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What About Our Debts, Pope Francis?

“It’s Satan who leads us into temptation – that’s his department.”

Last week the Holy Pontiff, Pope Francis, said he believed that the line “Lead us not into temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer had been wrongly translated in English from the original language of the Bible.  Pope Francis told Italian Catholic television channel TV2000 that it was not a good translation “because it speaks of a God who induces temptation”. He suggested that the words be amended worldwide to something similar to that being used by France’s Roman Catholic Church as an alternative: “Do not let us fall into temptation”.

“‘Do not let me fall into temptation’ because it is I who fall. It is not God who throws me into temptation and then sees how I fell,” he said. “A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you to get up immediately.”

Ah yes, the good old ‘Our Father’!  That prayer you learned to recite at an early age, and used to rattle off in church and school assemblies.  You probably know it by heart – or think you do.

Not everyone is happy with the Pope’s suggested amendment. The New York Times quotes Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr as being shocked by the idea.

“This is the Lord’s Prayer. It is not, and has never been, the Pope’s prayer, and we have the very words of Jesus in the New Testament. It is those very words that the Pope proposes to change. It is not only deeply problematic; it’s almost breath-taking.”

Changing the words of Jesus, hmm?  As recounted in Matthew 6:9-13, the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” was taught to his disciples as an example of how they should pray.  It is memorized by Christians at an early age, and chorally chanted in schools and churches every day, blithely (and wrongly) believing they are quoting the very words of Jesus.

For if they should check the words in any bible from the King James Version right up to the 20th Century’s New International Version and New Revised Standard version, they may be surprised at what they find.   Instead of the customary rendition of the prayer – “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we find instead (the correct one) – “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Huh?  “Debts” not “trespasses”?  How did that happen?

A mistranslation.  In 1526 William Tyndale created the first mass-produced English bible based on his translation from the original Greek and Hebrew languages.  Unfortunately he made a boob.   In Matthew 6:12, the Greek word for “debts” is ophelilema, and it means “that which is owed.”  Likewise, the Greek word for “debtors” is opheiletes, and it means “one who owes another.”  Tyndale translated the same Greek word differently as treaspases, or “trespasses” (invasion of property).  The  first Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, published in 1549, copied the word “trespasses”; it became the official Anglican version, and stuck.  English-speaking  Protestants, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Methodists are all more likely to say “trespasses”,  even though it was quite correctly translated as “debts” by the scholars who produced the King James’ Version of the Bible  in 1611.

So, Your Eminence, Pope Francis, if you’re thinking of making any changes in the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, you might consider doing something about this centuries-old glaring glitch in the English Church.  After all, when you recite the Lord’s Prayer in Latin, you use the word “debts” (debita).

Kick out the word “trespasses” and restore the word “debts”!

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Imagine if banks started applying the idea.  A debt-free world!  Ah, sweet Jesus!  Pray on!

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Michael Dickinson can be contacted at michaelyabanji@gmail.com.

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