On Sunday morning here at Capitol City, we looked at the Lord’s Prayer – the model prayer Jesus left us in Matthew 6:9-13 – as we continued in our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Here is the text of Jesus’ prayer, from the 2011 NIV:
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'”
As I mentioned just briefly on Sunday, something is obviously missing here from the prayer many of us know and pray as the Lord’s Prayer. In addition to inserting a lot of thy’s and thine’s into the mix, the prayer we often pray finishes with a doxology – a word of praise – like this: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Did Matthew (and Luke, see Luke 11:2-4) mistakenly omit this statement when he recorded this prayer? What’s going on here?
It appears that this doxology was actually inserted into manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew sometime in the first or second century, long after Jesus spoke and Matthew wrote these words. The best scholarly opinions on the issue believe the words were added in Syria by Jewish Christians (Jews made a practice of concluding their prayers with doxologies like this one).
But why is it that we know these words, if Jesus didn’t say them and Matthew didn’t write them? We can blame the King James Version of the Bible for that. The KJV, originally translated in 1611, was based on a Greek manuscript tradition that included the words of the doxology. Virtually all scholars now agree that there are a few serious problems with that manuscript tradition, which is why no major modern English translation of the Bible relies upon it, and why no major modern English translation includes the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer.
Now for the most important question(s): Who cares? What difference does this make? There are a couple of implications stemming from this historical rabbit trail:
1. First, though Jesus didn’t speak and Matthew didn’t write the words of this doxology, they are still true. They are true because they closely resemble others verses that actually should be (and are) in the Bible, verses like 1 Chronicles 29:10-11 or Revelation 5:13. Which means we can and should pray these words with confidence, for though they were not a part of God’s Word in Matthew 6, they are a part of God’s Word.
2. Second, though it is fine to pray these words (so long as we know that Jesus didn’t say them and Matthew didn’t write them), we shouldn’t babble them on and on like we often do with the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, that’s the point Jesus makes in Matthew 6:7: “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Its highly ironic that Jesus made this statement and then gave us the Lord’s Prayer as a model so that we wouldn’t babble on and on in prayer, for often we do just that with this prayer. But we shouldn’t. And if knowing that a part of what we have always assumed to be the Lord’s Prayer really isn’t a part of that prayer helps us refrain from babbling while we pray it, then praise God.
3. Third, your Bible translation matters. The King James Version was based on a textual tradition of the New Testament that scholars now agree has major flaws, meaning it is unreliable as a translation of the Bible. Modern translations have a lot to offer – beyond getting away from thee’s and thou’s. Choosing a good translation is an important part of becoming a good student of God’s Word. Personally, I read and study from the English Stand Version, and preach from the 2011 New International Version. These are both excellent translations that reflect the best, most up-to-date information available on the ancient languages and manuscripts of the Bible.
4. Finally, realize that every Bible translation has flaws…but the Bible doesn’t. God spoke to his people through his Word, and when he did so, he did it perfectly. His Word is without error of any kind, is the definitive authority on all matters that it seeks to address, and is utterly reliable, trustworthy, and true. However, few of us read Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (the languages he spoke through), none of us were there when he spoke in this way, and the original copies of what God spoke through human authors have been lost. Which means we all rely on Bible translations, though because of sin, none of those translations are perfect. But God is perfect, as is his Word. We can and should be confident in this. Given the remarkable history of the preservation, transmission, and translation of the texts of the Old and New Testaments, a history that now spans three thousand years, God has worked miraculously to preserve the essence of his word. Any discrepancies or flaws in what we read today are minor, and the truth of the gospel as revealed by God’s Word is spreading to the ends of the earth even as I type this. God wants to be known through his Word, and he has seen to it that he can be. To him be the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.