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Lord‘s Prayer – Interpretation

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Is the Lord's Prayer an independent work, or is it borrowed in general or in separate expressions from Holy Scripture and from other sources? 

By Prof. A. P. Lopukhin

Matthew 6:9. Pray like this: Our Father who art in heaven! hallowed be thy name;

“Pray thus” – literally: “therefore, pray ye thus.” In Russian, the dissonant “so” (οὖν) in conjunction with “so” (οὕτως) was the obvious reason why “so” was changed to “same”. The Greek particle is expressed in the Vulgate by the word “hence” (si ergo vos orabitis), and in German and English by “therefore” (darum, therefore).

The general idea of the original is expressed in these translations insufficiently clearly and correctly. This depends not only on the difficulty, but also on the impossibility of rendering exactly the Greek speech here into other languages. The thought is that “since you should not resemble in your prayers the pagans who pray, and since your prayers should differ in character from their prayers, then pray like this” (Meyer, [1864]). But even this is only a certain approximation to the meaning, beyond which, apparently, it is no longer possible to go. Meanwhile, a lot depends on the correct explanation of the word “so”.

If we accept it in the sense of “just so, and not otherwise,” then it will be clear that all our church and other prayers, with the exception of “Our Father,” are superfluous and disagree with the teachings of the Savior. But if the Savior commanded to say only this prayer (ταύτην τὴν εὐχήν) or only what He said (taata), then one would expect complete accuracy in the expression, and it would be, moreover, incomprehensible why there is a difference in the two editions of the Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew and Luke (Luke 11:2–4). There are more differences in Greek than in Russian, but in the latter it is noticeable in the fourth petition (Luke 11:3). If we translate οὕτως – thus, in this kind, in this sense, like this (simili or eodem modo, in hunc sensum), then this will mean that the Lord’s Prayer, according to the Savior, should only serve as a model for other prayers, but not exclude them. But in this last case, we will give a meaning to the word oύτως which it does not really have, and especially it is not used in the sense of simili modo or in hunc sensum.

Further, they say that if the expression were to be understood not in a strict sense, then it would be said: “pray as it were” (ούτως πως – Tolyuk, [1856]). The accuracy and definiteness of the words of prayer, according to some exegetes, are also indicated by the words from the Gospel of Luke: “when you pray, speak” (Lk. 11: 2), where the word “speak” expresses the exact command that those who pray utter exactly the words indicated by Christ.

However, one cannot fully agree with either of the above interpretations due to their one-sidedness. It must be remembered that Christ, both before and here, leaves it to the people themselves to draw further conclusions and consequences from His words. So here, too, simply the initial or initial prayer, the prayer of all prayers, the most excellent prayer, is expounded. Its study is first of all necessary for every Christian, whether it be an adult or a child, because in its childish simplicity it is accessible to the understanding of a child and can serve as a subject of thoughtful reasoning for an adult. It is the baby talk of a child who is beginning to speak, and the deepest theology of an adult husband. The Lord’s Prayer is not a model for other prayers and cannot be a model, because it is inimitable in its simplicity, artlessness, richness and depth. She alone is sufficient for a person who does not know any other prayers. But, being initial, it does not exclude the possibility of continuations, consequences and clarifications. Christ Himself prayed in Gethsemane, uttering this prayer itself (“Thy will be done” and “Lead us not into temptation”), expressing it only in other words. Also, His “farewell prayer” can be considered an extension or extension of the Lord’s Prayer and serve to interpret it. Both Christ and the apostles prayed differently, and gave us an example of saying other prayers.

Judging by the message of Luke, the Savior, in a slightly modified form, said the same prayer at a different time, under different circumstances. But there is also an opinion that He said this prayer only once and that either Matthew or Luke does not determine the exact time and circumstances of the utterance. There is currently no way to resolve the issue as it was.

Is the Lord’s Prayer an independent work, or is it borrowed in general or in separate expressions from Holy Scripture and from other sources? Opinions are again divided. Some say that “it is all skilfully composed of Hebrew formulas (tota haec oratio ex formulis Hebraeorum concinnata est tam apte). Others hold the opposite opinion. While asserting that the first view, if accepted, would not contain anything irreverent or subject to objection, they point out, however, that attempts to find parallels for the Lord’s Prayer from biblical or rabbinical sources have so far been unsuccessful. This view is now predominant in New Testament exegetics. Distant parallels, they say, if possible to look for, then only to the first three petitions. The similarity of the Lord’s Prayer with certain sayings in the First Epistle of the Apostle Peter (1 Pet. 1:15–16, 2:9, 15, 3:7, etc.) pointed out by Bengel and others should be recognized as only very remote and, perhaps, only accidental, although the parallels encountered here have some significance for interpretation. In church literature, the oldest mention of the Lord’s Prayer is found in the “Teaching of the 12 Apostles” (“Didache”, ch. 8), where it is given completely according to Matthew with a slight difference (ἀφίεμεν – ἀφήκαμεν), with the addition of “doxology” and the words: “so pray three times a day.”

The number of requests is determined differently. Blessed Augustine accepts 7 petitions, St. John Chrysostom – 6.

Prayer begins with an invocation, where God is called “Father”. This name occurs, although rarely, in the Old Testament. Apart from the fact that in the Old Testament people are sometimes called “sons of God”, there are also direct names of God the Father, (Deut.32:6; Prem.14:3; Is.63:16; Jer.3:19; Mal.1:6). In Sir.23:1 and Jer.3:4 the name of God as Father is used as an invocation. And not only Jews, but also pagans called, for example, Zeus or Jupiter the father. In Plato’s Timaeus there is a place where God is called the Father and Creator of the world (ὁ πατὴρ καὶ ποιητὴς τοῦ κόσμου); Jupiter according to Tolyuk ¬¬ Diovis ¬¬ Deus et pater. But in general, “in the Old Testament idea (not to mention the pagans), we observe that it was rather special than universal, and did not become a concept that determines the character of God. God’s attitude towards Israel was paternal, but it was not evident that it was such in its very essence and that all people were subject to God’s paternal love and care. The legitimate idea of God still prevailed. Power and transcendence were the outstanding attributes of God. The recognition of this was correct and important, but it was subject to a one-sided development, and such a development took on a separate form in later Judaism. The legalism and ritualism of the later Jewish period arose to a large extent from the inability of the people to fill the truth about the royal Power of God with the truth about His paternal love. Lawful submission, expressed in rites in which they thought to express reverence for the transcendent majesty of God, more than filial piety and moral obedience, was the dominant note of Pharisees’ piety. But Jesus Christ spoke of God primarily as a father. The expression “Our Father” is the only one where Christ says “our” instead of “your”; usually “My Father” and “your Father.” It is easy to understand that in invocation the Savior does not put Himself in relation to God in the same way as other people, because the prayer was given to others. The words “being in heaven” do not express the thought: “most exalted and omnipresent Father”, or “highest, omnipotent, most good and all-blessed”, etc. Here is signified the usual idea that people have of God as a Being who has a special sojourn in heaven. If “who is in heaven” were not added, then the prayer could almost refer to any earthly father. The addition of these words shows that it refers to God. If the invocation had said: “Our God,” then there would be no need to add “who is in heaven” at all, because this would have been clear without that. Thus, “Our Father” is equivalent and equivalent to the word God, but with the addition of an important characteristic – the patronymic of God and at the same time the thought of God’s loving attitude towards people, as the Father towards His children. The remarks of exegetes that the Savior wanted to designate here not only patronymic or paternal love for people, but also the brotherhood of people among themselves, the participation of every believer in this brotherhood, can be accepted. The filial relationship of people to God is based, however, on their personal relationship to Christ, because only through Him do people have the right to call God their Father.

“Hallowed be thy name.” Instead of any ingenious reasoning and interpretation of these words, the easiest way, it seems, is to understand the meaning of the petition from the opposition. When is the name of God not sanctified among people? When they do not know God, they teach about Him incorrectly, do not honor Him with their lives, and so on. The attitude of people to God in all petitions is presented under the images of earthly relations. It is quite understandable for us when children do not honor their earthly father. The same can be said about honoring the name of God. God Himself is holy. But we contradict this holiness when we disrespect the name of God. The point, then, is not in God, but in ourselves. As for the very expression “Hallowed be Thy name,” and not the essence itself or any of the properties of God, then the essence of God and the properties are not spoken of, not because it is holy in itself, but because the very essence of God is incomprehensible to us and that the name of God is a designation, in a sense accessible to all ordinary people, of the divine Being itself. The simple people speak not about the essence of God, but about His name, they think about the name, with the help of the name they distinguish God from all other beings. According to Tolyuk, the word “sanctify” corresponds to “to glorify” and “to glorify” (εύλογεῖν). Origen has ὑψοῦν, to exalt, exalt and glorify. Theophylact says: “Make us holy, just as You are glorified through us. As blasphemy is uttered by me, so may God be hallowed by me, i.e. let him be glorified as a Saint.”

Matthew 6:10. let your kingdom come; may Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;

Literally: “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, as it is in heaven and on earth.” In the Greek text, only the words are arranged differently, but the meaning is the same. Tertullian moves both petitions of this verse, putting after “Hallowed be Thy name” – “Thy will be done” and so on. The words, “as in heaven, so on earth” can refer to all three of the first petitions. Many arguments are found among exegetes about the words: “Thy Kingdom come.” What Kingdom? Some refer this expression to the end of the world and understand it exclusively in the so-called eschatological sense, i.e. they think that Christ here taught us to pray that the Last Judgment would happen soon and the Kingdom of God would come in the “resurrection of the righteous”, with the destruction of evil people and in general all evil. Others dispute this opinion and argue that the second and third petitions are closely related to each other – the will of God is fulfilled when the Kingdom of God comes, and, conversely, the coming of the Kingdom of God is a necessary condition for the fulfillment of the will of God. But to the third petition is added: “as in heaven, and on earth.” Therefore, the kingdom is spoken of here on earth as opposed to the kingdom of heaven. Obviously, heavenly relations serve here simply as a model for earthly relations, and, moreover, simultaneous ones. This is the best explanation anyway. Christ was hardly talking here about the distant future, in the eschatological sense. The advent of the Kingdom of God on earth is a slow process, implying the constant improvement of man, as a moral being, in the moral life. The moment when a person realized himself as a moral being was in itself the onset of the Kingdom of God. Further, the Jews, to whom Christ spoke, knew the continuation and development of the Kingdom of God from their previous history, with constant setbacks and obstacles from the side of evil. The kingdom of God is the dominion of God, when the laws given by Him receive more and more power, significance and respect among people. This ideal is realizable in this life, and Christ taught us to pray for its realization. Its fulfillment is connected with the prayer that the name of God be hallowed. “A goal is set before the eyes, which can be achieved” (Tsang, [1905]).

Matthew 6:11. give us our daily bread this day;

Literally: “give us our daily bread today” (in the Slavic Bible – “today”; in the Vulgate – hodie). The word “bread” is completely analogous to the one used in our Russian expressions: “work to earn your own bread”, “work for a piece of bread”, etc., i.e. bread here should be understood in general as a condition for life, subsistence, a certain well-being, etc. In Holy Scripture, the word “bread” is often used in its proper sense (cibus, and farina cum aqua permixta compactus atque coctus – Grimm), but it also means in general any food necessary for human existence, and not only bodily, but also spiritual (cf. John 6 – about heavenly bread). Commentators do not pay attention to the word “our” at all. This, let’s say, is a trifle, but in the Gospel, trifles are also important. From the first time, it seems not entirely clear why we need to ask God for bread for ourselves, when this bread is “ours”, i.e. already belongs to us. The word “our” seems superfluous, one could simply say: “give us our daily bread today.” An explanation will be given below.

“Durable” (ἐπιούσιος) is explained in various ways and is one of the most difficult. The word occurs only here and also in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 11:3). In the Old Testament and classical Greek literature, it has not yet been found anywhere. To explain it “was torture for theologians and grammarians” (carnificina theologorum et grammaticorum). One writer says that “to wish to achieve something precise here is like driving a nail in with a sponge” (σπόγγῳ πάτταλον κρούειν). They tried to avoid difficulties by pointing out that this is a scribal error, that in the original it was originally τόν ἄρτον ἐπὶ οὐσίαν – bread for our existence. The scribe mistakenly doubled the τον in ἄρτον and changed επιουσιαν to επιουσιον accordingly. This is how the Gospel expression was formed: τοναρτοντονεπιουσιον. To this, without going into details, let us say that the word ἡμῶν (τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον) completely prevents such an interpretation, moreover, in Luke 11:3 there is undoubtedly ἐπιούσιον – like in Matthew . Therefore, the interpretation in question is now completely abandoned. Of the interpretations that exist and are accepted by the latest scholars, three can be noted.

1. The word “daily” is derived from the Greek preposition ἐπί (on) and οὐσία from εἶναι (to be). Such an interpretation has the authority of the ancient church writers, and precisely those who wrote in Greek. Among them are John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, Theophylact, Evfimy Zigavin and others. If the word is understood in this way, then it will mean: “give us the bread that is necessary for our existence, necessary for us, today.” This interpretation is obviously accepted in our Slavic and Russian Bibles. Against him, it is objected that if nowhere, except for the Lord’s Prayer, is the word ἐπιούσιος found, then there is, however, ἔπεστι and others, a word composed of the same preposition and verb, but with the omission of ι. Therefore, if the Gospel spoke specifically about “daily bread”, then it would not be said ἐπιούσιος, but ἐπούσιος. Further, οὐσία in popular usage meant property, wealth, and if Christ had used οὐσία precisely in this sense, then it would not only be “purposeless” (Wiener-Schmiedel), but it would also have no meaning. If He used it in the sense of “being” (bread needed for our being, existence) or “being”, “essence”, “reality”, then all this would be distinguished by a philosophical character, since οὐσία in this sense is used exclusively by philosophers and the words of Christ would not be understood by ordinary people.

2. The word ἐπιούσιος is derived from ἐπί and ἰέναι – to come, to advance. This word has different meanings; for us it is only important that in the expression ἐπιοῦσα ἡμέρα it means tomorrow or the coming day. This word was composed by the evangelists themselves and applied to ἄρτος in the meaning of “future bread”, “bread of the coming day”. Support for such an interpretation is found in the words of Jerome, who among his rather brief interpretations contains the following note. “In the Gospel, which is called the Gospel of the Jews, instead of daily bread, I found “mahar”, which means tomorrow (crastinum), so the meaning should be this: our tomorrow’s bread, i.e. give us the future today.” On this basis, many recent critics, including some of the best, such as the German New Testament grammarians Wiener-Schmiedel, Blass, and the exegete Zahn, have suggested that the word means tomorrow (from ἡ ἐπιοῦσα, i.e. ἡμέρα). Such an explanation is given, by the way, by Renan. It is perfectly clear what a difference in meaning results from whether we accept this interpretation or agree with the previous one. However, if we accept the interpretation of Jerome, then we should admit, not to mention various philological difficulties, that it contradicts the words of the Savior: “do not worry about tomorrow” (Matt. 6:34); It would also be incomprehensible why we ask: “Give us tomorrow’s bread today.” Pointing to “mahar”, Jerome himself translates ἐπιούσιος with the word super-substantialis. According to Kremer, from ἰέναι and complex with it, it is impossible to prove a single production with an ending in -ιουσιος, on the contrary, many such words are produced from οὐσία. In words compounded with ἐπί, whose root begins with a vowel, fusion is avoided by dropping ι, as in ἐπεῖναι. But this is not always the case and ι is retained, for example, in such words as ἐπιέτης (in other cases – ἐπέτειος), ἐπιορκεῖν (in church Greek – ἐπιορκίζειν), ἐπιεικής, ἐπίουρος (in Homer ¬¬ ἔθορος). Thus, it should be assumed that ἐπιούσιος was formed from οὐσία, like similar formations from words ending in ια – ιος (ἐπιθυμία – ἐπιθύμιος, ἐπικαρπία – ἐπι κάρπιος, περιουσία – περιούσιος, etc.). The meaning of οὐσία in the place under consideration will not be philosophical, but simply – being, nature, and ἄρτος ἐπιούσιος means “bread necessary for our existence or for our nature.” This concept is well expressed in the Russian word “daily”. This explanation is also confirmed by the use of the word οὐσία by the classics (for example, by Aristotle) in the sense of even life, existence. “Daily bread”, i.e. necessary for existence, for life, is, according to Kremer, a short designation of the Hebrew “lehem hawk” found in Proverbs 30:8 – the daily bread, which in the Seventy is translated by the words “necessary” (necessary) and “sufficient” (in the Russian Bible – “daily”). According to Kremer, it should be translated: “our bread, necessary for our life, give us today.” The fact that the interpretation of “tomorrow” is found only in Latin writers, and not in Greek, is of decisive importance here. Chrysostom, of course, knew Greek quite well, and if he had no doubt that ἐπιούσιος was used in the sense of “daily”, then this interpretation should be preferred to the interpretation of Latin writers, who sometimes knew Greek well, but still not like natural Greeks.

3. Allegorical interpretation, partly caused, apparently, by the difficulties of other interpretations. Tertullian, Cyprian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Isidore Pilusiot, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and many others explained this word in a spiritual sense. Of course, in the application of the expression to “spiritual bread” there is, in fact, nothing subject to objection. However, in the understanding of this “spiritual bread” among the interpreters there is such a difference that it deprives their interpretation of almost any meaning. Some said that bread here means the bread of the Sacrament of Communion, others pointed to the spiritual bread – Christ Himself, including the Eucharist here, others – only to the teachings of Christ. Such interpretations seem to be most contradicted by the word “today”, as well as by the fact that at the time when Christ spoke His words, according to the evangelist, the Sacrament of Communion had not yet been established.

Translations: “daily” bread, “supernatural”, must be recognized as completely inaccurate.

The reader will see that of the above interpretations, the first seems to be the best. With him, the word “ours” also acquires some special meaning, which, they say, although “does not seem superfluous”, could also be omitted. In our opinion, on the contrary, it makes sense, and quite important. What kind of bread and by what right can we consider “ours”? Of course, the one that is acquired by our labors. But since the concept of earned bread is very flexible—one works a lot and gains little, another works little and gains a lot—the concept of “ours,” that is, earned, bread is limited to the word “daily”, i.e. necessary for life, and then the word “today”. It has been well said that this simply points to the golden mean between poverty and wealth. Solomon prayed: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with my daily bread” (Prov. 30:8). (to be continued)

Explanatory Bible, or Commentaries on all the books of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament: in 7 volumes / ed. A. P. Lopukhin. – Fourth edition, Moscow: Dar, 2009 (in Russian).

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