Lead Us Not Into Temptation: the Pope & the Lord’s Prayer

Woman hiking over bridge looking off to the left.

Have you heard that the pope changed the Lord’s prayer?

You know that line about temptation?

The Change

For centuries English-speaking Christians have been reciting the same Our Father. I pray it with Catholics at my sons’ parochial school and with perfect (Protestant) strangers when I’m in a new church. Young and old, at home and away, we say it together.

But this month, Pope Francis approved a revision. Rather than, “Lead us not into temptation,” Catholics may now pray, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

Here’s the pope’s reported rationale for the change:

“I am the one who falls; it’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation. That’s his department.”

The pope was worried that the words “Lead us into temptation” might confuse us. They might cause us to think that the Father who calls us to be holy might also lure us off the narrow way.

So we no longer pray in unison.

A Less Confusing Translation?

Pope Francis is absolutely correct in saying that we are the ones who fall, that Satan is the one who tempts us, and that our Holy Heavenly Father does not seduce his children to sin.

Those are not in question. The Greek word eisenenkēs is the word in question. It’s the word that he changed. It means “lead into” or “bring into.” The same word is used in Luke 5:1812:11Acts 17:201 Timothy 6:7Hebrews 13:11, as in “They will bring you before the synagogues.”

But, to avoid confusion, the pope approved the revision. Do not let us fall into temptation, is easier to wrap our brains around.

But Is It Accurate?

While the saints have long wrestled with the implications of the words-going back at least as far as Tertullian in the third century- they’ve agreed that Lead us not into temptation is the most accurate translation.

Ancient translations like the Latin Vulgate and the Syriac Peshitta preserve this meaning, as do classic reformation translations like those of Luther and Tyndale…Translators across cultures, centuries, languages, and theological perspectives have all grasped the Greek here the same basic way: we are to pray that God would not lead us into temptation.

Luke Wayne, Does the Lord’s Prayer really say “lead us not into temptation?

So we agree. The traditional wording is the most accurate.

But I understand the pope’s concern. Asking God not to lead us into temptation implies that rather than lead us in paths of righteousness, he might draw us off the way.

Does God Tempt Us To Sin?

No.

Scripture is clear. God does not tempt us to stray.

“Let no one say, when he is tempted,” James wrote, “‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:13-14).

In this Look at the Book episode, John Piper helps explain from James 1 how innocent desire can cross the line into sin. Suffice to say, our Good Father has nothing to do with it.

What Good Fathers Don’t Do

Now back to the pope. Here’s why he approved the change: “A father doesn’t [lead his children into temptation]. A father helps you to get up immediately.” So says the pope.

John Piper argues that this approach to the Bible is upside down.

God is a good father to his children. A perfect father. And since he is God, and not a mere human, his perfections should not be forced into the mold of our fallible views of what good fathers do. Having perfect wisdom, and knowing all things, our heavenly Father does things no human father should do.

A prime example is Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. . . . Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.”

No human father should take the life of his child as a sacrifice for others. Yet that is precisely what God did to his beloved Son. There are other examples, but the takeaway is this,

We should learn whether he does or not from Scripture, not from our prior notions of what good fathers do. Our notions are finite, and distorted by sin and culture. We must continually refine them by what the Bible teaches.

John Piper, “Reading the Bible Upside Down

What The Bible Teaches

And what it does teach is that we should pray, “Our Father . . . lead us not into temptation.” It does mean “lead into” or “bring into” (see also Luke 5:1812:11Acts 17:201 Timothy 6:7Hebrews 13:11). 

Since lead means lead and temptation means temptation maybe we shift the focus to the word into. Which may change our focus as we pray this way:

Do for us, dear Father, what you did for Jesus, when you “led (!) him by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). You filled him with the word of God and, though he was led to the crisis of temptation by your Spirit, he did not get sucked into sin, but triumphed by your word (Matthew 4:4710). For this same grace, in all your leadings, we earnestly pray. Amen.

Amen?

What does “Lead us not into temptation mean?”

This is what you’ve been waiting for, what I’ve been puzzling over for the last three weeks since the pope changed the Lord’s Prayer.

When we pray Lead us not into temptation,

We are asking that we should never be led into a situation where we are liable to be tempted by Satan…into positions where we are liable to fall. This is what our Lord meant when He said to His disciples at the end, ‘Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.’ There are situations which will be dangerous to you; watch and pray, always be on guard lest you fall into temptation.

God does test His children, and we must never presume to tell God what He is or is not to do. He knows that we need much training in our preparation for glory.

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Volume 2, “Prayer: Petition”

In other words, as Paul warned, Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Take Heed Lest You Fall

George Whitefield, an 18th century evangelist, said, My brethren, if you were left to yourselves, you would be overcome by every temptation with which you are beset.

What this “confusing” last petition in the Lord’s Prayer teaches me is to take heed. To not ever think I’ve grown so much that in my faith that I can’t fall. I can. We can. We must see the weakness of our flesh.

This is not a contest in which we are being tested and tried to prove ourselves, Al Mohler suggested. The reality is we are being tested and tried in order to prove God. To prove his faithfulness. To prove God’s strong grace triumphant in our self-control. And to prove that we need the Lord.

I need him to resist sullenness and self-pity when I don’t get my way, to resist sinful anger when people break my kingdom rules. To prove that God does satisfy me more than another bowl of ice cream, more than a hundred Facebook likes, more than a sunny house I don’t have.

Because at the end of the day, we are not up to this. But for the power of God, we will cave in, we will grow faint, and fail.

Christ’s Chosen Words

Of all the words the Lord could have used, he chose those.

When one of Christ’s disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” (Luke 11:1), Christ answered, “When you pray, say . . . ” (Luke 11:2).

Lead us not into temptation. Those are Christ’s chosen words.

On the one hand, there is a Father whom we must ask not to carry us into evil. On the other hand, there is a Shepherd who suffers unspeakable agony in his triumph over evil. From Job to C. S. Lewis, Christianity has a rich spiritual and intellectual history of reflecting on God’s relation to evil. We could let the words of the Our Father continue to prompt the faithful in this consideration.

Or we could whitewash all the timeless tensions in Scripture and play master over Christ’s words. 

Joe McCarty, Editing Jesus, Touchstone Magazine, May/June 2019

Why We Pray This Way

I’ve been pondering this for the last few weeks and my head is still spinning. I feel this “timeless tension” of Scripture. But I’ve landed on this.

“To pray is to accept that we are, and always will be, wholly dependent on God for everything.”

Tim Keller

As with all of our petitions, the requests we make in the Lord’s prayer are not meant to bring things to God’s attention that He doesn’t already know. As Jesus says before offering the model prayer, “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him,” (Matthew 6:8).

To pray is to admit we need help- help to do God’s will and help to want to His will. We don’t so much aim to change God’s mind as transform our own.

So in the Lord’s Prayer. The other requests contained in it make that plain. Praying, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” reminds us that we need to forgive. Praying, “give us this day our daily bread,” reminds us to be content and trust God to provide. And praying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” reminds us that, with God’s power, we can resist temptation and stay on the narrow path where God leads us.

We pray about these things because we need God’s help. We are weak and cannot do them alone. As we pray about them, we make them priorities. Prayer is a means God uses to conform our will to His will.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Today we will face countless temptations. We’ll stare down multiple desires that could conceive and give birth to sin. But, our Father in heaven, forbid that we would give in. Deliver us from evil.

We might get muddy and we will feel weak, but please don’t bring us into temptation that stops us from running the race with our eyes on you.

Please, Lord. Lead us not into temptation.

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Jesus, in Gethsemane, quoted in Matthew 26:41

EXTRA (aka: More good stuff that would have made the real post way, way, WAY too long.)

The Greek word translated temptation is the same word for trial or testing (see Acts 20:19. Heb. 3:8, James 1:2,12, 1 Peter 1:6, 4:12, Rev. 3:10). Lead us not into temptation-or trial or testing.

In Hebrews 2:10 it says that it was fitting that the author of our salvation be perfected through suffering. If it was true for Christ, how much more true for us. Therefore, there is a fittingness to our trials. Temptation, testing, and trials are necessary for our spiritual growth and strength.

And good fathers and mothers do test their children. In part, at least, we give tests to help our children learn and succeed. So with our Heavenly Father. He puts us in the fire to strengthen our faith, not to see us fall.

God doesn’t tempt us. But he does test us.

Need some evidence?

Exhibit 1: Abraham.

See Genesis 22. Abraham was told to offer Isaac, his child of promise, as a sacrifice. He was tested. God the Father tested his son Abraham to see if he believed the promises of God of not. Abraham was asked to offer up the child of promise. He reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead. He passed the test.

Exhibit 2: Job.

See Job 1 and 2. Does Job fear God for nothing? Satan asked. Then Job was tested- he lost his children, his wealth, his health. God’s purpose was not that Job would fall, but that he would stand. And we have heard of Job’s patience and have seen the Lord’s aim: to show that he is compassionate and merciful.

Exhibit 3: The Israelites.

See Exodus 20. God had just given the 10 Commandments. Then came came some audio-visual effects sent by God to mark the day. Then the Israelites trembled with fear and stayed away. That’s when Moses told them , Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.

Exhibit 4: Philip.

See John 6. It’s just before the feeding of 5000. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Jesus tested his disciple Philip.

Exhibit 5: Jesus.

See Matthew 4 (& 26). Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This is the strongest evidence. It was the Father’s good pleasure that his dearly loved Son be tempted. Jesus was tempted in every way as we were yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). With crimson colors, Jesus passed this test.

Tests and trials will come. God disciplines those he loves (Heb. 12:5-8). So don’t be surprised when they do. Be ready to choose what you did not choose, and to count it all joy because God is giving us what we need to be mature and complete not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

Our Good Father will never tempt us into sin.

But he does test us.

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