March 6: Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2 (continued)

Matthew 6:9c; Luke 11:2c

Having discussed the invocation of the Lord’s Prayer in prior notes, we now turn to the first petition, which has the same Greek form in all three versions (Luke, Matthew, Didache):

a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
hagiasth¢tœ to onoma sou
“May your Name be treated (as) holy”

An Aramaic version, such as might have been spoken by Jesus, would be: Em*v= vD^q^t=y], yitqaddaš š§ma½ (Fitzmyer, p. 901). The traditional English translation, by way of the KJV/AV, is “Hallowed be Thy Name”, which, though elegant as a literal rendering, is now quite archaic sounding, even within a formal prayer. We must look more closely at the meaning of verb a(gia/zw (hagiázœ), related to the adjective a%gio$ (hágios), which is more or less accurately translated in English as “holy”. The old Greek noun ago$ (ágos/hágos) relates fundamentally to something which produces, or is a reason for, (religious) awe. The verb a(gia/zw can mean “be holy”, “treat/regard (something) as holy”, or, in the causative sense, “make (something) to be(come) holy”. It is used almost entirely in a religious (and ritual) context, and is typically translated as “sanctify”.

The verb occurs frequently in the Septuagint (LXX), especially in the ritual instruction within the Pentateuch (Torah). It also occurs 28 times in the New Testament, where it tends to be used in a more figurative, spiritualized sense, though certain ritual aspects remain (connected with Baptism, proper conduct of believers, etc). The (passive) imperative form, used in the Prayer, is rather more unusual, occurring elsewhere only in Rev 22:11: “the (one who is) holy [a%gio$] must still be regarded as holy [a(giasqh/tw]”. A literal rendering of the petition in the Prayer would similarly be:

“Your name must be regarded as holy!”

which, in the context of a prayer to God requires a slightly nuanced rendering:

“May/let your name be regarded as holy!”

There is some question about the force of the aorist passive here. It could indicate: (1) the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum) where God is the implied actor, or (2) what is sometimes called the “aorist of prayer”, in which human worshipers are the acting subjects (cf. Betz, p. 389). Given that the Prayer is addressed to God, the former seems more likely; at the same time, it is clear that the ones who are to treat/regard God’s name as holy are human beings. We might paraphrase and expound the petition as follows:

“(Father,) bring it about that people (everywhere) come to treat your name with the honor due to it”

In Greek, the verb doca/zw is similar in (religious) meaning to a(gia/zw—to regard something as holy (a%gio$) means that one treat it with the honor and esteem (do/ca) that is due to it. In Hebrew, this “honor” is expressed by the root dbK (vb k¹»a¼, noun k¹»ô¼), fundamentally referring to something (or someone) having weight (i.e. value, strength, worth, etc). The root in Hebrew/Aramaic indicating “holiness” is vdq (adj q¹¼ôš, noun qœ¼eš, vb q¹¼aš). Jesus utters a petition to God, similar to that in the Lord’s Prayer, in John 12:28, but using the verb doca/zw instead of a(gia/zw:

“Father, (may you) make your name (to be) honored/esteemed [do/cason]!”

When it comes to the specific idea of holiness, there are two aspects which should be delineated: (1) purity, and (2) setting something apart for special (religious) use. The Greek a%gio– word group emphasizes the former, while Hebrew/Aramaic vdq (qdš) the latter. Moreover, a fundamental religious principle is that: what we treat as holy in terms of religious behavior ultimately is an expression of how we view the nature and character of God. For Israel as the chosen people of God (YHWH), this is defined by the formula in Leviticus 19:2:

“You shall be holy, for I, YHWH your God, am Holy”

Jesus effectively restates this for his followers in the Sermon on the Mount—if they follow his teaching, then:

“…you shall be complete, as your Father the (One) in the heavens is complete” (Matt 5:48)

Thus, true religion requires that people act and think in a way that honors God and reflects his own Person and Character, including all the things he has done on behalf of humankind and his people (as Creator, Life-giver, Savior/Protector, Judge, etc). According to the ancient religious mind-set, shared by Jews and Christians in the first century A.D., the “name” of God represented the Person and Nature of God manifest to human beings on earth. For more on this concept of names and naming, cf. the Christmas season series “And you shall call His Name…” The “name” of God the Father is more than simply the name expressed by the tetragrammaton (hwhy, YHWH, Yahweh)—it reflects the very Person of God Himself as he relates to his People. And, it is God’s “name” that is to be honored and treated as holy by his People—cf. Exod 20:7, etc. By the time of the Prophets, the emphasis had shifted away from ritual honoring of God’s name toward honoring it in terms of one’s overall behavior and conduct (see esp. Isa 29:23). Jesus, in his teaching (as in the Sermon on the Mount), moves even further in this direction, and this is certainly intended in the Lord’s Prayer. But why/how is it that we pray to God for this, when it is our (i.e. human beings’) responsibility to treat His Name as holy? The key to this lies in the eschatological orientation of the Prayer, which will be discussed in the next daily note.

For examples in Jewish tradition of invocations or petitions similar to those in the (Matthean) Lord’s Prayer, I point out several here:

    • “…their Father in heaven, the Holy One” (Mekilta on Exod 20:25; Fitzmyer, p. 900)
    • “Thou art holy and Thy name is holy, and the holy ones praise Thee every day. Selah. Blessed be Thou, O Lord, the holy God.” (Shemoneh Esreh [3rd benediction])
    • “Let his great name be magnified and hallowed in the world which he has created according to his will” (The Qaddiš [Kaddish] prayer; Betz, p. 390)

References marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer’s Commentary on Luke in the Anchor Bible [AB] series (Vol. 28, 28A [1985]).
References marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount, Hermeneia (Fortress Press: 1995).

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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