March 3: Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2

Matthew 6:9b; Luke 11:2b

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew and Luke is introduced in a similar way, even though the overall context and setting may be different (on this, see the introductory discussion). Consider both the similarities and differences:

“(So) then you must speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] this (way)…” (6:9a)
ou%tw$ ou@n proseu/xesqe u(mei=$
—An emphatic contrast with conventional religious behavior (vv. 1-8)

“When(ever) you would speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] you must say/speak (this way)…” (11:2a)
o%tan proseu/xhsqe le/gete
—Disciples instructed to follow Jesus’ own example and pattern (v. 1)

The opening word(s) of the Prayer are an invocation to God, as is common in most forms of prayer. As indicated in the translation above, the Greek verb proseu/xomai literally means “speak out (aloud) [eu&xomai] toward [pro$] (someone)”, often in the sense of making a (forceful) request. It was used frequently in a religious sense, i.e. speaking toward God, sometimes referring to a religious vow, but more generally as a petition or wish. The imperative (“you must…”) form of the verb used by Jesus indicates that he is giving authoritative instruction to his followers.

Pa/ter (“[O] Father”) [Lk]
Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$
(“Our Father, the [One who is] in the heavens”) [Matt]
Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n tw=| ou)ranw=|
(“Our Father, the [One who is] in heaven”) [Didache]

All three versions of the Prayer begin the same way, with the vocative Pa/ter, “(O,) Father”. The Lukan invocation contains just this single word, while Matthew’s version (followed by the Didache) has a more expansive expression. Most critical scholars believe that Luke preserves the original form of the invocation, as it would have been spoken by Jesus at the historical level (on this, cf. the discussion in the next daily note). Almost certainly, the vocative Pa/ter in Greek is a translation of the Aramaic aB*a^ (°abb¹°) a definite/emphatic form of the noun ba^ (°a», “father”)—literally “the father”, but regularly used in place of the noun with pronominal suffix (yb!a&, Dan 5:13) as “my father”. That Jesus used this Aramaic word when addressing God in prayer is confirmed by the preservation of aB*a^ in Greek transliteration (a)bba=) once in the Gospel tradition (Mk 14:36), where it is translated strictly as “the father” (o( path/r). Paul also uses the transliterated Aramaic in a similar way twice in his letters (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), both times in the context of prayer (involving the Holy Spirit, cf. the next note for more detail).

Jesus addresses God, or otherwise refers to him, as “Father” numerous times in both the Synoptic and Johannine Gospels, though not as often as one might expect in the core Synoptic tradition—just 4 times in Mark (8:38; 11:25; 13:32; 14:36). It is more common in Matthew and Luke (including the “Q” material), being especially frequent in Matthew (41 times, including 17 in the Sermon on the Mount). In terms of the Lukan version of the Prayer, the occurrences in chapters 10-11 are most important:

    • Twice in Jesus’ own prayer (10:21)
    • Three times in the saying which follows, dealing with the relationship between Father (God) and Son (Jesus) (10:22)
    • Once in the teaching in 11:11-13 (“Q” material, cp. Matt 7:9-11)—comparison between earthly fathers and God as heavenly Father. Cf. also twice in 12:30-32 (cp. Matt 6:32-33)

Thus, in his instruction to his disciples, Jesus teaches them to follow his own example in addressing God as “my Father”. The idea of God as Father to humankind is, of course, a widespread religious idea, and well-attested in both the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world. Of the many passages in the Old Testament, I would note: Deut 1:31; 32:6; Psalm 89:26; 103:13; Prov 3:12; Isa 63:16; 64:8; Mal 2:10. Israel as God’s chosen people was referred to as His children (or, collectively, His “son”), as was the (Davidic) King—Exod 4:22-23; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1; 2 Sam 7:14; Psalm 89:27ff, etc. God is addressed specifically as “our Father” in Isa 63:16; 64:8 (cf. also 1 Chron 29:10; Tobit 13:4; Sirach 51:10). Other examples in the New Testament are found in the openings of Paul’s letters (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3-4; Phil 1:2, etc). The Aramaic for “our Father” (Gk vocative Pa/ter h(mw=n) would be an`Wba& (°A_»ûn¹°). Jewish prayer tradition, both Hebrew and Aramaic, would often address God this way as “our Father”—for some early examples, cf. the Eighteen Benedictions (5th and 6th petitions); a prayer for rain attributed to R. Akiba (b. Taan. 25b, “Our Father and our King…”); the instruction to children in the Targum Yerus. II on Exod 15:2 (to confess of God, “He is our Father”), etc.

The full expression “Our Father the (One) in the Heavens” (Matt/Didache) will be discussed in the next note.

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

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