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Our Father in heaven…

During the season of Lent, we will sing the Lord’s prayer using a setting composed by Bobby McFerrin that uses the contemporary translation of the prayer. I would like to look at the differences between the traditional and contemporary translations provided in our Book of Common Prayer, 1979.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
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 most obvious difference is the pronouns. The traditional version uses “thy” and “thine” where the contemporary version uses “your” and “yours”. Those of us who have grown up with the older version of the prayer revere its formal, arcane way of addressing God, but the meaning is really no different between the two versions.

The first real difference beyond esthetics is the line that reads, “trespasses” as compared to “sins.” We don’t talk of people trespassing against us in everyday speech, but then, we don’t often speak of people sinning against us either. These words are different, but they both convey a sense of having done wrong, or of having been wronged in a way that calls for forgiveness.

When we place these two translations side by side, the real difference shows up in the next line. The traditional translation reads, “And lead us not into temptation,” where the contemporary translation reads, “Save us from the time of trial.” These two translations speak to different theological understandings. In the first, we are asking God not to “lead us into temptation,” which would seem to imply that God leads us into situations where we will be tempted and tested and presumably, judged. The second translation makes no such claim, asking instead for God’s help and guidance as we go through difficult times.

This difference is much more than a theological debate. If God leads us into temptation, then aren’t we saying that God gives us the struggles, losses and temptations of our lives? When someone we love dies, especially when someone dies due to illness or tragedy, this understanding of God leaves us alone, angry with the God who did this evil. If, on the other hand, we believe that life involves struggle, loss and temptation and that God is with us when we choose to embrace life and love even in the midst of all of that, we can see that God is with us, loving and supporting us, even when tragedy strikes.

I invite you to contemplate the differences between these two versions of the prayer during the short season of Lent, as we all pray that on earth as in heaven, all are welcome, all are fed, and all are loved.

Yours in Christ,