He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
“Lead us not into”…”What?” “Temptation?”
For many people this sixth petition in the Lord’s Prayer – “Lead us not into temptation” — does make them flinch. Why are we asking a holy God not to lead us into temptation? I’m quite adept at finding my way into temptation all by myself. It’s one time I don’t need God to lead me there.
Thus, I understand Pope Francis advocating a change to the way this line of the Lord’s Prayer has long been translated in its English version. But It all comes down to how we translate the Greek word peirasmos in this petition. What does the word peirasmos (“temptation”) mean?
Any standard Greek lexicon says the two basic meanings of peirasmos are:
- testing or trial
- temptation or enticement to do evil
(Walter Bauer, A Greek Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature)
James 1 provides good examples of the two usages of peirasmos:
James 1:2: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials (peirasmos) of any kind, consider it nothing but joy.”
James 1:12-14 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation (peirasmos). Such a one has stood the test (peirasmos) and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted (verb: peirazo), should say, ‘I am being tempted (peirazo) by God’; for God cannot be tempted (peirazo) by evil and he himself tempts (peirazo) no one. But one is tempted (peirazo) by one’s own desire.”
Clearly, God does not and cannot “tempt” anyone to do evil. But God does allow or bring trials into believers’ lives in order to “test” and strengthen their faith. See for example God “testing” Abraham’s faith in asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Genesis 22:1).
But in reading Scripture we see that not only does God “test” people, sometimes people “test” God. Israel did this in the wilderness when they complained and doubted God’s provision for them. The psalmist recounts their long history of putting God to the “test”:
17 Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested (peirazo) God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God, saying,
‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20 Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out
and torrents overflowed,
can he also give bread,
or provide meat for his people?’ (Psalm 78:17-20)
Thus, God commanded ancient Israel not to put Him to the “test” (peirasmos): “Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16). This is the very scripture Jesus quoted to Satan when tempted in the wilderness: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” – peirasmos — (Matthew 4:7b). Similarly, the apostle Paul picks up on the tragic example of Israel’s “testing” God in the wilderness; he exhorts Christians: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as some of them did…These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us” (1 Corinthians 10:9, 11).
Put these scriptures together and we might conclude that Jesus is not talking about God’s testing or tempting of us, but our testing God and putting Him on trial. New Testament scholar Birger Gerhardsson puts it like this:
“To test God is to examine him to see if he will keep his obligations, challenging him to demonstrate his fidelity to the conditions of the covenant. It is usually a query raised by the covenant son, a demand that God should show by a powerful work, by a ‘proof’ or ‘sign’ that he really is the god of his people, is in their midst, is active as their savior…To test God is thus the opposite of believing in him.” (Birger Gerhardsson, The Testing of God’s Son)
Therefore, quick on the heels of asking our heavenly Father, “Give us this day our daily bread”, we ask that He not permit us to come to the place where we put Him to the test. Simply, we are asking Abba Father, “Do not give us more today than we can handle.”
Grace and peace,