Word of the Week
June 24, 2023
Eispherō: Rewriting the Lord’s Prayer
Lead us not into temptation . . .
Matthew 6:13a KJV
The Vatican recently announced that they plan to change the wording of one phrase in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation” will become “Abandon us not into temptation.” This is a big shift for Catholics who have been reciting the Lord’s Prayer (or Pater Noster) for centuries as part of their routine of worship and personal devotion.
Why make such a change?
Pope Francis has explained that the traditional translation portrays God in a false light. “A father does not lead into temptation, a father helps you to get up immediately . . . . It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.”
When a friend brought this new rendering to my attention, I assumed that I knew which Greek word I would find in the verse. The usual word for “lead” is agō, which simply means to bring or lead someone.
But that’s not the word Jesus used.
The Lord’s Prayer appears in both Matthew and Luke, and in both Gospels Jesus uses the Greek word eispherō (Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4). This word has a stronger, more vivid meaning which is worth examining.
Eispherō occurs six more times in the New Testament:
- Luke 5:18-19 – “And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before him.”
Notice that the paralytic is passive here. He just lies on his bed while his friends carry him to Jesus.
- Luke 12:11 – Jesus speaking to His disciples: “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how or what you should speak in your defense or what you should say.”
Here the word describes an arrest, where the disciples are dragged against their will into a hostile situation.
The word is used at times to describe things, rather than people.
- Acts 17:20 – The Athenians lounging around Mars Hill ask Paul to speak to them: “You bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”
- Hebrews 13:11 – Describing the Old Testament sacrifice system: “The bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places as a sacrifice for sin.”
- 1 Timothy 6:7 – “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.”
All of these uses describe a person taking the initiative to bring someone or something into a situation. “Bring” is a natural translation in each case. “Abandon” simply doesn’t make sense in the other verses.
Why would the Vatican consider “abandon” in the model prayer that Jesus taught?
It’s because the verse raises some troublesome issues. Does it suggest that God might haul us into a temptation? Is He the source of temptation?
James 1:13 declares, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the escape also, that you may be able to endure it.”
Therefore, we know that God is not trying to persuade us to sin. He may take us through great difficulties where we are tempted to worry or despair, but He does it with good purposes in mind (see Romans 8:28). When you have a flat tire, it can be a temptation to get angry and use some unsavory language or it can be an opportunity to look to God for His help.
NOTE: The Greek word for “temptation” is peirazō, which also means “trial, test.” But that’s a topic for another word study.
Bottom line #1: You would normally translate eispherō as “lead, bring.” The Catholic translators use “abandon” because they want to avoid the suggestion that God might cause us to sin. I recognize what they are trying to accomplish, but I would prefer to use the traditional translation. We will still have to wrestle with the same issues either way.
Bottom line #2: We can ask God not to bring us into any situation where we will be facing trials or temptations that overwhelm us. We can ask this with confidence because He has said that He will be faithful in doing whatever it takes to enable us to be overcomers.
The issue raised here illustrates the challenges faced by Bible translators. They have to pursue two ideals that are not always compatible: being perfectly faithful to the Greek and perfectly understandable to English (or other) speakers. Linguists talk about the difference between formal equivalence (where you seek a word-for-word match between Greek and English) and dynamic equivalence (where you may adjust the wording to help an English reader grasp the intended idea). In this case, the Catholic Church chose the translation “abandon” because they believed it would give a more theologically correct understanding of the passage. Dynamic equivalence is a legitimate practice as long as people realize that it produces a translation that is very clear, but may involve some interpretation.
Q: I’m reading a devotional article about Hebrews 12:14 that mentions the Greek word dōkete but I couldn’t seem to find that word when I looked it up. Can you help me?
A: I looked at the article you are studying and discovered that it’s a simple error in spelling. There’s no such word as dōkete in the New Testament. The verse actually says diōkete, and the extra “I” makes all the difference. The word sometimes means “to persecute” or actively chase someone down in order to cause them suffering. But it can also mean “to pursue” a good goal. That’s the meaning in Hebrews 12:14 – “Pursue peace with all, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” We should run after those goals with the focused effort of someone charging toward a finish line.
Colossians 1 declares that God has made us qualified to share in the inheritance that He bestows. Next week we will take a closer look at what it means to be “qualified” for that great gift.
©Ezra Project 2023