This version has sat next to the familiar, “traditional” version for the entirety of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s existence. Sitting there, making us aware of its existence, but seldom used.
This comes to mind as the Lord’s Prayer is in the news, thanks to Pope Francis calling for a change to the well-known and often rote-said prayer. “Lead us not into temptation,” is the line in question. Which has long raised the question: does God the Father lead us into temptation? Because, as the pope notes, that sounds like the work of that other guy, the one who lives way down South…
The Lord’s Prayer that we say has a complicated history. It differs between Matthew and Luke’s gospels. A version of it exists in the almost-biblical book known as the Didache* that hews closer to what we know and use (most notably in the concluding doxology, which is separated out in Roman Catholic usage, but is a part of Anglican usage**—being one of the clearest signifiers of when Catholics are visiting The Chapel).
Furthermore, the prayer has had various English translations, the one from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer being the most common and familiar.
At issue here is the notion of “temptation.” This word is the English translation of the Greek word πειρασμὁν (“peirasmon”) which can be translated as either “temptation” or “a time of trial.”
“Temptation” is, indubitably, the realm of the figure we know as Satan. Often, the serpent in Genesis is depicted as Satan, and he is responsible for tempting Eve and Adam. And, of course, Satan shows up in the gospels to, surprise, tempt Jesus.
The words of the prayer are not, necessarily, saying that God the Father is the one who tempts. Just that God can lead us into temptation—or, to make things perhaps more clear, a place where temptation occurs.
This the notion suggested by the use of “a time of trial” as a translation of peirasmon. A place of being tried. Of being tested.
The gospels give us this startling statement: “[After He was baptized] the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him.” (Matthew 5:1 CEB)
So that Jesus might be tempted by the devil. In other words, God the Spirit led Jesus into temptation, into a place of trial. This is a theological notion stretching all the way back to the story of Job, where God permits Satan the chance to affect Job’s life. This is further reflected in one of Saint Paul’s teachings where he tells us that the quality of one’s work will be revealed through testing (a trial) by fire (see I Corinthians 3:13).
It is also reflected in the beloved 23rd Psalm: “yea, though I walk through valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me.” The Shepherd leads the sheep into dangerous places. But all along the way, the Shepherd remains. As Saint Paul also says, “with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13 CEB)
So, perhaps the bigger issue is one of comfort. The Pope is challenging Christians to think about the words we say. And often, we settle into “our prayer,” seeing it in its familiar terms rather than what the words themselves mean.
And it’s important to consider the words. After all, these are the very words Jesus gave us to pray. They tell us much of what we need to know.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your Name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and for ever. Amen.
—The Contemporary Version of the Lord’s Prayer
From the 1979 Book of Common Prayer
* I say “almost-biblical” of the Didache due to the fact that it and a few other books were once considered canonical, but eventually dropped due to their late authorship.
** The only time that the doxology is dropped in our services is at Noonday and Compline. It always confuses people when we say those services.