THE FIFTH COLUMN
It’s probably the least of his problems right now, but Pope Francis has caused something of a storm by advocating a change to the Lord’s Prayer — you know, the famous one that starts “Our Father, who art in heaven”. It is found, in case you want to look it up, in the sixth chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew.
As currently formulated, the prayer asks of God, “Lead us not into temptation”, and the pope dislikes the implication that God would set up some kind of entrapment for human sinners.
It’s rather odd that the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies haven’t tumbled to this problem sooner. And it’s strange that, after centuries of combat over various translations of the Bible, this issue hasn’t been resolved by some quiet textual fiddling.
But perhaps that doesn’t necessarily help. We still have the problem of the virginity of Mary, mother of Jesus. In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, it is said that a “young woman” (almah in Hebrew) will bear a child deemed, in New Testament tradition, to be the Messiah or Christ. In the New Testament, however, which was written in Greek, Mary is referred to as a virgin — parthenos. There seems to have been a presumption that a young unmarried woman was automatically a virgin, and from this grew the Virgin Birth idea, which is doctrinally central to orthodox Christianity. It’s a bit late to drop it now, isn’t it?
Other rejiggings of the Bible, especially by Protestant Christians, have tried to broaden its appeal. In 2017, a more gender-neutral version was produced by the Southern Baptists, the largest single denomination in the United States. It was believed that the church’s numbers were declining because millennials were averse to the patriarchalism and masculinism evident throughout the Bible. So Matthew 23:8’s “you are all brothers” becomes “you are all brothers and sisters”, which is obvious enough; “fishers of men” is a little trickier, but a general tendency is to change “men” to “humankind” throughout.
Still, the problem with “lead us not into temptation” is a puzzling one. The favoured substitute is “do not allow us to fall into temptation”, which is wordier — and may not solve the problem.
Besides, what about the Garden of Eden? We all know that Adam and Eve were chucked out of that paradise because they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which they had been specifically told by God not to do.
But isn’t that a bit of leading-into-temptation? You put the impressively named tree there, in front of your newly created humans, and yet insist they may not eat of it. Why not just remove the tree? No, you draw attention to it; you make a prohibition that is bound to stir curiosity. Moreover, you allow into Eden a talking serpent that entices Eve to eat the apple (or pomegranate, or guava, or whatever). That sounds like leading someone into temptation to me.
Mysterious indeed are the ways of the Lord.