Jeff at Scripture Zealot and Joel over at God Didn’t Say That have both posted about the translation of John 3:16, and touched on the wording of the Lord’s Prayer as it appears in the Gospels. That brought to mind my own most recent thoughts about the way we recite the Lord’s Prayer in church.
Have you ever noticed how archaic the words are?
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
The bold type are words that to me are obviously archaic. Besides that, much of the word order is archaic as well. Nobody speaks that way today. Our English language has changed a lot since the old KJV, or for that matter even since the RSV was printed. We know we don’t need to address God in ye olde English for Him to understand us when we pray.
But notice that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer in church, even if it’s printed in more contemporary English for the congregation to follow, everybody lapses back into the same old way of saying it. Some even say “debts” and “debtors” instead of “trespasses/trespass”. I consider it fortunate that in my own local church we now substitute “sins/sin” in those spots. It’s not a perfect translation either, but I think it’s better than the other words. And when we get a new pastor, he has to conform to the wishes of our congregation on this, because we are quite entrenched on that formulation. It’s a battle none of our subsequent pastors has felt was worth fighting.
Is that all we can hope for, incrementalism? How many people even understand what they are praying? Yet Sunday after Sunday they all solemnly intone the same words, just the way they heard their pastor say it so many years ago when they were little children. Try and change it to a more contemporary reading and see what a fight you have on your hands!
It’s not that nobody has tried. I seem to remember even the Better Bibles Blog having a post or two concerning the Lord’s Prayer back a couple years ago, which included some very good renderings by the blog authors and some of the commenters.
But suggest that we change it in our churches? No way! Nobody will do that!
Instead, we get to just continue the same old ritual of the Lord’s Prayer as we have done for more years than we can remember.