Give us this day our mondegreens

Well, this isn’t really a post about misheard lyrics to songs known as mondegreens. But I did think about two common mondegreens in the Lord’s Prayer. The first is in illustrated in this cartoon:

 image

The second is “Our Father Witch,” a very scary sounding creature that was the subject of a short story by Wilbur Daniel Steele called, “The Man Who Saw Through Heaven. I searched in vain for an online version of this fascinating story.

James McGrath mentions the trouble with translating the word traditionally rendered as “daily’” in the Lord’s prayer. The question of how to translate “bread” is also worth considering. It seems redundant to say, “Give us today our daily bread.” Would that be evidence for an alternate reading of “Give us today the bread we need.” Finally, I would probably want to say something like “Give us today the food we need.” or simply, “We look to you to provide for our needs today.” “Bread” here is an example of synecdoche in which a specific type of something is used to represent everything in its class. So bread could refer to food. It could also refer to provision in general: food, clothing, housing, etc.

 image

Personally, despite being someone who advocates idiomatic translations, I’ve had my children memorize the traditional rendering for the sake of taking part in Church liturgy. The only problem is my kids have no idea what the prayer is talking about. And I think that’s pretty true for most people who recite the traditional version.

Just for fun, here’s a Lingamish attempt at a different rendering of the original Greek:

Heavenly Father,
We lift up your name as holy. 
Reign as king on earth just as you do in heaven.
We look to you to provide our needs today. 
You have forgiven the debt we owed you
So we will forgive all those who are in our debt. 
Guide us around difficulties
And rescue us from evil.

Does that capture the meaning of the original for you? What was lost in translation? See the NeXt Bible for  a comparison of versions of Matthew 6:11 and commentaries on the Greek word for “daily.”

14 thoughts on “Give us this day our mondegreens

  1. John Hobbins says:

    David,

    Hey, what about the doxology at the end? I didn’t know you had become a Roman Catholic. Or are there biblicistic Protestants who also omit the doxology in the liturgy? I didn’t know that.

    Perhaps you missed it, but the Lord’s Prayer un-remixed contains seven petitions. I doubt that was an accident. You delete one of the petitions and make three of the petitions into straight-up propositions.

    Why are DE translators in love with straight-up propositions? You guys are like pitchers who only throw fastballs. Throw a curve ball once in awhile. Even a spitball. I assure you, the biblical authors did.

    I think it is particularly unacceptable that your version no longer contains a request for the forgiveness of sins. That’s the essence of an acceptable prayer according to Luke 18:9-14.

    Your rewriting of the prayer in the form of P & P by a worshipper saying he already does things, and promises to do others, moves it in the direction of the prayer of the Pharisee and away from the prayer of the (Re)publican.

    Sorry, the (Re) is irrelevant here, but it came kinda naturally. Natural English, you know, should be a goal of translation.

    Merry Christmas, David!

    I’ve got other beefs with your translation/paraphrase/reader’s digest version of the Lord’s Prayer. But that ought to start things off.

  2. dgoepfrich says:

    Overall, I think I like it. However, what about the articulated PONHROS, “the evil one”, instead of the generic “evil”?

  3. David Ker says:

    John, I thought this one would provoke you. I think I’m right on in translating the forgiveness of debts as I did. I’m willing to consider your reasons.

    dg, I haven’t studied it in depth but I read this as “evil”. I welcome correction.

  4. mgvh says:

    You suggest: “You have forgiven the debt we owed you
    So we will forgive all those who are in our debt.”
    BUT
    the verb in the first clause is an aorist imperative > Forgive!
    It’s a bit difficult to get to “you have forgiven.”
    Even more difficult is the Aorist indicative in the second phrase > we forgave (or perhaps, we have forgiven).
    I like the idea of God forgives first and hence we forgive, but I don’t think it is what Matthew is recording here.

  5. David Ker says:

    MGVH,

    There’s a slight problem with polite use here. In English we don’t make straight commands to social superiors without a great deal of padding.

    The second issue is the relative order of these two events which I take to be first we forgive others their debts and second God forgives our debts (as attested in vv. 14-15). So maybe it would be better to reorder it and say, “We will forgive others their debts. Please forgive us ours.”

    BTW, this isn’t about sin but debt (although you could argue that sin is in focus here).

    Also, John, note I said this is a “different” translation, not necessarily accurate… (although I think there are some good things about it).

  6. John Hobbins says:

    David,

    I’d be less provoked if you had rendered with a petitionary “forgive us our debts.”

    Such a translation includes essential connotations of the source text, concords with Romans 12 and other passages, and, at least with a little bit of off-site explanation, allows one to read it without missing out on first-order referential accuracy, primary but not sole – sins against someone, by which we incur a debt – beneath rather than on the surface, just as the source text has it.

    DE translations often put on the surface that which belongs under the surface. I’m glad you didn’t in this case.

    I want to back you up on the basic fact. Not only children but most adults do not understand the Lord’s Prayer. “Hallowed be thy name,” for example, field-tests very poorly.

    But the problem is more basic than that, and I don’t think you will ever solve it by “different” translations.

    I’ve got all kinds of problems, as already mentioned, with your admittedly inaccurate “We lift up your name as holy.” BTW, isn’t that P & P Biblish? Have you been listening to too much Christian music?

    The basic problem is: what is holiness? Do people have even the faintest idea?

    On the one hand, something that is holy is by definition something that is whiter than the whitest snow and darker than the darkest night, extreme beauty and extreme purity at the same time. Numinous as Otto carefully defined it in Das Heilige, to use an image, that which set the bush in the desert totally on fire, and never consumed it.

    On the other, something that is holy is something not to be misused, ever. On pain of death. To hallow a name means to treat it with great respect and use it in accord with what it is and whose name it is. God, the most awesome being there is.

    Now say, Hallowed be thy name.

    Sorry for the off-the-cuff catechism lesson. Pity the 7th graders who have to put up with me. The poor things are forced to learn the meaning of words like “hallowed” and how that relates to Halloween.

  7. David Ker says:

    Love that holy stuff, John. Seriously. You really should start a blog. 😉

    I’m curious what Wayne the translation consultant would say about my rendering… he he.

  8. Wayne Leman says:

    David wrote:

    I’m curious what Wayne the translation consultant would say about my rendering… he he.

    Well, since you asked so nicely, David, I’ll respond. The only thing I would flag would be what some others have, as well:

    You have forgiven the debt we owed you
    So we will forgive all those who are in our debt.

    I need evidence that at some rhetorical level this is a propositional statement, rather than a request.

    Other than that, your translation gets into my ballpark and I would pass it, as long as it has already passed community checking. 🙂

  9. Wayne Leman says:

    David, I would want you to defend it, if you believed it was a good translation. You probably know that we consultants don’t have the last word. We’re just part of the team.

  10. David Frank says:

    David K — Thank you for giving us a fresh translation of the Lord’s Prayer. By looking at a fresh but reasonable translation of it, or by reading a meditation on the Lord’s Prayer, we are able to refresh our own awe of it.

    I think I do prefer your rephrasing, “We will forgive others their debts. Please forgive us ours.” I do understand what you are saying about how it is considered improper in our language and culture to give a command to a superior, so we give indirect commands that we call requests. Often this involves turning a command into a question, like “Will you please forgive my debts for me?” Maybe the simple addition of “please” will do the job here. Or sometimes in order to be polite and respectful one might turn the command into a statement about oneself: “I am asking/begging you to forgive my debts (just like I have forgiven the debts that anyone else owed me).”

    I agree with John Hobbins that “We lift up your name as holy” sounds like contemporary church language.

  11. Mike Sangrey says:

    I think the difference between the indicative and imperative is often misunderstood, and it is best thought of in the following way.

    Indicative: I believe reality is like the statement I’m making. For all intents and purposes, it’s an assertion about reality. This should surprise no one; I’ve defined indicative to compare with imperative.

    Imperative: I believe reality is not the way I want it to be; so, this statement I’m making expresses the expected reality I want. The ‘expectation’ indicates this is not a subjunctive (or optative).

    If the imperative is from “superior” to “inferior”, then it is a command. The command-ness, if you will, is not part of the imperative itself, it is actually pragmatically induced (that is, realized because of the context in which the statement is made). If the imperative is from “inferior” to “superior”, or between equals, then it is a request.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve wondered how many of the imperatives in the New Testament are actually requests and should therefore be translated with an English “please.” And, to be clear, this is not meant to imply that God (the Bible’s ultimate author) is on equal footing with we the readers. However, the question I’ve raised certainly does have implications for how Apostles and local church leadership interrelate, as well as other areas of theology.

    For an example where I would incorporate ‘please‘, please see Philemon 1:17: If you think of me as a partner, then please accept him as you would me.

    It’s often baffled me that ‘please‘ doesn’t occur often in English Bible translations. You’d think the English Bible would present a kinder and more respectful face.

  12. Ray H says:

    I’ve been spending a few days thinking about the LP before coming across your blog. In praying it, I found myself ‘going through the motions’ without thinking of the meaning of the words and set out to rephrase the prayer as something to be said slowly and deliberately, so that the meaning of each phrase could be pondered.

    I think your translation is a bit wishy-washy on some points (debts are not sins, difficulties are not temptations). To my mind, these words (in English at least) convey certain theological concepts that should remain spoken in the prayer.

    I consulted the original Greek, but don’t propose this as a strict translation:

    Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be held holy.
    May your kingdom come
    and your will be done
    here on earth, as in heaven.
    Provide for our daily needs.
    Forgive us for our sins
    as we must forgive those who sin against us.
    Help us avoid temptation
    and protect us from Satan.

    I chose to translate ‘poneros’ as Satan (the evil one).

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