Saturday, December 16, 2017

Stump the Priest: Mistranslation of the Lord's Prayer?

Question: "Is Pope Francis correct when he says that the clause in the Lord's Prayer, "and lead us not into temptation..." is a mistranslations?"

The Catholic News Agency summarized what the Pope's contention was:
"The Pope said that the words “non ci indurre in tentazione” – “Do not lead us into temptation,” in the English version – are not correct, because, he said, God does not actively lead us into temptation.

The Pope also praised a new translation operated by the French Bishops’ conference.

The new French translation is “et ne nous laisse pas entrer in tentationI” – “let us not enter into temptation.” It replaces the previous translation “ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” – “do not submit us to temptation” (Analysis: What is the context of Pope Francis’ words on the Lord’s Prayer? 12-11-2017).
This portion of the Lord's prayer is found in Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:4, and the Greek text is identical in both cases:

If we put a literal English translation beneath the text of the Greek, you can see how the Greek text is structured:
καὶ  μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς   πειρασμόν
and not lead            us     into temptation
The Young's Literal Translation translates it as:
"And mayest Thou not lead us to temptation..."
So there is really no case to be made that "Lead us not into temptation" is a bad translation. What the Pope is suggesting is a very interpretative translation, but one which has little basis in the text itself. The issue is whether God might actively lead us into a time of "temptation" or "testing", or whether He might only passively allow this to happen.

We know that God does not tempt us in the sense of trying to entice us to sin (James 1:13). But might God lead us into a time of testing, which even involves temptation? We know this happened in the case of Christ Himself:
"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil" (Matthew 4:1).
Some argue, based on what they suppose the original Aramaic form of the prayer to have been, that the translation should be rendered in the more passive sense praised by Pope Francis, but John Nolland, in his commentary on Luke rejects this line of reasoning:
"There is finally no linguistic justification for avoiding attribution to God of the trail in view. A Semitic original may have been ambiguous, but it has been taken in the Greek language tradition represented by our Gospel writers in a quite unambiguous way. In the Exodus setting and beyond, God is often said to put his People to the test (Exod 16:4; 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16; 13:4; 33:8; Judg 2:22)" (Word Biblical Commentary: Luke 9:21-18:34, vol. 35b (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), p. 618).
And if the Greek text is a translation of the Aramaic original, especially since both St. Matthew and St. Luke render it in exactly the same way, what would be the basis for not following their translation as closely as possible when translating the text into English or any other language?

Here is how the text is translated in several major English translations:
"And lead us not into temptation..." King James Version
"And lead us not into temptation..." Revised Standard Version
"And do not lead us into temptation..." New American Standard Bible
"And lead us not into temptation..." New International Version
"And do not bring us to the time of trial..." [and then it has a footnote: "Or us into temptation") New Revised Standard Version
"And lead us not into temptation..." English Standard Version
So the Pope is simply wrong, yet again.

For More Information:

The Lord's Prayer, Part 5 (Matthew 6:13), by Fr. John Whiteford

Homilies on the Lord's Prayer

Pope Francis, The Lord’s Prayer, and Bible Translation, by Daniel B. Wallace