Rotation.org Writing Team
Bible Background and Lesson Objectives
for The Lord's Prayer Lesson Set
Scripture for the Set
We have chosen Matthew's version of The Lord's Prayer for this lesson set because it is similar to the version used in most churches. Luke's version (11:1-4) is substantially shorter than Matthew's and is a good text for older students to compare to Matthew's. The Matthew passage includes Jesus' preface encouraging us to pray in private, warning us to refrain from making a show of praying in public and of using empty phrases.
The Lord's Prayer is not just an important passage in the Bible. Variations of it based on Matthew's version have become an important part of Christian worship and tradition across the centuries and in denominations and in the personal memories and prayer lives of countless believers.
- To teach into memory the version of The Lord's Prayer recommended by your denomination.
- To explore the meaning of keywords and concepts found in Matthew's version of The Lord's Prayer.
- To teach the importance of prayer and encourage students to pray as Jesus taught, beginning with his instruction to "not heap up empty words" and to pray in private.
- To understand why we pray, how to pray, and what to pray for.
- To help students understand why they will hear different versions of the prayer spoken in different churches and traditions.
The following Bible Background necessarily addresses a wide range of topics related to the Lord's Prayer, including its origins, varied translations, the meaning of its individual verses, a definition of prayer, and thoughts on how to teach children to pray. Each lesson plan in the Writing Team's lesson set covers certain common points and each also emphasizes a unique insight about the Prayer and the practice of praying.
The Importance of The Lord's Prayer
The Lord's Prayer is arguably the best known and most recited passage in the Bible. Its use in worship across the denominations and centuries is one of the enduring signs of Christian unity and the centrality of prayer in our faith. Its subject matter and movement from praise to petition provides a "starter template" for Christian prayers both private and public.
Which Version of The Lord's Prayer Will You Teach?
We suggest you teach the version most often used in your church. We also think it is important to help young people understand that there are different versions of the prayer and that these differences reflect a rich history of use and understanding. These differences are a wonderful teaching opportunity about the Church, the importance of studying the Word and comparing translations, and the ultimate conclusion that prayer isn't about "saying the right words," it's about having a relationship with God.
The first experience of "version diversity" will likely happen in worship when they hear a version slightly different than the one a parent taught them, or when they hear another worshiper say "trespasses" instead of "debts." ("Debts" is the specific word that Matthew uses. See the translation notes below.) Contrasts are wonderful teaching opportunities, so let's look at a few of the more "popular" versions of The Lord's Prayer out there and begin to compare them. (See the attached PDF for even more versions.)
Note: When studying and comparing texts, it is important to use an up-to-date translation of the Bible that reflects the latest and best scholarship. Online Bibles such as biblegateway.com which this Background links to, allow you to compare versions and click translation footnotes to learn more. Some printed versions of the Bible do not include such notes.
First up is Luke 11's version (NRSV). While it may look like an abridged version of Matthew's longer prayer, many Bible scholars believe that the shorter version in Luke is likely closer to the original version of the prayer Jesus taught.
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
Matthew 6's version (NRSV) is obviously longer than Luke's and looks more like the prayer we say in worship, but not exactly. (Can your students spot the differences?)
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
Above, we've bolded the "additions" that Matthew appears to make to Luke's version. Why did Matthew likely "expand" the prayer? Bible scholars believe that both Matthew and Luke had in front of them a list of "Jesus teachings" that had been circulating in the early church which included a version of The Lord's Prayer. Comparing those teachings unique to Matthew and Luke, we can see that Matthew typically expands on them, whereas Luke opts for brevity (Luke does the same thing with the "Beatitudes" for example). Where Luke's version sounds like a list of subjects to pray about, Matthew's extended version has the phrasing of a more formal prayer one would speak out loud.
Modern translators have relegated "for thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, Amen" to a footnote because the line simply doesn't exist in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew and was unknown to Luke. Should we include it in our teaching? Yes, we should because the Church continues to include it, "doxologies" (endings) on prayers are common in scripture, and The Lord's Prayer long ago transcended being "just another passage" from the Bible.
This brings us to the "Traditional Church Version" of The Lord's Prayer widely used in Protestant and Catholic churches across the globe since the middle of the 20th century. It is almost identical to the translation of Matthew found in the "Revised Standard Version" of the Bible first published in 1946 and accepted as "The Common Bible" by most Protestants and Catholics for over forty years. It should sound very familiar to you...
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 forgives us our debts*, as we forgive our debtors.*
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
(*United Methodists, Anglicans, and Catholics traditionally say "trespasses" instead of "debts." Read on for how "debts" became "trespasses.")
In the 1980s, dozens of Christian denominations got together to produce a modern ecumenical version as an act of unity. The denominations agreed to use Luke's "sins" instead of "debts" or "trespasses" in recognition that they are all synonymous. They also choose "save us from the time of trial" over "lead us not into temptation" based on the best modern translation of the Greek (read more about that below). Here's the "Ecumenical" version:
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.
Is it Debts, Trespasses or Sins?
Matthew 6:12 says, "forgive us our opheilēma." Opheilēma is the Greek word for "debt, that which is owed, legally due" so "debts" is the "most correct" translation of the line in Matthew. (See the word study at BlueLetterBible.org.) Luke 11:4 uses the common Greek word for "sins."
"Trespasses" was introduced into the English translation of Matthew's Lord's Prayer by William Tyndale, the 16th century Bible translator burned at the stake by the English Church. When translating Matthew 6, Tyndale simply borrowed the word "trespasses" from verse 14 which comes immediately after the Lord's Prayer and used it in place of "debts" in verse 12. Why did he do that? Maybe he liked the symmetry of using the same word in verse 12 and 14, even if Matthew didn't. When Tyndale's "trespasses" translation was published in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, it's popularity grew and became the standard (even though the King James version in 1611 stayed with "debts" as Matthew intended).
Eventually, "trespasses" was embraced by English Catholics and an English reform movement known as the "Methodists," whereas, "debts" remained the standard for Scottish, French, and German Protestants. Read more about this history here.
Both "trespasses" and "debts" are considered worthy synonyms for "sins," though individually they each share some interesting differences. See the translation notes below.
Other Interesting Differences
The traditional "Lead us not into temptation" has become "time of trial/testing" in most modern Bible translations of Matthew and Luke. The traditional "deliver us from evil" has been changed in many modern translations to the more technically correct, "from the evil one" (or at least a footnote has been added suggesting it as a possible translation). Luke doesn't mention either "evil" or "evil one" in his version. Both of these are good examples of how our understanding of the Greek language from that era continues to improve. See the translation notes below for more details.
Some of the differences between versions and traditions are subtle. For example, older Protestants raised on the Revised Standard Version and most Protestant churches today still say, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." But if you were raised with the King James Bible or as a Roman Catholic, you probably grew up saying, "Our Father which art in heaven," and "in earth as it is in heaven."
The Lord's Prayer in Matthew and Luke also differ in context. Matthew places the Lord's Prayer in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount surrounded by other "Jesus quotes" about praying in private and the forgiveness of sins. In Luke, the disciples observe Jesus praying and ask him to "teach us how to pray." After delivering a short version of the Lord's Prayer, Jesus then encourages the disciples to "ask, seek, and knock."
Is there a "more original" version of The Lord's Prayer that both Matthew and Luke were quoting? Probably! Most modern Bible scholars believe that when both Matthew and Luke were writing their Gospels they had a copy of Mark and other sayings and stories "about Jesus" that had been circulating around the early church. These teachings which Matthew and Luke included but Mark and John did not, have been dubbed the "Q" source. Researchers have also looked into the possibility that The Lord's Prayer was originally written in Aramaic -- the language of Jesus and his disciples. Learn more about Q. Learn more about the possible Aramaic origins of the prayer.
View the PDF attached to this lesson at Rotation.org to see the many different versions used by the Church and in Bible translations over the centuries.
Learn more about the translation history of the Lord's Prayer at BibleOdyssey.com.
Which Version Should You Teach?
You'll want to teach the version your children will hear on Sunday, but also help them understand that there are different versions all of which teach us something and seek to bring us closer to God. Most major denominations have a "recommended version" (or two) in their official books of worship, hymnals, catechisms, or "Book of Common Prayer." These versions are similar to what's in scripture but have a vocabulary that reflects each denomination's worship tradition and history. Indeed, some denominations, like the Lutherans, give special attention to the Lord's Prayer in their catechism. Consult your denominational resources.
Matthew 6:5-13 Word Studies
Over the centuries, Matthew's original Greek has presented Bible translators with a variety of translation options, and teachers with a variety of ways to EXPLAIN what these familiar words can mean. Keep in mind that the Bible preserves its OWN "alternate translation" in Luke 11! Print a teaching version of these word study insights with questions.
Go into your room and shut the door
"...whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret... Your Father... will reward you..." (Mt 6:6)
The word translated as "room" in the NIV and NRSV is "tameion" which in Greek describes something more like a closet, storeroom, inner or "secret" chamber.
The word translated as "secret" in the NIV and NRSV is the word "kryptos" (from which we get the word "cryptic") and can mean "hidden, secret, private, inward."
The word translated as "reward" in the NIV and NRSV is the word "apodidōmi." The prefix "apo" means something like "away" or "from" and "Didomi" means "give," or "gift" and even "minister to." Together they can mean "pay," "reward," "give back." The sense is that God is there when we pray and does not ignore us.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name
"Our Father" and not just "My Father" reminds us from the start that we are not alone, we are part of God's family. "In heaven" and "hallowed" not only remind us of the praise-worthy holiness of God but that it's pretty amazing that prayer is "holy ground" where God is present.
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
Kingdom, basileia = royal power, dominion, rule (not a specific "place" but a power).
Come, erchomai = come, arrive, appear, grow.
Will, thélēma = will, desire, decree, pleasure
Done, ginomai = come to pass, begin to be, come into being.
It has often been said that God's Kingdom is wherever God's Will is done. It can't be stressed enough that God's plan (aka "kingdom"), God's ways and needs come before ours. It's common today to ask "What's God's plan for my life?" But here in the Lord's Prayer, we are taught to ask for God's plan to unfold.
Give us this day our "daily" pizza
The word for bread in Aramaic is "lahma," but interestingly, in Galilean Aramaic (Jesus' language) it is "pitha" from which we get the words "pita" and "pizza." God is good!
"Daily" is a more interesting word that you might imagine. Both Matthew and Luke use the Greek word "epiousios" which we translate as "daily." But the strange thing is that "epiousios" appears NOWHERE ELSE in Greek literature except in Matthew and Luke's Lord's Prayer. That means Matthew and Luke were using the same Greek source material when they wrote their Gospels and both copied the word "epiousious" into their Gospels. So why did someone have to invent the word "epiousios"? One theory is that the Prayer was originally written in Aramaic—the language of Jesus and his disciples and that this source's word, which we translate as "daily," had no Greek equivalent, so one was invited. If the original source was quoting what Jesus said in his native Aramaic, then "daily" means something like "that which we need" or even perhaps "what is needed for tomorrow." For more on this fascinating story about "pitha" and "daily," read here.
Why does this matter? it reminds us that people were recollecting what Jesus said, and then the Greek Gospels had to translate these ideas into Greek, just like English translators have to find the best words to express the original meaning of the Greek into English.
What do you "need the most every day" from God? Hopefully, it's more than pizza!
"And forgive us our debts AS we forgive our debtors"
Matthew 6:12 says, "forgive us our opheilēma," ..."opheilēma" being the Greek word for "debt," "that which is owed, legally due." It's one of many metaphors for "sin" used in the Bible. See the word study at https://www.blueletterbible.or...ongs=G3781&t=NIV
Surprise! The traditional phrase, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" IS NOT how virtually every modern translation of Matthew and Luke translates this verse. Instead, many modern translations believe "as we" should be translated less conditionally (God's forgiveness is not conditional on our forgiveness of others.) In other words, "forgive us so we can forgive," Or in the sense of "you forgive us, so we should be forgiving." At issue is the translation of the common Greek word "kai" which appears just before the word for "forgive" and whose meaning can lean several different ways. The NRSV and NIV seem to remove the "conditional" nature of God's forgiveness, but their translations are still awkward, in part reflecting the awkwardness of the Greek.
Matthew 6:12 NRSV:
"forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors"
Luke 11: 4 NRSV:
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us"
True story: Pope Francis doesn't like the murkiness found in some lines of the Lord's Prayer and has called for a new translation based on the best scholarship available today.
Forgive, aphiēmi = leave, forgive, send away, give up, expire, let go. In Aramaic: "loosen."
Debts, opheilēma = "that which is owed, legally due, sin, offense." Importantly, Luke's version of this same text uses the common Greek word for "sin" instead of "debts." Keep in mind that not all debts are financial. It's about what we owe to God and our "sin-debt" Jesus paid the price for.
"Trespass" is interesting because in English it suggests "crossing boundaries." For example, you can say that Adam and Eve "trespassed" or "crossed the line" by trying to be like God. In Greek, "paraptōma" (trespass/transgression) literally means "misstep, slip, error" or to "fall beside."
How would thanking God every day for his forgiveness of your sins help you forgive others and make you more forgiving?
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One
Lead, eisphero = "bring or lead." This idea of God "leading" or "bringing" us to temptation is a difficult one, James 1:13 addresses the idea by emphatically saying "NO!" God is not a tempter. Some modern translators prefer to render "lead us not" in the sense of "lead us away from," which makes more biblical and theological sense.
Temptation or Time of trial, peirasmos = temptation, time of trial, testing of one's faith or virtue, time of persecution. Some scholars think "time of trial" may reflect the persecutions which the early Christians were going through.
Evil, "ponēros" = evil, wicked, evil one or things, hardship, peril. Most modern translators agree that "evil" (which is how it has been traditionally translated) means "Evil One" based on the presence of the Greek modifier "tou" which appears before the word "evil" and turns it into, "THE Evil." That said, most denominations stick with the more general concept and tradition of saying "evil." It's up to you and your church which way you want to teach it.
What "trials" have you or people close to you gone through? How can God "lead us away" from those trials?
For Yours is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory forever. Amen
It is widely accepted that this last line was added by scribes in later manuscripts of Matthew. It does not appear in the earliest known manuscripts of Matthew but is universally spoken in churches the world over as a benediction to the Lord's Prayer.
Why do you think some well-meaning scribe ADDED this last line to the end of Matthew? (What were they trying to say?)
What do you "see" in your imagination when you pray this line?
Print a teacher's version of these word studies.
More Insights into the Lord's Prayer
The "Our" in the Lord's Prayer
The words "us," "our" and "we" appear a total of eight times in Matthew's approximately 53-word prayer (depending on your translation). These plural pronouns seem odd for a prayer that comes immediately after Jesus' instruction to pray in private. Thus, the "our" of Matthew and Luke's versions lend further credence to the theory that The Lord's Prayer was already being used in the early church prior to its inclusion in the Gospels. "Our" reminds us that we are part of God's family, that we are not alone in our praise or petitions, and that there's power in praying together, both hearing others pray and sharing your prayers with others. It's not only a great way to learn and expand our prayer language, praying together and for one another sensitizes us to the needs of others -- and in that way, we might also become God's answer to someone else's prayer.
What is Prayer?
Prayer is the means by which people communicate with and listen to God. Prayer can simply be a time of BEING with God as well as talking with God. Prayer can be spoken and silent, thought and action, formal and spontaneous, private and public, short or long. It can take the form of praise or petition, lament, joyful expressions, feelings too deep for words, contemplative listening, or enjoying the sensation of God's invigorating or comforting holy presence. As taught by Jesus, prayer is an act of humility. It is the recognition of our need for God's hallowed presence, God's divine will (Kingdom) and guidance in our daily lives.
In Matthew, when Jesus tells us to "go into your room" to pray, he is reminding us to TAKE THE TIME to pray and to do so without distractions. That's a tall order, but an essential practice we need to teach.
How do we teach Prayer?
Prayer is taught by example, instruction, practice, and sharing our prayer experience. Some persons are able to "listen inwardly" earlier in life and more easily than others. Learning to "be quiet and listening" is a skill (discipline) that needs to be taught and nurtured.
Many have found that certain rubrics and reminders are helpful in establishing and maintaining a prayer life. These can include scheduling prayer time, praying with someone, praying through non-verbal means, such as writing and art, tactile reminders like prayer beads, or visual reminders like artwork. We also have to help children understand what to "expect" in prayer and answers to prayer.
How our Traditions and Experience Shape Prayer
Depending on your tradition and needs, you may understand prayer more as a way of listening to God, or act of talking to God.
Your tradition may emphasize "the power of prayer" to affect outcomes (physical or spiritual), or your understanding may lean towards prayer as a means of understanding God's will and ways.
Your tradition and experience may guide you to be more comfortable in the formal or informal, corporate, small group, or private prayer.
Your tradition and experience may emphasize "taking time to pray" using your own words or using devotional readings. Or you may think of your daily life, actions, and service to others as a form of prayer.
In truth, all these ways of thinking about and practicing prayer are biblical, and have their time and place. Our job as teachers is to share the breadth of what prayer is, and not become like the hypocrites Jesus called-out for their "holier than thou" ("more right way") prayers. God's interaction with us is not limited by what we do or believe, say or don't say.
Teaching Children What to Expect in Prayer
It's natural for children to think of prayers as "things I say," but we need to teach them that prayer is also about inviting God to speak, and then listening and responding. And in that respect, we need to teach them the discipline of relaxing, inwardly focusing, and actively listening with their mind and heart.
We need to prepare them to recognize the sensations that often occur when we find ourselves "on holy ground." God's presence and response to our prayers often come in the form of sensations or a sense of confirmation. That prayer can feel restorative or emptying, uplifting or unsettling, restful or fitful, emotional or calm, humbling and/or uplifting. That prayer is more of a relationship than a set of questions for which we expect answers.
Preschoolers and early elementary age children will tend to think of prayer as "something I say," and "what I'm thankful for." Thus, now is a good time to help them explore a wide variety of prayer subjects, vocabulary, postures, and the discipline of quiet listening and contemplation.
Listening to and Hearing the Voice of God
Young people especially, need to know what to expect when they open their thoughts and hearts to God. They need to understand that we are speaking metaphorically when we talk about "listening to God's voice." God's "voice" can range from a feeling of presence, comfort, and confirmation, to thoughts which seem to be in reply to our own. God's voice is often heard as an "awareness" that we suddenly come upon, a clarity or inspiration. Sometimes the "voice" of God comes from others who are unknowingly acting as his messengers. In that sense, each of us may be the "voice" or "answer" to prayer that another has been waiting for. How might you be the answer to someone else's prayer?
These feelings and thoughts are often shaped by our experience and expectations and tradition. And they are informed by scripture, worship style, and study. But most of all, they are informed by our PRACTICE. The more you pray in various circumstances and for different things (not just personal needs), the more you will learn and begin to hear. This is God's promise to us.
Read More About the Lord's Prayer in Scripture and History
A brief history from a Princeton Seminary professor: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/e...rticles/lords-prayer
Insights into the Lord's Prayer from its possible Aramaic origins: https://jesusspokearamaic.com/...ide-Lords-Prayer.pdf and http://aramaicnt.org/articles/...in-galilean-aramaic/
Pope Francis calls for a better translation of the Lord's Prayer: https://www.theguardian.com/wo...lords-prayer-changed
Bible Background written by Rev. Neil MacQueen for Rotation.org
with input from Rotation.org Writing Team and Board of Directors.
Copyright Rotation.org Inc.