Lord's Prayer

views updated Jun 08 2018


LORD'S PRAYER . When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Luke 11:24 records the Master's reply in words similar to the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount at Matthew 6:913. In a slightly simplified tabulation, the two versions of the text may be compared as follows, with the Matthean surplus and variations in brackets and two particularly difficult expressions in parentheses:

[Our] Father [who art in heaven], Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, [Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven]. Give us [this day] our (daily) bread, And forgive us our sins [Mt.: debts], For [Mt.: As] we [have] forgive[n] our debtor[s], And lead us not into (temptation) [But deliver us from evil].

Use in Christian Worship

The church has taken the Lord's Prayer as indicating both the spirit of Christian prayer and a formula to be employed in worship. The Matthean form is at almost all points the more usual in the liturgy. Liturgical use is the probable source of the concluding doxology, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever," which is foundthough not yet with the addition of the word kingdom in a text that is as early as the first- or second-century church manual the Didache (8.2). The Lord's Prayer has been used, formally and informally, in daily worship as well as in the eucharistic liturgy. In the latter case, its place has usually been between the great prayer of thanksgiving and the communion, whither it was doubtlessly attracted by the bread to be consumed.

Classical Commentaries

The early Fathers taught the prayer's meaning to their catechumens, and it has remained a favorite subject of exposition by spiritual writers. Tertullian and, in his wake, Cyprian both wrote pastoral tracts entitled On (the Lord's) Prayer. Origen dealt with it in his theological treatise On Prayer (chaps. 1830). Cyril of Jerusalem expounded it to the newly baptized in his Mystagogical Catechesis 5.1118, while Augustine of Hippo preached sermons 5659 on it to the competentes (candidates for baptism) and also treated it as part of his commentary The Sermon on the Mount ( and elsewhere. John Chrysostom devoted to the Lord's Prayer his Nineteenth Homily on the Gospel of Matthew. Gregory of Nyssa discoursed on it in his five Sermons on the Lord's Prayer. Conferences on it are ascribed to Thomas Aquinas. Luther explained the prayer in his Large and Small Catechisms and in other writings, such as A Simple Way to Pray, written in 1535 for his barber. Calvin presented it in the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536; cf. 3.20.3449 in the final edition of 1559) and commented on it in his Harmony of the Gospels (1555). Teresa of Ávila used the Lord's Prayer to instruct her religious communities in The Way of Perfection (chaps. 2742). John Wesley devoted to the prayer one of his Standard Sermons (numbered variously 21 or 26) and versified it in the hymn "Father of All, Whose Powerful Voice." Karl Barth treated it in his 19471949 seminar notes entitled Prayer and developed the address and the first two petitions in the unfinished part 4.4 of his Church Dogmatics. Simone Weil's thoughts on the subject are contained in her Waiting on God.

A Contemporary Exegesis

The best contemporary exegesis of the Lord's Prayer is that of Raymond E. Brown, who interprets it as an eschatological prayer. Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God. His followers prayed for the definite establishment of God's eternal rule and intimated their own desire to be part of it. They requested a place at the messianic banquet and asked for forgiveness in the divine judgment as well as for deliverance from the mighty struggle with Satan that still stood between the community and the final realization of its prayer. As hopes for the imminent advent of the final kingdom faded, interpreters adapted the prayer to continuing life in the present age with the assurance that God's kingdom had at least begun its entry into the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Recurrent Themes of Analysis

The Lord's Prayer opens with a bold filial salutation. To address almighty God as "Abba, Father" (Rom. 8:14, Gal. 4:6) is to share by grace a privilege that Jesus enjoyed by nature (Mk. 14:36, cf. Mt. 11:2527). Liturgically, believers do in fact proclaim that they "make bold to say" (audemus dicere ) this prayer. The heavenly Father is near. Moreover, to address the Father as "our Father" is to acknowledge that the Christian faith is a communal matter with brothers and sisters who are, at least potentially, as numerous as the human race. After this opening address six petitions follow, which typically attract the kind of comments next summarized.

1. Hallowed be thy name

God is by definition holy, and strictly speaking, only God can hallow the divine name: he does so in history by vindicating his holiness (Ez. 36:2227, Jn. 12:28). But humans join in by not despising the Lord's name (Ex. 20:7 and, identically, Dt. 5:11), by praising the name of the Lord (1 Chr. 29:13 and often in Psalms ), by calling on the name of the Lord for salvation (Jl. 2:32, Acts 2:21, Rom. 10:13), and by living in accord with the name put upon them in baptism (Augustine, sermon 59; cf. 1 Cor. 6:11).

2. Thy kingdom come

Instead of "Thy kingdom come" a minor variant reads "May thy Holy Spirit come upon us and purify us." Here outcrops the common view that God's rule may at least begin in the present in human lives. Yet the primary agency in establishing the kingdom remains God's.

3. Thy will be done

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus accepted the Father's will (Mk. 14:36, Mt. 26:39, 26:42; cf. Jn. 6:38, Heb. 10:710). Thereby God's eternal will for salvation was implemented (Eph. 1:5, 1:9, 1:11). Humans benefit through faithful and obebient participation. The scope of God's plan is no less than heaven and earth.

4. Give us this day our daily bread

The adjective qualifying bread (Gr., epiousios ) is otherwise practically unknown. Suggested possibilities for its meaning include: food "suited to our spiritual nature" (Origen); the bread "we need" for our "everyday" lives (Syriac and Old Latin traditionscf. Mt. 6:34); an "excellent" bread surpassing all substances (the Vulgate's supersubstantialis ). The original eschatological tone of the prayer favors the reading "tomorrow's bread," as in some Egyptian versions and in Jerome's report on the "Gospel of the Hebrews" wherein he employs the Latin word crastinus ("for tomorrow"); it is an urgent prayer for the feast of the age to come. Whatever their interpretation of epiousios, commentators regularly emphasize the graciousness of the divine provision and the human obligation to share the blessings of God, and most of them make a link with the eucharistic Communion.

5. Forgive us our sins

The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:2335 suggests that the final execution of God's will to forgive sinners depends on the sinner's readiness to forgive others (cf. Mt. 6:14f., Lk. 6:37). While humans cannot compel God's gracious forgiveness, they can be prevented from receiving it by their own unforgiving spirit.

6. Lead us not into temptation

Commentators have stressed the indirect character of God's testing of humans (Jas. 1:1214) and insisted that God "will not let you be tempted beyond your strength" (1 Cor. 10:13). Some modern liturgical translations have restored the strictly eschatological character of the petition: "Save us from the time of trial" (cf. Rv. 3:10). In the present, the devil still "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pt. 5:8; cf. Eph. 6:1113, 1 Jn. 5:19), but his defeat has already been assured by Christ, and the deliverance of believers is certain (2 Thes. 3:3, Jn. 17:15).


Studies on the Jewish background to the Lord's Prayer can be found in Jean Carmignac's Recherches sur le "Notre Père" (Paris, 1969) and in The Lord's Prayer and Jewish Liturgy, edited by Jakob J. Petuchkowski and Michael Brocke (New York, 1978). Raymond E. Brown's "The Pater Noster as an Eschatological Prayer" is contained in his New Testament Essays, 3d ed. (New York, 1982), while other contemporary exegesis includes Ernst Lohmeyer's The Lord's Prayer (New York, 1965), Joachim Jeremias's The Prayers of Jesus (London, 1967), and Heinz Schürmann's Das Gebet des Herrn, 4th ed. (Leipzig, 1981). The tightly packed lectures of Thomas Aquinas are accessible in a translation by Lawrence Shapcote under the title The Three Greatest Prayers: Commentaries on the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Apostles' Creed by St. Thomas Aquinas (London, 1956). Modern devotional works include William Barclay's The Plain Man Looks at the Lord's Prayer (London, 1964), Gerhard Ebeling's On Prayer: Nine Sermons (Philadelphia, 1966), Romano Guardini's The Lord's Prayer (New York, 1958), Alexander Schmemann's Our Father (Crestwood, N.Y., 2002), and Kenneth Stevenson's The Lord's Prayer: A Text in Tradition (London, 2004).

Geoffrey Wainwright (1987 and 2005)

Lords Prayer

views updated Jun 08 2018

Lord's Prayer. The prayer taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6. 9–13) or privately to his disciples (Luke 11. 1–4). The two forms reflect different Aramaic versions no doubt already in liturgical use.

Lords Prayer

views updated May 11 2018

Lord's Prayer Prayer Jesus Christ taught his disciples. It is found in Matthew 6:9–13, and slightly differently in Luke 11:2–4. It is also called Pater Noster (Lat. ‘Our Father’).

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