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.

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