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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The Sermon on the Mount is not a sermon

The Sermon on the Mount is not a sermon.

One of the most well-known passages in the New Testament, The Sermon on the Mount, is not a sermon.  Jesus speaks to four disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, while a crowd of people seem to be listening in (Matthew 5:1).  The painting accompanying this post is a little misleading in this regard. In any case, both the content of the sermon and especially the ending reveal that it is intended for all who hear (Matthew 7:28-29).  Jesus often pretends that his teachings are restricted to disciples, which makes little sense, especially since they are not the sharpest knives in the drawer (Mark 4:10-12).

It would be a good idea to read Matthew’s version, chapters 5-7.  Luke has a condensed version, sometimes called the Sermon on the Plain (6:17-49).  I’m going to stick to Matthew.  Remember that the Sermon contains both the beatitudes (blessings) as well as the Lord’s Prayer.  Some people think it is the clearest and most concise statement of Christianity, so much so that it could stand alone.

It’s important to remember that Jesus is not a Christian talking to other Christians.  He is a Jew talking to other Jews.  Christianity wouldn’t be around for another thirty years.  One thing this means is that the Sermon on the Mount is not Jesus talking.  It’s Matthew, writing about 50 years after the death of Jesus.  And Matthew has an agenda: to show that Jesus comes to fulfill Torah, not to sweep it away.  Or at least this is the diplomatic message of Matthew.  What he actually says is different.

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