By now you’ve heard of the claim that Pope Francis is planning a change to the translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Apparently, he doesn’t like the line, directed to God, where the petitioner asks, “lead us not into temptation.” It sounds too much like God is the one who is behind our being tempted, and that isn’t theologically sound, since God never causes us to be tempted to sin.
Much hyperventilating has taken place over this news, including an article by conservative political commentator, author and radio host, Armstrong Williams, where Mr. Williams fears that “modern culture and the confusion of the times” are behind Francis’ desire to change the Lord’s Prayer, which are the “very words” of Jesus Christ, Mr. William’s reminds us.
Or, are they?
First, let’s remember that Jesus spoke in Aramaic and the two Gospels that record the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew and Luke, were written in Greek. So, Mr. Williams’ claim that the English translation “lead us not into temptation” are the “very words” of Jesus is on pretty shaky grounds. At best, they are an English translation of a Greek record of what Jesus said in Aramaic. Whether or not they are a good translation is a legitimate question. As well, what does “good translation” even mean? Does it mean they record as closely as possible the actual words of one language to their closest equivalent in another language, or does it mean that they convey as best as possible the meaning of the phrase? These kinds of debates are at the very essence of a translator’s job, and that job is all the more daunting when you consider that the work being translated is the inspired word of God!
Wait, there is a version of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew and in Luke? Yep.
Well, since this is God’s inspired word, and since the Lord’s Prayer is the “very words” of Jesus, then the two versions must say exactly the same thing, right? Nope.
The two versions of the Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 do vary in a number of the words used, though no one would seriously suggest that the meaning is different.
Now, before I get comments about being too dismissive or flip about biblical translations, or of suggesting that the words don’t matter, let me say that words matter very much and that biblical translations go through many levels of scrutiny before they’re authorized by the Church. Even still, authorized versions of the Scriptures can and do differ, sometimes markedly, in the words chosen to convey a particular meaning, though not in the meaning they convey. For instance, on the matter of Matthew 6:13 commonly translated in English as “lead us not into temptation,” there are at least three authorized English Bible translations that may be used by Catholics: the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) and the New American Bible for Catholics (NAB). Each translate the line in question with different words:
RSV: “And lead us not into temptation.”
NJB: “And do not put us to the test.”
NAB: “and do not subject us to the final test.”
Even still, the meaning of each is the same, that of asking God to protect us from temptation and from falling into sin. But, you can see why, I hope, that claiming that changing the wording of that or any other line of the Lord’s Prayer is somehow dishonoring the “very words” of Jesus is too much of a claim.
Second, let’s consider what started all the hubbub. The Catholic bishops in France authorized a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer to be used in all liturgies in France. The former translation rendered the words “lead us not into temptation,” just as the English does. But, the French bishops, as mentioned above, thought this could be misunderstood to mean that God causes us to be tempted to sin. So, they authorized a translation in the French that says, “do not let us fall into temptation.” The change was recently adopted by the Church in France starting on the first Sunday of Advent, so it was natural that Pope Francis would be asked about it in an interview on Italian television. In response to the question, Francis said, “The French have changed the text and their translation says, ‘don’t let me fall into temptation,’ … It’s me who falls. It’s not Him who pushes me into temptation, as if I fell. A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up right away. The one who leads into temptation is Satan.” Pope Francis also purportedly said that “lead us not into temptation” is not a good translation, and that he prefers the French translation. This makes sense because, after all, Francis is from Argentina, so his native tongue is Spanish and, guess what? — the Spanish translation says, “do not let us fall into temptation”! (The Portuguese translation says the same).
So, different languages and nationalities already use different translations of the words of the Lord’s Prayer. And, not only on the line in question, but on whether sins are called “trespasses” or “debts,” whether we are asking God to deliver us from “evil” or from “the evil one,” and even in how the Prayer ends, for Protestant Christians add the words, “For thine is the kingdom …, etc. …”
Finally, the whole matter is much ado about nothing, because Pope Francis never said anything about his changing the words of the Lord’s Prayer! He was asked a question about the new French translation, and he answered that he thought it a good change. Though some in the media, who are notoriously ignorant and lazy about things Catholic, seem to have assumed so, the pope expressing his opinion about a particular translation is not the equivalent of instituting a universal change on the wording of the Lord’s Prayer.
Here is an excellent article by Jimmy Akin that explains well the whole matter. Give it a read and, please, everybody calm down!
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.