THE LORDS PRAYER
1,968 years ago, on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth was asked by his followers for instructions on how to pray. In response, Jesus recited a short prayer. This prayer is recorded in the Gospel of Luke (Ch. 11:2-4), written in a final form about 80CE, and the Gospel of Matthew (Ch. 6:9-13), which was completed approximately in 85CE. The longer version of this prayer from the Book of Matthew has become the standard in the liturgy and daily prayers of over one billion Christians worldwide. Most Christians are taught the "Lords Prayer" at a very early age and continue to recite it throughout their lives either privately, at churches, schools, or social events. The recital is automatic and flows from the mind and tongue with robotic familiarity. The authors of Luke and Matthew were writing over a half century after the prayer was composed and delivered by Jesus. What was their source? How accurate are their renditions to the words actually spoken by Jesus (Ipsissima vox Jesu). Was the prayer unique within 1st century Judaism? I hope a closer look at the linguistic, cultural, spiritual and historical aspects of the Prayer will give Christians a higher awareness of the power of those few short sentences all too often spoken robotically.
The Language of the Lords Prayer
We cannot tackle the more difficult issue of what Jesus exact words were without a better understanding of the language in which it was rendered. The Gospels and Books of the New Testament were set down in Greek between 20 and 80 years after they were spoken. Greek was the vernacular of the West and the language of commerce. The vernacular of the East, and Jesus language, was Aramaic.
The Hebrew language, in 1st century Palestine, was used for scriptural and scholarly writings. The weekly synagogue readings (the Sidra, Parashah, and Haphtarah) were always accompanied with an Aramaic translation. These oral translations of the Hebrew lections to Aramaic would eventually be written down in the Targumim. The Gemara of the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud were written in Eastern (Babylonian) Aramaic. Why did the Jewish people speak Aramaic and not Hebrew? Aramaic was the language of commerce of the Persian Empire and was used widely from the Indus Valley to Egypt. It became the language of the Jewish people by conquest, first when the Israelites were deported by Tiglath-Pileser III in 732 BCE in the first Assyrian invasion. The northern tribes were deported in 721 BCE when Sargon II made Israel an Assyrian province and finally the Judeans in 587 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar. There is, in a sense, some irony to this since these Mesopotamian conquerors came from the land that gave birth to Abraham. Aramaic was the language of the ancestor of the Jewish people. What is known as the Hebrew Language in the New Testament was called the Lip of Canaan in the Old Testament. Abraham and the Patriarchs adopted the language and script of the Phoenicians. The aftermath of the "Babylonian Captivity" resulted in a readoption of the Aramaic ancestral language of Abraham. The "Hebrew" script used today is actually the Aramaic Square Script which replaced the Phoenician script known as "Old Hebrew" about 200 BCE. Old Hebrew is exemplified by the Moabite stone inscription, the Lachish letters, and the Siloam inscription. Most Christians are surprised to learn that until the adoption of Hebrew as the official language of the State of Israel in 1948, it had not been the vernacular of the Jewish people for over 2500 years.
The recording of the Lords Prayer from the mouth of Jesus
This author believes that one of Jesus disciples, probably Levi Mattathia ben Alfai (Matthew), wrote down notable sayings of Jesus both during and after his sermons. Written in Aramaic, this collection of sayings would be referred to as the "Oracles of the Lord" by Eusebius in his Church History written in the 4th century. Some scholars, capable of isolating these sayings in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, would call the source "Q." The Lords Prayer may have been contained, in its original form, in this collection of sayings. A "fingerprint" of Jesus sayings seems to be a two-four beat rhythm and rhyming. This was a device of good oratory of the time that assisted listeners in remembering what was said. After all, tape recorders were not available and if they were, there was no place to plug them in. Scholars learned to identify much of the "Q Source" material as genuine Yeshuine sayings by this meter and rhyme when the Greek of the New Testament record was "retroverted" to the Aramaic of Jesus. A good example are the sayings known to Christians as the Beatitudes in Matthew 3:5-10. The first beatitude by the Greek-speaking author of Matthew was rendered thusly:
Makarioi oi ptochoi to pneumati oti auton estin e basileia ton ouranon
BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
In retroversion to the Aramaic of Jesus, however, it becomes (transliterated):
TubeHON lmisknaYA deDILeHON malKUta dishmaYA
Likewise the second Beatitude:
Makarioi oi penthountes oti autoi paraklethhsontai
BLESSED ARE THEY THAT MOURN FOR THEY SHALL BE COMFORTED
Again in the rhyming Aramaic of Jesus:
TubeHON DEmittABBElin DehinnUN mitnaHAmin
The reader need not know Aramaic to read these transliterations and get a sense of the beautiful rhyming oratorical style of our Lord and feel the impact of his true voice.
Do the Gospels record the original rendition of the Lords Prayer?
There are two renditions of the Lords Prayer in the Gospels. One is recorded in Matthew 6:9-13 and a shorter version in Luke 11:2-4. Since both are different, which one records the exact words of Jesus? In fact, the logical conclusion is that no ONE form of the two versions records the original ipsissima vox Jesu (exact words of Jesus). Jesus also could have repeated the words at different times in sermons using variations. Both versions reflect editorial modifications by the authors of the Gospels to reflect the liturgical traditions of the separate groups of Greek speaking Christians to which the authors subscribed. The Gospel writers were not as concerned about the EXACT words of Jesus as much as conveying the sense of their liturgical tradition as the INTENT of Jesus words. Let us first look at these two renderings in the Greek of the Gospel writers (taken from the Codex Sinaiticus, c. 325CE and other ancient texts), English and an Aramaic retroversion.
PATER EMON O EN TOIS OURANOIS
Our Father, who (art) in the heavens
AGIASTHETO TO ONOMA SOU
Sanctified (hallowed) be your name
ELTHETO E BASILEIA SOU
Let come your kingdom
GENETHETO TO THELEMA SOU
Let be done thy will
OS EN OURANO KAI EPI TES GES
As in heaven, so upon the earth
Ah-KEN-o du-wush-m-YAH up vaRA
TON ARTON EMON TON EPIOUSION DOS EMIN SIMERON
Our bread, the needed, give us today
Heb lan lahMA de-soon-KA-nen yomaNA
KAI APHES EMIN TA OPHEILEMATA EMON
And forgive us our debts
Vosh-WOK lan hoyWEEN
OS KAI EMEIS APHIEMEN TOIS OHIEILETAIS EMON
As also we forgive our debtors
ah-KEN-o dup heNEEN shevKON lhoyWEEN
KAI ME EISEVEGKES EMAS EIS PEIRASMON
And lead not us into temptation
(Let us not enter into testing)
vLA tse-LON lnees-yo-NA
ALLA RUSAI EMAS APO TOU PONEROU
But deliver us from evil
la petSON meen way-SHA
*Aramaic from the Peshitta text
LUKES VERSION (11:2-4)
AGIASTHETO TO ONOMA SOU
Sanctified (hallowed) be your name
ELTHATO E BASILEIA SOU
Let come your Kingdom
TON ARTON EMON TON EPIOUSION DIDOU EMIN KATH EMERAN
Our daily bread KEEP GIVING US today
KAI APHES EMIN TAS AMARTIAS EMON
And forgive us our SINS
KAI GAR AUTOI APHIEMEN PANTI OPHEILONTI EMIN
As we also forgive everyone INDEBTED to us
KAI ME EISENEGKES EMAS EIS PIRASMON
And do not lead us to the test
Numerous biblical scholars have examined both the Matthean and Lukan versions of the Lords Prayer in an attempt to restore a version closest to that actually voiced by Jesus. Two of the most notable have been Joachim Jeremias, Abba. Studien zur Neutestamentlichen Theologie und Zietgeschichte, 1966, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen; and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke, 1981, 1985 Doubleday, Garden City, NY. The scholarly opinion is that the original version of the Lords Prayer was a short version, like Lukes, but contained wording closer to that embedded in the expanded version of Matthew. The works of these scholars are summarized in John P. Meiers "A Marginal Jew, rethinking the historical Jesus" Vol. 2, 1994, Doubleday, NY.
How do the Gospels of Matthew and Luke differ?
The Gospel of Matthew was written probably in Antioch by a Syrian Greek-speaking Jewish scribe of the Pharisaic party (Prushim). The Gospel was not written by the disciple named Matthew but may derive its name from having utilized the Aramaic list of sayings written by that disciple. The scribe also copied the earlier Gospel of Mark nearly in its entirety. Material that is not in Mark or from the list of "sayings" is called the M source. Given that the Gospel of Matthew is essentially haggadic/Midrash style, M may have been an oral tradition. Because of the scribes use of Mark, the "M" source and the "sayings" or "Q," four sections of narrative and about a dozen sayings of Jesus are given twice. The author of Matthew wanted a more Jewish representation than is found in Mark. With designs to convert Jews, he relies heavily on miracles and Old Testament prophecy alignments from a Greek translation that was not the Septuagint. The Gospel is divided into five sections ending at 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1 and 26:1 respectively. It is apparent that the scribe of this Gospel intended it to be the Christian "Pentateuch." The Gospel was written somewhere between 85 to 90 CE, 15-20 years AFTER the destruction of the Temple by the Romans.
The belief that Yeshuine Jews were a threat to the Law (all that was left to Jews following the destruction) brought a new benediction to the daily liturgy, now called the Shemoneh Esreh or Amidah. This benediction was called the Birkat ha-minim, the Benediction against Heresy, which said "For the apostates, let there be no hope and let the arrogant government be speedily uprooted in our days. Let the Nazarenes and the minim be destroyed in a moment and let them be blotted out of the Book of Life and not be inscribed together with the Righteous..." Yeshuine Jews were expelled from the synagogues and the author of Matthew appears to be one of these excommunicated Jews. As part of a Christian community in Antioch that included both Jews and gentiles, the Matthew scribe saw Jewish participation in the Jesus movement declining and gentile participation increasing. It may also be that the gentile concepts of a trinity and pre-existent Messiah could have offended the Jewish Christians. Even the references to the "Holy Ghost" were later editorial additions to Matthew. Accordingly, this Gospel was written to remind gentiles of the Jewish origins of the faith and to remind Jews that Jesus was the expected Messiah and of his present and imminent coming.
The Gospel of Luke reflects a separate tradition and liturgy from Matthew. This Gospel was written for Greek-speaking gentiles who saw a long future for the Church rather than the imminent coming reflected by the Jewish Matthew. The Gospel was written in Ephesus and, although completed near the same time as the Gospel of Matthew (85 CE), it probably existed in a more primitive form as early as 65-70. This primitive form of the Gospel is called "Proto-Luke" by some scholars. The author appears to have gone on to prepare "volume II" of the Gospel, manifest in the first version of the Book of Acts, somewhere between the years 75 to 80 CE. By the year 85, gentile Christian traditions in Ephesus had evolved considerably and the Gospel was edited and redacted to its present form. Generally, the style of Luke is colloquial and oral with a fondness for diminutives and words of Latin origin. Luke uses the verb "to be" especially in the imperfect, enjoys the use of double negatives, and crowds sentences with participles. The revisions of the Gospel can be seen in the very literary prologue (1:1-4) and the Hebraic style from 1:5 through the end of chapter 2. A fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran cave 4 (4Q286) arguably appears to be Luke 1:35 and may be a fragment of "Proto-Luke."
How do the versions of the Lords Prayer in Matthew and Luke differ?
Luke starts the Lords Prayer simply with "Father" (Abba) and records a very short version of 5 petitions while Matthew expands "Father" with OUR (Abbun) and "who is in Heaven." This follows the Matthean tradition/redaction style of Jewish liturgy seen elsewhere throughout the Gospel. The phrase "Thy Will be Done" is only in Matthews version and is used by the author to expand "Thy kingdom come" by telling WHEN the kingdom will come (when Gods will is done). The "bread" petition more clearly reflects the differences in the two traditions. Where Matthew says dos emin semeron in the Aorist "Give us bread today" (the imminent coming), Luke uses the present imperative didou emin to kath `emeran "KEEP giving us today" (Sometime in the distant future). "Bread" in 1st century Palestine meant the same as it does today in the Middle East...food. It was also an idiom for Teaching.
Matthews version asks God to "Forgive us our debts (opheilemata) as we forgive our debtors" (opheiletais) using the debts/debtors metaphor for sins/sinners which was familiar to Jews. Luke, on the other hand, writing for gentiles who were not familiar with the Jewish double meaning for debts replaces "debts" with "sins" (amartias) in the first half and retain "debtors" (opheilouti) in its participial form in the second half. Some of the ancient copyists edited the short Lukan prayer to extend it like the Matthean Prayer, believing the longer Matthew version was the correct one. The desire of the copyists to "harmonize" the versions was strong and is even reflected in the Codex Sinaiticus. This is very important for it tells us that Luke knew Aramaic and felt it necessary to explain the Aramaic idiom to Gentiles. Luke, therefore, is a witness that the Lords Prayer was originally rendered in Aramaic. This is strong evidence, in spite of the opinion of the Jesus Seminar, that the Lords Prayer is authentic from Jesus.
Lukes setting for the prayer is probably more historical than Matthews. Matthew inserts the Lords Prayer as part of the Sermon on the Mount. The 6th chapter of Matthew contains instructions on almsgiving (6:2-4), prayer (6:5-15) and fasting (6:16:18). These instructions follow a commonly used Jewish structural formula that can be found throughout Rabbinical literature..."when you do........do not act like the hypocrites/heretics/gentiles.....but do it like....." I think this chapter was written originally without the Lords Prayer and without the Mark 11:25 insert at 6:14. Without them, the chapter is balanced. This is one aspect of Matthew that leads me to believe that the Lords Prayer was to be found in "Sayings/Q." It appears that the author of Matthew first wrote M source material (from which the pericopae on almsgiving, prayer, and fasting came), then he inserted the apostle Matthews "sayings" from which a shorter "Luke-style" prayer came and the prayer was edited and extended to fit the liturgy of the Antiochene Christian community. The Church historian Eusebius confirms Matthews use of the original Aramaic Jesus Sayings written probably by the Apostle Matthew. "Matthew composed the sayings (ta logia) in the Hebrew language, and each translated them (epmeneusen as best they could." (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.16). The insertion of these "sayings" written by Matthew is where the Gospel got its name. The author of Matthew then inserted the entirety of Mark using Mark 11:25 in the Sermon on the Mount to further editorialize the prayers petition on forgiveness of sins.
The context in Luke has Jesus praying "in a certain place" (11:1) and the disciples ask Jesus for a prayer comparable to one given by John. This is the more likely historical setting of the Lords Prayer.
What was the original Lords Prayer from the mouth of Jesus?
John Dominic Crossan in The Historical Jesus, 1991, Harper San Francisco, p294, does not believe that the Lords Prayer originated with Jesus but was composed by later Christians as a summary of Jesus themes. The basis for his belief is that a prayer given by Jesus himself would have greater attestation and be more uniform in versions. This is a rare occasion where I disagree with that eminent scholar. The form and structure of the prayer, particularly in its "reconstructed" Aramaic form convinces me that it is Yeshuine in origin. Lack of uniformity is not, to me, a strong argument given the rampant lack of uniformity in all four Gospels and other early Christian writings. Obviously the modification of Jesus words from either written or oral sources to enhance a specific christological or eschatological tradition was more the rule than the exception.
Both Matthew and Luke used the "sayings" source and Mark to write their Gospels as well as a source of their own. Luke does not appear to have been aware of the Gospel of Matthew, not surprising since they are separate and isolated Christian traditions in Antioch and Ephesus. The Lords Prayer in the "sayings" source was probably in its original form but was expanded by Matthew for liturgical purposes and modified by Luke for reasons of style and theology. By removing the added ornamentations of Matthew and the changes in style by Luke, a version of the Lords Prayer very close to the actual "voice of Jesus" could be reconstructed. The eminent biblical and Aramaic scholar, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, does just this in "The Gospel According to Luke" op.cit.
yitqadDASH sheMAK Holy is your name
Teteh malKOOtak Your kingdom come
LahmaNA di misteYA Our daily bread/food
heb laNAH yoMA deNAH Give us today
UsheBUQ laNAH hobayNA Forgive us our debts
kedi shebaqNA lehayYA-bayNA As we forgive our debtors
weAL ta`elinNA lenisYONA and do not lead us to the test.**
(Do not allow us to come to the test)
** "Temptation" is a clumsy translation. This author believes that the Letter of James is one of the very earliest Jesus Movement writings originating with Yaqub bar Yosef (James, the Righteous), Jesus next eldest brother. It reflects plays on words, alliterations and rhyming meter reminiscent of the Q Source style of the "sayings" source and. although in good literary Greek, is very Hebraic in style. In this letter, Jesus brother includes (probably dictated to a very Greek-literate disciple) "Let no man say when he is tempted, `I am tempted of God: For God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man." (1:13) "Lead us not into temptation" is probably the most difficult petition to "pin down" in its meaning. It is not part of the teachings of the Church that God would lead anyone to temptation. The difficulty lies in the translation of the Aramaic Nesiona to the peirasmon of the Greek text. Some scholars see this petition with an apocalyptic and eschatological bent and asking God to spare the faithful from the final test of suffering, the Parousia. I think that the meaning was not based on apocalyptic eschatology but was a simple daily petition for God to "not allow us to enter into wrongful thinking (testing)," the Aramaic verb in the Hafel form signifying a causative sense. An example of this can be found in the contemporaneous Dead Sea Scrolls. The Psalms Scroll (11qpsa) contains a petition for escape from temptation or evil.
Psalms Scroll 11Qps
Deliver us from evil...or "part (PASAN) us from the evil ONE" is dependent on whether the Greek phrase apo tou ponerou is masculine or neuter. There is still the question, however, whether the Greek rendering accurately reflects the original Aramaic rendering of Jesus. There IS a vast distance between the Aramaic and Greek idiom.
Is the Lords Prayer unique within 1st century Judaism?
The prayer does indeed reflect the primary Yeshuine teaching of the coming of an actual, rather than eschatological, kingdom to be ruled by God. Jesus also taught of a near and personal God who is involved in the lives of the faithful rather than a distant creator. The Aramaic ABBA is considered by Jeremias and Fitzmyer to be unique to Jesus. The word means "my dear father" or, as some scholars characterize, "Dad." To Jews the Name of God carries such an awesome mystique that it cannot be pronounced. Pronouncing the name of God in 1st century Palestine constituted blasphemy and brought the death penalty. The idea of referring to God as "daddy" must have been notable. It was certainly unusual but, unlike Jeremias and Fitzmyer, I dont believe non-existent in pre-yeshuine Palestine. "Abba" was used by the grandson of Honi the Circle Drawer (Babylonian Talmud, ta-anith, 23b). It may be that ABBA was used by certain holy men or prophets who felt a direct connection with God but was rare in usage. Paul uses "Abba" in Gal 4:6 and Rom 8:15. Since Paul uses an Aramaic word for believers who didnt know Aramaic, the word must have had significance to early believers. It suggests that Jesus put emphasis on the use of "Father" as an address to God and encouraged it.
The structure of the prayer, otherwise, is in accord with standard Jewish liturgy such as the Kaddish. "Magnified and Hallowed be His great name in the world that He has created according to His pleasure, may He cause His Kingdom to reign.." and the Prayer of Manasseh "..forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors." Much has been written concerning the influence of the Kaddish on Jesus composition of the Lords Prayer. The Kaddish, however, did not become prominent in daily synagogue liturgy until the close of the Talmudic period in the 5th century CE. It may have existed in a primitive form in the 1st century but the idea that Jesus was familiar with the Kaddish may be an anachronism. The Kaddish is mentioned for the first time as part of the daily prayers in the Tractate Soferim (6th CE).
The original form of the Lords Prayer was short, succinct and less than two dozen words, yet the scholarly, inspirational, devotional, and popular literature on those few words would fill a warehouse. I hope that this coverage of the linguistics and development of the Lords Prayer will help the reader to a higher awareness of the power of the words and of our Lords intentions in its composition. If successful, the prayer will be in the forefront of the minds eye rather than recited in a mantra-like fashion.
George M. Lamsa, Gospel Light, 1964, Harper, San Francisco.
Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.
Graham N. Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, 1992 Oxford University Press, Oxford
Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels, their history and development.1990, Trinity Press International, Phila.
William O. Walker, Jr., The Lords Prayer in Matthew and John in New Testament Studies 28 (1982) 237-56
John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, 1991, Harper San Francisco
Joachim Jeremias, Abba. Studien zur Neutestamentlichen Theologie und Zietgeschichte, 1966, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke, 1981, 1985 Doubleday, Garden City, NY
John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, rethinking the historical Jesus, Vol. 2, 1994, Doubleday, NY.
The Peshitta Aramaic Text of the New Testament, 1986, The Aramaic Scriptures Research Society, Jerusalem.
Todays Parallel Greek-English New Testament, 1976, Iversen-Norman Associates, NY.
Lords Prayer in Jesus own Aramaic on genuine papyrus $40.00