A good friend of mine diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and already in the very early stages of the disease told me jokingly that he could laugh anew at all the old Jack Benny shows, even those he had watched the day before. Some people just stay positive no matter what. Well, I heard the translation of the Our Father is going to be revised once again. In Spanish we used to say “nuestras deudas” — a fairly straight translation of the Latin “debita nostra” — but someone said that God was no accountant and the phrase was updated to “nuestras ofensas” (“our trespasses, offences”) …
Pater noster qui es in coelis,
sanctificetur nomen tuum;
adveniat regnum tuum,
fiat voluntas tua,
sicut in coelo et in terra.
Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie,
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
et ne nos inducas in tentationem
sed libera nos a malo.
Now the revisionist ax is at the foot of “et ne nos inducas in tentationem” fairly translated to “do not lead us into temptation” — the core of the sentence is in that “inducas” if I am not mistaken. I do not know much Latin but my old Italian is not that bad. I know that induca roughly means to induce, to make the way easy for something, to lead the way. That has to be related to duca, meaning “duque” in modern Italian, and in general “leader” in the old 1500’s lovely language of Tuscany. Dante’s Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto XXXIV uses it:
Lo duca e io per quel cammino ascoso
intrammo a ritornar nel chiaro mondo;
e sanza cura aver d’alcun riposo,
salimmo sù, el primo e io secondo,
My guide and I threading that hidden road
began our way back into the clear world;
and with no care for any rest, we climbed
up we emerged, him first and I behind him
Forgive my very rough translation. I have read better renditions but I don’t have them handy. The important part here is “Lo duca” that is: the leader. Jesus uses that as a verb in the Vulgata, in Luke 5:4: “Duc in altum!” when he decides to tell Peter where to fish: “Lead us to the deep!”
This much to say that — in my humble opinion — “do not lead is into temptation” is a pretty good translation. The question here is: Can God lead us in to temptation? The old principle applies here. Remember my dear readers? God is good, and He is a benefactor. Nothing coming from Him is bad. St James reminds us of it when he says: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” With that in mind let us see if this is even a translation problem.
The Douay-Rheims version that has been serving us well for quite a while, translates Matthew 4:1 this way:
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.
This is presumably the same Spirit that had just appeared in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism in the previous chapter of the same Gospel: the Holy Spirit. Now, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, is shown here leading Jesus to a solitary place to be tempted by the devil person. Oops! It does look like God may lead a good man into temptation, does it? Now consider the Wisdom of Ben Sirah 2:1-6 …
My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for testing.
Set your heart right and be steadfast,
and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.
Cling to him and do not depart,
so that your last days may be prosperous.
Accept whatever befalls you,
and in times of humiliation be patient.
For gold is tested in the fire,
and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust in Him, and he will help you;
make your ways straight, and hope in him.
And then we have James 1:13,
Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man.
If I haven’t confused you yet, you are not reading this right.
The way I resolve this conundrum is simple. I am a specialist in providing simple answers to difficult questions. For the right answer you may have to consult other sources but my simple answer is this: testing is one thing, tempting is a different matter. Let me try one example. You may want to place your new boat in the lake — after careful inspection — to see if it floats. That is testing. You do not want to drill a hole through the boat’s bottom “to see if it still floats.” That would be tempting misfortune. St James resolves it better than I could ever do in James 1:12-18,
Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved. Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
That basically means: God has lead you into battle to test your mettle. That is a good thing because war is the way to make better soldiers, and war is the only way to find out if a soldier is good. There is no way to avoid the battlefield but God’s leading you into the battle is a sign that He considers you a worthy fighter.
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
In the Our Father, Jesus is teaching us to prudently ask God the Father to consider how weak we are before sending us into the unavoidable fight with the evil forces within and without. Of course God the Father knows how weak we are but even so, we should not be impetuous but prudently rest on His strength and not trust ours too much.
When we say “do not lead us into temptation” we are asking for grace. In leading us into battle, God trusts in our strength while we trust in His power. That is the essence of the Hebrew word for Israel (Hebrew: יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisraʾel) basically meaning “God struggles”, or “the struggle [battle, fight] belongs [with, to] God.” Israel was the name given to Jacob (trickster, schemer … self reliant extraordinaire) after he fought with the angel at Peniel in Genesis 32: 22-32.
As we used to pray long ago before ecclesiastical translators began to mess with it:
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 sins
as we forgive those who have sinned against us
and not lead us into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
End note: roaming the web, I noticed some sarcastic Protestant comments on Pope Francis’ proposed revision of the old prayer. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black… Those who dispatched several books of the ancient Christian Bible without much thought, dare to find fault with a word or two that may be changed in some translations … oh well!