The French “Our Father.”

Source: mmoc.com

In November 2018, French-speaking Roman Catholics in Canada were relearning how to say the Lord’s Prayer.

The next-to-last petition of the “Our Father” which in English is “Lead us not into temptation” (in French “Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation”) will officially become “Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation.” That translates into English as, “Do not let us enter into temptation.”

The change at this time anticipates 2019’s publication of a complete retranslation of all the prayers used at Sunday Mass in the French edition of the Roman Missal.

Several francophone countries have already begun to use the new version of the Lord’s Prayer. So the Canadian Bishops decided to change the text of the “Notre Pere” that has been in use in Canada since 1966 on December 2, the first Sunday of Advent.

Why the change? The bishops explain that the earlier version led people to conclude God leads people into temptation and, in effect, leads them to do evil.

The bishops say that other Scriptures indicate God cannot be tempting people to do what is wrong. They quote the epistle of St. James, which says “God tempts no one” (1:13).

Yet the issue of temptation is not that simple, for St. Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians, says that God does not allow anyone to be tempted beyond their strength and also provides a way to escape (10:13). The gospels also show Jesus being guided by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil (Luke 4:2).

So, the bishops noted, there were repeated requests for a translation that, while respecting the sense of the original text did not lead people to draw false conclusions. The new translation attempts to dispel the idea that God leads people into temptation.

As one might expect, Pope Francis when asked his opinion said he thought the church should tweak the translation of the “Our Father” to clear up the confusion around the phrase “lead us not into temptation.” “That is not a good translation,” the pope declared last December in an interview with Italian television.

According to the Pope, “The one who leads us into temptation is Satan. That’s Satan’s job. I’m the one who falls. But it’s not (God) who pushes me into temptation to see how I fall. No, a father does not do this. A father helps us up immediately.”

Still, “lead us not into temptation” is a correct literal translation of the Greek original and of the Latin text the Church bases its translation on. The new version is a “dynamic equivalent” translation, one that interprets the text.

Personally, I do not favour changing the wording of a biblical text to fit with a meaning found elsewhere.  It is important for readers of the Bible to struggle with the difficulties found in the original text of the New Testament even when they pray the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. In changing this and other texts, we might discover, long term, that we are doing a disservice to the biblical authors’ intentions.

The Bible is full of paradoxes, figurative language, jolting imagery. To soften such language could undermine its literary and even spiritual power. The new translation subverts this. The original text speaks clearly of God leading to, not merely permitting, temptation.

We should translate texts accurately and leave the strangeness as it is, although it’s understandable why people, pastors and the pope want to tidy things up.

I’m pleased that, for now, the English version of the Lord’s Prayer is sticking with the literally correct translation “lead us not into temptation”.  But when I’m praying in French, I’ll be using the new formula.

Terrence Prendergast, SJ is Archbishop of/ Archevêque d'Ottawa and Bishop of/ Évêque d’ Alexandria-Cornwallis.

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5 Comments
  • Sally Grant
    Posted at 06:53h, 31 January Reply

    I like this article. If Jesus himself taught his disciples this prayer, asking the Father (Abba, Daddy) not to lead us into temptation, we need to keep it that way. It is a complex issue and one that we need to ponder, rather than change.

  • Joan Levy Earle
    Posted at 07:10h, 31 January Reply

    Thank you for this explanation. Bravo for taking a stand for truth. I agree; let us not be editors of the correct translations of the words of the Bible.

    I pray yours will not be a lone voice. God bless your efforts on His behalf.

  • Bernard Carroll, SJ
    Posted at 09:58h, 31 January Reply

    I wonder what words Jesus prayed in his original Aramaic language. There is evidence from Aramaic scholars that other key words and sayings of Jesus when translated into Greek missed the intent of what Jesus said.
    So, I agree with Pope Francis that our current long-standing formulation of “lead us not into temptation” is a poor translation. I look forward to the time when we, along with our French and Italian brothers and sisters, can pray an English equivalent to what their Bishops have decided.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 16:07h, 31 January Reply

    Thank you Terry!

  • Esther Buckley
    Posted at 22:07h, 31 January Reply

    I will continue saying the Our Father in the words that I was taught — I love the prayer.

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