Lead us not into temptation


Pope Francis has been in the news recently for suggesting a change to the Lord’s Prayer. (Indeed, there was a story about this on the Today Show just moments ago.) As succinctly summarized by the Washington Post,

The words in the Lord’s Prayer that ask, “Lead us not into temptation,” can cause confusion, Francis said. To make it clear that God would not lead anybody toward sin, the pope suggested a better translation of the Greek prayer from the New Testament would be something along the lines of, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

Predictably, he has been receiving significant push back, the sentiment being “Leave the Lord’s Prayer alone!”

Interestingly, Joseph Smith had pretty much the exact same reaction to the traditional wording of the Prayer as the Pontiff has expressed. I will quote below from pages 96-97 of my Dialogue article “The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible” 19/3 (1987):

Luke 11:4


And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.


And let us not be led unto [sic] temptation, but deliver us from evil. . . .

Ancient Variants

(1) Lead us not into temptation

(2) Let us not be led into temptation

Scholars consider reading 1 to be almost certainly original. But if these words are read too literally, they suggest that God deliberately draws people into temptation, a theologically unsettling idea. Therefore, Marcion in his version of Luke put the phrase into a passive construction (reading 2) (Metzger 1975, 156). This reading was preserved by several Church Fathers. For instance, Augustine says: “Many when praying speak as follows: ‘Let us not be led into temptation'” (PL 34:1282). Jerome offers “Do not lead us into temptation that we cannot bear.” (PL 25:485).

The JST parallels reading 2, resolving this doctrinal difficulty in much the same way as Marcion: “and let us not be led unto temptation.” In the Matthew 6:13 version of the Lord’s Prayer, the JST reads: “And suffer us not to be led into temptation.” Joseph Smith later suggested still another solution: “Leave us not in temptation” (Stevenson 1974, 87).

Assuming that either Matthew or Jesus meant that the Father compels people into temptation creates theological contradictions that so conflict with other portions of the scriptures as to make such a reading highly improbable. The verb “lead” was used in a figurative, weakened sense of an unintentional action, as opposed to an absolute imposition of divine will (Hutchinson 1980, 109). Indeed, since the doctrinal problem was unintended in the original, it may be advisable to translate the phrase using a passive construction (Reiling and Swellengrebel 1971, 430). There is no question in this passage that the JST is a correct interpretation or “translation” of reading 1; but reading 2 is not a restoration of the original Greek text, even though both it and the JST may be satisfactory paraphrases.



  1. Kevin, What very little Greek I once had is gone, but could it be that the translation and received text difficulties are as much with the words translated “temptation” and “evil” as they are with the word translated “lead”?
    Isn’t the word translated “temptation” the same word translated as “try” or “trial” in 1 Peter 4:12?
    GRK: πυρώσει πρὸς πειρασμὸν ὑμῖν γινομένῃ
    NAS: you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though
    KJV: is to try you, as
    INT: fire for trial to you [which is] taking place
    Could the word translated “evil” be broad enough in meaning to include the concept of misfortune (rather than wickedness)? as in:
    Evil (n.)
    2. Misfortune; mischief; injury.
    There shall no evil befall thee. Ps.91.

  2. You are leading me into the temptation to post this comment. From here it is but one step until I become a full blown internet troll.

    Yay Pope Francis and New Testament Greek!

  3. I rather like the lead us not version. Partly tradition, but also because my theodicy tends to wrestle with the meaning of “all good” (rather than the more common Mormon approach of tinkering with “all powerful.”)

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    JR, you’re right that the most basic meaning of peirasmos is an experiment, an attempt, a trial, a proving. In the NT most commonly it is used in the sense of the trial of man’s fidelity to God in the face of enticement to sin; i.e., temptation. This is how BDAG, the most authoritative lexicon of NT Greek, takes it. But there’s certainly room for some nuance there.

    Here’s a trick I like to do. Go to the Bible Gateway, look up a verse, then click the link to see that verse in all the English translaitons in their database. The results are often fascinating. I’ll try to post the link for Matthew 6:13:


  5. Kevin Barney says:

    If you look at the link I just posted, you’ll see a definite trend to move away from evil as an abstraction towards a personification; i.e. “deliver us from the Evil One.”

  6. Cody Hatch says:

    Nice post, Kevin.

    I have long viewed the Lord’s Prayer as a petition to bring this world into alignment with “that world” (aka, the kingdom of God). It is asking for God’s kingdom to come to this world; for God’s will to be done here as it is in heaven (in other words, not only a physical coming of God’s kingdom but one which sees this world’s desires align with those of heaven); for us to receive the nourishment we need today; to forgive us of our debts/sins as we do others; and lastly, to help us avoid any confrontation with evil by hastily coming to make this all so.

    I’m not sure if that is a proper reading, but it feels right to me. I think the Greek can support it and it fits with the expectation of the coming kingdom of God.

  7. I prefer this translations: NLT And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

  8. Fascinating post.

  9. This dilemma touches on a broader question I have been pondering about adjusting translations in the LDS church: what are the benefits and drawbacks of formally modifying scripture? On the one hand, I am grateful Joseph Smith sought inspiration to modify what he did, but because he didn’t change more and prophets since have not modified them at all (am I accurate in this assumption?) it somehow feels even more confining because it seems to leave the impression that what is left is perfect or perfect “enough.” However, I fear consistent modification by leaders would emphasize a hierarchy of revelation that would consequently diminish the importance of personal study and revelation. My concern is that our church is already very hierarchical and members are expected to simply seek revelation confirming the position of their leaders, so the absence of continued re-translation\modification feels like an endorsement of scriptural language that ignores and (in some cases) blatantly oppresses women. Why not invest the resources required to change the male-oriented language to include women? I did this for a lesson recently, and it was eye-opening to realize how often I had to make substitutions–typically 1-3 times per verse. I know some argue it’s not a big deal–that language has been male-dominated since the beginning of time–but I don’t think that’s good justification for perpetuating it. Why not eliminate verses that declare women unfit to speak publicly or unclean during menstruation and the weeks following childbirth? Why not change the Genesis account describing the relationship between woman and man to “rule with” instead of “rule over” the way current Hebrew scholarship suggests? The creation account is used in and out of the temple to describe “the true order” of relationships, roles, organization, etc., and there are still members who believe women are “vice-presidents” in marriage. Why not define “God” as the Divine partnership of Heavenly Father and Mother? Why not, at the very least, modify modern official church statements to emphasize divine partnership instead of male-only deity, like in the YW theme: “We are daughters of our Heavenly Parents who love us and we love them…”?

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    On the topic of gender neutral translation, you might find this post useful:


  11. Kevin Barney says:

    The proposed “rule with” doesn’t actually work; see comments (including my own) here:


  12. Thanks Kevin, I enjoyed those discussions–the comments articulate a lot the reasons why I oscillate between wanting to explode and withdraw into mental numbness whenever I carefully consider gender issues in the church.

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