Search Term Friday: Which Version of the Lord's Prayer?

Recently someone came to this blog after searching the question "Which version of the Lord's Prayer?"

I don't know exactly what that question was looking for, but I've always been bothered by how some people say "debts" while others say "trespasses" when publicly reciting the Lord's Prayer.

So in 2012 I set out to find the origins of this difference, which is why search terms like those above bring people to the blog:

Like I said, have you ever noticed when praying the Lord's Prayer aloud everybody does good until you get to the line "forgive us our..."? Have you noticed how at that point in the prayer cacophony breaks out as some people say "debts" and others say "trespasses"?

I got curious about this difference so I went in search of the translations that render this differently, to try to track down the origins of the problem.

I started with the NIV:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors...
Okay, so the NIV has "debts." So I went on to look at other translations. And guess what? There is almost universal agreement among the major translations, all having "debts" like the NIV:
our debts...our debtors.
To be sure, some more modern, dynamic and contemporary translations have "sins" or "wrongs." But none of these, along with the more established translations, have "trespasses."

So that left me scratching my head. Where in the world did "trespasses" come from?

Given that I use the Book of Common Prayer I knew it had "trespasses." So my hunch was that "forgive us our trespasses" came from the BCP rather than from the bible translations. I'm using the 1979 BCP. But just to make sure I went back to the 1549 edition, the very first BCP. And sure enough, "forgive us our trespasses" is there:
Book of Common Prayer (1549):
OURE father, whiche arte in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kyngdom come. Thy wyll be done in earth as it is in heaven. Geve us this daye oure dayly bread. And forgeve us oure trespasses, as we forgeve them that trespasse agaynst us. And leade us not into temptacion. But deliver us from evell. Amen. 
But that raises another question. Where did the 1549 BCP come up with this translation? Recall, the Authorized (King James) Version didn't appear until 1611.

After some sleuthing I learned that the 1549 edition of the BCP used the Tyndale Bible (1526). And checking the Tyndale Bible I think we find the origin of "forgive us our trespasses":
Tyndale Bible (1526):
And forgeve vs oure treaspases eve as we forgeve oure trespacers.
In short, from the KJV onward the translation of Matthew 6.12 had gone with "debts." But the 1526 Tyndale Bible had it as "trespasses." This translation was used in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and has been preserved in the BCP to the present day.

It's a Tyndale Bible/Book of Common Prayer vs. King James Version thing.

And thus the cacophony in our churches.

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9 thoughts on “Search Term Friday: Which Version of the Lord's Prayer?”

  1. Of course, that's Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9ff.). The Greek is opheilemata = literally, "debts" (e.g., in LXX), but it could carry the metaphorical cargo of "sins" -- as well as "trespasses". Luke's version (Luke 11:2ff.) is more straightforward: the word is hamartias = sins. If the Church had stuck with Luke, no problem; but then Matthew is the "ecclesiastical gospel" (indeed the only gospel to contain the word ecclesia = "church" [Matthew 16:18, 18:17]), and unlike Luke, to conclude the Lord's Prayer it has the great doxology -- "For thine is the kingdom ..." -- usually footnoted (because not found in the earliest/most reliable manuscripts). Hence the verbal muddle.

    But here's a thought. Luke records what we call the Lord's Prayer as Jesus' response to the disciples' request, "Teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples" (Luke11:1). NB: not teach us a prayer, but teach us to pray. That is, here, in origin, is a model for Christian prayer, not a rote prayer for Christians. But, liturgically, it's become a rote prayer -- or not (Richard's "cacophony")!

  2. I don't find that "liturgical" translates to "rote," at least, not with the connotations "rote" has - meaningless, thoughtless. It's the opposite for me: as I pray the words in my daily prayers, they're layered with participation in the Eucharist and a with the voices of Christians through the centuries and of Jesus, in a variety of languages, times, and places.

    And using it to pray together in the liturgy doesn't preclude also using it as a model for ex tempore prayers, or vice versa, right? I don't know anyone who teaches the Lord's Prayer to the exclusion of spontaneous, personal prayers.

    Speaking of translations, do you (or Richard) have reflections on "Lead us not into temptation"/"Save us from the time of trial"? Or a favorite?

  3. Actually, a good case can be made for Jesus NOT saying "Pray like this" but "Pray this prayer." ...just check the Greek - the burden of proof lies on those who want "pray like this.". Apparently it used to be translated "Pray this Prayer" until the reformation, and as a protestant reaction to Catholic liturgy and fear of "vain repetitions" it was changed to "pray like this" rather than "pray this," but that is something actually assumed into the text and not what the text says. Not that it isn't a good model for prayer, but many including myself upon discovering that Jesus actually gave us a prayer to pray have found the very words of the prayer itself to be profoundly impactfull, both in individual and corporate settings...I find myself praying it several times a day, and often find my burdens actually finding rest in the words of that exact prayer....especially when I am at a loss for my own words to express the burdens of my heart.

  4. Sorry, guys -- "set" rather than "rote" is the word I should have used (if you take "rote" to imply "thoughtless" or "meaningless"). And I've certainly got nothing against, indeed I'm all for "set" prayers, especially the Lord's Prayer, particularly in public worship. And I would also encourage worship leaders to prepare their prayers for public worship, not least because I presume we're all acquainted with pray-ers who just wing it falling into ruts they never get out of. And then, of course, there is the awful "just wanna" prayer ...

  5. This is really interesting Richard...but does it explain usage of "trespass" in CofC (I assume you have CofC in focus here, but perhaps not)? As I recall we don't have a direct link to BCP/Anglican the Tyndale Bible used in CofC?

  6. Well, cacophony can break out by the third word, since this is how I learned it growing up:

    Our Father, who art in Heaven,
    hallowed be thy name,
    thy kingdom come,
    thy will be done
    on earth as it is in Heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread,
    and forgive us our trespasses,
    as we forgive those who trespass against us.
    Lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil,
    For thine is the kingdom,
    the power,
    and the glory,
    for ever and ever.

    No idea what history that version has.

  7. I read this post this morning before I went to work. I went to several of my sources to see how they read.

    The Geneva 1599 Bible reads:

    12 And forgiue vs our dettes, as we also forgiue our detters.

    But i noticed that verses 14 & 15 said this:
    14 For if ye doe forgiue men their trespasses, your heauenly Father will
    also forgiue you.
    15 But if ye do not forgiue men their trespasses, no more will your
    father forgiue you your trespasses.

    I then check the KJV, and 14 & 15 also used trespasses, as does the NRSV.
    So that appears to be a carry over from the Tyndale Bible.

    Being an Anabaptist (Amish-Mennonite), I checked my Luther 1545 Bibel.
    The Luther 1545 Bibel uses a combination of nouns, but does not use
    "trespass" at all.

    12 Und vergib uns unsere Schulden, wie wir unsern Schuldigern
    12 And forgive us our arrears/debts, as we place with/forgive
    our perpetrators. (Translation mine).

    14 Denn so ihr den Menschen ihre Fehle vergebet, so wird euch euer
    himmlischer Vater auch vergeben.
    15 Wo ihr aber den Menschen ihre Fehle nicht vergebet, so wird euch
    euer Vater eure Fehle auch nicht vergeben.

    14 For if ye forgive men their err/wander/stray, so will your heavenly Father will also forgive.
    13 Where do you but not forgive men their fault, so will your Father forgive your err/wander/stray not.

    Here Fehle [to err; to wander; to stray] is used instead of "trespass"

  8. A few years ago I use to go to evening prayer one night a week at a little church not far from me. The church had next to no congregation on a Sunday but someone got permission to start an little prayer service on a Tuesday and letter-boxed the area. A random group of 10ish locals (none of who attended the church) started coming each week. One of them was a little old lady who could hardly hear and barely read the prayers and readings on the booklets we got but she did her best to keep up. Every week when we got to the Lord Prayer she would break from the pack to no only say trespasses but made a big point of saying deliver us from THE evil ONE. Her divergence from the written prayer just become metaphor for the beautiful randomness of this group of strangers who only came together once a week to pray. We didn't know each other, I only know the name/background/fate of one of them but we were drawn together but prayer.

    on another note I like this version:

    Jesus’ Prayer

    Father in heaven, praise your holy name.
    Reveal your kingdom and have your way on earth just like in heaven.
    May we only rely on you today.
    Forgive us and give us a forgiving heart,
    ease our passage through life and keep us from evil.
    You rock and you rule for all eternity,


  9. I kind of like the cacophony. In a way, translations are the most basic form of commentary available, and multiple commentaries provide more insights into just what the scriptures mean. Debt is a powerful image, but the old BCP/Tyndale translation gets me thinking in other directions. I appreciate both versions.

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