The Lord’s Prayer – Background Part One

The daily lessons on the Lord’s Prayer, found in the main section of this book, focus upon the meaning of each line, and do not discuss either the history of the Prayer, or its significance. They do not cover “how to pray,” except for occasional ideas relating to the line under discussion. Therefore, I am going to pass along in this section some of the background material on the Lord’s Prayer that I have come across in my reseach, as well as some suggestions for teaching the Prayer to your children or Sunday School students. You can share this information at age appropriate levels.


Historical Context:

We know that Jesus despised hypocrisy. The opening verses of Matthew, chapter 6, reinforce this. That is where Jesus gives instructions to his followers relating to the motives for our charity, our worship of God, and our prayers:

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

We see from the above that there was a real need for a short, sincere pattern for prayer. Here is an analysis taken from The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 7, which helps to explain the situation at that time:

“Christianity and the Way of Private Prayer — It is important that we see in mind’s eye the background of religion against which Jesus spoke. Too many ‘men of prayer’ in his day were hypocrites — actors — and they went where they could find an audience. In the synagogue they would loudly recite their own prayers instead of being content to share in the accustomed congregational prayers. They ‘made broad their phylacteries.’ At the three times of daily prayer — when the pious workman would quit his work, and the teacher his teaching, to turn toward Jerusalem in acknowledgment of God — the professionally pious would so arrange life as to be caught at a crowded corner; and then they would sometimes stand for three hours in their devotions. Thus the comment of Jesus: nowhere is his hatred of form and cant more clear. He gives by implication certain rules for private prayer. It is essential — the burning center of life. Public or corporate prayer is also essential, for prayer inevitably has its social expression. Jesus enjoined public prayer in both word and act. But corporate prayer will lack sincerity and depth without private prayer — as witness the aridity of much public worship.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 7, Abington Press, Nashville, p. 307)

The petitions in the Lord’s Prayer were not totally new to his listeners. The Interpreter’s Bible tells us: “The prayer is thoroughly Jewish and nearly every phrase is paralleled in the Kaddish and the Eighteen Benedictions; thus it is Jesus’ inspired and original summary of his own people’s piety at its best.” (ibid. p. 309)

Two Versions:

There are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible. The first one is found in the book of Matthew (6:9-13) and is included in the Sermon on the Mount. It reads:

“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.”

The second version of the Lord’s Prayer is found in Luke 11, verses 1-4. This is how it is translated in the King James’ Version:

“And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”

You can point out that in this situation in Luke, the Prayer was given as the result of a question from one of the disciples. You can explain the contradiction by reminding the students that the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is most likely a collection of the teachings of Jesus that were also given at other times. It is possible that the episode in Luke may reflect the first time Jesus gave the Prayer, and therefore is closer to the original version – that is, it uses the word translated “sins” instead of “debts,” and it does not include the last line that is in Matthew’s version.

To Be Continued

(Excerpted from “First Lessons in Christian Science, Volume Three: The Lord’s Prayer”
Copyright 2005)


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