Epistles of Thomas

December 9, 2017

To Translate or Interpret?

It seems every news outlet is reporting that the Pope has called for changes in the English translation of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13. Some headlines are more inflammatory than others but the general idea is the same. Pope Francis told Italian TV on Wednesday evening that we shouldn’t translate it as “lead us not into temptation” but rather as “do not let us fall into temptation.” His reasoning is that “God does not lead humans to sin” but rather we fall into it on our own accord. Aside from the fact that we cannot change the original Greek or the Latin translation that Catholics value so highly we are specifically told in Matthew 4:1 that

Matthew 4:1 “Τότε °ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνήχθη ⸂εἰς τὴν ἔρημον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος⸃ πειρασθῆναι ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου.”
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”

 

 

Matthew 6:13 “μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.”
“And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from the evil one” [NIV]
“Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo” [Biblia Sacra Juxta Vulgatam Clementinam.]
“and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one” [New American Bible – American Catholic Bible translated from the original languages]

The same word “tempt/temptation” is used in his prayer in 6:13. I suppose Francis could argue that Jesus is God incarnate and thus God is not tempting a human but that seems disingenuous to me. Clearly God is the active agent in Matthew 4:1 so whatever it means, it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t tempted by God. This is also theologically necessary because in Hebrews 4:15 we are told that “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

οὐ γὰρ ἔχομεν ἀρχιερέα μὴ δυνάμενον συμπαθῆσαι ταῖς ἀσθενείαις ἡμῶν, πεπειρασμένον δὲ κατὰ πάντα καθʼ ὁμοιότητα χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας.

If Jesus is seen as holy and without the original sin that we all possess (thanks Augustine) which leads us to be tempted in a way categorically different from him AND God does not tempt us in the same way as Jesus was in Matthew we have a disconnect with Hebrews. We would also do well to read 1 Corinthians 10:12-13:

“12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

The Greek word can also mean tested but whatever the origin of the temptation we are assured that it is nothing special to us and is not overwhelming. God is firmly in control and he controls the “level” of temptation that we face as well. Clearly we are told that we can bear whatever temptation and a way through is provided, just as Jesus survived the temptations in the wilderness by relying on God’s Word. Should we not read the Bible for what it says, rather than try to interpret it for people through translation? Of course the “orthodox corruption” of Scripture began early and the Catholic Church has a long history of protecting scripture from the masses. Perhaps Pope Francis should be repenting for that rather than falling into translation temptation. As leader of the largest Christian group on earth it is surely unhelpful to call the veracity of the Bible into question, English translation or not.

Update: I see that Daniel Wallace has a response with more details regarding the various manuscripts, translations and reasons why Francis’s recommendation is unwise.

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