Thirteen years ago, I lost my aged father who was of sound mind. Though middle-aged, I privately long for him to again guide me, protect me, and love me unconditionally in spite of my professed stoic self-reliance. My father would never have intentionally led me to harm, even at the cost of his own life. It is unthinkable. Fatherly devotion demands it. Would it not be miraculous if we could simply will such figures of authority and love back into existence to reverse this human loss? Who would not want this, even secretly among those most proudly self-reliant?
Pope Francis feels just as I do, and this is the gentle purpose behind his recommendation to change the translation of a verse in the Lord’s Prayer from “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” to “Let us not fall into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Pope wishes for God to be a God of love, loving and protecting us as our human fathers do here on Earth, and not a God willfully guiding us into danger. Yet to my most profound disappointment and sadness, this cannot be so, for in the Gospels, the very words of Jesus in the prayer itself tell us otherwise.
There have been decades of fuss in the Catholic Church—since Vatican II—over the convoluted ways to render the Latin of the Vulgate into English. In his article “Broken English” in the December 2 issue of The Tablet, Eamon Duffy supports the Pope’s position citing numerous jarring Latinate technical terms such as “compunction” and “consubstantial.” In order to avoid such awkwardness, Pope Francis has encouraged the bishops of various language groups to approve dynamic equivalency translations from the Latin text of the Mass into the vernacular. But the translation of the Our Father into English is a separate issue from the problem raised by a literal translation of the Latin Mass into the vernacular. For a prayer as central to Christianity as the Our Father, why not just go directly to the Greek of the Gospels for our English translation?
The Greek text of Matthew 6:13 reads, “καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς” (and do not lead: a negated prohibitive aorist subjunctive of the transitive verb “εἰσφέρω,” to carry x to) “ἡμᾶς” (us) “εἰς πειρασμόν” (to temptation, or trial) “ἀλλὰ” (but) “ῥῦσαι” (protect: aorist imperative) “ἡμᾶς” (us) “ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ” (from evil). No matter how much one tortures the Greek and searches the lexica, there is no evidence for rendering “μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς” as “do not let us fall,” or even, “do not let us make an error.” This compound Greek verb “εἰσφέρω,” “to carry to,” has two elements: “εἰσ,” meaning “to,” and the aorist tense of “φέρω,” a Greek verb of unambiguous definition, meaning “to carry.” The equally common verb “πίπτω” is available for “falling” and “ἁμαρτάνω” is available for “erring.” In fact, The Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:2–4 uses a noun form of “ἁμαρτάνω,” which all remember as “forgive us our errors, (or sins).” Furthermore, the word “ἀλλὰ” (but) is chosen specifically to provide contrast between the two wishes: “do not lead me astray,” but “save me from evil.”
Just two chapters earlier in Matthew 4:1, Jesus was led into temptation, or put to trial, in the desert with the same vocabulary. The verse reads, “Τότε ὁ Ἰησοῦς” (then Jesus) “ἀνήχθη” (was led: aorist passive of the compound verb, “ἀνάγω,” to lead up) “εἰς τὴν ἔρημον” (to the desert) “ὑπὸ τοῦ Πνεύματος” (by the Spirit), “πειρασθῆναι” (to be tested: an aorist passive infinitive of the verb “πείρω,” “to try, test,” found in its noun form in Matthew 6:13, “πειρασμόν”) “ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλοu” (by the Devil).
The even greater mystery about the Pope’s new translation is that Jerome’s Vulgate supports this reading with its translation from the Greek, “et ne nos inducas [do not lead us] in tentationem sed libera nos a malo.”
Pope Francis may want to emphasize God’s love, but it is clear in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels that God is willing to subject people to trial, to which the Lord’s Prayer clearly makes reference. Jesus’ powerful, in some ways shocking, innovation is the boldness of having us address God as “Πάτερ” (Father) and then urging us to pray to our Father not to do to us what He did to Abraham and Job. The Pope’s new translation changes the ancient tradition about God’s putting one to the test, which is present in both the Greek and Latin patristic sources and developed over the centuries up to the present time. I fear that the Pope’s sincere wish for humanity may result in colossal, multilingual, and lasting damage to the revolutionary meaning of the central prayer of Christianity.