“Lead Us Not Into Temptation” To Erroneously “Correct” Tradition, or… If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Pope Francis made headlines recently for mandating a different translation of the Lord’s Prayer into modern languages.  He is urging Roman Catholics to switch from the traditional phrasing “Lead us not into temptation” to a new version “Let us not enter into temptation.”  Note that he was not suggesting changing the text of Scripture or what Jesus said; he was merely arguing that this prayer has been mistranslated into the languages with which we today are familiar.  Yet casting this as a translation issue is to misrepresent the theological basis for the objection and how it functions.

For what it’s worth, here’s how I parse the issue:

The Greek says: μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν.  The contested verb is a negative imperative (not + subjunctive) second person singular of the verb εἰσφέρω (“to bring in”).  The most literal meaning of the verb would be “Do not bring us into…”  It is clearly petitioning God not to do something.  The issue here is not in fact a translation of that Greek verb.

But there is a theological issue.  Beside the vague assurance that his version was a better translation of the Greek, the Pope’s real complaint was that God does not tempt us to sin.  He could have cited James 1:13 if he was so inclined.  Thus while Calvinists are often more comfortable than Roman Catholics in speaking of God causing events or circumstances which might in some sense be harmful or dangerous, this need not be taken as a Calvinist vs. Roman Catholic issue; it could simply be an issue in interpretation among the passages of inspired Scripture, accepted by us and them equally.  Interestingly, the new version (“do not let us enter into temptation”) sounds a lot more like it could be a lyric in a song entitled “Love Constraining to Obedience.”  It may be inspired by Jesus’s instruction to Peter in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).  But that is not what our Lord taught us to pray.  Unfortunately, the new Roman Catholic version sacrifices accurate translation for the sake of a theological concern.

But there is a translation issue, though not in that verb.  As Ian Paul pointed out in the article to which I linked above, the word πειρασμός can mean either “temptation, trial, or testing.”  It does not only mean temptation to sin, although it can certainly include that.

So I interpret this petition of the Lord’s prayer, coupled with the last petition (“deliver us from evil”) as a request that God in his loving providence would spare us as much of the temptations and trials as is consistent with his redemptive plan for us and for our world.  By being last, I would suggest these petitions are also the least important.  But my interpretation is certainly lost in the new Roman Catholic version.

My $0.02, for what it’s worth…

[After writing most of the above, I found another blog’s response which is similar, but perhaps different enough to merit posting this as well.]

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