The Lord’s Prayer: Introduction

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, March 8, 2021 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

As followers of Jesus, we know that prayer is the method we can use to communicate with God. We at Worldview Warriors have written on prayer multiple times; for example, I wrote on how to pray and if God hears our prayers. Charlie Wolcott wrote a series on prayer a few years ago that starts here. But for this series, I want to focus on one specific prayer: the Lord’s prayer.

We find the Lord’s Prayer twice in Scripture, in the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke. Here are those two versions for comparison:

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Matthew 6:9-13)

“He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:2-4)

After reading both of those, you may notice a few things. First, those two versions are different; some scholars believe that the one in Matthew happened around a year earlier than the one in Luke, and that those were two different occasions. How do they know? Check out the context.

Based on the introduction in Matthew 5:1-2, chapters 5, 6, and 7 in the book of Matthew are what’s commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, and you’ll notice that this prayer is right in the middle of that. Immediately before it, Jesus is teaching on giving to the needy, and then on prayer in general. From there, He launches into this specific prayer with the instruction of “This, then is how you should pray.” It’s not enough to tell people that they need to do something; it’s much more helpful to actually give an example of how to do it. After this prayer, Jesus goes on to talk about forgiveness, fasting, and more.

The introduction in Luke 11:1 says, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” Immediately before that in the gospel account, Jesus is at the home of Mary and Martha. So, the context makes it pretty clear that these are two different instances.

You’ll notice that the wording of both prayers is actually somewhat different too. This is true in the original Greek as well as in our English translations. If you were to teach something twice, chances are you may say it a little bit differently the second time; that’s what’s going on here. It could also be the difference between Matthew and Luke recording the words of Jesus at different times in their separate manuscripts.

You may have also noticed that perhaps neither of those line up exactly with the way you were taught to say the Lord’s Prayer. The version in Matthew is likely closer to what you learned than the one in Luke, but I would guess there are still differences. That may be due to the version I quoted (the NIV) being translated in 2011; perhaps you learned it from the older NIV translation or even from the King James Version.

So… which version is correct? Did Jesus speak the words of the version in Matthew? I believe so. Did Jesus speak the words of the version in Luke? I believe so. Which English version is the “right” one? That depends on how you define “right.” We all have our preferences, but a preference doesn’t make it correct or incorrect. If you gauge that by being the closest possible to the words that Jesus spoke, then no English version is “correct.” It’s likely that Jesus spoke those words in Aramaic (the commonly spoken language of the day), but as far as scholars know, it was first written down in Koine Greek in both the Matthew and Luke accounts, though there are even slight differences in those Greek texts. There has been much scholarly study done on how the Lord’s Prayer transitioned from the most original written words we have to the common forms we know it in today, but I’m not going to focus on that here; you can check this out for an overview.

The fact of the matter is that there is no wrong way to pray - for the Lord’s Prayer or any prayer. There are no specific words that make your prayer “right” or “wrong.” The most important issue with any prayer, including the Lord’s Prayer, is the state of your heart. Is your attitude one of desiring true communication with God? Are you just repeating the words because you have to for participating in a church service? Is your attitude a self-serving one, thinking that you’ll get something from God for saying these words?

The specific words that you say when you speak the Lord’s Prayer are less important than the attitude of your heart. I grew up reciting the Lord’s Prayer at least weekly in church services and in the Christian school I attended as well. For much of that time, it was just saying the words because that’s what you’re supposed to do. After I graduated college, the church I attended at the time had a tradition where toward the end of the service, everyone would hold hands and recite the Lord’s Prayer together. The pastor explained it once by saying that when we hold hands to pray, those who are spiritually “higher” will lift up those who are spiritually “lower,” and we all encourage one another. It also unifies us as part of the body of Christ. Having that closeness to my fellow believers while praying these words of Jesus really brought them alive to me and made them mean so much more.

Over the next few months, I will be focusing on each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer based on the account in Matthew 6:9-13. Each week, we’ll dig into one phrase in Koine Greek, what it means in English, and how we can apply it to our lives today.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.