Saturday, December 30, 2017

"Lead us not into temptation"

Should we, as Pope Francis suggests, alter a phrase in the Lord's Prayer?

“Lead us not into temptation,” the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, has long baffled many Christians. Why even assume that God would lead us astray? In an effort to correct the misunderstanding, the French Catholic bishops recently introduced a new translation, “Let us not enter into temptation” (Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation). On Italian television, Pope Francis criticized traditional translations, following the usual lines of the debate. He praised the French revision, although it strays from the original Greek, in which we ask God unambiguously not to lead (or bring) us into peirasmon: a peril, or trial, such as martyrs face under the sword. Jesus prayed “Let this cup pass from me” and taught his disciples to pray the equivalent. The word “temptation” (together with its cognates in modern languages) is no longer recognized as a derivation of the Latin word for “trial.” So substitute “trial” for “temptation.” Problem solved. The verb is fine. Stop fiddling with it.
.... U.S. Catholics’ New American Bible formerly read “subject us not to the trial,” while the 2011 revised edition says “do not subject us to the final test.” ....

Other modern translations:

“Keep us from being tempted” (Contemporary English Version). “Do not cause us to be tempted” (New Century Version. “Don’t allow us to be tempted” (God’s Word). “Do not bring us to hard testing” (Good News Translation). “Keep us clear of temptation” (J.B. Phillips paraphrase). “Keep us safe from ourselves” (The Message paraphrase). “Keep us from sinning when we are tempted” (New International Reader’s Version). “Don’t let us yield to temptation” (New Living Translation). “Rescue us every time we face tribulation” (The Passion Translation).

Roughly similar, but those different shadings are the sort of thing that keeps theologians up nights. ....
.... The words of Jesus are clear. The original Greek is not ambiguous. There is no variant hiding in the shelves. We cannot go from an active verb, subjunctive mood, aorist tense, second person singular, with a clear direct object, to a wholly different verb—“do not allow”—completed by an infinitive that is nowhere in the text—“to fall”—without shifting from translation to theological exegesis. The task of the translator, though he should be informed by the theological, cultural, and linguistic context of the time, is to render what the words mean, literally, even (perhaps especially) when those words sound foreign to our ears. ....

The words of Jesus, as words, are clear. Their implications are profound. They are hard for us to fathom. They strike us as strange. That is as it should be. Let them stand. (Esolen's entire argument is worth reading.)