On Easter Sunday, when 2 billion Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, many will be reading, reciting and singing the Lord’s Prayer in hundreds of languages in houses of worship both modest and grand.
They may be Catholics or Protestants or Eastern Orthodox, theologically conservative or liberal or in between, but in this short prayer, Christians come together.
“The Lord’s Prayer really is the ‘Creed’ that most connects the world’s Christians,” said theologian Frederick Dale Bruner, author of an acclaimed two-volume commentary on the Gospel of Matthew and an expert on the Lord’s Prayer.
“There is a sense of solidarity in knowing that Christians around the globe are praying together the prayer that was taught us by Christ himself,” said the Rev. Clayton Schmit, a professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena who has worshiped in many places around the world. “Even when Protestants and Catholics worship together, though much divides us theologically, these words always unite us.”
Also called the “Pater Noster” in Latin, or the “Our Father,” the Lord’s Prayer is found in two gospels: Matthew 6: 9-13 and Luke 11: 2-4.
In Luke, one disciple, citing John the Baptist, entreats Jesus to “teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.”
The commonly accepted version of the prayer comes from Matthew, translated from Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, into Greek and later Latin. One of the most widely used English translations is from the King James Version.
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done in earth, as it is
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we
forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the
power, and the glory, forever.
Some biblical scholars believe that Jesus was influenced by the Talmud’s Kaddish, which begins with “Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world, which he has created according to his will....” As the prayer ends, it says, “may he create peace for us and for all Israel; and say Amen.”
The Our Father exalts God as well, but Bruner says, “There is something miraculously simple, accessible, unsophisticated and earthy about Jesus’ dramatic abbreviation of the much longer synagogue prayers.”
Bruner observes in his Matthew commentary that “the prayer originally ended with the ominous words ‘the Evil One.’ ” But early on it was felt that this ending was too abrupt and negative, so scribes added to Jesus’ rough ending the more polished “For thine is the kingdom” phrase.
That phrase is known as a doxology -- a praise -- and does not appear in Luke. Most Protestants use the doxology as part of the prayer, while Roman Catholics recite a version of it after an intervening prayer by the priest during the Mass.
“I don’t blame the church for adding it to the original Greek text, which does not have this doxology and which Jesus did not teach,” Bruner said in an e-mail. “I think that the church didn’t want to have the prayer end with ‘the Evil One’ (the devil)....”
Bruner says he prays this doxology in church “loyally.” But privately, “I use what Jesus taught and end (soberly!) with the prayer to be rescued from the Evil One. I think Jesus’ realism trumps the church’s prettifying here.”
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the doxology, or exclamation, adds an emphasis on the Trinity. This portion, recited by the priest, says: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.” All worshipers say, “Amen.”
In his 20-page analysis of every word in the Lord’s Prayer in his Matthew commentary, Bruner says a major problem with prayer in general is uncertainty -- the worshiper may be unsure what to say. By teaching the Lord’s Prayer, he said, Jesus gave his disciples clear instructions and showed a short prayer can be as powerful as a long one.
The Lord’s Prayer is divided into two symmetrical parts, or “tables,” according to Bruner.
The first table has three petitions with the word “your” (or thy), and the second table contains three petitions with the word “our” or “us.”
Bruner says Jesus’ “greatest gift” to humans in the Lord’s Prayer “is giving them the right to call his Father by the address ‘our Father.’ ”
The “our” conveys other meanings as well.
“When I say, ‘Our Father,’ it’s for me a real reconciling prayer,” said Father Guillermo Garcia, a professor at Mount Saint Mary’s College in Los Angeles. “It’s also my prayer for my own Catholic Church, that we will become more inclusive and less exclusive, that we will learn from our brothers and sisters, both within the Christian faith and outside the Christian faith.”
The Aramaic word used for “father” is also significant. Jesus chose abba -- an intimate term like daddy, Bruner said.
“The modern ‘Our Parent’ or the politically correct ‘Our Father and Mother God’ will not do,” he said. “The first reason for keeping ‘Our Father’ is simply Jesus’ command, ‘Pray like this: Our Father.’ ”
Multiple translations of the prayer abound, as shown in various interpretations of the petition “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
From the New Jerusalem Bible: “And do not put us to the test, but save us from the Evil One.”
From the New Revised Standard Version: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”
Then there’s the modern translation in “The Message” Bible: “Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge!”
Schmit observed that some Protestant churches that used to include the Lord’s Prayer regularly in Sunday worship have taken to omitting it. The trend, and the omitting of other church creeds, distresses him.
“When we omit such things, we are missing the opportunity to speak words that are in harmony with all Christians of all places, even of all times,” he said.
Bruner said: “I believe the world would turn on its axis if many of the faithful throughout the world prayed the half-minute Lord’s Prayer thoughtfully one or two times a day, really meaning every word of it.”