God and Temptation
The secular media and social networks became overexcited again this month about another comment by Pope Francis: this time the Holy Father supposedly proposed to change the Lord’s Prayer.
On an Italian TV programme, Pope Francis said the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer — “Lead us not into temptation” — was a “poor translation”, explaining that God, as our loving father, would not place stumbling blocks by way of temptations in our way to test us.
He also praised a recently implemented amendment in the French version, which now is rendered as “let us not enter into temptation” (previously it read, “do not submit us to temptation”).
The trouble with translations is that a lot can get lost in them. For one thing, Pope Francis spoke in Italian in a context particular to Italy, where the latest Catholic Bible translation, approved by the country’s bishops in 2001, already takes into account the pope’s linguistic objection. The line now reads, “do not abandon us to temptation” (it still awaits incorporation into the Italian missal). Translations are also subject to techniques and the principles that guide them. The Church saw the latter in action with the two post-Vatican II translations of the English missal.
All translations are shaded by a diversity of factors, including the context of a word or phrase in its original, its meaning in the context of the language it is translated into, social and cultural biases of the translator, linguistic nuances and so on.
Translations are also subject to techniques and the principles that guide them. The Church saw the latter in action with the two post-Vatican II translations of the English missal.
First, in the 1973 missal, the translators used the approach of dynamic equivalence, which allows the interpretation of certain words to navigate linguistic, stylistic and contextual constraint. By suggesting that the wording of the petition “and lead us not into temptation” fails to reflect the nature of God the Father, Pope Francis places himself in the dynamic equivalence camp.
The current missal uses the formal equivalence approach, which requires the literal translation of words from the Latin source text.
By suggesting that the wording of the petition “and lead us not into temptation” fails to reflect the nature of God the Father, Pope Francis places himself in the dynamic equivalence camp.
Unfortunately there is no version of the prayer that Jesus taught us in Aramaic, his own language. We therefore cannot know how accurately the evangelists Matthew and Luke reflected the original from Jesus’ mouth into Greek print. Their Greek translations of the lost Aramaic are the closest we have to the original Lord’s Prayer.
According to the world-renowned scripture scholar and Southern Cross columnist Fr Nicholas King SJ, the Greek word at dispute here can be translated into English not only as “temptation” but also as “testing”.
Understood that way, those who are troubled by the idea of God “leading us into temptation” can see the sixth petition as an entreaty for help in not failing the test of discipleship.
By way of analogy, we may imagine a father leaving out a cupcake unattended. His intention is not to tempt his child into stealing the cake but he is nevertheless aware of the possibility that the child might be tempted to do so. That is a test we are faced with all the time in our lives: the challenge to resist temptation and sin which displeases our Father. And so in the Our Father we pray that God may lead us away from temptation.
He is not leading the child into temptation, but for the child there is a moral choice: to steal the cake or to do the right thing. And the child must know which decision will displease the father.
That is a test we are faced with all the time in our lives: the challenge to resist temptation and sin which displeases our Father. And so in the Our Father we pray that God may lead us away from temptation. Fr King, who has translated the entire Bible into English, counsels that “all translations, especially biblical translations, fail”.
It is good advice not to get too hung up on the exact words that articulate our faith. Fr King, who has translated the entire Bible into English, counsels that “all translations, especially biblical translations, fail”.
He explains: “The mystery of God — and the mystery that is the heart of humanity — are always and necessarily just beyond anything that we can possibly grasp. Any translation that promises to clear up all your difficulties with the Bible is a liar and a cheat.”
The good news is that this insight liberates us from the details, giving us the space to prayerfully reflect on the Lord’s Prayer and the scriptures, and turn our minds to what it really is that God is telling us personally.
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