Pope Francis wants to change the Lord’s Prayer to say “do not let us fall into temptation” instead of “lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4.). Francis believes that the current translation (“lead us not into temptation”) “implies that God rather than Satan leads people into temptation.” The translation “do not let us fall into temptation,” according to him, conveys better that the idea that the Devil, not God, is the agent of temptation. The Daily Wire notes:
“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.
Is their biblical warrant in the Lord’s Prayer to translation the text in this way?
Francis is not without his detractors. For example, “Spencer Klavan, lecturer in Ancient Greek at Oxford University, points out . . . [that] this translation neglects the original text.” For Klavan, the issue relates to the meaning of language. Matthew 6:13 clearly says that God “leads” into temptation. Admittedly, the word (peirasmos) translated as temptation could be translated as “trial,” “testing,” or “temptation.” Klavan notes, “While peirasmos, the word for “temptation” in Ancient Greek, may be open to alternate interpretations, who precisely does the leading is not.”
David Pao clarifies why Francis wants to make the change. According to Francis, the Lord’s Prayer was originally spoken in Aramaic. And in this original text, the passage in question my have been “permissive,” as in “do not let us fall into temptation.” Of course, the Aramaic original (if it exists) is not available to read. The problem does not seem to be that Francis misinterprets the text. Pao notes that “the petition that follows in the Lord’s Prayer (‘deliver us from the evil one,’ Matthew 6:13b) clearly points to the devil as the one who leads people to sin.” The problem lies with Francis’s dealing with the Greek of the New Testament not with his interpretation of the passage.
Evangelical leader Albert Mohler challenged Francis’s position not because of its linguistic impropriety but on the level of authority. For Mohler, the prayer is the Lord’s, not the pope’s. In other words, the pope does not have the authority to change the words of Jesus. Mohler’s critique slightly misfires, however. Francis is arguing at the level of translation (i.e., how do we translate the Bible). He is not suggesting that he can change the words of Jesus. He is trying to accurately translate the sense of the Lord’s prayer.
Mohler’s critique still leads to an important question: does the pope have the authority to change a traditional translation?
For Protestants, the answer has to be a firm no. But if Francis is right linguistically (if he understands Matthew 6:13 correctly), then Protestants should have no qualms following Francis on the basis of Sola Scriptura. And that’s the real question here: has Francis got it right?
But It Is Possible
Evangelical educator Patrick Schreiner says that “the pope’s concerns are legitimate and many commentators note that God does not ‘tempt’ anyone as James 1:13 says.” He rightly argues that we could translate Matthew 6:13 as “And lead us not into testing.”
But the language problem arises when considering the verb “to bring.” Schreiner notes, “The verb “lead us” (eispherō) has the sense of “to bring in” or “to cause someone to enter into a certain event or condition.” He continues, “I question whether “let us not fall under” gets to the sense of the verb, but as a translator you either have to choose your battles to get to the meaning. It seems to me it is easier to change the noun to get to the sense since it is translated this way in other places.” His point is that the pope’s translation of verb eispherō misses the mark. Eispherō doe snot mean “let us not fall under.” If you want to avoid the implication that God leads us into temptation, simply translate the noun “temptation” as “testing,” which is possible.
Even if Francis’s translation is hypothetically possible (and I am barely sure that’s true), it’s improbable. Anthony Esolan writes, “The original Greek is not ambiguous.” There is no linguistic argument that proves Francis’s choice of translation. Perhaps some might argue that Francis as the Roman Pontiff has authority to change the Lord’s Prayer? I doubt even Roman Catholics would believe that.
In the end of the day, Francis wants to make the Lord’s Prayer clearer to Roman Catholics who recite it. But does he have the right?
Protestants must give a resolute “no” to this question. Part of what it means to affirm Sola Scriptura is to give Scripture full authority no matter what it says. By over-translating the Lord’s Prayer to avoid the idea that God might lead us into temptation, Francis may lead people to miss the richness of the meaning of Scripture.