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Jesus Traditions

The reader’s patience is requested in the fact that these Jesus pages are in effect a kind of sub-Web, “piggy-backing” on the principal Web,, and thus that the As Paul Tells It . . . designation at the top of each page is not quite accurate. The Jesus Traditions Home Page is readily accessible by clicking on Contents, to be found at the top and bottom of each page.

Material in red = Mark .. in blue =   Q   .. in green = Special Matthew .. in fuchsia = Special Luke


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of Jesus Traditions

Spirituality and “The Prayer


Jesus as pray-er. The gospel writers and perhaps also the tradition offer glimpses of Jesus at prayer, praying because he desired to, praying because he needed to. It seems likely that what he taught his disciples about praying arose out of his own experience, an experience which we may imagine was both unique and typical.

What better place to begin than with THE PRAYER, in Matthew 6:9-13!


Matthew 6:9-13

Luke 11:2-4

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
  on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us
this day [sêmeron] our 
[untranslatable] bread;
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.

Give us each day [kath hêmeran] our
  epiousion [untranslatable] bread.     

And forgive us our debts,
  as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us to the time of trial 
  [or, into temptation],
but rescue us from the evil one
  [or, from evil].

And forgive us our sins,
  for we ourselves forgive everyone 
  indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial 
  [or, into temptation]



Matthew’s version is substantially Q material, “enriched” with his own special material (written, oral, or editorial). The brevity of the prayer is noteworthy (and more so in Luke’s version), in keeping with the warning against praying with too many words, in Matthew 6:5-8.

     Our Father in heaven . . . The address of God as father sets the tone for the prayer, using the metaphor for God that was important for Jesus. It was already well known in Jewish piety, and is found in biblical texts such as Psalm 103:13 and Hosea 11:1-3. Father is of course a metaphor, in that God is not literally male or female, nor a father who begets children, as in various mythological systems; it is a metaphor, in that God in his inmost nature is indescribable, ineffable; and it is a metaphor, in that after all we do have to find a way to speak of God, and speak to God. Metaphors like creator, or king, or judge, as well as father, are concessions to human language, to refer to God’s actions. 

But metaphors do not always work. For an increasing number of people who are committed to non-sexist language, father misrepresents rather than communicates who God is. And some people have suffered under fathers who were irresponsible, authoritarian, or abusive, and who were not worthy of the name. For many others, it is still a useful metaphor, which personalizes God, which suggests loving, caring qualities, and which points to a God who is accessible and responsive to human needs (Matthew 7:7-11).

     Hallowed be your name. . . This is prayer as worship, the sanctification of the divine name, in keeping with the noblest impulses of Jewish piety. Exodus 20:7 expresses the same idea in negative terms. The ancient Hebrew name revealed to Moses was YHWH, generally pronounced Yahweh (though in Jewish practice pronunciation has been withdrawn, and Adonai, or Lord, used instead). Sanctification of the divine name, in attributing a unique holiness to God, was a way of acknowledging his exalted and transcendent being, separate from what was common or profane. 

We would like to know what the original “frame” was for the puzzling statement in Matthew 7:6, which mandates, “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” We can only speculate about a connection with the hallowing of God’s name, or other possible meanings


     Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. . . .  This petition recognizes that God’s reign or sovereignty is incomplete, and is yet to be fully realized in the future. Along with a sense of urgency for the coming of the kingdom is submission to God’s will, the personal side of the realization of his reign. The pray-er is drawn to a higher cause before focusing on individual concerns of food, reconciliation, and resisting evil.
     Give us this day our epiousion bread . . . .  As already noted, epiousion is untranslatable, having defied the efforts of linguists and exegetes to discover an intelligible meaning that had anything to do with the context. What we do know is that epiousion does not mean “daily,” such a meaning being offered in most English versions gratuitously and misleadingly.

What is clear is the encouragement to bring our requests to God, especially for basic human needs like food. The reader may decide the significance of Jesus’ teaching his disciples to pray for bread, and not cake.

     And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. . . .

We do not find a theory of sin in the teaching of Jesus: it is more assumed than taught. We do find guidance for reconciliation, especially in this prayer for forgiveness, and a willingness to forgive those who offend us. Such reciprocal forgiveness is the theme of the parable of the Unmerciful Servant, in Matthew 18:23-35. Matthew reinforces this theme at the conclusion of the Prayer, picking up a fragment from Mark—one of the few places where Mark is used in these chapters.

Matthew 6:14-15

Mark 11:25


14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.     
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.




     And do not bring us to the time of trial [or, into temptation], but rescue us from the evil one  [or, from evil].

This is a prayer for relief from temptation and evil, or from the evil one (or the devil, in plain language). We do have a bit of a theological problem here, since we did not think that God tempted any one (compare James 1:12-15); why then would we pray for him not to lead us into temptation? Alternatively, we could render the Greek peirasmos as trial (so, the NRSV), but it is doubtful whether God gratuitously arranges for anyone to be subject to a trial or ordeal. We are left with one or more of these possibilities:
There is a tendency in Hebraic thought, where God’s sovereignty is acknowledged as unlimited, to assume that whatever happens, whether good or bad, is the result of God’s intention. Hence this petition would be a prayer for God to prevent something evil from happening.
   •  We might also keep in mind that some confusion may have arisen in the process of translation from Aramaic into Greek, or in the process of oral transmission.
   •  We cannot eliminate the possibility that this petition originated not with Jesus but in the praying of the community, and in due course became associated with the prayer.

The Greek ho ponêros may be translated as evil or as the evil one, depending upon the context, and the context permits either rendering.

     [For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen. . . . ]  Some Greek manuscripts conclude the prayer with this doxology, but it is lacking in the earliest and best manuscripts. Its inclusion in certain later manuscripts probably reflects local practice in some congregation which was adopted by others.


Spirituality and Petitionary Prayer

There is more to prayer than making requests of God: praise, thanksgiving, confession and intercession may be mentioned; but petitionary prayer is a vital, and natural, part of a person’s relationship to God. Some important sayings on petitionary prayer are included in the “sermon,” especially the request for daily epiousion bread in the prayer, and the more extended passage in Matthew 7:7-11, which encourages people to petition God confidently, as a child would ask a parent.

But first, a word of caution: some people have problems with the idea of petitionary prayer:

   •  Is this kind of prayer not self-serving?
   •  Does God not already know what I need? why do I have to ask? (See Matthew 6:8, “Do not be like [those who pray in many words], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”)
   •  Is there not a danger that God becomes an instrumental value (a means to my end), instead of an intrinsic value (valued for himself)?
   •  What are we to think when prayer does not work? and when it does work, how do we know it was the prayer that brought the results?
   •  And—now we are getting in deep here—when the prayers of the innocent go unheeded, and the sneers of their blasphemous tormenters go unpunished, where is the heavenly Father when we need him?

Nevertheless, the “sermon” encourages us: Go for it! His disciples pray their petitions: 

   •  Because petitionary prayer will ensure that the registering of our needs with God will not become de-personalized (like registering for food stamps);
   •  Because God in his mysterious providence works in ways we do not know;
   •  Because it reminds us of our ultimate dependence upon God; and
   •  Because the Jesus of the “sermon” bids his disciples pray their petitions; to do so with some specificity: “Give us this day . . . ; ask . . . , search . . . , knock . . . ;” and to do so if need be with importunity, or persistence (see Luke 11:5-8).


Contents of Jesus Traditions

Revised July 24, 2003


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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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