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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
General…

PATER NOSTER: THE CASE OF A NEW TRANSLATION OR AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CATECHESIS?

The Lord's Prayer is part of the air we breathe  in Nigeria. Unconsciously, we do not pay attention to the words of the prayer but the rhythm suffices. It is a prayer as old as man but ever new and fresh in the mind of every generation. Of all prayers, it is the only one which Our Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples and presented it as a model for all prayers in terms of intentions. Recently, the discussion on this prayer is whether there is need for a new translation. This is because of a recent interview in Spanish in which the Holy Father Francis allegedly said that God does not lead us into temptation. This is theologically true. God does not tempt us. It is the work of the devil (diabolos) to tempt (cf. James 1:13). While some are of the view that Francis wants a new translation of the prayer others are saying that he only said that a new translation will not be bad. (I don't understand Spanish so, I don't know what he exactly said). Whatever be the case, the issue is about a new translation of the prayer. Now, the line I want to tow in this argument is that there is no need for a new translation. While theologically, God does not tempt, literally the old translation is not wrong. Further, to ask God not to lead us into temptation is not theologically wrong as I would later unveil. Because of this, I go with Charles Pope that the ambiguity of this intention "lead us not into temptation" does not call for a new translation but rather offers an opportunity for catechesis.

At this moment of writing, I have before me the two texts of the Lord's Prayer namely the versions from Matthew and Luke. Hence I am engaging in an intertextual argument for that is what it is today to have exegetical eyes. Because of the brevity of Luke's version of the prayer, and because what makes Matthew's additional elements are found at the margins, many scholars believe today that Luke's version is more original than Matthew's. Coming to their similarities, people suggest an original Aramaic text on which both Matthew and Luke relied. In exegesis, this is called Q Source. It is also interesting to know that some elements of this prayer are found here and there in the Old Testament. That is why it is suspected that Pater Noster may be older than Jesus Christ - a kind of prayer being said before and at the time of Jesus. But since, an extant text is lacking, the position is more in support of no original prayer even though the intentions put together by Jesus may be already existing in his own time.

So far, we cannot go beyond the texts of Mathew and Luke in interpreting this prayer. Luckily for us, the bone of contention here remains the same in both texts. It is about a verb (eisenenk?s) and a noun (peirasmos - peirasmon in accusative case). The noun peirasmos means temptation or test. We do not have much problem with it. The problem is therefore on the verb. Eisenenk?s is aorist subjunctive active (second person singular) of eispher? meaning to lead into or carry into. In this sense, the literal translation is a kind of wish as different from a command. Hence, we do not command God not to lead us into temptation. We beg God or wish that he lead us not into temptation. Any translation that renders the verb in the passive is wrong. Hence the idea that the Holy Father is suggesting that the translation ought to be "may you never allow us to be led into temptation" is not only wrong but supplying what is not supposed to be there. In this my humble submission, I wish to make a distinction between a theological interpretation and a faithful translation of a text. A translator is not an interpreter even though sometimes there is an overlapping. His duty is to faithfully cast the text into another language.

There are other distinctions in the two texts but a theological explanation has taken care of those ones. It is true that God does not lead us into temptation. However, Genesis 22:1 tells us that God tested Abraham's faith. The verb here is nissah a Pi'el perfect form (third person singular masculine) of nasah  and it appears 37 times in the Hebrew Bible. This same verb is rendered epeirase (aorist indicative active) in the Septuagint Bible. Peirasmos can thus be translated and interpreted as a kind of test or examination (Prüfung). Again this questions God's omniscience. We should understand that the text speaks anthropomorphically and hence we cannot avoid these imperfect human languages. They are obviously valid. In Wisdom 3:5 God tested (epeirasmen) the righteous and found them worthy. If these incidences of God testing people abound, why then should we ask God not to lead us into temptation? It then means that peirasmos does not have a static exclusive meaning but a dynamic inclusive one and in this context it seems to mean something risky to our spiritual life.  At this point, I comment on the point made by Msgr. Charles Pope. According to him, this should be understood in the light Providence and secondary causality. Nothing happens without God's consent and approval. He is the prime cause and the prime mover. It is in this sense that leading us into temptation can go back to God and avoid the problem of infinite regress. The best interpretation therefore is that in this chain of causality which begins with God, may we never fall into temptation either passively or actively. This is where the view of the pope is accommodated but only in the explanation.

My stand on this is simple. There is no need for a new translation. The old translation is correct and better than any translation that renders the verb eisenennkes in a passive voice. Translators are to remain as faithful as possible to the original text. It is therefore the task of theologians and teachers to explain the text in a form of catechesis. Every liturgy, every prayer is an avenue for catechesis. So sad that most of the time we miss this opportunity to teach. A new translation will erase this moment of catechesis. In this catechesis, we understand better the milieu of the prayer and the worldview of that time. Right from the time of St. Augustine, the Lord's Prayer has always called for catechesis. For example, St. Augustine teaching those preparing for Baptism made reference to St. James that God does not tempt us. However he also spoke of another form of temptation whereby God tempts us to know if we truly love him. The latter is not temptation in its strict sense but a test. St. Augustine's summary of this particular intention is that God should help us fight our lust because our lust leads us into temptation. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2846 says that the Greek means both "do not allow us to enter into temptation" and "do not let us yield to temptation" thereby pitching the tent on the discernment of the heart between trials. Hence CCC in no way suggests a "better" translation. Till today, many exegetes have been arguing on this. A  thorough study of the two original texts of Matthew and Luke reveals that there are more troubling issues than "lead us not into temptation" in this prayer. Another argument against a new translation is ecumenical. Both Catholics and Protestants have a common ground here. One may argue that the Protestants usually have at the end of the prayer "For the kingdom, the power and glory are yours now and forever." Interesting enough, this is one area where the Protestants are more traditional than the Catholics and the Catholics more sola scriptura than the Protestants. This last part is found neither in Matthew nor in Luke hence not scriptural. The earliest evidence of it is in the Didache - a book of catechesis for the early Christians. If we also pay attention, we will notice that at Mass, this last part is also included even though not immediately because of the priest's interlude.

Fazit: No need for a new translation. Let us catch the right time for catechesis. Msgr. Charles Pope is right.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU MY GOOD FRIENDS

ekwughastanchubby@yahoo.com

 


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