Is it time to change the wording of the Lord’s Prayer?
Pope Francis thinks so.
He has called for changing the sixth petition, “Lead us not into temptation,” saying that it implies God might do something he would surely never do — entice us to sin.
According to the Pope, “It is not a good translation (from the original Greek) because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.”
A better translation, he says, would be something like, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”
The Pope has a point, and many Lutherans would agree, for the words are easily misunderstood.
In fact, Pope Francis is in agreement with Martin Luther, the Reformer of the Church, on the meaning of the sixth petition.
According to Luther, “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world and our sinful nature would not mislead us into false belief, despair and other great shame and vice.”
In other words, Jesus is teaching us to pray, “Father, keep us from those trials and tests that might prove fatal to our faith and life.”
The devil’s goal is to test you to the breaking point, to see you fail so completely that you would die of despair and lose all faith in God’s mercy.
The devil could do that, and God knows we deserve it.
As sheep who are prone to stray, we should expect no more of a just God than to deliver us over to those sinful desires and situations that would soon overwhelm us.
God owes us nothing, save the condemnation we bring upon ourselves when we turn from him.
But Jesus Christ has died in your place for those very sins which would otherwise destroy you.
The God who owes nothing freely gives all things to the world through his son Jesus Christ.
God will test you, but not beyond what you are able to bear.
He tests you, not as an enticement to sin, but as a way of strengthening your faith.
When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation” we are actually saying, “Continue to keep us from those temptations and tests that would prove fatal to us, as you are already doing.”
God could hand us over to those things, but he graciously does not.
In this way, the sixth petition dovetails perfectly with the seventh petition, “Deliver us from evil.”
One important way the Lord delivers us from evil is by not allowing us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear.
As weak and fallible as we are, he keeps us from those temptations too powerful for us to withstand.
The familiar English translation, “Lead us not into temptation,” captures this perfectly.
Moreover, it is a spot-on literal translation of Christ’s words from the Greek.
It need not be changed, nor should it be.
It begs for explanation, not retranslation.
Christ’s choice of words acknowledges both our vulnerability and our absolute dependence on the continuing grace of God.
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Columbus, and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.