Prayer and its Translation
Here, we lay out the methodology used to produce the Lord's Prayer translation and the
rationale behind it. We explain why The New Testament in the Original Greek by
Westcott and Hort is the best available witness for the original
Lord's Prayer and why Koine Greek was probably its original language. We present the rationale behind choosing
the Lidell-Scott-Jones lexicon for translation, and we introduce the reader to the online
tools used for translating. A final section
addresses the growth of languages and the increased need for care in translating.
The oldest existing complete versions of the New Testament are the
Codex Sinaiticus 
and the Codex Vaticanus
. And they're different. The scholars Brooke Foss Westcott
and Fenton John Anthony Hort extrapolated backward to produce a common ancestor,
The New Testament in the Original Greek [3,4]. It's treatment of the Lord's Prayer is as
close to the original as
anyone has been able to get.†
One of the challenges faced by Westcott and Hort was just reading the
ancient texts. They're faded to to the point of being almost
illegible. Beyond that, they were written in all caps, there were no
spaces between words, and the diacritical marks found in later Koine
Greek were completely missing. This fragment of Codex
Sinaiticus illustrates the problem:
That the first Bible was written in Koine Greek may be surprising, given that Jesus and his disciples spoke
Old Aramaic. But notice that Jesus and his disciples carried His teachings far and wide. It's unlikely they
could have succeeded without having a common language that was understood wherever they went. Koine Greek
was that language. It is a vernacular Greek dialect that evolved among the soldiers of Alexander The Great.
He was from Macedonia, a kingdom in Northern Greece, and he recruited soldiers from all of the many lands
that he conquered. For obvious reasons, they had to know Greek
Lexicon Used for Translation
This translation of Greek words into English relies on the
lexicon developed by Liddel and Scott .
Their work has served as the basis of all later lexicographical work on biblical Greek. Lidell wanted
to discover the meanings that Greek words had at the time they were in use.
Their approach was to see how each word was used in multiple secular documents written in Koine
Greek – secular because Koine Greek was a vernacular
rather than an ecclesiastical dialect. Happily, the LSJ and similar lexicons
have been incorporated into the online tools of the
Perseus project [3,8,9].
In contrast to the work of Lidell and Scott, some lexicons
are based on a 'biblical' semantics designed to support the authors'
understanding of the Bible. In some cases the intent is in the title: New Testament
King James Greek Lexicon.
A more significant example is Gerhard Kittel's brilliant
10-volume masterpiece [10,11]. It is
widely respected, but there is reason for caution. Kittel was a
prominent Nazi propagandist [12,13].
From Small Languages to Large
Words in old languages had broader meanings than they do today. So each word has more plausible
translations with a greater need for relying on context to pick the right one.
A basic rule of thumb is to avoid translations that sound goofy.
One theory is that words in old languages needed to have broader meanings because there were
so few of them. In modern English, there are roughly eight times as many words in everyday use as there
were in Koine Greek.
This factor of eight is just an educated guess. Today the average American has a vocabulary
of perhaps 27,000 words , which gives an
estimate for the number of words now in everyday use. The New Testament itself provides an
estimate of the number of words in everyday use at the time the first Bible was written.
It had a total of only 5,437 unique words
, and roughly 2,000 of them were used
only once . So the ratio
of new to old is not far from 27,000/(5,437 - 2,000) ≈ 7.9.
An enduring concern with Westcott and Hort lies not in the accuracy
of their work but with their notoriety as heretics. They challenged the official view that the King James
Version was the Living Word. Beyond that, there was a cultural heresy not unlike that committed by
Charles Darwin twenty-two years before. These battles continue even in modern times
What Did Jesus say? .
What the Lord's Prayer Once Said
Historical Contexts of the Lord's Prayers
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