Just to do away with any misconceptions at the outset, Pope Francis has not yet officially stated that he desires to pursue changing the words in modern translations of the Bible to read differently. He has only stated in an interview that one statement in modern translations mischaracterizes God. You can read the short report from the Washington Times here. There are many Roman Catholics do not support such a change, and I am thankful for them. As of June 2019, more Roman Catholics are supporting the change. You can read this article here.
I want to examine this passage of Scripture and discover whether or not the Pope is correct in his understanding and whether or not churches like the ones in France who have already made the change do so rightly or do so to safeguard some sort of presumptions that they have already made about who God is. Have we learned about God by genuinely coming to His word, or are we in some way imposing our own thoughts, judgments, traditions, deliberations, and feelings back on the text in such a way that causes us to want the text of Scripture to be more in line with what we, depraved people, already believe?
Let us examine, together, the text in question, Matthew 6:9-13 (HCSB):
“Therefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Cause for question
No matter which news outlet we read, the reason given by the Pope for the change would be that it does not present a correct characterization of God. It is not until later in the article that some form of interpretive justification is given for his view. First, we witness what I might refer to as an anthropocentric philosophical appeal. We’ve all done this as we have said things like, “I don’t think God would be that way so this text of Scripture must mean something different or have a different intention.” This line of argumentation (or rather, appeal) is an example of an anecdotal fallacy, judging the world by our experience of it rather than being honest about what we see. This type of appeal is dangerous because it becomes impossible for any person to discover something about God if that person simply assumes to know God fully. Not even the Apostle Paul made that assumption (see Philippians 3:12-15). Paul was also trained in Hellenistic philosophy and surely would have known not to be anecdotal in his argumentation or in his practice. If we are to question a modern translation of Scripture, then, it cannot be because we do not believe God to be a certain way. For, God is who He is despite what I, the Pope, or anyone else chooses to believe.
Some biblical justification was given, and we will get to that in the next section. First, we must know why the Scriptures exist and why it is important for us to allow the Scriptures to convict us, instead of our sitting as judge over them.
In Deuteronomy 31, we read that the Law is to stand as a witness against humanity. In Galatians 3 and Romans 5, we read that it came to multiply the trespass and because of human transgression. Read more about this here. 1 Timothy 1:9-11 states this:
We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was entrusted to me.
First, Paul states that the Law is meant for unrighteous people and then also states that this Law is based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God. So, we might deduce that all of Scripture is included with the Law because the Law is based on the Gospel of God. Secondly, that the Law is not profitable for anyone who is righteous. If we say that we don’t think God is a certain way so Scripture must not mean a certain thing, then we have promoted ourselves as righteous and Scripture is not profitable for us. I must realize my unrighteousness, my depravity, my insufficiency, and my own disregard for the law of God. The word of God must captivate me. God must save me. I must abide in His word in order to experience any eternal good. The author of Hebrews goes on:
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account (Heb. 4:12-13).
It is the word of God that judges the hearts of people, not the hearts of people who judge God’s word. All things are naked and exposed to the eyes of God, who provided His own word, and will give an account. We have enough scholarship on biblical manuscripts to know that the faithful modern translations in most languages are accurate translations from the autographical languages. Read more about the accuracy and authenticity of the bible here. If we are going to question any text of Scripture, it seems to me that we ought to do so by examining Scripture faithfully and resolving not to be anecdotal in our reasoning, as is described of the Pope on many news outlets (and often as we are in our wrongfully postmodern society).
Thus, we are introduced to the question of exegesis as contrasted with eisegesis. We learn about both of these terms in every fifth-grade classroom (though we don’t use terms like exegesis or even syntax). It is a literary and contextual translating and interpreting of a text (we refer to using context clues in the fifth grade). We also learned about eisegesis when a teacher would ask what a poem meant to us personally and individually (not a good way to read poetry, by the way). With this in mind, we ask, “What is the correct translation of Matthew 6:13?”
The French have their idea as indicated by the media. Instead of reading, “lead us not into temptation,” this branch of the Catholic church would have the text now read, “do not let us fall into temptation.” The presumption is that the latter text better characterizes God because we presume that God does not lead into temptation. We’ve already seen that this line of argument is fallacious, but let us genuinely examine the text together. First, we will perform a basic literary translation of the words in question, and then apply the context of the surrounding biblical text to be as accurate as possible in the English.
The word in question is εισφερω (eisphero). Literally translated, it means to bring into or to lead into and this is the only way it can be translated literarily without changing the word entirely. This means that to word the text in such a way that we say, “do not let us fall,” instead of “do not lead” is to actually change the Bible’s words and fail to remain faithful to the way that God has presented Himself in His inspiration of the text. We are making ourselves judges when, in fact, we are meant to be judged by our reading. Unfortunately, this is the type of practice that our Catholic brothers and sisters have had for hundreds of years now. I love them, but there is a very real sense in which they, and many others also, need to begin following Jesus instead of anecdotally dictating to Jesus what the ‘church’ already believes. The new French Catholic translation does not make sense in light of the autographical language.
There have been others who offer a different translation. Instead of changing the word “lead,” they desire to change the word “temptation” to “trial” or “testing” for the same anecdotal reason the French Catholics wrongfully changed the word “lead.” Literally, the word for temptation (πειρασμος, peirasmos), can be translated as either trial (a proving of one’s self) or temptation. Both are accurate renderings of the Greek word. So, to translate we must use our fifth-grade context clues without anecdotally imposing our own presuppositions into that translation. In verse 13, πειρασμος is compared with evil (πονηρος, poneros, meaning bad things or a bad condition). This would indicate syntactically that πειρασμος gives way to a bad condition of the person. Trials and tests strengthen. Temptation gives way to sin and sin gives birth to death (James 1:13-15). A faithful interpretation of the text, then, causes the text to read:
And do not bring (or lead) us into temptation,
but deliver us from evil (or the evil one).
What this reveals about God
First of all, does this mean that God tempts people as the Pope and the French Catholics suggest? James 1:13-15 reads:
No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.
God does not tempt, so the Catholic church is correct on this count. What are we to do with the faithfully translated text, “Do not lead us into temptation”? Firstly, to say “do not lead us into temptation,” is not synonymous with “do not tempt us.” They are phrases that would indicate two entirely different things about God.
I want to ask a very simple question at this juncture. Do we believe that God is in control? If we say no, then we have no reason to follow Christ’s example prayer in this text. If we believe that God is in control, and therefore have reason to pray, then we believe that He is in control of all things. If we experience temptation, then, that leading is within God’s sovereign purview. If we believe that God is leading us, then we also must believe that any temptation we experience, we experience on the path which God leads. To experience any temptation is to be lead by God into that temptation, though God Himself does not tempt. To pray, “lead us not into temptation,” is to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over even the temptation in our lives.
This example prayer also recognizes God’s unmerited grace. That He is sovereign over even the temptation that we might experience means that He is sovereign in our deliverance from evil (or from a bad, fallen, depraved condition). James helps us to understand this. We are tempted by our own evil desires because of our depraved condition. We are unable to choose God, not because God has limited our free will, but because we have not the desire to choose what is godly. To ask God not to lead us into temptation, then, is literally to ask God to humble us and not lead us in a way where we would be tempted and sin against Him. To ask God to deliver us from evil, which is, by James’ account, both the result and further cause of temptation, is to ask God to deliver us from our own depraved condition.
In the new French-Catholic translation of the text, hope is absent because the text now places the responsibility to escape sin on the person, which the depraved person has no desire to do. It would be impossible for people to come to God with such a theological framework in place. If God is only protecting us from falling into temptation, then we must rise on our own and this is impossible. It is on this same theological issue that the reformers first split from Rome 500 years ago and we are having the same debate with our Catholic brothers and sisters today. In contrast to the French-Catholic fallacious re-translation of the text, there is actually hope because God is sovereign and because He saves people from their depraved condition. Feel free to contact me if you desire to claim such a victory today, a victory that cannot be offered by the church, but only by God Himself.
We strive to remain faithful to the word that God has provided concerning Himself and His own work. #solascriptura
There is a similar push in the protestant church, an implicit changing of the words of Scripture to reflect human-centered doctrine.