The Lord’s Prayer puzzles me


Something about the Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster) has always puzzled me.*  First, let me remind you of it.


Our father who is in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.** (Matthew 6:9-13.  Compare with Luke’s abbreviated version, Luke 11:2-4)

Jesus tells us that the Lord’s Prayer is a private prayer.  Don’t be like the Pharisees who stand on the corner muttering long prayers for everyone to hear.  Don’t be like the pagans and go on and on.  Go into your room, close the door, and pray this prayer in private.  That’s all you need to do, for your Father knows what you need more than you do (Matthew 6:5-13).   

Private or communal?

There’s a tension here.  If it’s a private prayer, then why do all the pronouns refer to more than one?  Every reference to “us,” or “we,” or “our” employs the Greek term hēmin (ἡμῖν;  Strongs G2254), a collective pronoun.  There is no “I” or “me.”  In terms of its content, it seems to be a prayer intended for collective use during worship.  Yet, Jesus introduces it as a personal prayer.  Is there any way to make sense of this?

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What the Lord’s Prayer Really Means

What the Lord’s Prayer really means.

It’s an odd thing about the Lord’s Prayer.  Almost any religion could endorse it, or so it seems at first.

  • let heaven be the ideal for earthly governance
                      • let there be enough food for all, and let all be free of crippling debt
                      • forgive each other and God will forgive you
                      • spare us from the temptation of evil.

It was first spoken by a Jew to a Jewish audience, but it has become a Christian prayer, though there is nothing particularly Christian about it.  It became a Christian prayer because it is attributed to Jesus.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

The good householder

The Greek word used for father is abba (αββα), and while it is sometimes seen as equivalent to “daddy,” this is misleading, for there are other Greek diminutives for daddy, such as pappas (παππας).  The term abba is best interpreted as the head of the Jewish household.  God is the head of household earth, just as the father is the head of the family in the world Jesus was addressing.

The roles enacted by God as head of the earthly household correspond to those of the head of the family household: To help create life; to protect the members of the household; and to equitably provide for the household.

What horrifies the biblical conscience in all those cases is the inequality that destroys the integrity of the household and therefore dishonors the Householder.  In what sort of household are some members exploited by others? (Crossan, p 43)

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The Kingdom of God is Within

The kingdom of God.  I’ve always wondered what the term “kingdom of God” meant.  What I’ve learned is that it’s complicated.  The term kingdom of God (βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦo) occurs 162 times in the New Testament.  It’s important because it concerns our relationship with God.  Is the kingdom coming for us?  Do we make it ourselves through the work of our hearts and hands?  Is God’s rule now or sometime in the future?  Or both?

There seems to be no difference between the terms kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven.  Matthew uses the latter because Jews, who were his primary audience, would have been uneasy with frequent references to the sacred name of God (Turner, p 41).  Mark and Luke refer to the kingdom of God, and so shall I.

The kingdom of God can refer to the second coming of Christ, when the world would be become God’s kingdom (Weiss, Schweitzer).  Or, the kingdom of God can refer to the new world already begun by Christ, the first advent.  We must work to make it happen, but at the same time it is already here, in the work of those who would bring it about.  This is called realized eschatology, or a variant, inaugurated eschatology, depending on the degree to which you think the kingdom is already present.  But using the right term is not so important.  Important is the idea that the kingdom of God has, in some measure, already begun with the life and death of Christ (Perrin, pp 1-2).

If the kingdom of God has begun with the life of Christ, what are we to do?  How does it happen?  One answer is that it happens because individuals have made the kingdom of God their own.  Inspired by their own experience of the kingdom of God, some men and women work to make the world in its image.  A variant of this view (it seems like all there are is variants) is that the kingdom of God is unfolding in the course of history, and best realized in utopian communities and the like.  Personalism is associated with this view in Catholic theology (Alford, pp 59-63).  As for me, it seems as if history is headed in the wrong direction, at least in the terrible twentieth-century.

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