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Lead Us Not Into Temptation   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Lord’s Prayer

Image in the Public Domain

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And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.  Amen.

–Matthew 6:13, Authorized Version

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…et ne nos indicas in temptatiónem; sed libera nos a malo.

…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

–from The Roman Missal (2010)

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It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.  I am the one who falls.  It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen.  A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you get up immediately.  It’s Satan who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.

–Pope Francis, December 2017

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The Holy Father is correct.

James 1:13-15 agrees with him:

Never, when you are being put to the test, say, “God is tempting me;”  God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not put anybody to the test.  Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire.  Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

Translations (mostly Roman Catholic ones, on purpose, in this post) of Matthew 6:13, with its two lines, fall into several categories.  As for the first line, many translations (including the Rheims-Challoner New Testament, 1582/1749-1752; the Confraternity Version, 1941; and the Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Version, 2002), ask that God not lead one into temptation.  The Jerusalem Bible (1966) and The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) are some of the translations in which one asks,

And do not put us to the test.

In The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) we read,

…and do not subject us to the final test,

but deliver us from the evil one.

Similar to that translation are versions in which one asks for deliverance

from the time of trial,

as in The Book of Common Prayer (1979), which also provides the option of praying

And lead us not into temptation,

in the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer.  The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) also falls into the category of asking for deliverance from “the evil one,” not from “evil.”

My reading of commentaries has revealed a narrow range of interpretations of Matthew 6:13.  There is a consensus that (1) God does not tempt anyone, per James 1:13-15; and (2) the second petition should be for deliverance from “the evil one,” not generalized evil.  The main differences relate to the interpretation of what the first petition means.  One camp argues that it is simply a request for God to remove temptation or for the ability to resist temptation in the here and now.  Douglas R. A. Hare, author of the 1993 commentary on the Gospel of Matthew for the Interpretation series, suggests a translation:

Grant me strength to resist temptation.

–Page 70

He stands in line with Sherman E. Johnson, writing in Volume VII (1951) of The Interpreter’s Bible:

The word rendered temptation might mean “trial” or “persecution,” but the petition is usually taken as a request that God will remove occasions of sin or the evil impulse which usually prompts sin.  God’s omnipotence and providence are, as always, assumed; but there is no reflection on the question raised by Jas. 1:13-14, “Does God tempt man?”

–Page 314

Another school of thought holds that the passage has an eschatological and apocalyptic tone, that the “time of testing” of “final test” will happen prior to the return of the Messiah, during the “Messianic woes.”  The first petition thereby becomes a request that God will spare the faithful from those persecutions.  W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, writing in Matthew:  A Shorter Commentary (2004), agree with this interpretation:

All temptation belongs to the latter days.

–Page 95

M. Eugene Boring, writing in Volume VIII (1995) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, agrees with this conclusion.

Eschatology permeates the Gospel of Matthew in general and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in particular.  This fact embarrasses many people; that is their problem.  The eschatological nature of the Gospel of Matthew does not embarrass me–not anymore.  Jonathan T. Pennington, author of Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (2007), his published dissertation, notes that the Gospel of Matthew uses “Kingdom of God” just four times and “God” fifty-one times.  Pennington, who analyzes the different uses of “Heaven” in the Gospel of Matthew, pushes back against the consensus that “Kingdom of Heaven” is a reverential circumlocution.  He insists that “Kingdom of Heaven” is usually an apocalyptic term for God’s physical kingdom on the Earth.  Pennington does write, after all, of the frequent contrasts between Heaven and earth in the Gospel of Matthew.

The eschatological reading of the first petition in Matthew 6:13 is correct, at least ultimately.  In the meantime, to pray for strength to resist temptation is proper, as is asking God to remove temptations.  We are weak creatures, “but dust” (Psalm 103:14).  As a cocktail napkin I recall reads,

LEAD ME NOT INTO TEMPTATION.  I CAN FIND MY OWN WAY.

We can avoid that path much of the time, by grace, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 19, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE SEVENTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF RAOUL WALLENBERG, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF CHICO MENDES, “GANDHI OF THE AMAZON”

THE FEAST OF ROBERT CAMPBELL, SCOTTISH EPISCOPALIAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC SOCIAL ADVOCATE AND HYMN WRITER

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