Matthew 6:9-13 (King James Version)
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
When I was starting out in ministry, a wise colleague advised me, “You can mess with a lot of things, but don’t touch the 23rd Psalm or The Lord’s Prayer.” Even if you don’t know The Lord’s Prayer by heart, you probably recognized the words in today’s scripture passage. When I served as a hospice chaplain, I was amazed to see that people who hadn’t walked through the doors of a church in decades could pray the words of The Lord’s Prayer without tripping over a syllable. I saw the peace that crossed the person’s face as he or she spoke the words. These words are precious. They are beautiful. They are sacred.
Then why, I wonder, does the King James Version of it bug me?
“Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” With my eyes closed, I can easily say the entire prayer in KJV cadence that is based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6. It is very beautiful. But what does it mean? “Which art in heaven”? “Hallowed be thy name”? For most people nowadays, “art” is something you do with paint and a brush, and the only connection with “hallows” comes from the last book of Harry Potter.
Language is a funny thing. In 1382, a man named John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, which is probably the primary language of most everyone reading this post. So, I challenge to read out loud his version of Matthew 6:9-14a:
“And thus ye schulen preye, oure fadir that art in heuenes, halewid be thi name; thi kyngdoom come to; be thi wille don `in erthe as in heuene; yyue to vs this dai oure `breed ouer othir substaunce; and foryyue to vs oure dettis, as we foryyuen to oure dettouris; and lede vs not in to temptacioun, but delyuere vs fro yuel. Amen.”*
You probably got “and” and “amen,” right?
I’m also not always a super big fan of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, which you may have heard me smilingly refer to as “The Groovy Dude Bible.” But I have to admit that I really like how he renders this passage…
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
It may not be tightly connected to the grammar and structure of the original Greek text, but I think it certainly gets across the intended feeling of the passage: awe, love, joy, trust, excitement, hope.
When my Gramma Marie died, my mom gave me her Bible. I love it because I loved her and because I slowly grew to love the God she had so faithfully worshipped. But still I struggled for years with reading that Bible, until I finally realized that Gram would want me to put her Bible aside and to find a translation that I would actually enjoy and really understand.
“Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one” (New Living Translation).
Tomorrow I will dig a little deeper into this famous prayer, but today I’m just thinking about the passage from which it springs and the language in which we read it. I firmly believe that the Bible is meant to be a gift to us. It’s meant to teach us and guide us and challenge us and call us into a deeper relationship with the God who lovingly gave it to us. What it is not meant to be is completely confusing, frustrating, discouraging, forbidding, or incomprehensible.
Our Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek— not languages in which you’re expected to be proficient!— but there are almost 50 English translations out there (that I know of, there are probably more). There are several online sites where you can compare and contrast different versions, such as biblegateway.com and youversion.com. If you need help choosing a Bible version that works for you, please let me know. I’ll be happy to help!
The Bible is amazing and spiritually irreplaceable. So… whether you prefer the poetry of the King James Version, the informality of The Message, the crispness of the New International Version, the familiar-sounding paraphrase of the New Living Translation, the orthographic brain-teaser of Wycliffe’s Middle English version (very sorry, but the language nerd in me just couldn’t resist!), or one of the other beautiful translations, please choose one that speaks to you!
What is the Bible translation that you first read? What is the translation you currently have on hand? Does it work for you?
* Thanks to the Wesley Center Online for this version of Wycliffe’s translation.