VATICAN CITY (BP) — Pope Francis’ comment that “lead us not into temptation” is a poor translation of a famous line from the Lord’s Prayer has generated discussion of Bible translation and the differences between Protestant and Catholic beliefs about Scripture.
Theologians R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Benjamin Merkle of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary both said the pope made a good theological point in denying God tempts humans to sin. But Mohler called it “almost breathtaking” that Francis would suggest revising a time-honored Bible translation to reflect his explanation.
Merkle said the traditional translation “lead us not into temptation” is “a fair rendering of the Greek text” but noted that a less literal translation — though one along slightly different lines than the pope suggested — may help readers understand the verse’s meaning more accurately.
The pope’s comments aired Dec. 6 as part of a nine-episode commentary on the Lord’s Prayer by TV2000, a television station owned by the Italian conference of Roman Catholic bishops. Asked about new wording of the Lord’s Prayer adopted for corporate recitation by Catholics in France, the pope said the common rendering of Mathew 6:13 “lead us not into temptation” is “not a good translation,” according to media reports.
A better translation, Francis said, might be “do not let us fall into temptation.”
God does not lead humans “into temptation,” Francis said in Italian, according to The Washington Post. “It’s I, the one who falls, not Him pushing me toward temptation, so as to then see how I fall. No, well, a Father won’t do that. A Father will immediately help you pick yourself up. Satan’s the one leading you into temptation. That’s Satan’s task.”
The National Catholic Register noted Francis was not calling for any official change in the Roman Catholic liturgy.
Still, Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the pope’s commentary on Matthew 6:13 both inaccurately portrays the nature of Scripture and “misconstrues … the task of translation.”
Because every word of the Bible is divinely inspired, Mohler said Dec. 11 in his podcast The Briefing, humans do not “have the right” to “decide what Jesus actually meant” in Scripture “and then to conform the text to our expectations.”
Mohler told The New York Times he was “shocked and appalled” at Francis’ suggestion about revising the Lord’s Prayer.
“This is the Lord’s Prayer,” Mohler told The Times. “It is not, and has never been, the pope’s prayer, and we have the very words of Jesus in the New Testament. It is those very words that the pope proposes to change. It is not only deeply problematic, it’s almost breathtaking.”
When it comes to Bible translation, Mohler noted in The Briefing, different scholars may render the same Greek verse in slightly different ways. But Francis wrongly substituted “explanation” of Matthew 6:13 for translation, Mohler said.
Explaining the biblical text, Mohler said, is different than either formal equivalence Bible translations (which translate the original text word for word) or dynamic equivalence translations (which translate the original text thought for thought).
The Greek verb eisphero (“lead”) in the first part of Matthew 6:13 “clearly involves God as an actor and not just as a preventer of action,” Mohler, a longtime student of Catholic theology, said. The word commonly translated “temptation” (peirasmos) “actually means either temptation or testing” and references the type of activity Job experienced in the Old Testament and that Jesus experienced in the wilderness — both under God’s sovereign permission, Mohler said.
Similarly, John Broadus, one of Mohler’s predecessors as Southern Seminary president, wrote in an 1886 commentary that Matthew 6:13 references “God’s so ordering things in his providence as to bring us into trying circumstances, which would put our principles and characters to the test. This providential action does not compel us to do wrong, for such conditions become to us the occasion of sin only when our own evil desires are the impelling cause.”
Francis’ Lord’s Prayer comments were not the first time this pope has set forth controversial doctrinal views. In October, he appeared to contradict the Catholic Church’s official teaching when he suggested capital punishment is always immoral. On a previous occasion, he seemed to suggest the Catholic Church should revise its prohibition of granting communion to divorced and remarried people. He also has asked, “Who am I to judge” individuals who identify as homosexual?
Merkle, professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern, told Baptist Press “although it is possible that the pope’s interpretation” of Matthew 6:13 “is inaccurate, his interpretation is not new and is affirmed by many leading evangelical scholars.”
“The Bible is clear that God does test His people for their good (see, e.g., Gen 22:1; Deut 8:2; Matt 4:1),” Merkle said in written comments. “Yet, it is contrary to His nature to tempt believers to sin. Consequently, the literal translation of this verse may not be the best, especially if many are prone to misunderstand it.
“Perhaps that is why some modern English Versions have offered alternative readings. The New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) translates the phrase: ‘Keep us from falling into sin when we are tempted.’ Similarly, the New Living Translation (NLT) renders it: ‘And don’t let us yield to temptation,'” Merkle said, referencing two dynamic equivalence translations.