Ever the innovator: Pope Francis suggested during a television interview on Wednesday an update to the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father” given by Christ to his Apostles. The pontiff rejects the common translation of the final verse, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” as a poor translation because it implies that God rather than Satan leads people into temptation.
“A father doesn’t do that,” insists Pope Francis. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.” Francis suggests rewriting the final verse to read, “Do not let us fall into temptation” to better explain the role of Satan as tempter. But as Spencer Klavan, lecturer in Ancient Greek at Oxford University, points out, this translation neglects the original text.
While peirasmos, the word for “temptation” in Ancient Greek, may be open to alternate interpretations, who precisely does the leading is not. Peirasmos connotes not only “temptation” but also “trial” and “testing,” as in “to test one’s mettle.” It is in all of these senses, two paragraphs before St. Matthew relates the prayer, that Jesus is “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be [tempted/tested] by the Devil.” In both cases, while the Devil does the tempting, God leads the way to the trial.
Just why God might lead his faithful into temptation or testing poses a difficult theology question if not an outright mystery. Klavan suggests that perhaps God leads men into the opportunity for sin to discover who they truly are, thereby recognizing their sinfulness and utter dependence on God.
All major translations of the New Testament render the verse as some variation of “lead us not into temptation,” including the NIV, ESV, BLB, NASB, KJV, HCSB, ISV, NET, ABPE, NAS, JB, AKJV, ASV, DRB, ERV, WBT, WNT, WEB, YLT, and RSV, as well as well as virtually all non-English translations. However, since his pontificate began in 2013, Pope Francis has regularly flouted tradition. He opened the door for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments in last year’s apostolic exhortation of “Amoris Laetitia,” and in October the Pope declared the death penalty “contrary to the Gospel,” both positions seemingly at odds with scripture and millennia of sacred tradition.
Some conservative Catholics have grown increasingly uneasy with Pope Francis’s public statements. In September, a group of conservative Catholics publicly released a “filial correction” to Francis, accusing the pope of heresy. Philip F. Lawler, editor of the conservative Catholic World News, laments, “Pope Francis has made a habit of saying things that throw people into confusion, and this is one of them. It just makes you wonder, where does it stop, what’s up for grabs? It’s cumulative unease.”
French churches began using the Pope’s suggested revision of the Lord’s Prayer on Sunday. It remains to be seen whether other countries will follow suit.