Hollow wood or Hollywood? Is “Hallowed be thy name” formula or innovation?

How innovative was Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6? Was he reinforcing a received mode of prayer or was he introducing something new? Throughout the Sermon on the Mount we see Jesus’ taking established religious knowledge and putting a spin on it (“You have heard it said… but I say to you…” ) and the opening “Blessed are…” phrases seem to overturn conventional notions of blessedness while also moving from the individualism of Psalm 1 (“Blessed is the man…”) to collective blessing (“Blessed are…”). In this case, Jesus is undoubtedly introducing innovation or why else would he need to give them a model at all? But what is he departing from? What is formula and what is innovation in the Lord’s Prayer?

This question stood out for me in my previous post in which my rendering of “Hallowed by thy name” as “We lift up your name as holy” was judged as sounding a bit like a cliché from a contemporary praise and worship song.

What do you think?

  1. Do we have a Biblical example of a prayer that might have served as the model for the Lord’s Prayer?
  2. Which parts of the Lord’s Prayer are formula and which are innovation?
  3. How would you translate “Hallowed be thy name?”

21 thoughts on “Hollow wood or Hollywood? Is “Hallowed be thy name” formula or innovation?

  1. Bob MacDonald says:

    I suggest this article by Jeffrey Gibson – given at SBL in Boston

    Here is part of his conclusion

    The fact then that Jesus gives the LP to his disciples in the midst of teaching them about the necessity of their girding and guarding themselves against partaking in “this generation’s” apostasy also indicates that the matrix of the LP is an awareness on Jesus part that his disciples are on the verge of becoming like those who “put god to the test”.

  2. David Frank says:

    We were already commenting on “hallowed” in connection with your last post, David K. My first instinct is to substitute “holy” for “hallowed” (and this assumes we are translating from the KJV into modern English). If we’re not just updating the archaic language, then does “hallowed” have to be accounted for somehow?

    I am not a Greek expert, but according to my notes, ἁγιασθήτω means something like “let [it] be revered,” from ἁγιάζω, “to regard/set apart as sacred, to make holy, to consecrate, to purify, to cleanse.” It seems there is some action involved and it is not just a state. For that reason, your “We lift up your name as holy” is better than simply “Your name is holy.” If the phrase “we lift up your name” is insider, churchy language, then how do we express the “action” component of meaning? Several existing English translations handle this fairly well, including the following:

    – May your name be honored (Phillips, NLT1, NET)
    – May your name be held in reverence (Barclay)
    – May your name be held holy (Jerusalem Bible)
    – May your name be kept holy (NLT2)

    All of these involve the wish formula “may your name be…” which I suppose is perfectly comprehensible, even if it isn’t the kind of thing one would say every day. (“May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.”)

    The CEV has “Help us to honor your name.” Wayne Leman had “Help us to honor you,” explaining that “your name” was an instance of synecdoche (or perhaps metonymy?). Though he uses other fancy terms instead of metonymy and synecdoche, Bullinger (1898) agrees. In his Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Bullinger explains that “name” here means “God Himself.” I wouldn’t leave out the word “name” without some regret, though. Bullinger goes on to explain (p. 409) that the figure “God’s name” has greater emphasis than if one simply said “God.” Bullinger paraphrases Matthew 6:9 as “Let thy holy majesty–thyself alone–be worshipped.”

    The TEV retains “name” and also the “may your…” wish formula, but with a slight twist: “May your holy name be honored.” That’s not bad. Besides the wish formula, which most of these translations have, and the word “name,” which also most of these translations have, one other thing that all of these translations have is some sense of action: “to honor,” “to hold (holy/in reverence),” “to keep (holy),” “to lift up (your name),” etc.

    I realize that the archaic English word “hallow” is supposed to mean “to make holy,” and in that sense, “hallowed be your name” is a reasonable translation of the Greek into English, even if it is an archaic sort of English. But it may have been a couple hundred years since anyone used “hallow” as a verb. In a search, I did find 14 instances of “hallow” (as opposed to “hallowed”) in the KJV, all in the Old Testament. What English speakers are more familiar with is “hallowed,” and they probably know that word mostly from the Lord’s Prayer. I have to admit that I haven’t field tested this in English, but I am guessing that to those English speakers who are familiar with “hallowed,” it means to them the same thing as “holy,” and not “made holy.” I bet if you asked them to say the same thing as “Hallowed be thy name” in modern English, virtually everybody would say “Your name is holy.” If they would at least say “May your name be made holy,” then I would consider it to pass the comphrehension test, if not the naturalness test.

    In St. Lucian French Creole, there is no word for “holy” (nor “glory” nor some other important key Biblical terms). Matthew 6:9 was translated something like “We pray for all people to honor you as God.” Luke 11:2 was phrased a little differently, though maybe it shouldn’t have been: “We pray for all mankind to respect to your name.”

  3. David Ker says:

    David F, I’m with you. I can never keep metonymy and synecdoche straight! 😉

    “Help us to honor your name” just sounds so strange to me. How exactly would God help us to do that? That’s why a simple assertion seems to pack a lot of punch: “We exalt you!”

    Bob, thanks a lot for the link to Gibson’s article.

    Wayne, I feel kind of dumb about bringing this topic up again. What started out as a simple link to McGrath’s post just took on a life of its own! I followed your post and comment thread with enjoyment.

    I guess in this post my interest really is in question #2 above.

  4. Wayne Leman says:

    Wayne, I feel kind of dumb about bringing this topic up again. What started out as a simple link to McGrath’s post just took on a life of its own! I followed your post and comment thread with enjoyment.

    Well, I’m enjoying the interaction with your post, David. It’s often good to revisit a previous topic.

    Happy New Year,

  5. exegete77 says:

    God’s Word: “let your name be kept holy”

    I like Martin Luther’s Explanation of this in the Small Catechism:

    “God’s name is indeed holy in itself; but we pray in this petition that it may become holy among us also.”


  6. John Hobbins says:

    I think you folks are missing the obvious. No matter how the Lord’s Prayer is translated, it requires a significant amount of off-site explanation to be understood correctly.

    I strongly oppose the use in worship of a translation of the Lord’s Prayer which does not have “hallowed be your name.” ESV, NRSV, NAB, and NIV/TNIV all retain it. NLT does not, and to my way of thinking, this disqualifies it from being a successor to KJV or RSV, that is, to Bibles whose diction is meant to resonate with a whole body of faith and practice.

    Put another way, “hallowed by your name” is a translation which connects to generation after generation of Christians. It keeps me within the communion of saints.

    Not just in English. These expressions transcend specific languages, even if equivalents for them do not exist in all languages.

    Rich brings up Luther. Here is how his translation of LP begins:

    Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel.
    Geheiligt werde dein Name.

    This is odd German from a half-dozen points of view. But none of the major German translations dares to do anything more than clean up the syntax. Thus the revision of the Lutherbibel has:

    Unser Vater im Himmel!
    Dein Name werde geheiligt.

    Both the Einheitsübersetzung and the Zürcherbibel have:

    Unser Vater im Himmel, / dein Name werde geheiligt,

    That precisely equals ESV/NRSV/NAB:

    Our Father in heaven,
    Hallowed be your name.

    You know what these arguments are about? Whether Jesus’ advice to scribes in Matthew 13:52 is still worth following. The part about treasures old and new.

    You folks operate on the literary principle of “out with the old, in with the new.” Students of scripture (HCSB’s paraphrase which substitutes for “scribe” in Mt 13:52) are on shaky ground if they eliminate from their personal reading non-gung ho DE translations. It’s fine to read the LP according to the Message, NLT, Wayne Leman, and David Ker, but only as an aid to make sense out of LP according to ESV, NRSV, NAB, and NIV/TNIV. Considerations of a cross-cultural and historical nature, a dimension of what translation work requires according to Anthony Pym, demands this kind of hierarchy of translations.

    That’s just my opinion, of course, but it is as good an opinion as any other expressed on this thread.

  7. Wayne Leman says:

    John Hobbins wrote:

    No matter how the Lord’s Prayer is translated, it requires a significant amount of off-site explanation to be understood correctly.

    No, John, this is not a requirement for translation of anything, including the Lord’s Prayer, if we are talking about *linguistic* understanding of the words of the prayer. There is nothing in the Bible which has language so sacred and unique that it is necessary to use non-standard translation wordings which lead to lack of linguistic comprehension. It will often still be necessary for there to be further explanation of *conceptual* meaning. But an adequate translation of any piece of literature can be understood *linguistically*, just from using standard syntax and word combinations of the target language.

    Translation often cannot transfer all levels of meaning besides referential meaning. But that does not mean that we should use such non-standard language that even referential meaning is not communicated adequately through translation.

    I agree with you that church tradition, a community of faith, is one important component that should be included in translation decisions. But I do not believe that any particular phrases, including ones as archaic as “hallowed by thy name,” are so sacred to any faith community that it is necessary to retain them. It is possible to translate the Greek here literally to English which is at least comprehensible, even if it doesn’t really communicate the full meaning of the original very well. One good option would be to simply translate “Your name be holy,” instead of “hallowed be thy name.” They mean exactly the same except that the outdated words “hallowed” and “thy” are expressed with their current equivalent.

    The Bible is a sacred book, yes, but it is not necessary to communicate sacred truths of a sacred book using outdated, obscure language. Please, note, however, that I am not at all suggesting that shallow, slangy, colloquial language be used. It is possible for people who are fluent speakers of English today to pray using good quality, contemporary respectful English, honoring God and his holy name.

    As you well know, one of the paradigm shifts of the Reformation was promoted by Luther and others like him, who rightly understood that understanding of sacred truths was not just the right of the ordained clergy who were trained to read the Latin Vulgate. No, if good translations are made in high quality literary language of people who speak those languages, then those people, whether clergy or laity, can understand much of what was written in the original biblical languages. Obviously, we can’t understand everything, just as, I suspect, the audiences who were first exposed to the texts in the original biblical languages did not understand everything there which was written in their own languages. There will always be a need for trained Bible teachers and pastors and theologians to take good translated Bibles and explain their *concepts* further. But the hoi polloi can get a great deal of understanding of the Bible simply from reading translations worded using standard syntax and word combinations of their languages. We learn those languages while toddlers, from our mothers and fathers. We do not learn language from those who translate Bibles.

    We don’t need to obscure what is meant to be clear in the Bible by using obscure language. Neither can we claim that we can express all meanings of all concepts in the Bible simply through translation. There is a happy medium in here, which allows people to hear the Bible in their own languages. That need is still there today, including for English speakers.

  8. David Ker says:

    You know this makes me think about that wonderful word Οὕτως. Is Jesus saying, “Pray thus” or “Pray like this.” Is this model or mimic? As I’ve said before I encourage my family to use the old fashioned English since it is a part of our tradition. But I don’t expect them to actually understand anything without, as John says, a lot of “off-site explanation.”

    This is a special case due to its role in liturgy. Even so, I would advocate a more meaningful translation without the archaisms. If a pastor feels that the traditional version needs to be retained he/she can use it much like the apostle’s creed: a fossilized recitation that serves an important function in church life.

  9. Peter Kirk says:

    Put another way, “hallowed by your name” is a translation which connects to generation after generation of Christians. It keeps me within the communion of saints.

    John, I have never before seen such a clear argument for continuing to use Latin in liturgy and rolling back all the innovations of the Reformation.

  10. David Frank says:

    John H — You like to keep us on our toes, don’t you? I agree with you that no matter how you translate, generally speaking, there is always going to be some need for what you call “off-site explanation.” Maybe not as much as you think, though. I don’t think we are missing the obvious. You seem to be going to an extreme in that you seem to be unconcerned that a translation communicate. What you seem to be suggesting is that a translation should 1) keep as close as possible to original forms of the biblical texts, and 2) change as little as possible over time. Then, if the translation doesn’t communicate, that’s okay, because you can teach people what it is supposed to mean.

    The translation that you seem to be advocating communicates less than it could, and the necessary communication comes in the “off-site explanation.” There are all kinds of communication, including teaching and writing/reading. I understand the original texts as being an act of communication, and a translation also should be an act of communication. The goal of translation should be to communicate with the users, and not leave all the communication off-site.

    I agree with you that a literal translation like the RSV is valuable to read, alongside other more free translations. I make a lot of use of the RSV in my studies. You seem to agree also that it is good to compare different translations, some more literal and some more free. I just wouldn’t say, though, that 1) literal translation is the essence of what translation is all about, or 2) that holding on to archaic forms for the sake of continuity is more important than using reasonably clear contemporary language. (I’m not advocating the use of trendy language in translation, though.)

    I also agree with you that it is not desirable in translation to try to unpack all the meaning so there is nothing left to discover. Ideally, a translation should be faithful to the source text in that regard, and not try to over-explicate the source text. But it distorts the source text to make a translation of it sound more archaic or more foreign than the original text did to its audience.

    I do think that some translations that might go under the label of Dynamic Equivalent do go too far in explicating the source text, for example making sure all the proverbs and figurative language in the originals are clear in meaning and implication. This robs the Bible of its literary quality.

    Back to “hallowed be thy name,” though, first of all we don’t want to use “thy” in a translation for a contemporary language of course. I don’t see any justification for using a special pronoun that is either seen as archaic or a special holy pronoun, since I don’t see anything in the source text that would suggest that such a special pronoun is called for. And you probably weren’t advocating that.

    But for “hallowed,” I also don’t see that Jesus was teaching his disciples this prayer using an archaic term that wasn’t clear in meaning to them. Of course it is hard to know for sure, because the real original was presumably in Aramaic. But let’s just leave it as saying that there is no reason to think that a special, archaic term is called for here, except for the sake of our English tradition. And yes, we do have a basic difference, in that reasonably clear communication, where the source text also was reasonably clear, is more important than continuing a tradition. So a translation such as “We pray that all people would regard your name as holy” is reasonable today. In such a translation, we still can’t unpack all the meaning of the word “holy,” but at least we can use a word that is part of our vocabulary today, and not hold on to an archaic word that doesn’t communicate properly today unless you teach people what it means.

    Since you mention Anthony Pym, I would like a reference so I can read what you are referring to. I imagine Pym is saying that there are cross-cultural and historical considerations in translation, which is true. I am interested in his idea of a hierarchy of translations. I doubt that what Pym was saying was that when a book such as the Bible has been translated a number of times over the years, continuity of tradition trumps clear communication.

    I met Anthony Pym a year ago, and I knew his name and reputation before that. An excellent translation studies scholar. At a translation conference last year, he heard me give a presentation and referred to my presentation when he gave his, and we had some good conversations on the side. I would want to pay attention to things he has said on the topics we are discussing now, so I would appreciate a reference, and then I’ll read it for myself.

  11. David Ker says:

    LOL, Peter.

    And doesn’t this tension between tradition and communicability tie back into the original point of this post (how far we’ve wandered… ) in wondering how innovative Jesus’ prayer was?

    This also calls to mind the brouhaha regarding the revision of the Hebrew Bible that was rejected in Israel recently.

    Although John is playing the role of the traditionalist, in his church he is a pragmatist and doesn’t require his congregation to recite Latin or KJV. And I suspect he doesn’t pepper his sermons with Hebrew lessons either.

    If I were pastor of a church in the US, my pew Bible would almost certainly be some flavor of NIV unless that church had a strong tradition of using the NRSV. Acceptability is the fourth point of the translation triangle of accuracy, clarity and naturalness.

  12. John Hobbins says:

    Happy New Year everyone!

    I respect the pathos of those of you who want the Lord’s Prayer to be recited, not according to a traditional template, but in this or that paraphrase. At some point, however, it might be worth asking why adjustments to the traditional formulation have been kept to a minimum over the centuries. Not just in the English-speaking world, but in general.

    At least you folks might be realistic and note what Don Quixotes you are on this one. If you think about it, there is no way to maintain any kind of unity in diction if the traditional template is rejected.

    Among Christians generally, it’s been perfectly obvious the LP was meant to be memorized word-for-word and repeated as such.
    In any case, I’m hoping it’s evident this premise has to be rejected in order to go for paraphrasing translations of LP. At stake: a genre for genre translation. If I’m not being clear enough, let me know.

    For those of you who want to read Anthony Pym, he has an awful lot on-line at:


    I’ll get back to Martin Luther and the Reformation at a later time. Suffice it to say that it might be about time to replace the Luther of Peter Kirk’s faith with the Martinus of history.

  13. Peter Kirk says:

    there is no way to maintain any kind of unity in diction if the traditional template is rejected.

    No way? I think you are lacking imagination, John. In my church, where we use different forms in different weeks (a traditional one and a slightly modified one), we project the form we are using on the screen, and it is also in the service books available to those who prefer them. It may not be a way you like, but it is a way to get the whole congregation to read together. It is also by no means an innovation, as there are two different forms of the prayer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (one with the closing doxology and one without) and for centuries Church of England congregations have been expected to follow along in their books to make sure they use the right form.

  14. David Ker says:

    Hey, John. Happy New Year back at ya! I wonder what your thoughts are on the Lord’s Prayer as rendered in the Didache? And in Luke’s Gospel? We’ve got quite a bit of variation here. And when Greek ceased to serve the expanding church a Latin version needed to be formulated. I guess I’m just trying to understand your need to retain an obsolete term like “hallowed.” If even in the first century versions of the LP were being promulgated with a certain amount of variation isn’t it OK to update the language of the LP in our century for speakers who no longer understand 16th century English?

  15. John Hobbins says:


    It sounds like your parish, which uses the traditional version and a slightly modified one, is being sensible, whereas your apparent insistence that a move away from “hallowed” and such is what any right-thinking person would advocate, is balderdash.

    My guess is that almost everyone on this thread recites the LP in worship in a traditional version or slightly modified one. I can name ten reasons why that is right and proper, whereas you can’t seem to name even one, but practically speaking the difference is nil.


    It doesn’t matter what is found in Matthew and Luke in translation. That’s the amazing thing with Luther already. In his translation of the NT you already find “be holy” rather than “be hallowed.” But through his Catechism, people were taught “be hallowed” and in other ways a very traditional version of LP.

    We learn orally. Worship is an oral experience. So is praying in the family, learning the LP, the Nicene Creed, which is poetry, etc.

    Are you children really learning the LP in CEV? I have a hard time believing that.

  16. David Ker says:

    No, John, you missed that part. I’ve always had my kids memorize the LP in the traditional form. I think we are open like Luther to the possibility of a traditionally received form of highly used Scriptures in liturgy while at the same time seeing the need for meaningful modern translations that aren’t filled with obsolete language.

    BTW my kids do most of their memorization in CEV and NIV. But the Lord’s Prayer and Apostle’s Creed are in traditional form in English and Portuguese.

  17. Peter Kirk says:

    John, my local church (not my parish, we are one of three churches or congregations in the parish) does indeed use a modified prayer including the word “hallowed”. (Actually even the “traditional” form is rather different from KJV.) I regret this, but it was more or less imposed on us by our denominational authorities. But there are other modified versions around which avoid “hallowed”. And this is in fact required by the basis of faith of the denomination, the Thirty Nine Articles, Article XXIV:

    It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people.

    I couldn’t have put it better myself, except that I would have rephrased it in a language form understood by the people today.

    John, do churches in Italy (Catholic or Protestant) still recite the Lord’s Prayer in the original Latin “Pater noster …”? Or do they by any chance say “Padre nostro …”? The language of Italy has of course changed gradually and continuously since Imperial Roman times. Do you think that churches should ever have changed from the Latin to the Italian form, and if so, in what century should that change have been made? I say this because, if the Lord doesn’t come first, within a few centuries or millennia English will be just as different from the KJV form as modern Italian is from Latin. So the time will come when a change is required. When might that be?

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