In Search of the Lord's Prayer

A few years ago, I was saying the Lord's Prayer with friends and realized that it did not make sense to me. My daughter had read the ancient Koine Greek version and suggested I do the same — as if I knew Koine Greek. I learned enough to read the Prayer and saw that 1800 years ago, the Prayer did make sense.

Let's take a look at what doesn't make sense. Then I'll briefly outline my approach to translation and go through the Greek words that got mangled. Finally, I'll assemble a prayer that could perhaps be a translation of the original. An appendix also translates the Prayer's words in their original order with mouseover references to the Greek words and the lexicons used to translate them.

1. The Puzzles

Since there are several modern variants of the Lord's Prayer, let's use the best known, the traditional version from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer [1].

  Verse Puzzle
9A Our father who art in heaven
9B Hallowed be What does 'hallowed' mean?
9C thy name. The prayer's first concern is nomenclature. Seriously?
10A Thy Kingdom Kingdoms were geographically
rather small. This seems like an
odd word choice.
10B Thy kingdom come. Is this an observation, a
prediction, an exhortation, a
question, a wish — what?
10C Thy will be done, Same question as above
10D on earth as it is in heaven. ~
11 Give us this day our daily bread. ~
12A And forgive us To forgive is to let go of a
resentment. God has
resentments?
12B our trespasses Trespasses, debts, sins —
 which is it?
12C as we forgive those who trespass against us. ~
13A And do not lead us into temptation, We're asking that God not to
tempt us. Whoa, that's the
devil's responsibility.
13B but deliver us from evil. Fear of the devil, is this how
the prayer ends?
  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. This line isn't in the Bible.
Where did it come from?

2. Translation Issues

Explaining the puzzles will require going back to a time before the prayer went through its many hand translations and transcriptions.

What was the original version of the Lord's Prayer? The earliest known copy of the New Testament is the Codex Sinaiticus [2]. It was written in Koine Greek rather than the language that Jesus spoke because Koine Greek was the lingua franca of the time [3]. We will use the version from Matthew 6:9-13.

How are we to avoid our own translation errors? Liddell, Scott, and Jones created a lexicon free of ecclesiastical tampering by studying many secular Greek texts [4]. With a few noted exceptions, their work reliably translates the words of the Prayer.

3. Resolving the Puzzles

9B. Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be

The original Greek word, ἁγιασθήτω, is an ecclesiastical construct that was not translated in the LSJ lexicon. It's a passive imperative verb derived from the adjective ἅγιος, meaning holy, sacred, or different [5, hagios]. The International Standard Version of the Bible translates it as be kept holy [6].

9C. hallowed be thy name

The Greek word was ὄνομα, which could mean either a name or the person or authority behind the name. This latter figurative use survives in certain phrases today, as in "she made quite a name for herself." Strong's concordance offers the word authority as a translation of the figurative meaning [4, onoma].

10A. thy kingdom ....

The Greek word was βασιλεία, meaning palace, kingdom, or dominion. The Jesus Seminar uses the term empire in referring to God's kingdom, but they define empire as effective presence or control – in other words, dominion [7].

10B. thy kingdom come,

Notice the German word order with the verb at the end. The Greek verb was ἐλθάτω. It does mean come, but it's in the imperative form. Thus, 10B is a demand for the king's dominion to arrive. Come thy dominion!

10C. thy will be done,

The Greek was γενηθήτω. It too is in the imperative form and means to be born or to come into a new state of being. Emerge thy will!

10D. on earth as it is in heaven.

The order of the realms has been reversed. Translated word for word, this passage read, as in heaven also on earth. The order is important. This was the transition clause between the first part about the heavenly realm and the second about the earthy realm.

12A. And forgive us ...

The Greek was ἄφες [ἀφίημι], meaning to discharge or to set free. It could also mean to forgive in the sense of forgiving a debt.

12B. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

The Greek was ὀφειλήματα, it means debt.

13A1. And lead us not into temptation

The word was εἰσενέγκῃς, it means bring, which unlike lead, does not involve personal volition. Pope Frances has found the usual volitional translation to be unacceptable [8].

13A2. And lead us not into temptation.

The Greek word was πειρασμόν. In this context, it means trial. This passage probably refers to the vicious show trials put on by the Romans.

13B1. but deliver us from evil.

The Greek word was ῥῦσαι. It means draw to one's self.

13B2. but deliver us from evil.

The Greek phrase was ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ. It literally and sensibly translates as away from the wicked. Previous religious texts had recast πονηροῦ to mean evil. Then the devil intruded as an artifact of language. Whereas the wicked naturally registers as "those who are wicked," the evil registers as "the evil ... evil who?" The translation away from that which is evil is accurate. But the shorter away from evil works as well.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.

In the early church, it was traditional to follow a prayer with a doxology —a short hymn of praise to God. This line was the doxology that followed the Lord's Prayer.

4. The Words of the Lord's Prayer

After combining the above observations and adjusting for English syntax, we get the following:

9

Therefore, pray in this way: Our Father in heaven,
may your authority be treated as sacred.

10

May your domain come, may your will emerge,
as in heaven also on earth.

11

Give us today, the loaf of bread that's ours for the
coming day,

12

And free us from our debts as we also have freed our
debtors.

13

And do not bring us into trial, but draw us to You, away
from evil.

For thine is the dominion, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.


Appendix. Due Diligence

We found a dozen discrepancies between then and now. But are there others that we missed? Did the act of bending the Prayer to fit English syntax introduce discrepancies? In the following Prayer, the words are translated one by one in the original order. Mouse over any word to find the Greek word that it came from and a link into the lexicon used for its translation.

9

In this way, therefore, pray :

Father of ours who 's in the heavens,

Be treated as sacred, the authority of yours.

10

Come this dominion of yours! Emerge that will of yours!

As in heaven also on earth.

11

The loaf of bread of ours that's for the coming day,
give us today.

12

And free us from these debts of ours

as also we freed those debtors of ours

13

And do not bring us into trial,

but draw us to you, away from the wicked.

References

1.   The Lord's Prayer. Prayer. Jesus (attributed). The Episcopal Church. Updated 2007.

2.   Matthew. Koine Greek text. Brooke Foss Westcott (writer), Fenton John Anthony Hort (editor). The Perseus project. Undated.

3.  What is Koine Greek, and why was the New Testament written in it? Exposition. GotQuestions.org. Got Questions Ministries. Published 2017 October 17.

4.  A Greek–English Lexicon. Exposition. WikiProject Books, WikiProject Reference works, et al. Wikipedia. Updated 2021 July 17.

5.  The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Lexicon. James Strong (project director). Bible Hub. Published 1890.

~   40. hagios. Entry. ~. ~. ~.

 3686. onoma. Entry. ~. ~. ~.

6.  Matthew 6: 9-13. New International Version. Unauthored. ISV Foundation, Bible Gateway. Published 2011.

7.  The Gospel of Jesus: According to the Jesus Seminar, 2nd edition. Paperback. Robert W Funk, Arthur J Dewey, et al. Polebridge Press. Published 2015.

8.  Led not into temptation: pope approves change to Lord's Prayer. News article. Harriet Sherwood (correspondent). The Guardian. Published 2019 June 6.

 

 2021 Jim Williams 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pre-Stored text to use as #anno instances

The author grants permission for non-commercial use with attribution:
Williams J.What the Lord's Prayer Once Said. 2013-2020 [subsite].

Contact the author regarding commercial use.

Cf. Perseus Greek study tool

Cf. Strong's Concordance

Cf. Perseus > Autenrieth

Cf. Perseus > LSJ

Greek Lexicon

[ split verb ]

[ added in translation ]

ἁγιασθήτω be honored as holy, be treated as holy,
be held sacred, be hallowed

ἀλλὰ otherwise, but, still, yet, except

ἀπὸ from, away from, far from, apart from

ἄρτον loaf of wheat-bread

ἄφες [ἀφίημι] discharge, set free from

ἀφήκαμεν [ἀφίημι] sent forth, discharged, set free from  

βασιλεία palace, kingdom, dominion

γενηθήτω be born, produced, created; come into being

γῆς earth

δὸς give, offer, grant, provide

εἰσενέγκῃς carry, bring, as an exhortation

εἰς into, to, towards

ἐλθάτω come, return, as an exhortation or command

ἐν in, within, among; on, at, by; into

ἐπὶ upon, on

ἐπιούσιον New Testament: for the coming day,
sufficient for the day

where; this, that; who, which; the

ἡμᾶς us

ἡμεῖς we

ἡμῖν [to] us

ἡμῶν of ours

θέλημά New Testament: will

καὶ and, even, also, just

μὴ [μή] not, lest

the, that, who

ὀφειλέταις debtors

ὀφειλήματα debts

οὐρανοῖς heavens, skies

οὐρανῷ heaven, sky

οὖν so, then, therefore

οὕτως in this way or manner, so, thus; merely so, simply

ὄνομά name, authority

πάτερ father

πειρασμόν trial; Mark 14:38: temptation

πονηροῦ toilsome, painful, grievous;
useless; b
ad, wicked

προσεύχεσθε pray, offer prayers

ῥῦσαι draw to one's self, draw out of danger; shield, guard, protect

σήμερον today

σου your, of yours

τὰ these, those

τὸ [τό] the, that

τοῖς the, these, those

τοῦ [of] the, that; therefore

τὸν [τὸν] the, that

ὑμεῖς ye; you, plural used as the
subject of a sentence

ὡς as, how

 

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