Every Sunday in our church we recite the Lord’s Prayer using words which no one in the church speaks or writes except during that prayer:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
I often wish we would use contemporary and widely known words and syntax for the prayer. For a number of months I’ve thought I would like to try to render the prayer in contemporary English. I hope that my version might be close enough to how you speak and write English, so that the prayer might be meaningful to you, as well. The recent blog posts on the Lord’s Prayer were serendipitous (not a very widely known contemporary word!). I have finished my assigned work for this week, so I have some time to pray with you on this blog.
Once when Jesus was speaking to his followers, he gave them this prayer that they could use as an example of a good way to pray:
Our heavenly father (1),
help us honor you (2).
Come be our king, (3)
so that everyone will do what you want here on earth
will obey you
you are obeyed they do in heaven.
Provide for us the food we need today. (4)
Please forgive what we have done wrong (5)
as we have forgiven those who have wronged us.
Help us not give in when we are tempted. (6)
and even protect us from the Evil One who tempts us.
You can do it (7) because you are the king, (8, 9)
and you are always powerful
totally amazing awesome. (10)
Well, I don’t expect any churches to adopt my suggestions as a substitute for the version of the Lord’s Prayer they currently pray. But I do think there is value in our trying to re-express words and syntax which are outdated. Of course, some of you may feel that there is nothing outdated at all about the version of the prayer used in our church. We can agree to disagree on that. In any case, I hope that you and I can pray in even more meaningful ways. We need it. Our families need it. Our countries need it. It pleases God.
(1) This construction is more natural to me than “Our father in heaven” which means the same thing.
(2) This clause does not focus on God’s name, as it seems in many translations. Rather, the original reference to God’s name is a synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole. Honoring someone’s name was an important and common Semitic expression for honoring that person who had that name. The English language not use this synecdoche, so it is misleading, a form of inaccuracy, to include “name” in this clause, unless we include enough other information so that it is clear that name refers to all of the person. But that extra information would be so weighty here that it would throw off the focus. I admit to feeling conflicted on this clause because of the strong church tradition of retaining literal “name” in the prayer. So I’m open to other ideas on this part of my translation, as well as all the other parts. Using “help” instead of “may” is my tilt toward what feels like greater naturalness in English. I would not normally say “May you be honored” or “May we honor you.” I think that this clause is really part of the requests of the prayer. A wish (English “may”) is a kind of mitigated request.
(3) The request for God’s kingdom to come is actually a request for God to be our king. I’m retaining the word “king” to try to maintain the Lord’s Prayer within the context of a kingly reign which was a wellknown concept in Bible times. I considered using the word “boss” or some other word more widely known to those of us who do not live under a monarch, but I think that these better known words might not really capture as many of the semantic components as does the word “king.”
(4) “Bread” was considered a main food staple in Bible times. The original word is another example of synecdoche where bread represents the entire meal. If we retain the word “bread”, the request is more narrowly focused than was the original text, and our prayer would, therefore, not be as accurate as it should be for good quality translation.
I don’t know which is more natural, “provide for us” or “give us”. I more commonly use the word “give” but I’m not sure it is quite adequate in the concept of asking God to take care of our nutritional needs.
(5) or, “Please forgive our sins”. Matthew uses a word which could literally be translated as “debts” but can refer to sins, and I believe does, when Jesus taught his followers to pray. I suspect that many people today who say the words “debts” and “debtors” during the Lord’s Prayer have a mental image of a financial loan at some level of their thinking. That causes “cognitive dissonance” since many probably also suspect financial loans are not what those words are really about. I don’t think we should have cognitive dissonance in our Bible translations, unless that dissonance was intended by the original author.
(6) I’ve often been troubled by the literal wording asking God not to lead us into temptation, because I don’t believe that God would ever lead anyone into temptation. It says in the book of James that God does not tempt people, so I don’t think he would lead people toward temptation, either.
(7) This is my attempt to capture the meaning of the Greek hoti connecting the clauses here.
(8) As noted in a recent post on this blog, this part of the prayer is not found in all ancient Greek manuscripts. It has, however, been part of the prayer that Christ’s Church has prayed for many centuries. There is nothing wrong with praying it.
(9) It is not standard English to tell someone “thine is the …” or, using a contemporary pronoun, “yours is the …”. I don’t think I would ever tell our son, “Yours is this car.” I might say, “This car is yours,” if I had enough money and were that generous. But I don’t think we would use even that standard syntax for speaking of something abstract such as a kingship or power belonging to someone.
(10) This is my attempt to capture the concept that God is “glorious”. I’m not happy with “totally awesome.” It sounds too colloquial to me. But “glorious” is not widely used, except, I think, in a similarly colloquial way as in, “Wow, that concert was glorious!” I welcome suggestions for a more appropriate contemporary equivalent here.