How can I understand the meaning when the Lord’s Prayer says- lead us not into temptation. This is confusing to me because of what James 1:13-15 suggests, which is that God does not tempt us.  The Lord’s prayer seems to clearly say Jesus is telling us to ask God, “Please don’t lead us into temptation so clearly. Can you explain?


I am not sure if you are aware, but this is a current “hot topic” within Christianity.  The reason is that the current Roman Catholic Pope Francis recently made the suggestion that the traditional translation of the Lord’s Prayer, from Matthew 6:9-13, is not the best translation. He says this for the reason that this translation seems to imply that God will in some cases lead people to temptation–in essence to tempt people.  For Catholics this is a huge deal–probably a bigger deal for them than for other believers–because they make a habit of rote reciting the prayer as part of their worship services.  To change the statement would feel like changing a basic belief of Catholics.

Quite often I do not agree with papal pronouncements of biblical interpretation, but in this case, I happen to agree with the pope.  His proposed improved translation is, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”  I am not a Greek scholar, but I believe that the Pope’s suggestion is not the best possible improved translation of the text.  In the margin of the NIV, the translators offer the alternative, “Lead us not into testing.”  I suggest that this would be a more appropriate improvement of the translation than that proposed by the Pope because is closer to a word-for-word translation of the Greek, requiring only one small and debatable change.

There are a number of common sense “rules” of interpretation. Among them is that we should interpret difficult or debatable passages in light other, clearer passages.  If we apply this principle, then we should let Matthew 6:13 be interpreted in light of the clearer passage, which is, as you mention, James 1:13-15.  The basic implication of James 1:13, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”  This is the more clear passage.  The interpretation is fairly straightforward.  God does not tempt people.  He does not “lead people into temptation,” but he certainly allows people to be tested, and in some cases (see Job 1) God will let people be tempted and not keep us out of all tempting situations.  In fact, 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 that when we are tempted, God will provide us a way of escape (but he will not necessarily keep us away from the temptation.

So, if a translator of the Greek has two options–lead me not into temptation or lead me not into testing–then if we interpret in light of James 1, the second translation is preferred.  In either case, there is no contradiction in the Bible in this case. And, like I said, agree with the pope that the traditional translation, although not blatantly contradictory to James 1, is not the preferred translation in light of James 1 and other biblical statements.

John Oakes

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