What is the Lord's Prayer?
The Lord's Prayer is a prayer that Jesus Christ taught his disciples, as recorded in Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4. The Lord's Prayer occupies an important place in the life and the teachings of Jesus. He was emphatically a man of prayer, praying frequently in private and in public, and occasionally spending whole nights in communion with His heavenly Father. He often spoke to His disciples on the subject of prayer, cautioning them against ostentation, or urging perseverance, faith and large expectation, and He gave them a model of devotion in the Lord's prayer.
This prayer is given by the evangelists in two different forms and in two entirely different connections. In Matthew's account the prayer is given as a part of the Sermon on the Mount and in connection with a criticism of the ostentation usual in the prayers of the hypocrites and the heathen.
Luke introduces the prayer after the Galilean ministry and represents it as given in response to a request from one of His disciples, "Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." It gives us, however, no note of time or place, and it is quite possible that the incident which it records took place much earlier. The later form is much shorter than that of Mt and the common parts differ materially in language.
Matthew and Luke
Matthew 6:9-13 reads,
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Luke 11:2-4 reads,
2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.3 Give us day by day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
Content of the prayer
In view of the differences, the reader instinctively inquires whether the prayer was given on two different occasions in these different connections, or the evangelists have presented the same incident in forms derived from different sources, or modified the common source to suit their immediate purposes.
If the prayer was given only on one occasion, there is little doubt that Luke preserves the true historical circumstances, though not necessarily the accurate point of time or place, or the exact form of language. Such a request made at the close of the prayer of Jesus would be natural, and the incident bears every mark of reality. On the other hand, it would be reasonable to assume that the author of Matthew's source, remembering the incident, incorporated the prayer in the Sermon on the Mount as an illustration of the injunctions concerning prayer.
There are many reasons for regarding the Sermon as a collection of sayings spoken on different occasions and summarized for convenience in teaching and memorizing. There is, however, no proof that the prayer was given but once by Jesus. We need not suppose that His disciples were always the same, and we know that He gave instruction in prayer on various occasions. He may have given the model prayer on one occasion spontaneously and at another time on the request of a disciple. It is probable that the two evangelists, using the same or different sources, presented the prayer in such connection as best suited the plan of their narratives. In any case, it is rather remarkable that the prayer is not quoted or directly mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament.
In addition to the opening salutation, "Our Father who art in heaven," the Lord's Prayer consists of six petitions. These are arranged in three equal parts. In the first part, the thought is directed toward God and His great purposes. In the second part, the attention is directed to our condition and wants. The two sets of petitions are closely related, and a line of progress runs through the whole prayer. The petitions of the first part are inseparable, as each includes the one which follows.
As the hallowing of God's name requires the coming of His kingdom, so the kingdom comes through the doing of His will. Again, the first part calls for the second, for if His will is to be done by us, we must have sustenance, forgiveness and deliverance from evil. If we seek first the glory of God, the end requires our good. While we hallow His name we are sanctified in Him. The doxology of Mt and our rituals is not found in the leading manuscripts and is generally regarded as an ancient liturgical addition. For this reason it is omitted by the Revised Version (British and American).
Three expressions of the prayer deserve special notice. The words, "Our Father," are new in the Bible and in the world. When God is called Father in the Old Testament, He is regarded as Father of the nation, not of the individual. Even in the moving prayer of Isaiah 63:16 (the King James Version), "Doubtless thou art our father," the connection makes clear that the reference is to God in the capacity of Creator.
The thought of God as the Father of the individual is first reached in the Apocrypha: "O Lord, Father and Master of my life" (Sirach 23:1; compare The Wisdom of Solomon 2:16; 14:3). Here also the notion is veiled in the thought of God as Creator. It was left for Jesus the Son to give us the privilege of calling God "Our Father."
Of the adjective epiousion , "daily" or "needful," neither the origin nor the exact meaning is or is likely to be known. Whether it is qualitative or temporal depends on its derivation from ἐπεῖναι , epeinai , or ἐπιέναι , epiénai . Our translators usually follow the latter, translating "daily." the American Standard Revised Version gives "needful" as a marginal rendering.
The phrase ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ , apó toú ponēroú , is equally ambiguous. Since the adjective may be either masculine or neut., it is impossible to decide whether "from the evil one" or "from the evil" was intended. The probability is in favor of the masculine. The Oriental naturally thought of evil in the concrete, just as we think of it in the abstract. For this reason the Authorized rendering "from evil" is more real to us. The evil deprecated is moral, not physical.
The Lord's Prayer was given as a lesson in prayer. As such this simple model surpasses all precepts about prayer. It suggests to the child of God the proper objects of prayer. It supplies suitable forms of language and illustrates the simple and direct manner in which we may trustingly address our heavenly Father.
It embraces the elements of all spiritual desire summed up in a few choice sentences. For those who are not able to bring their struggling desires to birth in articulate language it provides an instructive form. To the mature disciple it ever unfolds with richer depths of meaning. Though we learn these words at our mother's knee, we need a lifetime to fill them with meaning and all eternity to realize their answer.
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).