Pope Francis, showing once again his willingness to turn over liturgical tables, is expected to approve a change in the translation of the Lord’s Prayer, the famous biblical petition recited by Christians billions of times a day.
The Italian Episcopal Conference [CEI] has submitted the proposed change to the Vatican for approval, changing the line “lead us not into temptation” to “abandon us not when in temptation,” reported the Italian newswire service Ansa and the [U.K.] Express.
A year ago, the pope brought the issue to the forefront when he described the petition widely used for centuries in many languages, including English and Italian, as “not a good translation.”
“A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you to get up immediately,” Francis said in an interview on Italian television. “It’s Satan who leads us into temptation, that’s his department.”
Will the proposed version catch on? It may depend on which language you speak: The French bishops adopted such a change last year, and the Spanish translation, the one most familiar to the Argentina-born Francis, already reflects the concerns about who’s leading whom into temptation.
Then again, the German church has announced it will keep the time-honored version, disputing the pope’s interpretation.
“The petition ‘lead us not into temptation’ … does not express the suspicion that God could want people to fail, but the belief in his justice and mercy,” said the German bishops last year in a statement, according to the Religion News Service.
Besides private prayer, the Catholic Church uses the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father as part of the usual Sunday Mass and in such ritual devotions as the Rosary.
Given that European Catholics aren’t even on the same page, it’s unlikely that Protestants, including U.S. evangelicals, will follow the Vatican’s lead though.
Mark Bailey, president and senior professor of Bible Exposition at the Dallas Theological Seminary, said it may be all but impossible to change worshipers’ habits, given how entrenched the Lord’s Prayer is among worshipers.
“The English tradition of reciting the Lord’s prayer is so strong I do not think any suggestion or even an edict from the Pope will change that,” Mr. Bailey said in an email.
He also disagreed with the rationale for the change, saying that Francis’s proposed update “eliminates the rhetorical genius of Jesus.”
“Since God (Jesus) does not tempt us with evil (James 1:13), the question is why would Jesus ask us to pray that He won’t?” Mr. Bailey said. “The point is to emphasize the need to ask to be led away from sin. It is a figure of speech to negatively heighten the request. Like when a parent says, ‘Don’t make me come in there,’ the meaning is do whatever you need to so that will not happen.”
Already churchgoers tend to trip up on whether to say “debts” or “trespasses,” as in “forgive us our ——,” a word choice that varies depending on the denomination or even the congregation.
Roger “Sing” Oldham, vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention, pointed to a practical hurdle: Any changes would have to be adopted by the experts responsible for the myriad biblical translations, such as the New International Version, English Standard Version, and the Christian Standard Bible.
The Lord’s Prayer, also known as the Our Father, is found in its full version in Matthew 6:9-13.
“That would mean all the translation teams would have to come back and say, ‘We’re going to have our scholarship be informed by an individual from a church we’re not a part of,’” Mr. Oldham said. “I don’t see it having a significant impact on Baptists.”
Then there’s the song, “The Lord’s Prayer,” which was sung by Reba McIntyre at President George H.W. Bush’s funeral earlier this month.
No matter what pontiffs, theologians or professors may say, “the musical version tends to dictate the majority usage,” Mr. Bailey said.
The Rev. Franklin Graham, a Christian evangelist and head of Samaritan’s Purse, pointed out that translation errors have been rectified in the past.
“I’m not Catholic, but I understand they looked at this for about 16 years, the scholars have studied it, and there possibly could be a translation error with that one word. I don’t know,” Mr. Graham said on “Fox & Friends.” “I’m still going to say it the way that I memorized it as a boy, that my mother taught me. But the Pope, he might have a point here, so we’ll see.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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