One of the best-known prayers in the English language might need an update for the sake of theological clarity, Pope Francis suggested in an interview this week.
The words in the Lord’s Prayer that ask, “Lead us not into temptation,” can cause confusion, Francis said. To make it clear that God would not lead anybody toward sin, the pope suggested a better translation of the Greek prayer from the New Testament would be something along the lines of, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”
Any change to the text of the Mass in the Catholic Church takes lengthy deliberations. Francis’s comments won’t lead to a change in what churchgoers recite this Sunday.
But there’s precedent for the sort of change he suggested: The Catholic Church in France switched its liturgy on Sunday from “Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” (roughly “Don’t expose us to temptation”) to an updated version, “Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation” (meaning “Don’t let us enter into temptation.”)
Christians who have been taught the Lord’s Prayer, also known as the Our Father prayer, from the time they were children reacted with surprise to the news of the pope’s comments. On social media, many reacted with comments such as, “Leave the Lord’s Prayer alone!”
The prayer comes from the book of Matthew, in which Jesus teaches his followers, “This, then, is how you should pray,” then recites the now-famous words.
Francis spoke about the prayer in an interview with Marco Pozza, a prison chaplain in Padua, on the channel TV2000 that is owned by Italian bishops. Pozza said that people sometimes ask him, “Father Marco, how can God ever lead us into temptation?”
The pope replied that the translation is “not good.”
“It’s not about letting me fall into temptation. It’s I, the one who falls, not Him pushing me toward temptation,” Francis said, miming the gesture of pushing someone, “so as to then see how I fall. No, well, a father won’t do that. A father will immediately help you pick yourself up. Satan’s the one leading you into temptation. That’s Satan’s task.”
Michael Dauphinais, the chair of the theology department at Ave Maria University, said he has discussed the same confusion with his students about the meaning of this key prayer. “It’s certainly important to understand that God is not ever going to lead us into temptation, that our Lord permits evils and sufferings to occur, but he does not ever lead us into sin,” he said.
He said Pope Francis is “a good pastor” to have realized that his flock may be misunderstanding the words.
“The only thing that can separate us from God is our own sins, and never his action. The traditional language, when it says, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ the alternative that God will lead us to sin: It can’t mean that, or else the rest of the prayer, and the rest of the Christian faith, wouldn’t make sense,” Dauphinais said. “That’s what the pope is trying to exclude. He’s trying to exclude a possible misunderstanding of that expression. When we say, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ it’s just a trust, that we are under the care of a loving father; there are no accidents.”