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The Lord’s Prayer

LORD’s PRAYER, THE. The traditional name given to the set of petitions and doxologies recorded in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. Without a doubt this is the most widely-known passage from the Bible and has been included in the Christian catechisms and liturgies of almost everybody since the days of the Apostolic Fathers. So familiar is it that it is usually known by its first line, Lat. Pater noster, Ger. Unser Vater, Dutch Onze Vader, and so on through the manifold tongues of mankind.


I. The parallel texts. The text of the prayer is given in Matthew’s narrative of the Sermon on the Mount which Jesus preached to a large crowd on the N shore of Lake Kinneret. There is every indication that the original language of the prayer was Aram.; however, no ancient Aram. VSS are extant, the nearest to such a recension being the Syr. The VS of the prayer given by Luke is not set in the same historical situation but included in that portion traditionally known as the Perean Period after Jesus’ departure from Galilee. The Lukan version is shorter and incorporated in a general discourse on prayer (vv. 1-13). There is no question that the Lord’s Prayer was repeated by Jesus on any number of occasions, so the older critical argument against the authenticity of either passage is totally without merit.

A large number of MSS including the late minuscules of certain groupings and the Vul. VSS of Sixtus (a.d. 1590) and Clement (1592) end the prayer in Matthew with “Amen.” Other phrases of an expanded doxology also are found as shown below with specific witnesses to them. Most of these appear to have begun as interpolations and insertions from liturgies. Sahidic VSS of Upper Egypt (3rd cent. a.d.) and the Didache read “ὅτι σου ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία καὶ̀,” “because yours is the Kingdom and,” four or five lesser VSS omit the rest of the ending. The majority including almost all the Vul. and late Gr. continue with, “ἡ δύναμις καὶ̀ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺ̀ς αἰῶνας ̓Αμήν,” “and the power and the glory unto the ages. Amen.” This full doxology has been incorporated into almost all later trs. of the text of the prayer. Strangely enough, few extensive critical alterations in the body of the Matthew text have been proposed. However, there are a number of readings extant in the MSS which show attempts to bring the shorter Lukan VS into agreement with the Matthean text. The argument as to which form was original is without much validity since each recorded his remembrance and the two are sufficiently similar to have been certainly repeated in variant forms. For those who seek to comprehend Scripture revelation in propositional and scholastic statements this is a difficult situation. Thus many attempts have been made to justify and unite the two strands of the tradition but so far unsuccessfully. The liturgical emphasis in the prayer has been overdone by a number of recent writers, but such a motivation does exist in many of the ancient prayers in both OT and NT. There is no doubt that the prayer was repeated as a devotional exercise and used in the corporate worship, and the two forms, Matthew and Luke, must have been dominant in various localit ies. Whether this is sufficient explanation for the two texts to exist seems irrelevant. The fact is that they did and they were recorded in the inspired word.

II. Organization and outline.

Invocation. The address or invocation of the prayer follows in both cases a discourse on prayer by Jesus. The Early Church seems to have adopted certain mixed liturgical phrases in Aram. and Gr. as in Romans 8:15 and the vocative “Father” was the common address for God. Although there is evidence of the familiar form of address to God in Jewish prayer it is more likely that Jesus here utilized the common piety of the people. The specific sense in which God’s fatherhood is interpreted has been a source of some debate. The three primary opinions being that the address refers to God’s creative fatherhood (Deut 32:6, et al.); to God’s special relationship to Israel (Jer 3:4, et al.) or to God’s fatherhood by virtue of redemption (Isa 63:16). Suffice it to say none of these forms of address appear to have been popular within rabbinic Judaism until after the Christian era began. The additional phrase “who is in heaven” is characteristic of the qualifying usage of both Judaism and the gospel of Matthew. It is quite probable that the usual form of the prayer as remembered in the Early Church was simply “Father” and Jesus may have used this simple vocative frequently. The Aram. ’abba is found in early Christian liturgies. The MSS are practically unanimous in supporting the reading “father.” At one stroke the dual errors of pantheism and deism are rejected and the Christian’s worship is directed toward a personal, objective and living God. The phrase in Matthew does not detract from the force of this expression but simply qualifies it in the minds of the Jewish hearers.

B. First petition. “May your name be held in reverence” refers back to the giving of the covenant name to Moses (Exod 3:13, 14) and the initial requirement of the decalogue (Exod 20:7, et al.). His name in the Bible is not merely His appellation but the characteristic revelation of Himself to men. All the perfections and attributes which He has disclosed in His covenant and His working in history are summarized in the knowledge of His name. To defile or deface, subvert or dishonor the divine name is to reject the sovereignty of God. In this and the two subsequent petitions the passive voice of the verbs are employed while the later petitions switch to the active. Appeals and exhortations for the “blessing of the name” were commonplace in Jewish prayers of the time. Although an eschatological aspect is involved, it is not the foremost one. The hallowing or sanctifying of the name implies no supernatural practice but simply refers to the recognition in every area of life in the cosmos of the sovereign presence of God. The petition places no limit of time or space in which God’s name is to be kept holy, the universality of the prayer is immediate and all encompassing.

C. Second petition. “May your kingdom come.” Few Biblical concepts are as all-pervasive as the “kingdom of God.” The divine kingship in the OT has been carefully studied in the contemporary theological works. The same importance is attached to it in the comprehension of the gospel narratives. Jesus was above all the heavenly exemplar, the King of the Jews and as such His position as the final ruler of the house of David is emphasized repeatedly in the NT (Matt 21). The wish invites the eschatological fullness, the final completion of the coming of the kingdom. The kingdom is the Messianic kingdom. It was brought to effect in Christ and will be completed wholly at the parousia. The assertion that this was a specifically Jewish notion is without warrant, as God is rarely summoned as Israel’s king either in or out of the rabbinical tradition. What the Jewish liturgies seek is the reformation and triumph of the Davidic kingdom. In some few VSS and MSS the text of Luke is altered to, “ἐλθάτω τὸ̀ ἅγιον πυεῦμα σου ἐφ' ἡμᾶς καὶ̀ καθαρισάτω ἡμᾶς,” “may your Holy Spirit descend upon us and cleanse us.” The earliest substitution of this reading dates from the 3rd Christian cent. Such an emphasis of the catharsis of the Spirit was popular during the high Middle Ages (e.g. St. Joachim of Floria, c. 1202) and the future often was portrayed as the Age of the Holy Spirit, a time of cleansing, renewal and reformation of the monastic institution. Such interpolations were derived from liturgical phrases introduced into the text as glosses.

D. Third petition. “May your will be done.” The will of God is the goal of Christian ethics and the norm of Christian obedience. The will of God is revealed only in the Scriptures as inspired and pertains to the creation law order which God has ordained. The complete fulfillment of God’s will on earth is an eschatological end. The perceptive teaching of the Scripture on God’s will must be applied and reapplied in each situation by the people of God. A number of theological controversies erupted over the Biblical anthropology, but the notion that man’s will was to be absorbed into the divine mind has been rejected consistently.

E. Fourth petition. “As in heaven so upon earth.” This is a continuation and extension of the third request, and details the cases in which God’s word and will are active. The idea of heaven as a location is inextricable from the doctrine that it is the place and status where God’s will is carried out perfectly in all respects. Thus earth, the sphere of man’s activity, would become the total environment of God’s will. These two petitions are lacking in Luke’s VS.

F. Fifth petition. “Our daily bread, give us this day,” is based on a common Sem. ideal, the royal or divine provision for the needs of the subjects. This and the remaining petitions have active verbal forms because they refer to the needs of man rather than the glory of God. The term, ἐπιούσιον has been variously interpreted, and has been found only once in secular classical texts, F. Preisigke, Sammelbuch griechische Urkunden aus Ägypten (1915-1950) 5224, 5220. At least four major interpretations of the word have been proposed: “necessary for existence,” “needful for life” (Origen, Chrysostom and 19th cent. Ger. scholars); “for this day,” “for this current day” (A. Debrunner and other 20th cent. Ger. scholars); “for the following day,” “the daily ration” (Zahn and many of the continental papyrological scholars); “bread for the morrow,” “for the future” (Cyrillus of Alexandria, Peter of Laodicea and Medieval expositors and some few contemporary scholars). For specific citations see TDNT s.v. ἐπιούσιον, and E. M. Yamauchi, “The ‘Daily Bread’ Motif in Antiquity,” WTJ XXVIII (1966) May, No. 2, 145-156. The VSS present similar difficulty with the word, many of them referring the term to some sense of “tomorrow’s bread” (Syr. in some VSS et al.). However, the older trs. prefer “required for our food,” or the like and this rendering is to be preferred. The purpose of the petition is to relieve anxiety about material matters and to rest in God’s provision alone. However, the term also refers to the “bread of life,” the believer’s spiritual food (Matt 4:4; Luke 4:4; et al.). The eschatological implications of the passage have been espoused by J. Jeremias and others who see the desire for partic ipation in the heavenly feast as an integral part of the request. Although there must be some fulfillment of this petition in the parousia, there is also the simple day by day providence of God which is in view. Both views gain some credence from the material of the DSS in which the communal meal fills a central role.

G. Sixth petition. “And forgive us our wrongs as we forgive those who have wronged us.” This petition is actually more precise in the Lukan VS which specifically states “sin” rather than the less nefarious “wrong.” This desire is clearly in opposition to any concepts of either sinless perfection or neutrality. The doctrine of total depravity is one of the most maligned in the Bible, but it is the very basis of both prayer and redemption. The Lukan custom of using synonyms is derived from the characteristic Hebraic-Aram. forms. The notion ascribing debt or indebtedness to sin is found in later Judaism but not in the purely moral sense in which it exists in the gospels. There is some evidence in the VSS that the secondary forgiveness is in the future, but it does not greatly alter the meaning of the text. Although there is not the least comparison of degree between the two forgivenesses, they are related and in this sense God’s mercy is to be reciprocated by human compassion. Such sensitive moral relationships are simply avoided in the DSS and rarely mentioned in the later rabbinic lit. The tr. of some liturgical forms of the Lord’s Prayer which reads “trespass” is totally without warrant in the Gr. text. The concurrence of divine and human forgiveness involves sin and not mere intrusion. The importance of the two activities is made plain in a number of passages (James).

H. Seventh petition. “And lead us not into hard trials but deliver us from evil,” has in view the humility of entrustment to God’s perseverance. The difficulties of the passage have caused a number of variants including the rendering, “Let us not fall to temptation,” found in certain ancient VSS. The key term is Gr. πειρασμόν, which means the sorest kind of testing or trial and nowhere, unless qualified, denotes a solicitation to evil (Heb 3:8). The text can be compared to James 1:13 where the subject is not testing, but temptation. The notion at the heart of the petition is that of escape from such difficulty, deliverance from such trials. In this sense it is similar to Romans 8:23, et al. Since this deliverance from the presence of evil, whether moral or physical, was based upon an eschatological state and would signify the satisfaction of all the other petitions it logically comes at the end of the prayer. The additional phrase in Matthew, τοῦ πονηροῦ, “the evil” can as easily be read in the masculine/neuter form as “evil one” (John 17:15); “evil” KJV; “evil one” RSV. If the choice of “evil one” is correct then a totally futuristic and eschatological end to the prayer is effected.

I. Doxology and close. “Because yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory unto the ages. Amen.” This addition is found in no ancient VS, commentator or exegete. It is totally and completely an intrusion from liturgical sources. The Syr. Pesh. contains it, but in a form which is clearly a retranslation from Gr. and not derived from any original. There is also the sing. fact that the gospels contain no doxologies ascribed to Jesus and they are foreign to either Jewish or Aram. prayers. It was prob. an ancient response of the congregation. In both the Didaché and the early 3rd and 4th cent. liturgies a number of doxological phrases were said in the prayers. the congregation answering aloud antiphonally to the deacon or presbyter. For the reason that it is so much a part of the heritage of the Church throughout the ages it is not a detraction to the text as long as it is an acknowledged gloss of later origin. In neither the VS in Matthew or Luke is the prayer given an ending as though it was quoted directly as Jesus gave it on two instances as the contexts would indicate was the case. The following passages in both cases continue points of issue raised in the prayer. The whole was not then a spiritual exercise but an instruction given to be followed. Any ending would have had to be added by the evangelists.

III. The Biblical theology of the prayer. It has been stated repeatedly that the prayer is an epitome of all of Jesus’ teachings. The assumption is that Jesus was teaching His disciples about His faith and conception of God. This does not take into consideration that there is no evidence that Jesus was actually praying this prayer. The context clearly indicates that He was teaching it. Jesus’ messianic consciousness was such that He saw Himself in a peculiar and unique relationship to the Father. This is made clear in His prayer in John 17. In effect “the Lord’s Prayer” is the John 17 intercession for the disciples while the prayer of Matthew 6 and Luke 11 was to be prayed by those who believed in Him and the heavenly Father. In this light the true eschatological meaning of the seven petitions becomes clear. Many modern authors have missed this central point by assuming a dialectic tension between Jesus’ messianic expectation in the future and His immediate concern for the present. In such a tension the believer’s prayer becomes an existential involvement. This Kantian interpretation is totally unwarranted by the text. Life in the Christian covenant is an experiential and daily affair, but its basis and bounds are in Christ and seeks to follow and expound its faith as revealed in the Word of God of which this prayer is a part. This belief means that the prayer is more than an epitome of our Lord’s message, and more vital and significant than a mere set of propositions. It is a vehicle and means to the throne of God. Through it and by it we approach God’s majesty and He provides for His children. Of special importance is the fact that the pronouns of the prayer are pl. The church which prays this prayer is to be a community, a body of believers. The prayer was not formulated for sing., personal devotion; it was to be an act of corporate worship. The needs of the church and of its members are made more certain in regard to the coming of the kingdom. The character of the prayer is totally determined by the person and work of Christ in redemption, for it is by His act of atonement that any or all of the petitions are granted. The theme of the prayer is Christocentric. There are no tensions in its petitions as it summarizes its motives in the will of God—past, present and future.

IV. Its place in the Church. The Jewish synagogue and Temple services were filled with rich liturgies, the Psalms, laws and many responses were said in unison and antiphonally. There is much evidence that the Early Church kept this system of worship and added to it the prayers and phrases of the NT. There are many doxologies and liturgical phrases incorporated into the texts of the epistles (Jude 24, 25). How early the divine offices or stated prayers became fixed in the history of the Church is conjectured, but certainly by the 4th cent. there was a clear set of hourly devotions. The prayer books from the early medieval period show the repetition of the Lord’s Prayer at all six of the stated “hours,” matins, lauds, terce, sext, none and vespers. The wealth and welter of conflicting rituals led the Franciscans to shorten and condense as well as collate the services in the Breviary, and its companion the Missal for the communion. But the prayer was central in both. The Lutheran liturgy followed the custom of the Lollards and the Bohemian Brethren in merely tr. the prayer from Lat. into the colloquial speech. The Reformed churches which followed Calvin and the Swiss Reformation dispensed with much of the medieval liturgy but retained the Lord’s Prayer in a French VS. Among the Reformed churches it was removed from the liturgy, but placed in the catechism. It is discussed and demonstrated in questions 86 to 129 of the Heidelberg Catechism, and was an integral part of the Reformed doctrine of prayer. Although numerous revisions of creeds and standards have been effected in the 20th cent., the need for a common statement of conviction has forced the acceptance of a more common liturgy. Many ecclesiastical bodies have been forced to come to terms with mutual liturgies when the central cohesion of doctrine failed. The result has been a new interest in prayer. However, most recent studies lean heavily upon psychoanalytic insights and approach corporate worship as phenomena of group dynamics. Such attempts are far from the purpose of the scriptures.

V. The versions of the prayer. The three major trs. of the prayer are the Lat. of the 5th cent. a.d., the Ger. of 16th cent. and the Eng. of the 17th cent. To a large degree they influenced each other and were all ultimately based upon the TR. No modern tr. based upon a scientific text of the NT has gained popularity and even the modern trs. which are widely used tend to accept the older Tudor form (RSV). The addition of the doxology to the Eng. VSS appears to have taken place after the publication of Erasmus’s text (1516) because it was omitted from the Vul. and the early Lollard VSS. Subsequent trs. are unlikely to alter the common wording of the prayer which although difficult has become fixed by the piety of the ages and is little improved by modern tr.

Bibliography A vast number of devotional, homiletic and exegetical commentaries have been written on the text and numerous word studies are available, also commentaries on the catechisms in which the Lord’s Prayer is included. A. Tholuck, Die Bergrede Christi (1872); M. Margoliouth, The Lord’s Prayer No Adaptation of Existing Jewish Petitions (1876); H. J. Van Dyke, The Lord’s Prayer (1891); R. Rost, The Lord’s Prayer in 500 Languages (1905); A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve (1905); P. Fiebig, Das Vaterunser (1927); G. Dalman, Die Worte Jesu (1930); E. Lohmeyer, Das Vater-unser (1946); E. F. Scott, The Lord’s Prayer (1951); B. M. Metzger, “How Many Times Does epiousios Occur Outside the Lord’s Prayer?” Expository Times, 69 (1957), 52-54; D. Y. Hadidian, “The Meaning of Epiousios and the Codices Sergii,” New Testament Studies, 5 (1958), 75-81; G. Miegge, “Le Notre Père, prière du temps présent,” Études Théologiques et Religieuses, 35 (1960) 237-253; J. Jeremias, “The Lord’s Prayer in Modern Research,” Expository Times, 71 (1960), 141-146; C. W. F. Smith, “Lord’s Prayer,” IDB K-Q (1962), 154-158.

Article 2

Prayer occupied an important place in the life and the teachings of Jesus. He was emphatically a man of prayer, praying frequently in private and in public, and occasionally spending whole nights in communion with His heavenly Father. He often spoke to His disciples on the subject of prayer, cautioning them against ostentation, or urging perseverance, faith and large expectation, and He gave them a model of devotion in the Lord’s prayer.

1. Twofold Form:

This prayer is given by the evangelists in two different forms and in two entirely different con nections. In Matthew’s account the prayer is given as a part of the Sermon on the Mount and in connection with a criticism of the ostentation usual in the prayers of the hypocrites and the heathen. Lu introduces the prayer after the Galilean ministry and represents it as given in response to a request from one of His disciples, "Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." It gives us, however, no note of time or place, and it is quite possible that the incident which it records took place much earlier. The later form is much shorter than that of Mt and the common parts differ materially in language.

In view of the differences, the reader instinctively inquires whether the prayer was given on two different occasions in these different connections, or the evangelists have presented the same incident in forms derived from different sources, or modified the common source to suit their immediate purposes.

If the prayer was given only on one occasion, there is little doubt that Luke preserves the true historical circumstances, though not necessarily the accurate point of time or place, or the exact form of language. Such a request made at the close of the prayer of Jesus would be natural, and the incident bears every mark of reality. On the other hand, it would be reasonable to assume that the author of Matthew’s source, remembering the incident, incorporated the prayer in the Sermon on the Mount as an illustration of the injunctions concerning prayer.

There are many reasons for regarding the Sermon as a collection of sayings spoken on different occasions and summarized for convenience in teaching and memorizing. There is, however, no proof that the prayer was given but once by Jesus. We need not suppose that His disciples were always the same, and we know that He gave instruction in prayer on various occasions. He may have given the model prayer on one occasion spontaneously and at another time on the request of a disciple. It is probable that the two evangelists, using the same or different sources, presented the prayer in such connection as best suited the plan of their narratives. In any case, it is rather remarkable that the prayer is not quoted or directly mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament.

2. Arrangement:

In addition to the opening salutation, "Our Father who art in heaven," the Lord’s Prayer consists of six petitions. These are arranged in three equal parts. In the first part, the thought is directed toward God and His great purposes. In the second part, the attention is directed to our condition and wants. The two sets of petitions are closely related, and a line of progress runs through the whole prayer. The petitions of the first part are inseparable, as each includes the one which follows. As the hallowing of God’s name requires the coming of His kingdom, so the kingdom comes through the doing of His will. Again, the first part calls for the second, for if His will is to be done by us, we must have sustenance, forgiveness and deliverance from evil. If we seek first the glory of God, the end requires our good. While we hallow His name we are sanctified in Him. The doxology of Mt and our rituals is not found in the leading manuscripts and is generally regarded as an ancient liturgical addition. For this reason it is omitted by the Revised Version (British and American).

3. Sources:

The sources of the two accounts cannot be known with certainty. It is hardly correct to say that one account is more original than the other. The original was spoken in Aramaic, while both of the reports are certainly based on Greek sources. The general agreement in language, especially in the use of the unique term epiousios shows that they are not independent translations of the Aramaic original.

4. Special Expressions:

Three expressions of the prayer deserve special notice. The words, "Our Father," are new in the Bible and in the world. When God is called Father in the Old Testament, He is regarded as Father of the nation, not of the individual. Even in the moving prayer of Isa 63:16 (the King James Version), "Doubtless thou art our father," the connection makes clear that the reference is to God in the capacity of Creator. The thought of God as the Father of the individual is first reached in the Apocrypha: "O Lord, Father and Master of my life" (Sirach 23:1; compare The Wisdom of Solomon 2:16; 14:3). Here also the notion is veiled in the thought of God as Creator. It was left for Jesus the Son to give us the privilege of calling God "Our Father."

Of the adjective epiousion, "daily" or "needful," neither the origin nor the exact meaning is or is likely to be known. Whether it is qualitative or temporal depends on its derivation from epeinai, or epienai. Our translators usually follow the latter, translating "daily." the American Standard Revised Version gives "needful" as a marginal rendering.

The phrase apo tou ponerou, is equally ambiguous. Since the adjective may be either masculine or neut., it is impossible to decide whether "from the evil one" or "from the evil" was intended. The probability is in favor of the masculine. The Oriental naturally thought of evil in the concrete, just as we think of it in the abstract. For this reason the Authorized rendering "from evil" is more real to us. The evil deprecated is moral, not physical.

5. Purpose: The Lord’s Prayer was given as a lesson in prayer. As such this simple model surpasses all precepts about prayer. It suggests to the child of God the proper objects of prayer. It supplies suitable forms of language and illustrates the simple and direct manner in which we may trustingly address our heavenly Father. It embraces the elements of all spiritual desire summed up in a few choice sentences. For those who are not able to bring their struggling desires to birth in articulate language it provides an instructive form. To the mature disciple it ever unfolds with richer depths of meaning. Though we learn these words at our mother’s knee, we need a lifetime to fill them with meaning and all eternity to realize their answer.


The literature of this subject is very extensive. For brief treatment the student will consult the relative sections in the commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and in the Lives of Christ and the articles on the Lord’s Prayer in the several Bible diets. A collection of patristic comment is given by G. Tillmann in his Das Gebet nach der Lehre der Heiligen dargestellt, 2 volumes, Freiburg, 1876. The original comments may be found in any of the standard collections of the Church Fathers.

Among historical studies may be mentioned, F.H. Chase, The Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church, Cambridge, 1891, and G. Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, I, Leipzig, 1898, English translation, Edinburgh, 1902.

Among the numerous interpretative treatments, the following are some of the more important: N. Hall, The Lord’s Prayer, Edinburgh, 1889; H.J. Van Dyke, The Lord’s Prayer, New York, 1891; J. Ruskin, Letters to the Clergy on the Lord’s Prayer and the Church, late edition, New York, 1896; E. Wordsworth, Thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer, New York, 1898; C.W. Stubbs, Social Teachings of the Lord’s Prayer, London, 1900; A.B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, chapter vi, 4th edition, New York, 1905; L.T. Chamberlain, The True Doctrine of Prayer, New York, 1906; F.M. Williams, Spiritual Instructions on the Lord’s Prayer, New York, 1907.

Russell Benjamin Miller');