Tuesday, 22 October 2013
Understanding "Lead us not into temptation"
An article in today's Telegraph is headed 'Blasphemous' Lord's Prayer corrected by France's Catholic Church. I think that 'blasphemous' is over-egging the pudding and that there is a danger of focussing on the wrong word.
The previous French version of "et ne nos inducas in tentationem" was: "Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation" (do not submit/subject us to temptation) and this is to be replaced by: "Et ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation" (do not allow us to enter into temptation.)
Clearly we do not want to say that God would subject us to a temptation to be uncharitable to someone or to drink too much or to look at pornography on the internet. We would certainly prefer to say that we ask Him not to allow us to be tempted in such ways.
However I don't think that the translation of "inducas" is the problem, but rather the translation of "tentatio."
The word "temptation" in modern European languages now generally refers to temptations that proceed from concupiscence (the disordered desire consequent on original sin) or those which come about because of our previous habits of sin.
In the Greek New Testament, the word "peirasmon" was used in a different way, for example of the temptations of Christ - who did not suffer from concupiscence or past habits of sin. It is also used, for example, by Our Lord Himself when he said to the disciples "You are the men who have stayed with me in my trials" (Lk 22.28) It would be absurd to render this verse as though Christ were saying that the apostles had stood by him in temptations to sin (He didn't have any.) Our Lord was tested and put through trials by the devil at the beginning of His public ministry and finally through His passion. (This also applies to the depressingly common misunderstanding of Hebrews 4.15, especially in the Jerusalem Bible translation.)
Therefore we ask the Father not to lead us into the time of trial, not to allow us to be subjected to the onslaught of the devil. We know that He will not do anything that causes us to sin or in any way exacerbate the effects of original sin or our own past sins. We are asking Him to deliver us from evil, as the next clause in the Lord's prayer makes clear.
If we want to re-translate the Our Father, it would be better to recognise the modern use of the word temptation and replace that ("Do not lead us into the time of trial" / "Do not put us to the test" or some other such adjustment) rather than worry about the word "inducas."