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Friday, September 26, 2008

how to pray in contemporary English

Every Sunday in our church we recite the Lord's Prayer using words which no one in the church speaks or writes except during that prayer:
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.
I often wish we would use contemporary and widely known words and syntax for the prayer. For a number of months I've thought I would like to try to render the prayer in contemporary English. I hope that my version might be close enough to how you speak and write English, so that the prayer might be meaningful to you, as well. The recent blog posts on the Lord's Prayer were serendipitous (not a very widely known contemporary word!). I have finished my assigned work for this week, so I have some time to pray with you on this blog.

Once when Jesus was speaking to his followers, he gave them this prayer that they could use as an example of a good way to pray:

Our heavenly father (1),
help us honor you (2).
Come be our king, (3)
so that everyone will do what you want here on earth
will obey you
just as you are obeyed they do in heaven.
Provide for us the food we need today. (4)
Please forgive what we have done wrong (5)
as we have forgiven those who have wronged us.
Help us not give in when we are tempted. (6)
and even protect us from the Evil One who tempts us.
You can do it (7) because you are the king, (8, 9)
and you are always powerful
and totally amazing awesome. (10)

Well, I don't expect any churches to adopt my suggestions as a substitute for the version of the Lord's Prayer they currently pray. But I do think there is value in our trying to re-express words and syntax which are outdated. Of course, some of you may feel that there is nothing outdated at all about the version of the prayer used in our church. We can agree to disagree on that. In any case, I hope that you and I can pray in even more meaningful ways. We need it. Our families need it. Our countries need it. It pleases God.

(1) This construction is more natural to me than "Our father in heaven" which means the same thing.

(2) This clause does not focus on God's name, as it seems in many translations. Rather, the original reference to God's name is a synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole. Honoring someone's name was an important and common Semitic expression for honoring that person who had that name. The English language not use this synecdoche, so it is misleading, a form of inaccuracy, to include "name" in this clause, unless we include enough other information so that it is clear that name refers to all of the person. But that extra information would be so weighty here that it would throw off the focus. I admit to feeling conflicted on this clause because of the strong church tradition of retaining literal "name" in the prayer. So I'm open to other ideas on this part of my translation, as well as all the other parts. Using "help" instead of "may" is my tilt toward what feels like greater naturalness in English. I would not normally say "May you be honored" or "May we honor you." I think that this clause is really part of the requests of the prayer. A wish (English "may") is a kind of mitigated request.

(3) The request for God's kingdom to come is actually a request for God to be our king. I'm retaining the word "king" to try to maintain the Lord's Prayer within the context of a kingly reign which was a wellknown concept in Bible times. I considered using the word "boss" or some other word more widely known to those of us who do not live under a monarch, but I think that these better known words might not really capture as many of the semantic components as does the word "king."

(4) "Bread" was considered a main food staple in Bible times. The original word is another example of synecdoche where bread represents the entire meal. If we retain the word "bread", the request is more narrowly focused than was the original text, and our prayer would, therefore, not be as accurate as it should be for good quality translation.

I don't know which is more natural, "provide for us" or "give us". I more commonly use the word "give" but I'm not sure it is quite adequate in the concept of asking God to take care of our nutritional needs.

(5) or, "Please forgive our sins". Matthew uses a word which could literally be translated as "debts" but can refer to sins, and I believe does, when Jesus taught his followers to pray. I suspect that many people today who say the words "debts" and "debtors" during the Lord's Prayer have a mental image of a financial loan at some level of their thinking. That causes "cognitive dissonance" since many probably also suspect financial loans are not what those words are really about. I don't think we should have cognitive dissonance in our Bible translations, unless that dissonance was intended by the original author.

(6) I've often been troubled by the literal wording asking God not to lead us into temptation, because I don't believe that God would ever lead anyone into temptation. It says in the book of James that God does not tempt people, so I don't think he would lead people toward temptation, either.

(7) This is my attempt to capture the meaning of the Greek hoti connecting the clauses here.

(8) As noted in a recent post on this blog, this part of the prayer is not found in all ancient Greek manuscripts. It has, however, been part of the prayer that Christ's Church has prayed for many centuries. There is nothing wrong with praying it.

(9) It is not standard English to tell someone "thine is the ..." or, using a contemporary pronoun, "yours is the ...". I don't think I would ever tell our son, "Yours is this car." I might say, "This car is yours," if I had enough money and were that generous. But I don't think we would use even that standard syntax for speaking of something abstract such as a kingship or power belonging to someone.

(10) This is my attempt to capture the concept that God is "glorious". I'm not happy with "totally awesome." It sounds too colloquial to me. But "glorious" is not widely used, except, I think, in a similarly colloquial way as in, "Wow, that concert was glorious!" I welcome suggestions for a more appropriate contemporary equivalent here.


At Fri Sep 26, 05:24:00 PM, Blogger Gary Zimmerli said...

I like it, Wayne. That's something that has bothered me for years - why do we have to use the Olde English version? A couple Sundays ago our pastor had it all printed out the way he wanted it, a bit more updated than the traditional version, but everybody ignored it and said it the way they habitually do. It was frustrating.

I really appreciate your job of updating it. I especially like the part about helping us resist temptation and protecting us from the evil one who tempts us. That's good!

A suggestion? I think the end clause needs to say something about God's eternity, forever and ever, etc. He's not just totally awesome, but He is forever totally awesome! ;)

At Fri Sep 26, 06:49:00 PM, Blogger Dannii said...

I think your version is missing something, because it focuses too much on our obedience to God. This is part of it, but there's more, I think the prayer is saying that we are asking and trusting God to do his will despite of sinners who have no intention of obeying him, us included.

At Fri Sep 26, 07:01:00 PM, Blogger Scripture Zealot said...

10. "totally" can also sound colloquial, like valley girl language if you remember that. Like totalleeee.

Unfortunately as you say the word awesome (especially with totally) has become colloquial and just means really cool. I'm very sad that we've lost the classic meaning of that word. I wish you could have used it.

How about something with the word awe?

At Fri Sep 26, 07:01:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

Debts? What's this debt and debtor thing? We say "trespasses" 'round these parts... :>

At Fri Sep 26, 07:03:00 PM, Blogger Scripture Zealot said...

Shameless blog plug:

At Fri Sep 26, 07:04:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

Jeff wrote: 10. "totally" can also sound colloquial, like valley girl language if you remember that. Like totalleeee.

I agree - "totally amazing" is what I'd expect to hear in high school, especially with "like" in front of it.

At Fri Sep 26, 08:20:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Gary wrote:

A suggestion? I think the end clause needs to say something about God's eternity, forever and ever, etc. He's not just totally awesome, but He is forever totally awesome!

Good catch, Gary. Thanks.

At Fri Sep 26, 08:22:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

10. "totally" can also sound colloquial, like valley girl language if you remember that. Like totalleeee.

And you're, like, totally right! :-)

At Sat Sep 27, 05:26:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Every Sunday in our church we recite the Lord's Prayer using words which no one in the church speaks or writes except during that prayer...when Jesus was speaking to his followers, he gave them this prayer

Wayne, wonderful translation effort (really!). But this is not what Jesus did (or even Matthew, perhaps).

Jesus and those following him up to the mountain for healing and relief did not hear him speak Greek. Jesus and this group of poor, persecuted, meek,hungry, mourners, didn't speak or write Hellene on the streets or in the synagogues and the Temple.

Matthew's mother tongue, his heart language, is what they heard. Matthew had a completely different purposes (than yours) for translating the sermon on the hill, and this prayer, into an imperial language for wider communication. He was not writing worship liturgy.

You're doing what Jerome did, what Willis Barnstone did (and you call his translation a "specialty" bible). You're taking one language and trying to equate it to your own. Not what Matthew did with Jesus's words.

At Sat Sep 27, 07:05:00 AM, Blogger David Ker said...

Hey Wayne,

I wrote a song several years ago trying to capture the prayer in modern language:

Our Father

The great thing about translation is that it forces you to reflect on meaning of words we tend to regurgitate without thinking about.

At Sat Sep 27, 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, this is great!

But I am not quite happy with "Help us not give in when we are tempted." That is of course a good prayer, but it is not what the text is about. Of course it doesn't mean either that God might tempt us.

As I understand it peirasmos here referred to a time of trial or difficulty, a testing time. Some versions of the prayer render this word "the time of trial". I might suggest something like "Don't let us fall into hard times", but I don't want it to sound too materialistic either.

At Sat Sep 27, 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Charles Dog said...

I am currently studying "Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth E. Bailey."

FWIW, there are several chapters on the Lord's Prayer; he says that Jesus spoke this prayer in Aramaic, (for some reason he's pretty sure of this) a specifically non sacred language, from a non sacred culture in order to democratize if for the listeners and as opposed to most prayers which were spoken in Hebrew, a sacred language from and for a sacred culture.

This was a big deal for its time. Such a big deal, and you translators will have to verify this because I can't, that some early Greek translations included the Aramaic abba in the translation along side the Greek for father because "everybody" knew it this way.

Also the hallowed be thy name concept was important because, to the Jews at the time,names and naming things was considered some sort of power over thing, and avoided using His name directly. Jesus was trying to contrast this by specifically using the naming thing so as to show that it wasn't a power over thing but at all but a personal thing, Holy, yes, but necessary for the relationship if you follow me.

Great book and great scholar if you are at all interested in the viewpoint of the culture where all this happened.

At Sat Sep 27, 07:50:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk, thanks for your comments. I'm aware that Jesus did not speak to his followers in Greek. I can't grasp the point of your comments.

At Sat Sep 27, 07:51:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Charles Dog, thanks for recommending Kenneth Bailey. I have his book on Luke which also gives excellent cultural background to the time Jesus was on earth.

At Sat Sep 27, 07:53:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter wrote:

I might suggest something like "Don't let us fall into hard times", but I don't want it to sound too materialistic either.

Thanks, Peter. That was another part of my translation attempt I was not happy with. I knew that I have not been satisfied with the traditional renderings but I didn't know how to word that clause more accurately and naturally. Your suggestion is a good place to start. I hope you and I can work on that clause again sometime.

At Sun Sep 28, 12:33:00 AM, Blogger John said...

I've created a similar version of the prayer which I use everyone else is chanting the old version. It helps me so I see where you're coming from.

If you feel strongly that "our countries need it" can I suggest that you contact me and help me raise support for my work in Bible translation? I'm sure you can spare a couple of lattes a month... ;-)

At Sun Sep 28, 04:45:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

I do not believe in "Aramaic primacy" for a second. Matthew didn't write down in Aramaic the Aramaic oratory (or prayer) of Jesus. Rather Matthew translated the sermon of Jesus into Greek.

But Matthew didn't speak Greek at home or in worship. He did not translate so anyone could know "How to Pray in Contemporary Greek."

("how to pray [the prayer] in contemporary English." -- Wayne)

("how to pray in contemporary Latin" -- Jerome)

("Pray tell, what do the Germans say in such a situation?" -- Martin Luther)

("If the Latin, and German, and English translations of Christians were really true and weren't so anti-semetic, then here's how they would sound in Hebrew" -- Willis Barnstone)

I do believe that Barnstone is on to something:

" is clear that one of the world’s major poets is and has been for two millennia Yeshua the Messiah. His pen was in the hands of others who recorded and translated his words into Greek"

"Matthew, the gospel with the most dialogue, anthologizes the diverse wisdom talk and prayers of Yeshua from the other gospels into the Sermon on the Mount, a string of poems that includes the psalm of the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew is mainly poetry."

Matthew is trying to convey the heart of Jesus's uttered prayer into written Greek (into the poetry of a Hellenist script). This does, eventually, help the spread of the gospel of Jesus across the Roman empire; and in many ways writing in Greek is defiant of the Roman elite men who were trying to get everyone to use Latin.

Matthew, however, is not interested in teaching Greek speakers how to pray the Lord's Prayer in church.

At Sun Sep 28, 10:34:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Sorry, Kurk, I still don't understand your point. And how does it relate to my post?

I didn't refer to Aramaic primacy. I said that Jesus did not speak Greek to his audiences.

Matthew recorded the Sermon on the Mount which included the Lord's Prayer which, even in Matthew, is given as a prayer that Jesus' disciples can pattern after.

So, what are you saying about my translation of the prayer into English? That's what the post is about. Let's focus on that before going on to other topics, UNLESS those other topics directly relate to how the prayer should be translated to English.

At Sun Sep 28, 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter, I just noticed that Ellis Deibler's Translation For Translators has this for Matt. 6:13:

"lead us not into = cause us not to yield to [explication of Hebrew causative and/or to avoid wrong implicature]"

At Sun Sep 28, 03:42:00 PM, Blogger DaveW said...


I would appreciate it if you continued to develop this.

I hope it is ok but I used the present version this morning. No negative comments, in fact it fitted well with a "Back to Church Sunday" that was intended to be gentle, welcoming and not intimidating.

At Sun Sep 28, 05:26:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

DaveW wrote:

I hope it is ok but I used the present version this morning.

Sure, it's OK, Dave. I feel honored (honoured!).

And I hope I can continue to tweak my translation so that it becomes even more accurate and more natural.

At Mon Sep 29, 08:55:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Really Wayne? I do like that you're translating and not just talking about it. Have I not said things here that "directly relate to how the prayer should be translated to English"?

But translated from what? This is what I'm trying to get at. Seems like your "source" text is a moving "target." You end your post by saying, "I welcome suggestions for a more appropriate contemporary equivalent here." More appropriate how? Equivalent to what? Are you (A) looking to the "ancient Greek manuscripts" (as you mention in pt 8) in your "attempt to capture the meaning of the Greek" (mentioned in pt 7)? Are you (B) looking to the KJV? You say "my [English] suggestions as a substitute for the [traditional] version of the Lord's Prayer" and you discuss "trying to re-express [English] words and syntax which are outdated" (before the enumerated pts); in pt 1, you note an English "construction" which is "more natural to me." You say you're not (C) looking to Aramaic at all, and yet you introduce your own English translation by insisting that "Once when Jesus was speaking to his followers, he gave them this prayer that they could use as an example of a good way to pray."

Sorry to be unclear. I guess my point(s) would be related mainly to the spurious assumption that your translation (or ours) could equal what Jesus said. We don't know that Matthew's translation equaled what Jesus said. Jesus's audience & purposes (as far as you can pinpoint them) are not equal to Matthew's audiences & purposes in translating with Greek. Ditto for King James & his English audiences, and ditto for his commissioned translators bringing Matthew's Greek into English. If you are assuming the Greek mss of Matthew's translation are equivalent to Jesus's Aramaic is equivalent to King James's intent is equivalent to the KJV is equivalent to what we might all agree on a blog is appropriate contemporary English, then there are many problems. For instance, are the locative modifiers in what we have as Matthew 6:9 and 10 equal even within one language? Or are you talking about a trans-language notion in the deep structure of universal meanings? Is Strongs Concordance your "source" text?

In Aramaic (I would assume), and in KJV English, a single phrase is repeated: ܫܡܝܐ and "in heaven." But in the majority mss of Matthew's Greek, the phrase is first plural with the definite article but then singular with no article: ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς then ἐν οὐρανῷ. And now in your contemporary more natural updating, you have "heavenly" and then the locative "in heaven" (It's not clear that these are equivalents. And "heavenly" sounds also like "delightful" or "delectable" or "enchanting." My own English trouble with "heaven" is that it is no clear blue atmosphere where birds fly--but in Greek of the NT and the LXX, the birds do fly in this air: ἐν οὐρανῷ).

Sincerely Wayne, I am not wanting to be off topic from your post. I absolutely love the fact that you not only theorize about translation but you also can do it! I simply object to all the assumed and presumed dynamic equivalences.

(And, to be clear, your assumption seems to run wildly across three or four different languages here, and the presumptions appear present even within your own English within the space of a few words. I've posted today at my, off topic here, or is it? Doesn't translating or learning Matthew's Greek mean we have to acknowledge our own humble positions as outsiders?)

At Mon Sep 29, 09:54:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Thanks for your reply, Kurk. What you have written is far beyond my training and expertise. I'm not making assumptions or presuppositions about anything, as you claimed. I'm simply trying to translate the Greek of Matthew's text accurately and naturally to English.

I don't use Strong's Concordance to do my work. I don't consider Strong's to be a very scholarly resource for professional Bible translation.

I am unable to interact with you on these advanced topics because I lack the background in them to do so.

But I would be happy to interact with you about how to accurately and naturally translate the prayer, as we have it in Matthew's text, to English. Please feel free to make suggestions for how the different parts of my suggested translation can be improved.

At Mon Sep 29, 02:44:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

What you have written is far beyond my training and expertise.

Wayne, Your training and expertise go far beyond mine. You do turn to very scholarly resources for professional Bible translation. So it feels to me like we're talking past each other. If my questions were only academic or intellectual, I wouldn't ask them. Hope you know that. From other conversations we've had, I really do want you to understand how I respect you, appreciate your experience, and am grateful for your work. I'm saying that again, here; my disagreeing with what I may (mis)take to be your assumptions is no disagreement with you at all, my friend.

At Mon Sep 29, 04:40:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk, I have no doubts about what you've just said. My comments have been about not understanding your reactions to my post. It seems we are on different pages about translation of the Lord's Prayer and I don't know what to do to help us get on the same page, or at least understand what each other is saying.

If anyone else on the blog knows how to help us, I'd welcome your insights.

At Tue Sep 30, 06:36:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, thanks for mentioning Ellis Deibler's "Translation for Translators". I know I was complimentary about the principle of this work in another forum, but that doesn't mean that I consider this book I have not even seen to be authoritative on questions like this one.

But has this translation actually been published yet? The only reference I can find to the book is the Barnes and Noble "out of stock" notice you linked to plus this one from SIL. The reported publisher "Cummins Works" has no internet presence except for this! I suspect that March 2008 was a hoped for publication date but in fact the book has not yet appeared.

At Tue Sep 30, 07:55:00 AM, Blogger John Radcliffe said...

Wayne said: "If anyone else on the blog knows how to help us, I'd welcome your insights."

Well I can't claim that I usually understand what JK is on about; indeed, typically much of it goes way over my head. (That's not meant as a criticism; I just suspect I'm not in his target audience.) But in this case what I take JK to mean is that he doesn't think that you, Wayne, are starting from either (a) what Jesus said to his disciples, nor (b) how Matthew put that in Greek, but that you are, at least subconsciously, "hearing" how Matthew's version has been traditionally / previously expressed into English, and simply rephrasing that.

To avoid doing that we need to ask ourselves: If Matthew was doing today what he did back then, but into English rather than Greek, how would he do it? But first we need to ask: What was Matthew trying to do? Was it "just" translation? If not, what were his motivations: theological, liturgical, or whatever? What was he trying to achieve? If we believe Matthew had a more complex agenda than "mere" translation, but don't take that into account in our rendering, then we're unlikely to achieve for our (English) target audience (even if that's just ourselves) what Matthew was attempting for his.

So, JK, am I on track here, or well off the mark? (The latter wouldn't surprise me, but I find the question of interest even if in fact I've originated it rather than just paraphrased it!)

At Tue Sep 30, 08:07:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter asked:

But has this translation actually been published yet?

I don't know, Peter. I didn't even dig as far as you did on the B&N site to see that it was listed as out of print.

At Tue Sep 30, 08:08:00 AM, Blogger John Radcliffe said...

Wayne, here are a few comments, a question, and a rewrite.

"Come be our king" doesn't sound natural to me: I'd need an "and" in there ("Come and be …"), which might sound unnatural to you, if so we already have a problem!

Like dannii, I'm not sure that the 3rd petition is about people "doing what God wants" but rather is a plea for God to ensure that what he wants is what happens. (See also my final paragraph.)

With "on earth … in heaven" I think a good case can be made for applying this to the 1st to 3rd petitions, rather than just to the 3rd.

"Provide for us", or perhaps "Provide us with"

"Please forgive" – why is this petition the only one to get an introductory "Please"?

Our heavenly Father,
Just as everyone in heaven does, may we here on earth
> recognise and honour who you are,
> accept your right to be our king,
> and acknowledge that what you want is always best.
> provide us with the food we need today,
> forgive for what we have done wrong,
> > in the same way that we forgive those who wrong us,
> and help us to avoid temptation,
> > protecting us when the evil one attacks.

(Sorry for the >’s but I don’t know how to get it to indent.)

I'm not sure I'm right about the 3rd petition. What I understand it to be saying is, "May what you want happen", but I'm suggesting that what we're really asking is that he help us like that idea!

At Tue Sep 30, 08:10:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

John, thanks for your comments. I find your comments helpful to try to understand what other issues Kurk was addressing. For purposes of this post, I still don't understand how bringing in those other issues would affect how we translate the prayer. If they are, Kurk can tell us. BTW, Kurk and I have been emailing privately to try to understand each other better.

At Tue Sep 30, 09:54:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

I find the question of interest

John, Thanks for answering Wayne's plea for help to get us on the same page. (As Wayne notes, we are discussing our different perspectives. We are, in terms of personality, very different with much much in common too. Last thing I want to do is to divert attention from his intentions for his post!)

You've done us all a service by rephrasing some of the comments in order to ask again whether to question Matthew's motivations in translating / recording the Aramaic "Lord's Prayer" of Jesus into Greek.

For religious Jews at the time, this very act of translating by Jews for religious purposes was unheard of and likely offensive. Philip Yancey, in his book on prayer, says "Jesus taught [the Lord's Prayer] to his disciples, who were already well-trained in the Jewish prayers of their day. Yet they recognized a new approach in Jesus's style of praying" (p. 171). In Matthew, there's not only the replacing of the old written Hebrew prayers with a personal spoken Aramaic-Jewish prayer, but there is also the translating of that spoken prayer into a dirty, goyish, Gentile language: written Greek. It was a language of conquest, of imposition. Jews to this day tend to despise the fact that Alexander the Great rolled through Jerusalem, set up Alexandria, and had his lackeys drag Jewish scholars to that polytheistic Egyptian city (an anti-Exodus) to translate the sacred scriptures from Hebrew to Greek, for the purposes and please of the Hellenist empire. Jesus's and his own disciples' prejudicial responses to a Greek woman (Mark 7) indicate some of the cultural resistances. (I think Jesus was exposing some of the Jewish prejudice with his remarks - also Matt. 15).

What in the world does that have to do with Wayne's post?

Well, maybe "The Lord's Prayer" has become for the English-speaking Christian world a kind of "old prayer." If we are dusting off olde English only, then great. But there is the question of who "we" is. Today, Jewish translators of the New Testament -- and notably Willis Barnstone -- asks whether the English translation of the Greek NT by Christians hasn't been a "dire and central question of disenfranchising Yeshua of his [Judaic] religious identity" (page 12 in The New Covenant. And, in fact, rather than taking Barnstone seriously, Wayne and Richard Rhodes have criticized his retranslation of the Greek into more Hebrew and Aramaic sounding English.

One of the issues is that translation is not always benign. Depending on the language chosen, the new text makes for outsiders; it excludes. "How to pray in contemporary English" is a great idea, if this motivation for a new English translation recognizes that not just one group represents all. Or if the translator is aware of the exclusions created.

An example of a translator who is so aware is Ann Nyland. Wayne has interviewed her at this blog. And Peter Kirk as well reports here on her translation. Like Barnstone, Nyland has this background: "I, as a translator, am a Classical Greek scholar formally trained in all Greek dialects, not a theologian." And like classicist Barnstone, Nyland sees the exclusionary issues of Christian-church-based translation of the Greek into English: "The disregard of this evidence for word meaning has had a terrible impact on Bible translation.... [There has been] deliberate ignoring of the scholarship along with censorship. In many cases, the trouble is that religion based on mistranslation has laid down certain things in the Christian community on the whole and tradition is a very powerful thing... Many people do not want to know what the Greek here really says, as it conflicts with what they have been brought up to believe - and this is quite a problem."

To be clear, Wayne is after a better Bible. A better translation of the the Lord's Prayer. A better way to pray in contemporary English than we have in our KJV tradition. (I'm just asking, given the history of translating, who are "we" and what are the effects of our translating on others, if our translation can be better.)

At Tue Sep 30, 10:10:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk wrote, in part:

And, in fact, rather than taking Barnstone seriously, Wayne and Richard Rhodes have criticized his retranslation of the Greek into more Hebrew and Aramaic sounding English.

Kurk, I don't recall ever criticizing Barnstone. I don't think I even have a copy of his translation. I don't think I have ever read anything by him other than something you might have excerpted on this blog or another blog.

At Tue Sep 30, 10:13:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk concluded:

(I'm just asking, given the history of translating, who are "we" and what are the effects of our translating on others, if our translation can be better.)

Kurk, how about if we save that question for a different blog post where we don't mix together the exercise of trying to put the Lord's Prayer into contemporary English and questions of translation audience?

I'd even be happy for you to guest blog on the issue if you can directly relate it to how to make better translations of the Bible.

At Tue Sep 30, 12:41:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

how about . . . we don't mix together the exercise of trying to put the Lord's Prayer into contemporary English and questions of translation audience?

Yes, sounds good Wayne.

(In reply to your other comment, I may be misunderstanding what you've said about Barnstone's translation; in comments on another post, you wrote, in part:

"Barnstone's rendering is not the English translation equivalent. There may be reasons for using Barnstone's translation [a]s some speciality Bible. But if we are calling something an English translation, it should consist of English translation equivalents to the original biblical languages texts."

And I still wonder why you won't, among the other Versions listed here at BBB, also include Barnstone's New Convenant, or Richmond Lattimore's New Testament, or Robert Funk's Gospels.

But, again, I think I've said too much. Thanks for the post, for dialoguing, and for tolerating my comments here.)

At Tue Sep 30, 12:44:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

(Ooops! Those comments of yours on Barnstone were here, Wayne.)

At Tue Sep 30, 01:36:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Hello again, Kurk. Yes, I would still stand by my comment on the part of Barnstone's translation that you quoted. That, however, should not be taken to mean that if I had that translation, and the time to read it, I would dismiss it as a legitimate translation. Each passage of a translation needs to be examined on its own merits.

As you know, there are hundreds of English Bible translations. We only have in the margin of this blog translations which are "mainstream", most in use, except for the BLB, which is linked because it is the work of one of the BBB bloggers, Dan Sindlinger.

I am not familiar with the translations you have listed. It's not a question that I "won't" (your term) post other translations, but that I *don't* because there isn't room to post them all.

I don't have the Amplified Bible listed in the margin, nor the American Standard Version, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops Bible, nor many others.

At Tue Sep 30, 08:02:00 PM, Blogger Daniel Olson said...

j.k.gayle said, "For religious Jews at the time, this very act of translating by Jews for religious purposes was unheard of and likely offensive. ..., but there is also the translating of that spoken prayer into a dirty, goyish, Gentile language: written Greek. It was a language of conquest, of imposition."

That was probably the attitude of some of the Jews, but what about the Septuagint? Wasn't it a widely-used translation by many Jews in Jesus' day? And wasn't it used for "religious purposes"?

At Tue Sep 30, 10:04:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

And I still wonder why you won't, among the other Versions listed here at BBB, also include Barnstone's New Convenant, or Richmond Lattimore's New Testament, or Robert Funk's Gospels.


This has worried me also. The truth is that I have a small personal library, and am not on a university campus, although close. I have almost exclusively blogged about Bible versions which are available on the internet.

This is just a fact of life but I feel like a fraud. I do not own every Bible translation available nor do I aspire to. Is Barnstone's translation available in google books?

At Tue Sep 30, 10:42:00 PM, Blogger Jormac said...

I admire your desire to render a more meaninful version for those who would pray, however I must admit that what you've put here, while perhaps more easily understood upon first glance, actually feels more artifical to me.
( I am studying linguistics and as such syntax, semantics and the whole boatload of language insterest me greatly. I would defent the old translation as much as your rendering.) I think the "original" here has the advantage of being specific contextualy - there are words and phrases a man only uses when talking to his own children and others for when he talks to his wife, still others for the rest of the world - and this prayer is recognized as being specifically for God. However, it isn't often used as a heartfelt cry to the Father, I agree. Just the same the word "Holy" is something which can really only be applied to Him, and I would not so hastily remove it. (Furthermore the idea of the kingdom coming is central to the gospel; the syntax for the phrase "forgive what we have done wrong" is a bit off and unnatural; ) Also, Jesus was being quite audacious when He spoke these words, shocking people with His close relationship to God. In most of my aspirations for refining the english translations I tend to go more towards "colloquial" english (admittedly overboard).
I'd be more inclined to have it said as:
God, Our perfect and loving father, You are holy beyond what we understand, May You establish Your kingdom on earth - That this world would be like heaven, that it would be how You meant it to be. Grant us the means to live, for all things come from Your hand. Forgive us, because we screw up and we hurt ourselves and others - and let us remember Your forgiveness and spread it to others, forigiving those who hurt us, or mess up our lives, intentionally or not. Open our eyes when we are tempted, and lead us out. For all things, all power, all fame and credit belong to You always.

At Wed Oct 01, 03:43:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

We only have in the margin of this blog translations which are "mainstream", most in use

Fair enough. I really appreciate all the helpful resources you put in here at BBB! (But I'd argue that J.B. Phillips's New Testament translation, a legitimate one though out of print, is more "mainstream" than Ann Nyland's).

the exercise of trying to put the Lord's Prayer into contemporary English

For ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς in 6.9, you like "heavenly" as "more natural" in English than "in heaven"; naturalness aside, the one English "means the same thing" as the other. Why do you keep "in heaven" for 6.10 (i.e., for ἐν οὐρανῷ)? How would you translate ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος into contemporary English (i.e., in 5.48, 6.14, 6.26, 6.32)? Does this third Greek phrase mean the same thing as the other two "equivalents"? In 6.14, is Matthew implying a contrast between "heavenly" and earthly by using τοῖς ἀνθρώποις to suggest mortals below the heavens?

That was probably the attitude of some of the Jews, but what about the Septuagint?

Iyov provides some of the history in his review of NETS, a recent English translation of the Septuagint:

"The Jewish view of the Septuagint was strongly negative: we have from Megillas Taanis [megilat taanit batra](normally dated between 34 BCE and 71CE): 'On the 8th of Teves the Torah was written in Greek in the days of king Ptolemy, and darkness came upon the world for three days.' But the real problem was that the Greek Septuagint came to be adopted as the Old Testament of the new Christian church -- it thus ceased to be viewed as a Jewish document."

The comments, especially Moshe Simon-Shoshan's comments and his linked article, give a more nuanced and a fuller accounting of the attitudes of first-century Jews (even in Jerusalem) towards religious uses of the Septuagint.

Bible versions which are available on the internet

Daily, I'm just excited by all the resources available through the internet. Gutenberg must be amazed! And the folks at Google are fantastic. Barnstone's New Covenant is only listed at google books; but the publishers at Penguin Group have made a digitally searchable copy of the Barnstone translation available thanks to the people at

there are words and phrases a man only uses when talking to his own children and others for when he talks to his wife, still others for the rest of the world - and this prayer is recognized as being specifically for God.

This is a great point as you offer a wonderful "'colloquial' english (admittedly overboard)" translation. You mention Jesus's "audacious" and "shocking" ideas; do you find that Matthew's Greek words are careful to register meanings for particular domains, i.e., specifically for God at certain points, and "overboard" in places and as "audacious" and "shocking" as the notions of Jesus about God? In other words, is your translation doing what Matthew's does?

At Wed Oct 01, 05:49:00 AM, Blogger John Radcliffe said...


I glad that my impertinence in taking up Wayne's "challenge" didn't offend. Perhaps that might change . . .

I wasn't familiar with Barnstone's translation, so I followed the link to Amazon. I wasn't impressed with what I found.

This is from the blurb on the cover:

"The New Covenant invites us to come to the New Testament afresh without the preconceptions and misconceptions that have become part of the Western tradition".

Note that it doesn't say "without any preconceptions and misconceptions". I soon found out why when I read the footnote on "Yehuda of Keroit" in Matthew 10:4:

"… The name for the messenger (apostle) Judas in Hebrew, Yehuda, was surely invented because it suggests the word in Hebrew for "Jew" […], thereby the betrayer of Yeshua among his followers was a Jew, as opposed to the others who escape that identity".

That may well be what Barnstone believes about the origin of this passage (and, I wouldn't be surprised, most if not all of the NT), and he's entitled to his opinion. But what makes him so "sure" that he's right? My guess: his own "preconceptions"; they're just not those "that have become part of the Western tradition".

So I think we're just getting the NT from someone with a *different* agenda. Now he may be completely up-front and open about that; I haven't read his introduction. But personally I'll pass. If I want a NT translation from the non-Christian, non-theological perspective of a classical specialist, for now I think I'll be sticking with Andy Gaus and his "Unvarnished NT". At least he doesn't try to pass off his prejudices as so-called scholarship.

(Oh, and just why do we have "father of the skies" in v32, but "in the skies" in v33?)

At Wed Oct 01, 07:18:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

:) I'm not taking any offense from your insights. Robert Alter, Harold Bloom, and David Trobish vouch for the scholarship of Barnstone, and his translation of the gospels. But perhaps his incredible & acclaimed facility in translating other Greek texts and works in several other languages has colored their perceptions. One of Barnstone's huge points is that translation is interpretation. His book, The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice, announced early what his (biased anti-Christian-bias) intentions would be when he finally began translating the New Testament.

Thanks for reminding us of Andy Gaus's wonderful work. I do like how he translates the Lord's Prayer. He has "Our Father in the skies" and "On the earth, just as in the sky." (and I just love his, "Give us day by day the next day's bread.")

The blog, "This Day . . . In Jewish History," notes today "the beginning of the uneasy and some times violent interaction between the world of Moses and Socrates, Plato, Aristotle." Although the blogger historian(s) haven't yet referred overtly to the Septuagint (which is an interesting omission in itself, don' you think?), there is a constant acknowledgment of the strained relations between Greeks and Jews. For example, here is an allusion to a "Jewish playwright by the name of Ezekiel re-wrote [the book of] Exodus as a [Euripides style] Greek tragedy." But, I'm afraid we're hijacking the intention of Wayne's post again. I'm so sorry about that Wayne.

At Wed Oct 01, 09:42:00 AM, Blogger John Radcliffe said...


Just to clarify: I'm not questioning Barnstone's linguistic scholarship, or his ability as a translator. However, I don't think that comments such as the one I quoted derive from either, but including them in such as work may give the impression that they do, and some may accept them as if they were "the findings of scholarship". In reality, they aren't even his interpretations of the text, as they don't derive from the text but are imposed upon it. They rather reflect the basis from which he starts to interpret the text.

But if, as you suggest, he's open about this bias, then I suppose that changes things somewhat. I guess what it boils down to is that I, personally, don't have a use for such a work.

Getting back on-topic [I am trying, Wayne, honestly], I'd have to question whether the use by Gaus (and Barnstone) of "sky" / "skies" rather than "heaven(s)" really works. Now I don't doubt that the Greek term can be for what I would call the sky, but I also suspect it has a wider range of meaning than English speakers generally have for "sky" (would anyone get Paul's reference to "the third sky" in 2Cor 12:2, for example).

Straying off-topic again a little, one of the things I like about Gaus's translation style is that (as he explains in his introduction) he considers trying to retain the original's emphasis more important than retaining its grammatical structure, even if that means, for example, recasting a sentence with a passive rather than an active verb, or vice versa. I think all too often "traditional", "formal" translations think they've done ok if they've managed to do minimal violence to the original's grammar, even though the emphasis has gone out the window in the process. Perhaps this is an area when frequently the more "dynamic" translations score more highly.

And so finally back on-topic again. One of the failures of the traditional, KJV-style renderings, are that they ignore the parallel structure in the first three petitions. With

(1) Hallowed be thy / your name
(2) Thy / your kingdom come
(3) Thy / your will be done

we go from verb first in (1) to verb last in (2) and (3). We should, I think, try to be consistent throughout.

At Wed Oct 01, 11:52:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for clarifying about Barnstone. I can't disagree with anything you've said.

I like your thoughts on Greek "sky/skies" and on the parallelism within Matthew's version of the prayer. On the former, I agree that there's a bigger range of meanings in "οὐρανος" than there is in either our English "sky" or "heaven." But there is a metaphorical "ground," ironcially, in the meanings of "sky" that extends to "that place above where the gods/ goddesses reside" and in Judaism (and now Christianity) to "Heaven." Would you agree? And then there's that pesky issue of Matthew using the preposition (a kind of locative, if only a metaphorical locative); this is different from his use of the word without the preposition, as in ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος (i.e., in 5.48, 6.14, 6.26, 6.32). Why the difference in Greek? And is it significant enough of a difference (i.e. with or without the preposition) to show a difference in contemporary English translation? I promised Wayne in email, that if this discussion follows my digressions more, then I'd provide another location elsewhere for further conversation. Here's where tangential issues to this post can be discussed so as to keep this one on track. The link is also to my attempt at translation, noting some of the parallelism in the Greek prayer that you mention. I'd be delighted if you'd look at and even critique it, John.

(In fact, to anyone who's let my marginal comments here distract from the post here: please feel free to keep this conversation on track or to make your unrelated points at my post linked above.)

Hope that helps; sorry again for the confusion. I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of John's translation questions/ suggestions here. You do get us all thinking about this, Wayne! Thanks.

At Thu Oct 02, 12:58:00 AM, Blogger tc robinson said...

Wayne, I'm so late, but I have to let you know that I love this piece. I was actually thinking about the same things recently.

At Fri Oct 03, 11:26:00 AM, Blogger solarblogger said...

In preparing for some classes on Luke, I went over the temptation of Jesus in detail. I hadn't noticed before the linkage between Jesus saying, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" and "Lead us not into temptation" before.

Common to both is the idea of being put to the test, an idea we see in Job and many other key places, including Eden. God seems to allow this reluctantly in order to allow to be made public people's faithfulness (or lack thereof). But there is a Satanic lack of trust that presses for the opportunity to tempt. We are not to be that way toward God. And we are to know that He is not that way towards us.

In any case, whatever translation is chosen, I would hope it captures some of this broader teaching. God is not our tempter, but delivers us from him.

At Fri Oct 03, 03:55:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Solarblogger, do you mean to suggest that the meaning in the Lord's Prayer is something like "Do not lead/cause us to tempt you/put you to the test"? That is an interesting possibility.

By the way, I remember now that "Do not lead us into the time of trial" or something like that was in an earlier updated form of the Church of England liturgy, but the latest version has gone back to "Do not lead us into temptation".


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