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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Lord's Prayer (ii)

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LORD’S PRAYER (II.)—This name for the prayer which Jesus taught His disciples (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4), though used so generally by Christians, does not occur in the NT, and objection to it has sometimes been offered. It might suggest that the prayer was one which Jesus Himself employed, while not only is there no evidence of His having done so, but the petition for forgiveness is a sufficient assurance that He cannot have made it His own. ‘When ye pray,’ He said to His disciples, ‘pray thus’; but His own manner of praying would be different—how different we may judge from the recollections preserved in the Fourth Gospel of one of His prayers (John 17). And so it has sometimes been suggested that we should speak not of ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ but of ‘The Disciples’ Prayer,’ or that we should content ourselves with designating it by its first two words, calling it the ‘Our Father,’ just as German Protestants call it the ‘Vaterunser’ and Roman Catholics the ‘Paternoster.’ But apart from the consecration of long and hallowed use, the name is appropriate as giving expression to the fact that the prayer comes to us from the very lips of our Lord. In this sense it is the Lord’s Prayer. When we use it, we are approaching God with no words of our own, but in the very words which our Master has taught us.

1. Occasion.—Of the two accounts, in Mt. and Lk. respectively, of the occasion when Christ gave the prayer, it is generally agreed that if we must choose between them, Lk.’s is to be preferred as the more historical. It may be that the author of the First Gospel, after recording the Lord’s injunctions with regard to the spirit and manner of prayer (Matthew 6:5-8), thought this a suitable opportunity to set down the prayer-form which was really given at a different time. And yet there seems no positive reason why we should set aside Mt.’s statement as to the connexion at least in which the prayer was spoken. If Jesus gave a form of prayer at all, and meant it to be used as He gave it, it seems likely that He would repeat it, more especially when dealing with different sets of hearers. And if it was natural that He should impart it when one of His disciples, not necessarily one of the Twelve, asked to be taught to pray, it was also natural that, when He had just been warning His disciples against hypocrisy in prayer and the vain repetitions of the Gentiles, He should instruct them to pray after the brief, simple, and filial manner of this model of approach to God.

2. Structure.—This is exceedingly simple. A part from the Doxology, which occurs only in Mt., and even there forms no part of the original, but is a later insertion due to liturgical usage, we have only an invocation and a series of six petitions. Since Augustine, the number of the petitions has commonly been reckoned at seven, the last clause in Mt.’s version being regarded as two separate requests. But the view that now commends itself to most scholars is that the two members of the sentence are to be taken as one and the same petition negatively and positively expressed. This view is confirmed by the fact that in the critical text of Lk. (see Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ) the petition runs simply, ‘Bring us not into temptation,’ and it is further borne out by the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 rendering (almost certainly correct) of Mt.’s τοῦ πονηροῦ by ‘the evil one’ instead of ‘evil.’ The petition is that we may not be brought into temptation, but may be delivered from the Tempter; and these are two aspects of the selfsame request.

Looking now at the six petitions, we observe at once that the first three have a Godward, the second three a manward reference. Because of this the prayer has often been compared to the Decalogue with its summation of human duty first to God and then to man (cf. Matthew 22:40, Mark 12:31). But beneath this resemblance there lies a great difference between the Ten Words and the Lord’s Prayer, the familiar difference between law and grace, between the Old Testament and the New. For while in the one case our debt to God and to man is laid upon us from above as a commandment that must be obeyed, in the other we look up to God, crying like Augustine, ‘Da quod jubes, et jube quod vis’ (Conf. x. 60).

When we examine the prayer more closely, a beautiful continuity and symmetry of thought becomes apparent. In the invocation God is addressed by His new name of ‘Father’; and it is with a petition for the hallowing of this name that the prayer proper begins. If we take the three petitions of the first group, God appears to be addressed: (1) as the Father whose name must be hallowed, (2) as the King whose Kingdom is to come, (3) as the Lord of heaven and earth whose will must be fulfilled. And when we pass to the three petitions of the second group, the same threefold view of God may be traced, coming, too, in the same order, so that the successive clauses of this group correspond respectively to those of the first. For the prayer for bread naturally suggests the request of the child to the Father, the prayer for forgiveness the petition of the subject to the King, and the prayer for deliverance from the Tempter the cry of one who feels in the presence of the world’s evil his utter dependence upon the strong and holy will of his Master and Lord.

3. Contents.—Without entering here into the questions raised by the twofold text (see preceding art.), we shall for convenience follow Mt.’s version as the one which has passed into general use in the Christian Church.

(a) The Invocation: ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’ These words mark a new epoch not only in the history of prayer, but in the history of revelation. In the OT, God is occasionally spoken of as the Father of the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 32:6, Isaiah 63:16 etc.), but individuals do not venture to address Him by this name (Psalms 103:13 is only a comparison). And though in some of the extra-canonical writings there appears a dawning consciousness of a personal relation to God as a Father (Wisdom of Solomon 2:16, Sirach 23:1; Sirach 23:4 etc.), it was Jesus Christ who first turned the dim hope of pious hearts into the assured certainty of faith. ‘Father’ is the distinctive Christian name of God, the name which Christ taught us, and which, apart from Him, we have no proper right to use (cf. John 1:12, Galatians 4:6). The Fatherhood here appealed to is not the general Fatherhood of Creatorship, but the special Fatherhood of grace. It is for those who are the children of God by Christian faith that this prayer is meant, those who turn to Him with filial hearts, prepared to say: ‘Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.’

But God is called not ‘Father’ only, but ‘Our Father,’ and thus the invocation acknowledges the brotherhood of man as well as the Fatherhood of God. There is a human brotherhood which rests on the Divine Creatorship (cf. Malachi 2:10). But just as there is a special sonship, the sonship of believers, so there is a distinctive brotherhood, the brotherhood of saints; and it is this brotherhood that finds immediate expression in the invocation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father is ‘in heaven.’ The phrase speaks to us of His greatness and holiness, of the reverence we owe Him, of His power to bless. But it also reminds us that if we are the children of the heavenly Father, His home is the true home of our souls, and that, as always, so especially when we bow before His throne with our requests, we must set our mind on the things that are above.

(b) First Petition: ‘Hallowed be thy name.’ In the OT the ‘name’ of God is a constant expression for His revealed character (cf. Psalms 9:10; Psalms 20:7, Proverbs 18:10). Without doubt it is in this sense that the word is used by Jesus. But His immediate reference here must be to that character of Fatherhood under which He had just presented God to His disciples. It is our Father in heaven whose name is to be hallowed. To hallow that name is to set great store by it, to exalt it and revere it and glory in it. To pray that it may be hallowed is to pray that God as revealed to us by Christ may be accepted and honoured by ourselves and others—that we may turn to Him as our Father with loving, trustful hearts, and give Him the honour that is due.

(c) Second Petition: ‘Thy kingdom come.’ The Kingdom of God was the hope of Israel before Christ’s advent, and when He came it formed the constant and central theme of His teaching. When we examine the Synoptic Gospels to learn what His teaching upon the subject was, we find Him speaking of the Kingdom of God in two ways. (1) It was a present reality set up on earth (Matthew 12:28, Mark 1:15, Luke 17:21), gathering round His own person (Matthew 13:41; Matthew 16:28; Matthew 25:31; Matthew 25:34 etc.), the coming of which meant its entrance (which is really His own entrance, Matthew 8:10 ff; Matthew 11:28-30 etc.) into the individual heart (Luke 17:20-21, Matthew 18:3 ||, John 3:3), its steady growth (Mark 4:26-32), and its gradual spread like leaven through society (Matthew 13:33 = Luke 13:20 f.). (2) But again it was a hope of the future, a Kingdom not realized as yet, but one day to be revealed in power by the Parousia of the Son of Man Himself (Matthew 13:41 f., Matthew 13:49 f.,Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30). And so, when we pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom, we are praying that Christ the King may enter into our hearts, that He may take full possession of them, that the gospel of the Kingdom may spread throughout the world, and that its principles may work in human society with subduing power. But we are praying also for the hour of the final consummation when the Lord Himself shall appear in His glory, when the kingdom of this world shall become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, when out of that Kingdom there shall be cast all things that offend, and God shall be all in all.

(d) Third Petition: ‘Thy will be done.’ This may be described as the dominant note of the Lord’s Prayer. The petitions that precede lead up to this, and those that follow must be brought into harmony with it. We frequently use these words as if they were nothing more than a prayer of submission and resignation in the day of sorrow, an echo of the Saviour’s cry in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39 ||). And no doubt this is part of their meaning, and one of the uses to which they may be applied. They are a cry to God to enable us to bear what He sees fit to send, and to make us meek and patient under His chastening hand. But while this is implied in the petition, it is not its first intention. The added words, ‘as in heaven, so on earth,’ should keep us right here, since from heaven all sorrow and sighing have fled away. This is the prayer of active rather than of passive obedience, an obedience like that of God’s angels who excel in strength and do His commandments. Before we think of Jesus in the garden of shadows, we should think of Him as He sat by the well of Sychar and said to His disciples, ‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to accomplish his work’ (John 4:34). When we pray this prayer we are asking that we and all men, being delivered from the spirit of wilfulness, may attain to a joyful alacrity like that of angels in doing the will of God.

(e) Fourth Petition.—‘Give us this day our daily (ἐπιούσιον) bread.’ We pass now from the God ward to the manward aspects of the prayer. The first petition of this second group shows that it is right and proper to pray for material as well as for spiritual blessings. The prayer is not to be spiritualized, with most of the Fathers, into a request for the Bread of Life; it is literal bread, bread for bodily sustenance, that Jesus means us to ask for.

The one expository difficulty of this petition lies in the word ἐτιούσιος, which has been called ‘the most untranslatable word in the NT.’ It appears here (in both Mt. and Lk.) for the first time in Gr. literature, and within the NT occurs nowhere else. Of the three principal renderings—‘daily’ (Authorized and Revised Versions text), ‘for the coming day’ ((Revised Version margin) ), and ‘needful’ (Amer. (Revised Version margin) , alternat.)—there is least to be said for the first, familiar as it is. It reproduces the Old Lat. quotidianum, but finds no support in etymology, and may be regarded perhaps as nothing more than a guess suggested by what the sense of the passage appeared to require. ‘For the coming day’ is more likely from the etymological point of view (ἑσιούσιος fr. ἡ ἑτιοῦσα [sc. ἡμέρα] = ‘the coming day,’ fr. ἐτιών, pres. part. of ἔπειμι [εἷμι, ‘to go or come’]), but seems out of keeping with Christ’s teaching elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:34). If this rendering is accepted, Chase’s view (‘Lord’s Prayer in Early Church,’ Texts and Studies, Cambridge [1891], in loc.) is plausible, that the word was a liturgical insertion intended to adapt the prayer for use at evening service. In the morning the petition would run, according to its original form, ‘Give us this day our bread,’ while in the evening there would be substituted, ‘Give us our bread for the coming day.’ Cf. Lk.’s ‘day by day,’ which obviates any inappropriateness in asking at night for the bread of the day.

Perhaps, however, there is most to be said for the view that ἑτιούσιος is a word specially coined, after the analogy of the LXX Septuagint τεριούσιος (Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18, for Heb. סְנְלָּה Authorized and Revised Versions ‘peculiar.’ It is evidently derived from τεριουσία = wealth, abundance [τερί and οὐσια]). ἐτιούσιος in contrast to περιούσιος would thus denote what is needful or sufficient as distinguished from what is abundant or superfluous. If this is the proper rendering of the word, the petition would correspond almost exactly with the prayer of Agur, ‘Feed me with the food that is needful for me’ (Proverbs 30:8 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ).* [Note: In support of this interpretation see A. N. Jannaris in Contemp. Rev., Oct. 1894; ExpT vi. [1894] p. 61. Cf. also the preceding article.]

(f) Fifth Petition.—‘Forgive us our debts (ὀφειλήματα), as we forgive our debtors.’ Lk. has ‘sins’ (ἁμαρτίας), while in the explanatory addition given by Mt. (Matthew 6:14-15) ‘trespasses’ (παραπτώματα) is used—the word which in the Bk. of Com. Prayer is substituted for ‘debts’ in the Lord’s Prayer itself. ‘Debts’ is particularly suggestive. In the first place, it reminds us of the personal accountability to God into which we are brought by every act of sin. We may look at sin in many aspects—as the transgression of an ideal law, as a wrong done to our neighbour, as a harm inflicted upon ourselves. But most solemn of all is the thought that sin makes us debtors before God, debtors who have wasted our Lord’s money and are called to render account. But further, ‘debts’ reminds us of a class of sins we are most apt to forget—our sins of omission. It is when we ask ourselves, ‘How much owest thou unto thy Lord?’ that the full extent of our shortcoming begins to appear. Perhaps we have striven hard against wrongdoing, but what of the things we have left undone? In Christ’s great vision of the Judgment, ‘Inasmuch as ye did it not’ is the preface to the sentence of condemnation (Matthew 25:45).

By teaching us to offer this petition our Lord teaches that God is ready to forgive all our debts. But a condition is laid down. Those who pray for forgiveness must be ready to forgive. On this Jesus placed great emphasis, so great that He does for the fifth petition what He does for no other, adding at the end of the prayer (Matthew 25:14-15) a sentence of explanation and enforcement, in which He makes it perfectly clear that if we will not forgive those who have trespassed against us, neither will our Father in heaven forgive our trespasses.† [Note: If the view is taken that Matthew 25:14-15 have been imported here by the Evangelist from another connexion such as I835 (so Meyer-Weiss and Bruce; cf. Holtzmann in Hand-Com.), the words testify at all events to the fact that Jesus was accustomed to lay stress on the relation between human and Divine forgiveness; see Mark 11:25-26, Luke 6:37, and esp. the parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Matthew 18:23-35.]

(g) Sixth Petition.—‘Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ This petition follows naturally after the fifth, for the recollection of past falls makes us conscious of weakness and fearful of future possibilities. But is it not an impracticable petition? How can we hope to escape from being tempted? The world and the flesh and the devil are ever with us, and still ‘in the midst of the garden’; just where all life’s daily cross-paths meet, the tree of temptation grows and the Tempter himself lies waiting. And is it not also a mistaken petition? Is not temptation a means of grace, an opportunity of ‘winning our souls’? Does not St. James write, ‘My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations’? (James 1:2). Yes, but there is another side to the question. Temptation is a means of grace, but it may prove to be an occasion of stumbling and even of utter destruction. Blessed is the man that endureth it (James 1:12); but what of him who is drawn away by his own lusts and enticed, and so falls into the snare of the devil? By putting this petition into our lips Jesus reminds us that the hour of temptation is always a dangerous hour. He hangs out a red lamp of warning on the dark and crooked road along which we have to pass, and summons us to ‘watch and pray’ (cf. Matthew 26:41 = Mark 14:38).

And yet temptations must come, we cannot hope to escape meeting them, and this petition, like every other in the Lord’s Prayer, is subject to the rule of the guiding petition of all, ‘Thy will be done.’ But ‘Deliver us from the evil one’ is a prayer that Satan may not gain the victory over our souls. That ‘the evil one’ is the right rendering of τοῦ πονηροῦ is now commonly accepted by scholars on grounds of exegesis. It is in keeping, too, with our Lord’s teaching about the presence and influence in the world of a hostile and malevolent will, an ‘enemy’ of God’s Kingdom and its King (cf. Matthew 13:25; Matthew 13:39). From him we may well pray to be delivered. Jesus Himself prayed for Simon that in the hour of Satan’s sifting his faith might not fail (Luke 22:31 f.). And we know that faith need never fail. God will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13), and this petition is an appeal to Him for strength to endure and to overcome in the evil day.

4. Uses.—(1) This is a breviary of Christian prayer, in which all Christian petitions are summarily comprehended. As the commandments of the moral law are all gathered up in the two tables of duty to God and to man, so the petitions of the gospel are all represented in the two divisions of this little prayer. Apart from requests of a personal and particular kind, everything that the universal Christian heart need ask for is explicitly stated or implicitly enfolded here, whether things on earth or things in heaven, things human or Divine, things of the body or the spirit, things of the life that now is or of that which is to come.

(2) It is a model or directory of prayer. According to Mt.’s account, Jesus, when He gave it, had just been warning His disciples against the formalisms of hypocrites and the vain repetitions which the Gentiles use (Matthew 6:5-8), and it was in contrast with these that He said, ‘After this manner pray ye.’ Looking at the manner of the prayer we are struck by its direct sincerity, its brevity, its simplicity, its calmness and quietness of spirit, its entire submission to the will of God. It teaches us that we are not heard for our much speaking, that long and elaborate prayers are unnecessary, that a simple request like that of a child to a father is enough. It teaches also the right relation and proportion in prayer between what belongs to God and what concerns ourselves. The earthly has its claims, but the heavenly comes before it; and all requests must be made in subordination to the Divine will.

(3) It is a form of prayer. The prayers which John the Baptist taught his disciples (Luke 11:1) must have been forms; and when a disciple of Jesus, reminding Him of John’s custom, said, ‘Lord teach us to pray,’ it was doubtless a prayer-form for which he asked. And Jesus justified the request by replying, ‘When ye pray, say, Our Father,’ etc. Not that He wished His disciples to restrict themselves to this form or to repeat it incessantly. It is significant that, apart from these two passages in Mt. and Lk., we do not hear of the Lord’s Prayer in the NT again. The recorded prayers of the Apostolic Church bear no resemblance to it. When God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into men’s hearts, they prayed with freedom as the Spirit gave them utterance. And yet from the first this must have been, and must ever continue to be, a specially consecrated form of prayer, which no one can sincerely use without being conscious that, in presenting his petitions in the very words that Christ has given, he is asking according to the will of God (cf. 1 John 5:14).

(4) It is a prayer especially for social use. There are prayers which can be offered only in secret, and Jesus had already spoken of these. ‘Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet,’ He said (Matthew 6:6). But this was a prayer for the whole Christian society: ‘After this manner pray ye,’ ‘When ye pray, say.’ The invocation is addressed to ‘our Father,’ the requests are on behalf of others as well as ourselves: ‘give us,’ ‘forgive us,’ ‘bring us not,’ ‘deliver us.’ And so this prayer, which is an appeal to the Fatherhood of God, is also a constant reminder of our human and especially of our Christian brotherhood. It teaches us to join our desires with those of the universal Church as we pray for the coming of the Kingdom. It teaches us when we ask for bread, or forgiveness, or guidance and deliverance, to bear the needs of others along with our own on our hearts before God, and to remember that the unspeakable privilege of intercession is of the very essence of Christian prayer.

Literature.—See preceding article.

J. C. Lambert.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lord's Prayer (ii)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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