Pope Francis has suggested revising the statement in the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:13 from “lead us not into temptation,” to “do not let us fall into temptation.”
This is exactly what French Roman Catholics have recently decided to do, changing the wording from et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation (“and subject us not to temptation”) to et ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation (“and let us not enter into temptation”). These are all renderings of the Latin et ne nos inducas in tentationem, which is a rendering of the Greek text of Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:4, καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν.
The thinking behind the change is that the wording is misleading, suggesting that when we are tempted, God has led us into that circumstance. This suggested change is significant both from a grammatical and theological perspective.
From a grammatical perspective, the Greek text of the Lord’s prayer is unambiguous. Jesus models prayer for us, making a request to God the Father, that he would not “bring us into” or “expose us to” (Greek, εἰσφέρω) temptation, but instead, that he would deliver us from the Evil One (traditionally, “evil”). The Latin verb induco means essentially the same thing, “to lead into.”
In this ask, Jesus presupposes that sometimes the Father ordains for us to be exposed to temptation, but that it is good for us ask God to protect us from temptation. More on this below.
Grammatically, what the French have done, and what Pope Francis agrees with, is changing the verb from the idea of “causing us to enter” to “allow to fall/enter.” In the former, God the Father is unambiguously sovereign over the circumstances of temptation, while in the latter, he is simply observing us trip up. Francis said as much in a televised interview, speaking of God leading us into temptation, “A father doesn’t do that. He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”
But the Spirit of God did not inspire Matthew and Luke to write do not let us “fall into” temptation. God is definitely not the cause of our sin, but wrestling with a clear theology of temptation should never lead us to edit the Word of God. Editing the Roman Missal would, in effect, change the way Italian Roman Catholics memorize this part of God’s Word.
The root of the issue isn’t grammatical, it’s theological. The Pope and other Roman Catholics aren’t comfortable with God being sovereign over temptation. The problem here is twofold, first the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign over temptation (James 1:2-4), but he is not the cause of it. Second, if God isn’t sovereign over temptation, then who is?
The concern of the Pope and the French Catholics is that people think the prayer says that God intentionally leads people into circumstances where they will be tempted. People think that because that’s what the prayer request assumes. The premier example of this is in the ministry of Jesus when the Spirit leads him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan: “Then Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the Devil” (Matthew 4:1, my translation, different verb than in Matthew 6:13). Satan is the primary agent of the temptation, but God is sovereign over it.
Here’s the tough truth: sometimes God ordains difficult circumstances and trials to help us grow in our faith. While we need not desire difficulties, trials, and temptations (see the Lord’s Prayer), we should trust our sovereign God in the midst of them (cf. Genesis 50:20, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7, Romans 5:3-5).
Rather than edit the Word of God, a better solution is a church that teaches the Word of God in its entirety, and has a robust Biblical theology of God’s sovereignty, sin, and temptation. It’s hard to effectively shepherd people through the mere recitation of verses. God has given us his Word that we might understand it, which means we need to work hard to explain it.
Perhaps we could learn here from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “but we have renounced the secrecy of shameful ways, not acting deceitfully, nor distorting the Word of God.”
Rather than editing the Word of God to suit our theological ignorance, the church must let the Word of God form and shape our theology.