Why two versions of the Our Father?

Friday, June 02, 2017 - Updated: 8:00 am

QUESTION: When there are mixed groups of Christians, the recitation of the Our Father is always awkward. Why are there different versions of a prayer that is so important to all of us?

ANSWER: The Lord’s Prayer (often called the Our Father after its first two words) is found in the New Testament in two forms (Matthew 6:9b-13 and Luke 11:2b-4). As one reads these passages it should be noted that neither of them correspond exactly to the words we commonly say as the Our Father.

The difference can be explained by several factors. Chief among them is that the Gospels themselves transmit two versions (Luke and Matthew, cited above). Secondly, neither of these Gospel versions were originally spoken or written in English and, therefore, what we have are translations of the originals. In translations in general there are often several words available to express the meaning of a word that is to be translated. Thus, the Our Father we were taught is the result of two actions: 1) combining the two Gospel versions, and 2) translating the original languages into English.

The difference in the forms of the Lord’s Prayer used by Catholics and Protestants are not only the result of the above differences but the way in which this prayer was made by the early church.

Faithful to the teaching of Jesus, the Our Father was used by early Christians particularly in a liturgical context. Especially in the East, when it was used at the liturgy additional words were added to the prayer. These words (“for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory”) were an echo of a longer and apparently familiar Old Testament text (found in 1 Chronicles 29:11-13).

This additional ending was so well known from use in the liturgy that it gradually became part of the text of Matthew’s Gospel as it was copied or handed on to other communities. This added text is not found in the oldest manuscripts of the Gospel according to Matthew, nor is it found in the Lord’s Prayer contained in the Gospel according to Luke.

The additional ending is particularly familiar to English-speaking Protestants from the King James Version of the Bible. However, other English versions (e.g. the Revised Standard Version) most often place it in a footnote. The liturgy of the Catholic Church utilizes the additional ending; not as part of the Our Father itself but as a liturgical addition after the prayer.

While this discussion of the origin and use of the Lord’s Prayer may be interesting, it is the prayer itself that must remain central and challenging to our spiritual lives. At the core of the prayer is a petition for the culmination of salvation history (and, in fact, all history). “Thy kingdom come …” is asking for the end of time and the beginning of eternity. There is, of course, the moment of judgment before Christ that comes with that event. In addition, the Our Father asks that we be forgiven in view of how we forgive others.

The Our Father is not only a beautiful biblical prayer but one that should cause us to ponder our lives and our future.

Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.

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