We have been studying prayer as a church and the course we are doing together is based on what is commonly known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. Although this is the name we use for the prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4, it is not a particularly accurate title for it. The prayer did indeed come from the Lord Jesus but He himself would have never needed to pray the line: ‘And forgive us our sins…‘! A better name for it might be ‘The Disciples Prayer’ – the one that Jesus taught his followers to pray.

You may be aware that in June of this year Pope Francis, the current head of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, approved a change to the traditional wording of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. I thought it would be interesting to look into why he did this and whether we think it was a valid thing for him to do.

Just one phrase in the prayer was altered and so far, only in the way it is translated into Italian in the ‘Messale Romano’, the liturgical book that is used to guide the mass in the Roman Catholic Church. I assume that updates to the liturgy in other languages may well follow.

The phrase in question is the one that is traditionally translated: ‘And lead us not into temptation,…’

The Pope proposes instead that we should read it like this: ‘And do not let us fall into temptation;…’

As it happens, the prayer course that we are following doesn’t seem to address this particular phrase but the Pope reportedly gave two main reasons for making the above ‘improvement’.

One was that it more closely matches the wording of this phrase in the Aramaic versions of the New Testament manuscripts, as opposed to the Greek ones. This is too complex an issue to go into here and there is nothing conclusive. However, since Jesus probably spoke Aramaic this is worth considering for parts of the New Testament that were almost certainly passed on by oral tradition like The Lord’s Prayer.

I want to look more closely at the other reason that apparently led the Pope to make this change. This is the rationale for considering it that he reportedly gave to interviewers on Italian TV in 2017:

“I am the one who falls; it’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen,”…“A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation. That’s his department.”

On the face of it this argument seems reasonable – after all, the Bible does say in James 1:13:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;’ – NIV

But if we examine this verse more closely, it says that God will not tempt us Himself, it does not promise that He will never lead us to a place where we might experience temptation. More significantly, the Bible tells that God the Holy Spirit did precisely this in Matthew 4:1:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.’ – NIV

We need to be aware that the Greek word used here for ‘temptation’ (peirasmos) also has the meaning of ‘testing’ or ‘trial’. We all know that God certainly does allow or lead us into times of trial or testing but He also promises us in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

‘No temptation {or testing} has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted {or tested} beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted {or tested}, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’– NIV

So – do we believe that the Pope’s change to the prayer is legitimate? I will leave you to ponder on that yourselves!

If you are interested, do feel free to ask me my opinion on the matter. You could also read John Piper’s thought provoking article on this topic: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/reading-the-bible-upside-down