Fresh Perspectives

Preparing for a new chapter in our church's life

Matthew 6:5-15

"Lead us not into the time of trial / temptation"

“Words of faith are too well known to believers for their meaning to be knowable.”
 Rowan Williams


With each successive line of the Lord’s prayer we’ve started off by looking carefully at the language that’s used in the English translations of scripture, and we’ve also dived back to Greek (the language of the Gospel writers) and even Aramaic (the language of Jesus) – the reason being that in order to make sense of the Lord’s Prayer now, we must understand its meaning then and in context. 

So let’s do the same here and ask what “Lead us not into temptation” (the most widely used translation of this line) said in the Greek text, and what words Jesus was likely to have used as he spoke to words – does the meaning we’ve deduced from our text match the meaning Jesus intended?
First of all – temptation? 

Is this a fair translation of Jesus words or the Gospel writers intentions? If so, are we saying that God leads his people into times of temptation?  Are we saying that God himself tempts?  Or not?  What are we saying? 

The first thing to say then is that ‘temptation’ probably isn’t the best translation here.  Trial is far better.  Greek uses the same word for ‘trial’ and ‘temptation’ and it’s likely that the Aramaic word available to Jesus was a word that also combined these two meanings.  The NRSV translation of the bible picks this up and translates the line:

“Lead us not into the time of trial” This seems a better translation. 

So that’s a good starting point. 

Let’s re-translate the phrase “lead us not into the time of trial”

But then there’s a second difficulty here, to do with the very first word rather than the very last word.

The word:  “lead”

Reflect and Discuss:

When we say ‘lead us not into a time of trial’ What is it that we are asking of God here? 

How do we think he leads, either in this sense or any other sense for that matter? 

Does God actively lead us into trials and challenging situations?
All sorts of Guides

When I was an undergraduate, myself and a few friends were quite naughty, in various ways, but one in particular involved pretending to be tour guides.  If we had a spare afternoon we’d tidy ourselves up a bit, find a group of people who looked a bit lost, and offer them free of charge tours of Oxford, with us as their guides.  The tours lasted about an hour and took in most of the major sites in Oxford city centre, the thing was that the commentary was completely made up and quite far fetched, we were guides, but not particularly good ones.

But let's think about a far better sort of guide...I visited Israel about 7 years ago, and at the end of the trip we met up with a guide who, against the wishes of the Israeli’s took us into Palestine where a small group of us met with one of the senior men in the Palestinian Authority / Hamas, it was a relatively risky meeting and we relied completely on our guide to get us in and out without harm.  He was an experienced and wise man, trusted by the people who were looking after us, and we had to place our trust in him – without him we would have been in trouble.

Before we crossed the border we were all thinking the same and were quite worried – we repeatedly said to our guide
‘Please guide us, don’t get us lost, or put us in danger’

It’s not that we didn’t trust our guide, we did, if we didn’t we wouldn’t have gone across the border with him, so in effect we were saying: ‘We don’t have the necessary contacts or experience or skills to do this, and if you make a wrong decision we could be in real danger, we’ve placed our trust in you as our guide’

We had confidence in him. 
We trusted that he wouldn’t put us in danger. 
We knew that if we followed his lead closely we’d be safe, but we still felt the need to voice our fears.

I think then that this line in the Lord’s Prayer functions in a similar way to our request to our guide. 

It’s a line that is prayed from a place of trust that the Lord is a competent and good guide, a guide who can be trusted.  It’s a request that says in effect: ‘God we trust you to guide us and lead us, because you know the way we need to go’.  It’s a prayer of a confident pilgrim travelling the road of life with a divine guide.

It’s not so much a request for the guide to not make a mistake, or deliberately take us to a place of danger.

It’s a re-affirmation of the confidence that is placed in the guide, and his skills in leading.
Does the original language support this idea?
Yes I think it does.  The Greek word that’s translated ‘Lead us’ has an Aramaic equivalent which has two shades of meaning. 

One of these meanings is causative – which would render the line: ‘Do not cause us to go into trials’

The other is permissive – which would render the line ‘Do not allow us to go into a place of trial’

This translation makes the line a request to a good and trusted guide to actively steer us away from trial and temptation.

This acknowledges that we have a tendency to turn aside, to pick a path that is far from safe and far from good, to take wrong turnings that place us firmly in the face of danger…

It means we’re praying: ‘Lord hold us back, don’t let us take the path that leads to the time of trial’

It’s a request for Gods help in avoiding the self destructive tendencies and decisions and sin which blights our lives.  Or to put it another way, it’s a request for Gods help to avoid the evil and death that comes from sin.
Looking at the Lord’s Prayer with a fresh perspective
Have you understood this line of the Lord’s Prayer in this way before? 
In what ways have you understood this line in the Lord’s Prayer?
Does understanding this line in the Lord’s Prayer open up new meanings for you?  If so what?
How might this understanding impact your life of discipleship?
Peter on the Mount of Olives
With all of that in mind, it’s probably helpful to pick up the narrative from the Mount of Olives just before Jesus is arrested.  As he prays he tells Peter that he’s praying for him that because Satan wants to accuse him and he prays that when the time of trial comes, he’ll stand firm.  As well as praying for him, Jesus tells Peter that he too must pray so that he avoids falling when the time of trial comes.  Note that the time of trial will come, Jesus doesn’t say that it won’t.  But Peter falls asleep, repeatedly. 
The time of trial comes and Peter’s failure is well known…

…perhaps then taking these two things together something else becomes clear – that as we face the normal things of life, we pray to our guide, the eternal God to steer us away from the self-destructive and sinful tendencies that take us to the times of trial, and perhaps it is in praying that we find the strength to stand on those occasions when we do walk a path that leads to trial – which let’s face it, is our normal experience.

An Egyptian cleric, Father Mattah al-miskin, suggests that ‘When we pray we are protected by Jesus and his cross from the accuser (or Satan).  The accuser still accuses and we still face evil, but we pray for deliverance from the times of trial that evil brings.’

So, let’s read the line again:

‘Lead us not into the time of trial’

‘God, good and trusted guide, steer us and hold us back from taking the paths that lead to trial, keep us on the path of life.  But when we do ignore you, when we take that path of trial, please protect us and guard us through it that no harm may come’
Looking at our church with fresh perspectives
How does God lead his church and ‘hold us back’ from the paths that lead to sin and death?
To what degree do you think this is a partnership between mankind and God and to what degree does God act independently from people? 
How might we endeavour to take seriously the request to ‘hold us back from the time of trial’ – both individually and also as a church? 
So let’s go back to the guide question…
When we were heading over into Palestine we picked our guide pretty carefully, on the recommendation and testimony of others who’d gone in and come back out under his leading.  We listened to the testimony of others, we asked questions about his experience, and we decided we could trust him.

Where is your guide? 
Who is your guide? 
What is your guide? 
Is your guide trust-worthy?

The testimony of the Christian church throughout the ages is that the Lord God is a trustworthy guide, a guide who can lead us on a path that leads to life and fullness. 

Simon Butler, 19/10/2014