The Lord’s Prayer (reprise)

Last Sunday the sermon at Berkeley Covenant was on the Lord’s Prayer. (Find it here.) Pastor Andrew has been working through Matthew, pretty much verse by verse, and it’s been very profitable. From time to time he hands off a passage to one or another of the church leaders when he or she has something worth saying on a particular topic, or when there is a need for is attention to be elsewhere in a given week.

This week it was Jeremy, who a former BCC youth leader. Jeremy had a lot of good points, but he bit off more than he could chew. Actually I suspect he fell prey to the problem that Pascal famously summarized in a letter to a friend:

Je n’ai fait cette lettre-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
I have written this letter longer than I should, because I didn’t have the time to make it shorter.

(This quote is often wrongly attributed to Mark Twain.)

But I was struck because I have my own opinions about how the Lord’s Prayer is to be interpreted, as I’ve discussed in this blog before. But it was one of those God moments, because I’ve been mucking around in 19th century Ottawa texts. (That’s the Ottawa dialect of the Ojibwe language, a Native American language and my area of academic specialization.) The text I’m working on is a Shorter Catechism published in 1864/1869 and available online here and in a well-processed version here.  Not surprisingly, the Lord’s Prayer is featured prominently. (It’s presented here with the original spelling in bold, the modern spelling in italics, and a back translation from Ottawa into English. (I’ve revised it from the one on the web where I disagree with Kees’ interpretation.)

Odanamihewin awi Debenjiged.

Nosina wakwing ebiian,
Noosinaa waakwiing ebiyan.
Our Father, who is in heaven.

apegish kitchitwawendaming kidanosowin,
Apegish gichitwaawendaming gidanoozowin.
May your name be sacred.

apegish bidagwishinomagak, kidogimawiwin,
Apegish bi-dagwishinoomagak gidoogimaawiwin.
May your kingship arrive.

enendaman apegish ijiwebak, tibishko wakwing, migo gaie aking.
Enendaman apegish izhiwebak dibishkoo waakwiing mii go gaye akiing.
What you think [should be], may it happen the same on earth as in heaven.

Mijishinang nongo agijigak nin pagwejiganimina minik eioiang memeshigo gijig,
Miizhishinaang noongo a-giizhigak nimbakwezhiganiminaa minik eyooyaang

Give us our bread today, as much as we use every day.

bonigitedawishinang gaie ga iji nishkiinangi,
Boonigidetawishinaang gaye gaa-izhi-nishki’inaangi,
And forgive us who have angered you,

eji bonigitedawangidwa ga iji nishkiiiamindjig,
ezhi-boonigidetawangidwaa gaa-izhi-nishki’iyaminjig.
in the way we forgive those who angered us.

kego gaie ijiwijishikange gagwedibeningewining,
Gego gaye izhiwizhishikaange gagwe-dibeningewining,
Do not lead us into a trial.

atchitchaii dash ininamowishinang maianadak.
ajijayi’ii dash ininamawishinaang mayaanaadak.
and put what is bad far from us.


Back translation is an interesting exercise. It is a regular part of the the translation process for modern Bible translations into minority languages.

From the back translation, one can see that the Ottawa translator got a lot of things right, and some things wrong, including one glaringly wrong. (Gagwe-dibeningwewin is a legal trial, not a metaphorical reference to a test of our moral fiber.)

But the back translation also highlights what happens in translation when there is no history of translation practice to cast a long shadow over the contemporary translator’s product.

What I mean is that this particular passage bears a lot of emotional weight for us. We don’t want to mess with the translation of this passage so much so that even the TNIV says something fairly archaic sounding:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

That’s because if we translate into natural, contemporary English, the meaning of the Greek original like the New Living Bible does:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored.

May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven.

Give us our food for today, and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

then we feel like it’s somehow not really the Lord’s prayer.

5 thoughts on “The Lord’s Prayer (reprise)

  1. David Frank says:

    I am really impressed with that rendering of the Lord’s Prayer in Ottawa Ojibwe from 140 years ago. It is interesting to compare it with the NLT rendering. One thing I like better about the Ottawa version is how they used a word meaning something like “kingship” to translate the Greek βασιλεία. Pretty much all English translations say “kingdom” (an exception being the Better Life Bible) but I have understood that “kingship” would be a more accurate English equivalent. I’m sure that even some of the translators of modern English versions understand it to mean “kingship” but the tradition of using “kingdom” is so strong.

  2. Rich Rhodes says:

    Those old time Catholic missionaries were amazingly good. Long before there was a field of linguistics, they wrote some incredibly insightful grammars. Many were polyglots before they ever got to the Americas had been immersed in the original languages as part of their seminary training. (Luther was like this, BTW.) It’s only too bad that their work was ignored by the early generations of Americanists whose anti-Christian prejudice was strong. (Understandable because many were Jewish and not that far removed from anti-Semitic Europe — Boas, Sapir, Bloomfield.)

  3. David Ker says:

    I’d bet that modern speakers of Ojibwe would be reluctant to have you change that word for trial! Possibly the word has shifted over time to a strictly judiciary meaning? I would intuitively expect the meaning to go the other direction (broader).

    Our family quotes the traditional rendering of the Lord’s Prayer despite the fact that all our devotional and family reading is in CEV. Some things you just don’t mess with.

  4. Kees van Kolmeschate says:

    Another very late comment.
    1. My internet provider deemed it wise to change the address of my homepage, which means that the “well-processed version”, as Rich called it, is now to be found at

    2. As for the word “gagwe-dibeningewinin”, I might add that it is used in The Lord’s Prayer also e.g. in Baraga’s (“Otawa”) “Katolik Anamie Misinaigan” (Detroit 1846) and in Horden’s (“Ojibbeway”) translation of the St Matthew’s Gospel (London 1880). Tradition at work??

    3. Tradition also at work in Sifferath’s rendering of the 10 Commandments? He uses _there_ twice an (Algonquin) vta prohibitive 2>>3 form in -iyege instead of -aake (and Andrew J. Blackbird (1887) concurs). Now Paul Proulx’ article “Proto-Algonquian Verb Inflection” (1990) mentions “The replacement of thematic ‘-iye:’ by ‘-a:’ in Ojibwa does not extend to Algonquin”.

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