A Study of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13
"Father of us, the One in the heavens, be set apart – the Name of You." (Author's Literal Translation) Matthew 6:9
The Author's Literal Translation
9 Thus, therefore y o u must pray:
“Father of us, the One in the heavens, be set apart – the Name of You.
10 Come, the kingdom of You.
Come to be, the will of You, as in heaven, also upon earth.
11 The bread of us, the daily, give to us today.
12 And forgive to us the debts of us, as also we forgave the debtors of us.
13 And do not lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.”
An Exegesis of the Lord's Prayer
Father of us, the One in the heavens: (Matt. 6:9)
God was hardly ever referred to as "Father" in the OT. The generic name for God is Elohim (430), appearing in the very first verse of the Bible, "In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). I was taught in seminary that Elohim was a "plural of majesty," an interpretation that, in effect, denied the plurality of the name, in my opinion. I was never satisfied with that interpretation. I believe that the plural name Elohim reveals the plurality of the persons of the Godhead. After all, we are told in Genesis 1:2 that the Spirit of Elohim was moving over the surface of the waters. It is not long in Genesis before we are introduced to "the angel of the LORD," the "Messenger of Yahweh" (Gen. 6:7-14). That Messenger was none other than the pre-incarnate Christ, in my opinion.
That brings us to the specific self-revealed name for God, Yahweh, typically translated as LORD in English. God revealed this name to Moses at Mount Sinai in the desert (Ex. 3:1-4:17). This name is translated as "I AM" (Ex. 3:14).
So for Jesus to speak of God as "Father" (Matt. 6:9) was quite a new revelation to His disciples. Jesus enjoyed a "Father / Son" relationship with God (Matt. 3:16-17). He taught that all who receive Him, Jesus, are born into God's family. Consequently God becomes the Father of all who believe in Jesus, His Son (John 1:11-13).
To distinguish God as Father from all earthly fathers, Jesus, in His model prayer beginning in Matt. 6:9 spoke of Him as "our Father, the One in the heavens." Since He is the Father in the heavens, He is over all, supreme. All who are His sons and daughters constitute the largest and most intimate family in all the world. I have met people in Ukraine and Romania and Australia and America and Canada and Qatar who are part of the family of God through faith in Jesus. That family is the most wonderful family in all the world. There is an instant bond!
"Be set apart – the Name of You." (Matt. 6:9)
The first several requests in this model prayer have to do with respect for God and His program and agenda. They are God-centered, not man-centered. This first request asks that God's Name might be honored and respected throughout the earth, and throughout all of creation. The verb "be set apart" (NASB, "Hallowed be") is the Aorist Passive Imperative of the verb hagiádzō (37), to sanctify, purify, hallow, venerate, set apart, acknowledge as special. In this context, believers are to pray that God's name be honored, venerated, set apart as the special name of the special person that it is.
Jesus' sample request for us to pray is based on the simple fact that, if one shows respect for another's name, he shows respect for another's person. Conversely, if one disrespects another's name he disrespects his person. Respect for God's name is a foundational commandment in the Ten Commandments. The third commandments reads, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain" (Exod. 20:7). To take God's name in vain is to use it insincerely, as a punctuation mark in conversation to emphasize the dire nature of what one is saying. To use God's name in vain is to use it casually, without any thought of talking to God or worshiping him, but simply as a way to flavor one's language, to spice it up, giving it a show of bravado. To fail to set apart God's name as special is to use it for a curse word, to wish something dire and evil upon another person.
Tragically, many who call themselves Christians do not set apart God's name for a special purpose in their every-day conversation. They abuse God's name just like the world around us does. They are apparently attempting to impress people with their intensity or their worldliness. They are merely mimicking the unregenerate people around them. Is God impressed with that. How would we feel if someone used our name to show contempt, disdain, or mockery?
When we pray this portion of the Lord's prayer, we are really asking for God's will and God's values to permeate the entire earth, including the world of Christendom. How then can we who call ourselves Christians use God's name insincerely, without any thought of worshiping Him or talking to Him, but merely to show off how cool and contemporary and clever we are? Shame on us!
Come, the kingdom of You. (Matt. 6:10)
If we ask God to bring about veneration of and respect for His name throughout the earth, we are really asking God to bring about His Kingdom upon earth. Some theologians attempt to synchronize the arrival of God's Kingdom with the arrival of Jesus upon earth, or at least that of His ministry. Yet if, during His ministry, Jesus is saying that we should ask for God's kingdom to come, how can that be? Obviously the Kingdom of God had not yet arrived when Jesus was here upon earth.
When we ask for God's kingdom to come, which kingdom is it? It cannot be the rule which God always has exercised over His creation. God has always been King (Psa. 10:16; 22:28; 29:10; 44:4; 45:6; 47:2; 95:3; 145:1). There can be only one kingdom we are asked to pray for, and that is the Messiah's Kingdom, the one prophesied repeatedly in the OT and alluded to in the NT.
A great many Protestant interpreters and all Catholic interpreters insist that, in the Church, Christ's Kingdom has arrived. I vigorously dispute that interpretation. Jesus came to serve as the King of Israel. But the Israelis utterly repudiated His Kingship and His Kingdom. Today the vast majority of Jewish people do not admit that Jesus is their Messiah. How can His Kingdom in any sense be said to be here when the Jewish people have rejected Him as their King? Moreover, evil seems to be triumphing over the world. Nations of the world fight one war after another. There is no lasting peace on earth. The Kingdom that Jesus urged us to pray for is described as a kingdom of world-wide peace and justice, with nations of the earth flocking to Israel to worship King Jesus and to listen to His instructions for right living (Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Zech. 14:9-11, 16-19). This kingdom will last a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6). It cannot begin until Jesus returns in power and glory and disposes of enemy opposition (Rev. 19:11-21). How can Jesus' Kingdom have begun if He has not even returned to earth?
Without a doubt, the arrival of the Kingdom for which Jesus urged us to pray is inextricably connected with the next portion of Jesus' prayer, "Come to be, the will of You, as in heaven, so also upon earth" (Matt. 6:10). Let us examine that request next.
Come to be, the will of You, as in heaven, so also upon earth. (Matt. 6:10)
If we ask for God's kingdom to come, it stands to reason we will know that kingdom has arrived when God's will is being done on earth the same way it is being performed in heaven.
We must understand the will of God on two levels. There is a sense in which God's Determinative or Sovereign will is always done. Paul informed us that God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). That will of God is always being achieved. That will allows evil and evil beings and evil humans to do whatever they choose to do, always and only, of course, within the limits that God sets (Job 1:12; 2:6).
But there is another will of God, the Desired will of God. That is what God wants to happen, but in this life, does not always come to fruition. God's Desired will interacts with human and angelic free will. For example, God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). We know from Scripture that most will not repent.
So what will of God is Jesus telling us we should request from God? I believe it is the Desired will of God. I say that because God wants the standard of performance of God's will on earth to be the same standard as that found in heaven. So we must ask, "How is God's will performed in heaven?" I believe God's will is performed in heaven, by all the saints and angels up there, in the following manner: Instantly, voluntarily, cheerfully, even exuberantly. People and other beings in heaven perform God's will in that fashion because they want to. It gives them great joy and fulfillment to serve God in that fashion.
So we will know God's kingdom has arrived here upon earth when God's will is being done here on earth in the same manner it is performed up in heaven – cheerfully, instantly, completely, and with good will. We all know that is not happening today upon earth. Therefore I think it is foolish to assert in any sense that God's kingdom has arrived here upon earth. It manifestly has not because God's will is not being performed on earth the same way it is being performed in heaven.
But each of us has a responsibility to make sure that, in our own hearts, we are performing God's will instantly, cheerfully, and with good will. How are you doing? How am I doing?
The bread of us, the daily, give to us today. (Matthew 6:11)
Finally, after we have requested in our prayer that God's perspective is being represented, that His will is being done, that His name and reputation have been honored, that His kingdom may arrive, it is time for us to address our needs.
Our first request for ourselves is that we might have some food to eat each day. Bread was the staple of the Mediterranean diet. I think that the request is a basic request that our physical needs may be supplied. Clothing and a place to live are among the basic physical needs here represented by "bread" (ártos, 740). This is a regular, daily request. And each day we should request of God that He gives us our daily allotment. God has arranged our lives so that we cannot generally receive what we need on Friday already on Monday. Each day we need daily sustenance. He gives us grace to live another day today. He doesn't give grace for Thursday on Tuesday.
Unlike proponents of the "Health and Wealth Gospel," Jesus does not say that we should pray for luxury. We American Christians are unusually blessed in material ways. And the Entitlement Mentality that has crept into the thinking of many Americans does not resonate with God. To be candid, the vast majority of Americans are wealthy according to the standards of most people in developing countries. If you own a cell phone, you are wealthy compared to most people in this world.
We brought nothing with us when we entered the world. When we depart, we will take nothing with us (1 Tim. 6:7). If we have clothes to wear, and a roof over our heads, with these we ought to be content (1 Tim. 6:8). Those determining to become wealthy fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction (1 Tim. 6:9). This is true because the love of silver is a root of all sorts of evil, and some, by grasping for it have been lead astray from the faith and have impaled themselves with many griefs (1 Tim. 6:10).
Paul told Timothy to instruct those who are wealthy in the present age not to be proud, nor to place their hope in the uncertainty of wealth, but rather upon God, the One distributing to us all things wealthily for the purpose of enjoyment (1 Tim. 6:17). The wealthy in this age are to do good, be wealthy in good works, be generous, willing to share (1 Tim. 6:18), storing up for themselves a good foundation for the future in order that they may take firm hold of that which is truly life (1 Tim. 6:19).
And forgive to us the debts of us, as also we forgave the debtors of us. (Matthew 6:12)
We are to ask God to forgive us, at a point in time, the debts which we owe Him. The word "debts" (opheílēma, 3783) is used only twice in the NT, here, and in Rom. 4:4, where it is used as a commercial obligation. There, the employer is obligated to pay the debt of wages which has accrued against him because his employee has performed work which is obligated to be remunerated. In Matt. 6:12, the word refers to a penalties which we owe God because we have sinned against Him. Here we are asking God to forgo extracting the debt of sin which we owe Him.
But there is a catch. In this context, forgiveness, which we are commanded to seek from God, is to be commensurate with the forgiveness which we extend to those who have wronged us. Those who have wronged us are defined as our "debtors" (opheilétēs, 3781), those who have aggrieved us and thereby ought to compensate us in some way. Jesus spelled out exactly what He meant in Matt. 6:14-15: "For if you forgive others their transgressions (paráptōma, 3900), your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (paráptōma, 3900)."
For the Christian, forgiveness which we seek from God, even though we have wronged Him, is conditioned upon our willingness to forgive others who have wronged us. It should be understood that forgiving another always entails absorbing a loss. Fallen human nature is determined to seek revenge, to obtain a "pound of flesh" from the offender. Jesus says that, since God has extended us mercy and absorbed the debts we owe to Him, we need to extend mercy and absorb the debts which others have inflicted upon us.
And do not lead us into temptation, ... (Matthew 6:13)
Jesus wants us to urge our heavenly Father not to lead us into temptation. The word "temptation" (peirasmós, 3986) amounts to a test in which God seeks to find out whether we will be faithful to Him or not. God gives tests to Christians so we pass them. Satan gives tests so we fail them. Paul wrote to us, "No temptation (peirasmós, 3986) has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (peirázō, 3985) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation (peirasmós, 3986) will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13). In a sense, Jesus is here, in Matthew 6:13, telling us to pray that God will not lead us into a temptation or trial greater than we can resist, but will provide us a way of escape.
Pope Francis has officially approved a change in the translation of the Lord's Prayer from "lead us not into temptation" to "do not let us fall into temptation." He reasoned, "A father does not lead into temptation, a father helps you to get up immediately," the pope said at the time. "It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.”
It is the Pope who is in error, not the traditional translation. It is inexcusable to mistranslate the Greek text of the NT to adjust it to fit one's theology. James, the half-brother of our Lord, does a far better job than the Pope of explaining the nature of temptation. Here is what he said (James 1:13-14):
Let no one say when he is tempted (peirázō, 3985), "I am being tempted (peirázō, 3985) by God"; for God cannot be tempted (apeírastos, 551) by evil, and He Himself does not tempt (peirázō, 3985) anyone. But each one is tempted (peirázō, 3985) when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
God tested (peirázō, 3985) Abraham, asking him to offer up his only son, Isaac, not to cause Abraham to fail, but to demonstrate that he would not (Heb. 11:17). God permitted Satan to test or tempt Job, not to induce Job to sin, but to demonstrate that he would be faithful to God (Job 1:1-2:10).
Similarly, the request, "And do not lead us into temptation" is a prayer that God will not test us beyond our ability to withstand. This is demonstrated by the next clause in this prayer ...
but rescue us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13)
The careful reader of Scripture will notice that I have altered the traditional translation "from evil" to the fuller phrase, "from the evil one." This I have done not to change the text to fit my theology, but to reflect more accurately the Greek text, which includes the definite article "the" (toű) in front of "evil" (ponęroű). So Jesus, quoted by Matthew, instructed us to ask that God might preserve us from the specific evil. So are we to pray that God will preserve us from the specific evil situation, or from the specific evil person?
The Greek word for evil is the adjective ponērós (4190). The lexical form can be understood either as Genitive Singular Masculine or Genitive Singular Neuter. The forms are identical. The context must determine which the original author meant. If Matthew meant the word to be taken as a Masculine adjective, then "the evil one" is what he meant. That is clearly a reference to the ultimate evil one, Satan. But if Matthew meant the word as a Neuter adjective, then one must ask, "To which particular evil was Matthew referring?" I say that because, again, Matthew did insert the article "the" into his record of the Lord's prayer. I do not know what "the specific evil" is to which Jesus might have been referring. But I do know clearly what the specific evil person is to which Jesus might have been referring.
The fact that Matthew, quoting Jesus, uses the specific article, leads me to take the adjective as Masculine, referring to the Devil. So I believe Jesus was telling us to ask God that He deliver us from the evil person, that is the Devil.
There is a great deal we could say about the Devil. Jesus Himself referred to the Devil as a murderer and a liar bereft of the truth (John 8:44). Paul describes Satan as an angel or messenger of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Since that is true, it should be no surprise that those who serve him disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15). Unbelievers are described as being dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), walking according to the age of this world, and walking according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit presently working in the sons of the disobedience (Eph. 2:2). But Satan is so convincing and clever, he can deceive Christians. Peter asked Ananias, "On account of what reason has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to withhold from the (full) price of the land?" (Acts 5:3). I have seen Satan deceive Christians. They don't even know they have been deceived.
Part of the Lord's prayer is that we need to ask the Father to preserve us from the treacherous, murderous, deceitful lies of the evil one, Satan. We need to be on the guard against false teaching (Acts 20:29; 2 Cor. 11:13; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; Rev. 2:2), against divisive, power-hungry leaders (Acts 20:30) and disunity (1 Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:1-3; 2 Pet. 2:1).
Not included in my Translation of the Lord's Prayer
The reader will observe that I have not included in my translation of the Lord's Prayer the following words traditionally incorporated. In fact these words are placed in brackets in the NASB translation:
[For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]
The NASB footnote just before this clause reads as follows: "This clause not found in early mss." In fact, this clause is not found in all the most ancient manuscripts.
The final doxology appears in many ancient manuscripts, but there is so much variation in it that it was probably not originally a part of Matthew's Gospel. Evidently, pious scribes added it later to make the prayer liturgically complete. They apparently adapted the wording of David's prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:11. (Thomas Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2019 edition, found in his comments on Matt. 6:13.)
While not originally part of the Lord's Prayer, this is a fitting conclusion, and is generally accepted.
However, the reader will notice that Jesus' comments, immediately after His urging us to pray for deliverance from the evil one, hark back to concept of our being willing to forgive others. This was Jesus' conclusion to his model prayer:
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matt. 6:14-15)
This model prayer, give to us by Jesus, embodies a number of important principles. I have outlined them briefly as follows:
(1) Our first order of business when we pray is to seek first God's honor and God's righteousness, and to request the arrival of God's kingdom and God's will upon earth (Matt. 6:9-10, 33).
(2) It is legitimate to ask for God to supply our daily needs (Matt. 6:11).
(3) It is important to ask God to forgive us (Matt. 6:12).
(4) We must remember that if we ask God to extend mercy and forgiveness to us, we must, by all means extend mercy and forgiveness to others. If we do not do so, why should God forgive us? (Matt. 6:12, 14, 15)
(5) It is important that we ask for God's mercy and gentleness in shielding us from temptations beyond our ability to resist (Matt. 6:13; 1 Cor. 10:13).
(6) It is important that we ask God to deliver us from the deceitful and divisive strategies of His greatest enemy, Satan, the Devil, the one whose whole existence is devoted to overthrowing God's kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:13; John 8:44; 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; 11:13-15; Rev. 12:9,12; 20:1-10).
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