Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Changing The Lord's Prayer?

Dear Friends,

Pope Frances shocked the Catholic world and angered conservative Catholic theologians by changing the words of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Prayer. Even the Protestant world was dismayed. The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said, “This is the Lord’s Prayer. It is not and never has been the Pope’s prayer and we have the very words of Jesus in the New Testament. It is those very words that are being changed and this is deeply problematic.” Catholics call it the “Our Father” and Protestants call it the “Lord’s Prayer” and it is the most memorized and most often recited prayer in the Bible. This prayer Matthew 6:9-13 is in the Sermon on the Mount which was spoken by Jesus in Aramaic and recorded by Matthew in Greek. But the Pope determined that in the Lord’s Prayer, the words, “lead us not into temptation” were a bad translation of the Greek and a more proper translation was, “do not let us fall into temptation.” His argument was that God does not lead us into temptation and he said, “a father does not do that.” Let’s see what the Bible says...

First, this is really a “bad” translation? Matthew’s Greek is “kai me eisphero hemeis eis peirasmos” and the literal word-for-word translation into English is “And do not bring us into temptation.” For over 2,000 years, all Christians have been praying an accurate and literal translation of Jesus’ words but the Vatican recently concluded, “From a theological, pastoral and stylistic viewpoint this wording is incorrect.” Can Jesus really be “theologically incorrect”? Of course not. If His words are unclear or confusing to our 21st Century ears, than we need to use good biblical exegesis to interpret and explain this petition and not change the meaning of His words in order to “correct” the Son of God.

The Greek “peirasmos” (underlined above) refers to trials, testing and temptation.  When it is the devil who brings the peirasmos, it is for the purpose of causing one to fall. When God brings about the peirasmos, it is for the purpose of proving someone and teaching someone about themselves and their relationship with Him, but God never causes us to fall or fail. 

I was only about seven or eight but it was one of those major life events that I still remember clearly. I was a tall, skinny, clumsy kid standing on the sidewalk in front of our house with my father. I fearfully watched as my dad used a wrench to loosen the bolts so that he could remove the training wheels from my bicycle. I was scared. It was a test of my ability to ride on just the two wheels and I had no confidence in myself. I knew that I was going to crash and burn, but my dad had been watching me ride and he knew I could do it. He was an athletic young man and he told me that he would run alongside me when I started to peddle and he would catch me if I fell. I shoved off and started to peddle for dear life. As I increased my speed, I was soon going faster than my dad could run and I was now flying down the sidewalk and feeling overwhelming joy that I could now ride my bike on just two wheels! Of course this was no surprise to my father who knew what I was capable of doing better than I did. But this was more than just riding a bike. 

Through this test, my Christian dad was teaching me the biblical value of “fortitude” – having courage and an inner-strength to push through my self-doubts and accomplish what it is that my lack of confidence tells me that I cannot do. Since then, I’ve been tested and taught in the same way by my Heavenly Father too many times to count and if not for God’s peirasmos I would not be a pastor today. And yes, going through times of testing can be discomforting and even a little scary but God will also be running right alongside you and ready to catch you if you start to fall! “No testing (Gk: peirasmos) has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested/tempted beyond your strength, but with the testing/temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 

The Pope said that God does not lead us into times of temptation, but the thread that runs throughout the entire Old Testament, is God bringing (leading) His people to and through temptations, trials, tribulation, adversity and affliction in order to strengthen their faith and trust in Him. See Gen 22:1-2; Deut 8:2 God lifts His hand and Job enters into a time of tempting and testing where the devil was allowed to tempt Job into rejecting God. In the New Testament, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1 God never tempts us to do wrong James 1:13 but He does lead us into, or allow us to enter into, those times where we experience temptations/testing and where the ever-present opportunities to sin await us. 

Jesus told us to pray: lead us not into “peirasmos” and deliver us from evil. When we think of peirasmos in positive terms of what a loving Father does for His children, we then see that the point of this petition is not that testing in and of itself is bad but that we, being well aware of our own weakness and propensity to yield to the devil’s tempting sins, would prefer to not have to face the temptations at all.

My personal objection to the Pope changing this wording is that whether it’s called the “Our Father” or the “Lord’s Prayer,” it is the only prayer that is prayed by all Christian believers. It is our one true ecumenical prayer of the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant church. We have used different words (sins, debts, trespasses) but the meaning of each verse is the same and this prayer joins God’s churches together and unites us every Sunday morning. By the Catholic church changing not just the words but the actual meaning of what Jesus said, we are no longer all praying together in one accord. It's a step away, albeit a small step, but it's a step in the wrong direction for the church to take.

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