Many of you have now seen multiple newspaper articles referring to Pope Francis’ statements about the need to change the Lord’s Prayer. Before we react too quickly, let’s be absolutely sure about what the Francis said, and what he didn’t say. Francis was not saying that he had the authority to change the Lord’s Prayer. One evangelical commentator said, “It’s the Lord’s Prayer and not the Pope’s Prayer.” Of course! We all agree. But if I understand what was being said, the Roman Pontiff was not suggesting the “Pope’s Prayer” replace the “Lord’s Prayer.” And so, as a good general rule, let’s not jump to conclusions until we understand the facts.
According to the transcripts of a television interview conducted with the Pontiff, Pope Francis said the common rendering of the one line in the prayer – “lead us not into temptation” – was, in his words, “not a good translation” from the ancient texts.” Please notice. The Pope was not questioning the Lord’s Prayer. He was questioning our translations. As we know, translations are not inerrant!
Well, fair enough. If errors have been made in translation, by all means, let’s correct the errors. But it was the next statement Francis made, that was especially troublesome. He said, “’Do not let us fall into temptation’ might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does. A father doesn’t do that.” Please notice the use of the word “because.” In short, the Pope said it was not a good translation because he knows that is not how the Father acts.
For me, and I suspect for many others, the real problem with the Pope’s statements is really quite profound. Francis has confused the actual translation of a text with the theology with which he is most comfortable. The point is not a minor one. Our theology does not precede our understanding of the best reading of a text; rather, it is the other way around!
Consider the New World Translation or the official Jehovah’s Witness translation of the Bible. The translation is an exceptionally bad one precisely because the Jehovah’s Witnesses start with their theology. Then, they seek to translate the Scripture in keeping with a theology they have already decided on in advance. Whenever this is done, it is no longer Scripture we are reading; rather we are reading the official position of the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witness organization.
The same is true of the Pope’s announcement. He has confused the real issue. The issue is whether we have used the best manuscripts. (As far as I am aware, we have indeed!) The issue is whether the translation of the text is faithful to the original. By saying that “God does not lead people into temptation,” the Pope betrays his willingness to let his theology dictate to Scripture, rather than the other way around.
Now, just so that we are clear, let me briefly comment on the translation itself. All English translations read, “And lead us not into temptation.” From my understanding (and I am not an expert), in order to make Francis’ translation work, the Greek word for “lead” would need to be a “reflexive verb” rather than the active form of the verb that is found in our text. Furthermore, I am aware of no ancient manuscript that presents us with that verbal form. As best as I know, the present translation, “lead us not into temptation” is accurate, and “don’t let us fall into temptation” is not warranted by the grammar. But again, I am not an expert. If I am wrong, I am happy to be shown.
But all of this brings me back to the real issue. The church of Jesus Christ is dutifully bound to accept the text as it stands written. That is what it means to have a high view of Scripture. The text forms our understanding. Our understanding does not form the text!