father, as expressed especially in the teaching and example of Jesus (the Son). This is the central principle in the Sermon on the Mount. By this faithful obedience of the disciple, God’s will is done on earth, even as it is done in heaven—i.e reflecting the nature and character of the Father who is in the heavens. Somewhat surprisingly, the petition in 6:10b uses the singular (ou)rano/$) instead of the plural (ou)ranoi/). Most likely, this simply reflects the fact there is little difference in meaning between singular and plural forms of this noun in Greek. The singular in 6:26 refers to the (physical) skies, as probably also in 5:18, while v. 34 may have the primitive (cosmological) meaning of the vault of heaven; however, in 6:20 it refers to the realm or domain of God, much as the use of the plural does elsewhere in the Sermon. The traditional pairing of heaven and earth may explain the specific use of the singular here (cf. in 5:18, etc).

As noted above, the third petition contains and envelops the first two. As the disciples of Jesus follow him faithfully, the will of God is fulfilled on earth—a foreshadowing or beginning of the eschatological moment when the declared will of God comes to pass and is realized for all on earth, when his Kingdom is established truly over all humankind, and people everywhere treat Him with sanctity and honor.

For parallels to Matt 6:10b in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, cf. Psalm 103:21; 135:6, and especially 1 Macc 3:60 (“as the will might be in heaven, so shall it be done”). In Rabbinic literature, note b. Ber. 17a, 29b; t. Ber. 3.7; Pirke Abot 2.4; Abot R. Nathan (B) 32. For these and other references, cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 392-6.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.