Letters | Temptation, peril, etc.

 

MISLEAD US NOT

Thank you for the Short Takes by Charles McNamara and Nicholas Frankovich (“Lead Us Not into Temptation?” and “Don’t Overspiritualize Temptation,”  January 26). In citing the article by A.J.B. Higgins, McNamara draws needed attention to the antiquity of concerns about the meaning of the verb εἰσφέρω (and of inducere), concerns reflected in various translations of the Lord’s Prayer through the centuries. (The Spanish example Frankovich mentions, no nos dejes caer, had long been current when I learned the prayer in the 1930s.)

But I find Frankovich persuasive when he argues that we should focus instead on the noun πειρασμός. Like its Latin counterpart, it has meanings that overlap but differ, meanings not usual for modern derivatives. So English “temptation” (and its cognates) may well mislead us. We expect it to mean an invitation to some action, especially an unwise or evil one. Instead, as Frankovich suggests, the prayer may be referring to a trial or a peril. Yet even then some of the ambiguity remains. Frankovich (like Pope Francis, perhaps) seems to mean by “trial” some sort of test, of faith or of perseverance in virtue. But may it not be a “trial” in a juridical sense, with the “peril” more like legal jeopardy? Recall Psalm 130: “If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?” Then ne nos inducas in tentationem comes close to pleading, “Don’t drag us before the judgment seat.” (This is not some tendentious rendering of my own. I know it was set out decades ago by a biblical scholar. I’m almost certain it was John L. McKenzie, but I could not locate the passage when I searched several of his books just now.)

Julian Irias
Davis, Calif.

THE FINAL TRIAL

I enjoyed reading the Short Takes by Charles McNamara and Nicholas Frankovich on Pope Francis’s suggestion that the translation of the verse of the Lord’s Prayer, “And lead us not into temptation,” be revisited and corrected. The pope had observed that “God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.”

As McNamara and Frankovich point out, this argument is not new or, contrary to the pope’s critics, “an affront to tradition and orthodoxy.” They did not mention that the pope’s immediate predecessor, Emeritus Benedict XVI, had himself raised the issue in his masterful Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. Benedict writes, “The way this petition is phrased is shocking for many people: God certainly does not lead us into temptation.” Instead of focusing on the meaning of εἰσενέγκῃς or inducas, as Francis and McNamara do, a wrangling with the contextual sense of “bring in” or “lead” that led to centuries of textual interpolations, Benedict takes up the meaning of “temptation.” Concluding like Frankovich that “trials” are meant, Benedict reassuringly explains that “the object of the petition is to ask God not to mete out more than we can bear, not to let us slip from his hands.” Thus, pace Francis, the problem is not that the verse suggests that God is leading us into temptation, but that the translation of πειρασμός as “temptation” misses the mark; as Frankovich and Benedict reveal, it’s “trial.”

Neither McNamara nor Frankovich draw our attention to the Didache, a first-century Christian pastoral manual for the instruction of Gentile converts. The Lord’s Prayer is preserved here (8:2) as well, and the part of the verse in question is identical to that of Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:4. Aaron Milavec’s commentary to the Didache, drawing largely from the work of Raymond Brown and John P. Meier, is in agreement with Benedict and Frankovich on the sense of πειρασμός, but then makes an intriguing proposal: the “trial” is not an everyday “this-worldly hardship” described by Frankovich or the “burden of trials” of Benedict—rendered unlikely by the aorist imperative construction—but the eschatological crisis, the “trial” of the end times. In this interpretation, the final three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer point “to the coming of the kingdom as it will affect us,” just as the set of the first three “looks forward to God’s final intervention in human history.” Thus, the verse reads, according to Milavec, “and do not lead us into the trial [of the last days].” We are even more convinced of this when we recall Mark 14:38, “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial [πειρασμόν],” and Revelation 3:10: “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial [πειρασμοῦ] that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.”

This way of looking at the Lord’s Prayer is exciting because it takes what seems on the surface to be somewhat disjointed petitions and unifies them all under the rubric of looking forward to the end times.  This interpretation demands a reexamination of “give us this day our daily bread,” but that fascinating topic will wait for another time.

Mark Laurent Asselin
Bethesda, Md.

Published in the March 9, 2018 issue: 
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