As most Christians know from painful experience, temptation is as easy to find as it is hard to resist. Every day, in a hundred ways, we face pressure to cut corners, mistreat others, and gratify our wayward desires. Sometimes we grasp the danger and paddle mightily against the current. Other times we sink into sin as if relaxing into an easy chair. But frequent failure leaves us demoralized and ashamed.
Temptation already feels like an unfair fight. So why would God ever ratchet up the difficulty?
This hypothetical lies at the heart of Pope Francis’s recent remarks on the Lord’s Prayer. During the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught his disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). Speaking on Italian television last December, the pope wondered whether “Lead us not into temptation” should instead be translated as “Do not let us fall into temptation.”
The trouble with the common translation, in the pope’s reading, is that it pictures God pushing us toward sin rather than pulling us away. After all, we wouldn’t ask him not to lead us into temptation if he weren’t capable of doing just that. But surely, argues the pope, a righteous and loving Father would never place his children in the path of spiritual peril. “It is Satan,” he says, “who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.”
On the whole, the pope’s theological instincts are not unsound. He is correct to absolve God of blame for temptation, which ultimately flows from our unclean hearts. As James reminds us, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (1:13–14).
As a matter of linguistic accuracy, however, Francis is on shakier ground. New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace, reacting on his blog, observed that the pope’s preferred language goes against the grain of scholarly consensus. Few Bible translations depart from “Lead us not” in any significant fashion.
This alone should caution against a hasty retreat from the familiar wording. But we need not recite the Lord’s Prayer through gritted teeth, in a kind of stodgy deference to inherited forms. “Lead us not into temptation” really does sound odd and unsettling when you ponder its meaning. But this phrase contains riches the alternatives can’t match.
“Do not let us fall into temptation” casts God in the role of protector and rescuer. And indeed, we desperately need these forms of fatherly care. Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). But as Paul assures the Thessalonians, “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (2 Thess. 3:3).
Yet we worship a God who does more than safeguard us from spiritual hazard. We worship a God who sovereignly guides our paths. “In their hearts humans plan their course,” declares Proverbs, “but the Lord establishes their steps” (16:9). We are not simply wandering this way and that, pursuing our own plans, while God rushes around steadying us when we falter, like a parent supervising a child’s wobbly first attempts at riding a bike.
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Source: Christianity Today