The Lord’s Prayer was originally translated from Greek, and the Pope now wants to change it.

While the original prayer was written in ancient Aramaic, it has been translated several times over the eras. The current English version is much more the result of a translation from Latin, itself the result of a translation from Greek. But it has always been subject to debate.

And now the Pope is weighing in on the matter.

Why the pope thinks there is a translation mistake in the Lord’s Prayer

Pope Francis wants to change the Lord's prayer
The pope thinks there is a mistake in the current English translation of the Lord’s Prayer.

According to the pontiff, the line “And lead us not into temptation” is the result of an incorrect translation. He told Italian TV channel TV2000 that “It’s a bad translation as it gives the impression that God is the one leading us purposefully into temptation.” and that “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.”

Mind you, English is not the only language with this issue. The French translations had the same, misleading line until last month. Other languages still do. (Although the French translation was even more misleading, as it translated to “Do not submit us to temptation).

A 50 year-old debate

French translation of Lord's prayer from Latin before the modifications.
This is the former French version, as there is a new one since last month.

It is to be said that the current version dates back from 1966 and has been used by the Catholic Church ever since. It is the result of a compromise after the Second Vatican Council, but has never been unanimously accepted. Can God really lead its children into temptation?

Protestant theologian Jacques Ellul judged this theory to be absurd, while other believers, including a majority of Catholics, saw in this an almost blasphemous statement.

While it is the most common version in use, the French translation has already been modified to: “do not let us enter into temptation”. This projects an image of God as a protector. The Mormon church also uses their own version of the line with “suffer us not to be led into temptation.”

How translating even just one word can result in decades of debate

Peirasmos. This Greek word was used in the original version upon which further translations are based. It means “temptation”, but could also be interpreted to mean “testing”.

I like this debate. It serves as a great illustration for situations translators face daily. Do you translate a word literally, or use an interpretation of its meaning? What if the literal translation is incorrect? What if you understand the wrong meaning?

Reverend Dr. Ian Paul, from the Church of England, explained: “The line has a broader sense – that we’re asking God to protect us from really difficult testing.”

Others say that changing the line would imply God has no power to stop followers from being tempted.

The best possible conclusion might be from Dr. Paul: “In the end you can’t actually control how people interpret stuff just by translating, we have to talk about it and explain it too,” he said.

And that is why human translators play such a vital role in international communications.

 

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