The Lord's Prayer: "And Lead Us Not Into Temptation"

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, May 10, 2021 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

We are into the last verse of the Lord’s Prayer today: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). Today, we’ll look at the first phrase of that verse - “and lead us not into temptation.”

This phrase is a tricky one for us to understand theologically. Remember that this whole prayer is addressed to God (“Our Father in heaven”). Do we believe that God would actually lead us into temptation, that we need to ask Him not to do so? What is Jesus telling us by giving us this phrase in this model prayer?

First, let’s look at the verb - lead. In the original Greek, this verb has a wide range of meanings and is used in a variety of contexts. It can mean to lead into, bring into, etc. It’s a compound verb, meaning that it’s a root verb plus a preposition that makes a new verb. The preposition part of this verb is commonly translated as “in” or “into,” and the rest of it commonly means to bring, lead, bear, or carry. This compound verb can also have a causative idea to it, like to cause someone to lead into or bring into. In some contexts, it could even mean to announce or to drag into. So, it’s not necessarily an easy verb to translate.

The potential translations of this verb cause a theological dilemma for us. Does God actually cause us to be tempted and put us to the test to see if we’ll obey Him? We do see God testing Abraham when He commanded him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son (Genesis 22:1-18). We also see in Exodus 16:4 that God tested the people of Israel by giving them manna each day, to see if they would obey His very specific instructions to trust in Him for provision. In the New Testament, we read 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” God won’t let us be too tempted, and He will give us a way out.

Some Biblical scholars have suggested that these words of Jesus had a different meaning when He originally spoke them. It is likely Jesus would have spoken this in Aramaic, which was the commonly spoken language of the day, whereas the gospel accounts were written in Koine Greek; the two are very different languages, both in alphabet and in structure. There is speculation that the Aramaic would have been causative or permissive - “and cause us not to enter…” or “allow us not to enter…” But since we only have the Greek text, we cannot know if that was the intention.

The next main concept in this phrase is the word “temptation.” This is another word that can have a variety of meanings in different contexts. It can also mean a trial, persecution, a test, enticement, etc. A test or a trial has the idea of attempting to learn someone’s character by seeing how they react to a particular situation, whereas temptation or enticement is the idea of luring something into doing something they should not do. Which one of these meanings is correct here?

We do not have a solid answer on that from the text of this passage. This phrase could indicate that we’re asking God to not cause us to be tested to check our character, or it could indicate that we’re asking God to not allow us to be led into doing something that would be disobedient to Him.

Since we know that all of Scripture agrees with itself, let’s look at James 1:13-14 to help us with this. That passage tells us, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” Based on that, we see that God does not tempt anyone, so the translation of our phrase in the Lord’s Prayer cannot indicate that God causes temptation to happen in our lives. It’s our own evil desires, the sin that lives inside each of us, that causes temptation in our lives, not God. So praying that God would not cause us to be tempted is like praying that God would not sin, which we know is true. So perhaps this word should be translated in the Lord’s Prayer with the idea of testing rather than temptation.

But this translation also causes difficulty for us. We know that we will face testing or trials of many kinds, and that we should face them with joy. James 1:2-4 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” The word translated here as “trials” is the same Greek word as the one we’re looking at in the Lord’s prayer.

Jesus Himself, earlier in the sermon where we find the Lord’s Prayer, told us, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). We will be blessed when we experience persecution, which is definitely a type of trial.

So if we need to experience trials in order to produce perseverance and maturity as James says, and Jesus Himself tells us we will be blessed for being persecuted, why would Jesus tell us a few verses later to pray that we don’t experience trials? As humans, our innate desire is to live an easy life, free of difficulties. Jesus knows that; He lived a human life as well. But, we also know that in this sin-filled world, we will not live a life free of difficulties, especially when we commit our lives to following Jesus.

Our prayer to “lead us not into temptation” is a prayer asking God to spare us from the trials of life, whatever they may be; but when they do come into our lives, those trials should be faced with joy and the realization that they are helping us mature in our walk with God. Whether God causes temptation or testing in our lives or not, we know that He is sovereign and will be there to guide us through whatever He has in store for us.

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