The Lord’s Prayer

G. Hugenberger

Since August 27, 1978 our Church family (The Lanesville Congregational Church) has been praying The Lord’s Prayer in a manner which is somewhat different from the customary forms familiar to most believers. These notes are written to briefly explain these differences and to enrich our understanding of this model prayer from our Lord who designed this prayer not for mindless recitation, but to give thoughtful expression to the deepest cries of our hearts.

The Lord’s Prayer was actually taught by our Lord in two slightly different forms (clearly on two different occasions) recorded for us in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. Protestants most commonly pray the Lord’s Prayer using the King James translation of Matthew 6:9-13. Where the form used in the Lanesville Congregational Church differs from the King James translation, the King James translation will be included in parentheses. It should be noted that following the tradition of Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer many churches substitute the terms “trespasses” and “those who trespass against us” for the King James “debts” and “debtors”. Also from the Book of Common Prayer is the common practice of closing the Lord’s Prayer with “for ever and ever” rather than King James’ “for ever”.

Address: Our Father who (which) art in heaven:

God: our thoughts are immediately directed toward God who through the work of Christ, we are now privileged to call Father

This points to a relationship of intimacy and trust (Luke 11:11-13) shows that when Jesus taught us this prayer He had this in mind; see also Mathew 6:8, 32: Jeremiah 31:20

While normally this closeness to God is seen as a privilege that would have to await heaven (Matthew 5:9; Luke 6:35; Romans 8:23) by faith, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, it can be our experience right now (I John 3:1; 5:1; Galatians 3:26; 4:6; Romans 8:14-17).

Ourselves: Of course if God is our Father, then we are His sons (and daughters). This is our privilege and specialness, but it also is our calling (we are to devote ourselves to imitating and obeying our Father). (See Ephesians 1:5; Romans 8:14-17; Luke 6:35,36).

Other believers: And if we are His children, then we are brethren. This is the perspective of the entire Lord’s Prayer where we do not pray “my” “me”, and “I” but “our”, “Us” and “we”.

Given the centrality of the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching, it may be that Jesus intends for us to see in the title of “Father” a common title used by the earthly kings of the ancient world. In this case when we call God. “our Father”, we are acknowledging that we are no longer detached individuals, but a kingdom living under the Lordship of the King of Kings (who is our “Father” in an infinitely richer and deeper sense than any mere human king could ever have dreamt).

Note that the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are closely related to each other in their form: each has “Thy” something. Although it is not true in the English translation, in Greek each of these petitions begins with the verb followed by the noun followed by the possessive “Thy”. It will be shown below that these three petitions belong together because each of them from a different point of view in effect is asking for the return of Christ. Also each of them can be partially answered in this life by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is because of this last fact that when Jesus summarizes this prayer in Luke 11:13 he says that it will be answered by the Father unhesitatingly giving “the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”.

1st petition: Hallowed be Thy name.

Possibly because of the word “hallowed” which is strange to modern ears, many have the impression that this petition is a statement rather than a request. In actual fact, however, there is no doubt that this is intended as a request (the original Greek expression makes this clear and all Christian scholars are agreed on the fact). In more modern English with this petition we are simply praying “may Your name be held holy”. The Scriptures teach that God will finally and decisively vindicate the holiness of His name only when Jesus Christ comes again (Romans 2:24; Isaiah 52:5.6; Ezekiel 36:21-23;Philippians 2:9-11). From that point God’s name will never again be dragged though the mud, whether by His own people or by His enemies. For this reason when we pray this petition, we are in fact praying for the return of the Saviour.

It is clear, however, that God can answer this plea in a more limited way by afresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit who is mighty to help His people honor the name of God (rather than continue to be a reproach to His name) and to grant repentance to those outside who still despise His name (Acts 15:14; Romans 10:13ff.; John 12:28).

2nd petition: Thy kingdom come.

Here in the most blatant way we are asking for our Lord’s return (Matthew 6:33; Revelation 22:20; II Timothy 4:1,18; Matthew 25:34; Daniel 7).

Nevertheless this petition also may be answered in a more limited way in this life through the work of the Holy Spirit subduing the hearts of men allowing Christ’s Kingly reign to be effective there. (Romans 14:17,18; Colossians 1:11-14; Romans 8:23; II Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the pledge and foretaste of the Kingdom of God, our heavenly inheritance.

3rd petition: They will be done on (in) earth, as it is in heaven.

As with the first two petitions, this one also can only be finally and decisively answered with the return of Christ --- only then will God’s Will be done on earth with the wholehearted love and joy that is found in heaven. (II Peter 3:13; I Corinthians 15:24-28; I John 3:20). Obviously this is not meant to deny that God sovereignly rules over all things even in this life (Psalm 99; Ephesians 1:11)—the point is that only then will the obedience be conscious and willing, in a universe purifies of every taint of fallenness.

Once again in a partial way this petition also may be answered now through the work of the Holy Spirit convicting men of sin (John 16: 8-11) and securing righteousness in believers (I Peter 1:2; Galatians 5:16-25) and effecting various miracles of healing and blessing as were accomplished through our Lord Jesus (Matthew 12:28; John 1:32 – and as continues by the church, I Corinthians 12:10).

Just as the first three, the second three petitions (4th, 5th, and 6th) are related to each other in their form. All three have the key word “us” and although it does not come across in English, in the underlying Greek all three petitions seem to form a single sentence (the 5th and 6th petitions are connected to the 4th with “and”). Noticing these facts about the form of these last petitions simply helps to emphasize what will be made clear in the notes – namely that in their meaning they are also intimately related to each other. All three petitions focus their attention on our needs: (4) the need for supply, (5) forgiveness, and (6) spiritual deliverance. Another helpful way of outlining these petitions is to see that measured against the standard of Christ’s return and eternity (for which we had been praying) these three petitions take up needs that concern (4) the present, (5) the past, and (6) the future.

4th petition: Give us this day our coming day’s (daily) bread.

For the translation “coming day’s” rather than “daily” consult any of the standard scholarly reference works such as The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, edited by Colin Brown (Vol.1, pages 251-252). The most forceful argument for this translation rests on the context of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:5-8 where Jesus immediately follows the Lord’s Prayer with a parable involving a man asking his neighbor for bread in the middle of the night. To understand the perspective of “coming day” we have to keep in mind that for Jesus (and all Jews) the day begins at sunset. We are to imagine ourselves as the man in the parable, earnestly appealing to God in the middle of night (Romans 13:11,12 –where we are living in the night awaiting to soon to dawn, coming day of the Lord) for an abundance of provision (material and spiritual) that would normally have to await the coming day. In other words we are asking for a foretaste of heaven’s blessings, both material and spiritual (Luke 11:5-8; Luke 14:15; John 6:51; John 6:1-14; 25-71; Luke 6:21). Here’s an exciting challenge not simply to rest with what “we can get by with” but to look to heaven to whet our appetites for every good and perfect gift that God wants for us.

5th petition: And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Having prayed for the return of our Lord, not surprisingly our thoughts turn to our desperate need for forgiveness – for with His return is a “fearful prospect of Judgement” (Hebrews 10:26-31; Malachi 3,4).

Following the Lord’s Prayer as it is taught in Matthew 6, Jesus makes it emphatically clear that our own forgiving of debtors is a necessary correlate to God’s forgiveness toward us. This, however does not mean that we earn His forgiveness. The parable in Matthew 18:21-35 shows that of we are refusing to forgive, we have clearly rejected God’s forgiveness (sluffing it off as if it did not amount to much). (See also Mark 11:25 which reminds us that forgiving our debtors is something that can be settled at the very moment we are praying).

6th petition: And lead us not into trial (temptation), but deliver us from the Evil One (evil).

The traditional rendering of “temptation” is one that has often troubled Christians since surely God does not need to be asked not to tempt us (James 1:13 makes this very point, possibly suggestion a very early misunderstanding of this petition). In fact the Scriptures abound with the promise that God only leads into paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:3). Clearly we are to understand “temptation” not in the sense of an enticement to sin, but as a “test” or “trial”. Before exploring these possibilities it should be noted that some have tried to understand this petition as a plea to God to help us avoid temptations (or at Least, avoid overpowering ones along the line of I Corinthians 10:13. While this would be an appropriate enough desire and even has some Biblical support, it is not what this petition actually says – had Matthew or Luke wanted to have us understand Jesus’ original words as “help us to avoid temptation” they could have easily found the words in Greek to say this, but they did not. What would quickly clear up this problem is to realize that the very poetic King James’ rendering “lead us not” represents an underlying Greek expression “do not lead us” (many modern English translations are clearing up this problem ---see for example the translation of the Good News Bible).

If then we are asking God not to lead us into trial, the trial in question must not be the beneficial kind mentioned is such a passage as I Peter 1:6,7 (where the word rendered “trials” is the very same word as in the Lord’s Prayer). It must rather be a kind of trial which normally given by God, is one which it would be well to avoid. The Old Testament offers us examples of such trials where God is exasperated with the pride of His people and so to cut them down to size He tries them in a way that demonstrates the hopelessness of trusting in themselves (Hosea 10:13, 14; Isaiah 31:1-3). Final Judgement is, of course, the extreme example of this kind of testing when men who have not put their faith in Christ will have their own strength and righteousness put on trial (and in the searing light of that Day these will be seen to be weakness and filthy rags).

In this petition, then, we are pleading with God, our Judge, that our own strength and righteousness would not have to be brought to trial (neither in Final Judgement nor in the pre-trials of this life) –we confess our inadequacy before God (see Psalm 143:1,2). Nevertheless we still want the benefit that would come were we able to be put on trial and found innocent – namely deliverance from our Enemy (notice this very line of thought in Psalm 143:1,2,9). Unspoken in this prayer, but the basis for this kind of outcome is of course the glorious gospel that our Lord Jesus was tried and found innocent in our place at the cross. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. (Romans 8:1) It is in the light of this that Paul strives to be found in Christ Jesus, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith”. (Philippians 3:9) (See also Revelation 3:10 for additional support).

English translations of the Lord’s Prayer reveal that the traditional “evil” may also be rendered “The Evil One” – one of Satan’s titles. Examples of “The Evil One” are found in I John 5:18,19; Mathew 13:19 (this passage is significant since Jesus has the threat of trials immediately in mind in verse 21); John 17:15 (where Jesus prays to the Father for our protection from the Evil One); II Thessalonians 3:3. There are two major considerations that support this rendering of “the Evil One” as well as confirm the general understanding of the first part of the petition outlined above. First is the very significant little word “but” which introduces the second half of the petition. One traditional understanding suggests that the sense is just in case God does not fully answer the first request (to have us avoid temptation, according to the traditional understanding) at least we want Him to allow us to be victorious (to be delivered from evil). However if this were really Jesus’ intention we would not expect a strong “but”, rather we would expect “well, at least….”

The second major consideration is the example of Peter who in Matthew 26:41 is warned by Jesus to pray that he would not enter into trial/temptation. In the context Peter had already expressed a dangerous cocksure attitude that even if all the other deciples would fail Jesus, surely he would not (Matthew 26:33). While such a sentiment may seem noble at first glance, Jesus was not only unimpressed, but seem to see in it a sure sign of Peter’s imminent denial (Matthew 26:34). The point seems to be that our God is a God who “Opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. (James 4:6) We cannot even have faith in our own faith – our faith can only be in our faithful God who keeps us (I Peter 1:5). Having said this, turning to Luke 22:31f. Jesus lifts the curtain and allows us to see the spiritual realities behind this trial of Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat (an ../image used for final judgment in Luke 3:17). But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” The ultimate issue then is not simply that Peter will lapse into evil, but that he in danger of becoming the prey of the Evil One.

Doxology: For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

These words are not original to the Lord’s Prayer as taught by Jesus (and will not be found in most modern translations of the Bible). For this reason the Roman Catholic Church has not included the “doxology” in their customary form of this prayer. Still it should be noted that these words were added by the church from a very early time, evidentially based on the doxology in I Chronicles 29:11-13. Keeping in mind that Jesus said “pray then like this (Matthew 6:9)” indicating that the Lord’s Prayer was intended to be a general model for prayer, should allow believers the freedom to pray some appropriate additional words without offense, or for that matter to pray in terms of a translation which they may not thoroughly accept (as perhaps in the present case?). (Compare 6:9-13 with Luke 11:2-4!!).


Bibliography

For additional help in understanding the Lord’s Prayer there are numerous books and articles available (including the appropriate sections in commentaries written on Matthew or Luke). Especially helpful for justifying and explaining features in the above translation are the following:

Philip B. Harner, Understanding the Lord’s Prayer, (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1975).

Joachim Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus, (SCM Press, Norwich, England, 1976).

“The Pater Noster as an Eschatological Prayer in New Testament Essays, by Raymond E. Brown, S.S. (Doubleday and Company, Garden City, New York, 1968).

G. P. Hugenberger, The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to the Perplexed (Park Street Church, 1999).