As the dust settles around Pope Francis’s approval of changing the translation of the Lord’s Prayer, there is one vital angle on this that has not received much attention — the implications of the pope’s rationale for the change.
The pope’s decision to approve the change from the traditional translation “Lead us not into temptation” to “Do not let us fall into temptation” was based on this reported rationale:
“I am the one who falls; it’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen,” Francis explained to Italian broadcasters about the phrase change. “A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation. That’s his department.”
All I want to do here is point out how the pope’s reported rationale reveals an approach to Scripture that undermines its authority. His approach is to do what you might call a hermeneutical headstand. He turns things upside down.
Who Says What Fathers Do?
Right side up, we would say, “The Bible teaches that God does such and such. Therefore, we should seek to discover the wisdom and goodness of why he would act that way.” But standing on our heads, we would say, “We already know what is wise and good before the Bible tells us. So, if this text tells us God acts contrary to what we know, we will conclude that the text can’t mean that, or it’s mistaken.”
Daring progressive Christians say the text is mistaken; less daring progressives claim to hold fast to biblical authority while changing the meaning to fit their prior view of God. In either case, authority has shifted from heaven to earth.
The pope says, “A father doesn’t [lead his children into temptation]. A father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation. That’s his department.” This is upside down. God is a good father to his children. A perfect father. And since he is God, and not a mere human, his perfections should not be forced into the mold of our fallible views of what good fathers do. Having perfect wisdom, and knowing all things, our heavenly Father does things no human father should do.
What No Human Father Does
For example, no human father should take the life of his child as a sacrifice for others. But that is what God did to his one and only divine Son who was perfectly pleasing to him.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. . . . Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief. (Isaiah 53:4, 10; see Acts 4:27–28)
No human father should take the life of his child to spare that very child a worse fate, namely, hell. But that is what God sometimes does.
That is why some of you have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined [in this case with death] so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:30–32)
No human father should take the life of his child’s children to prove the faithfulness of his child, but that is what God did to Job’s children.
“A great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:19–22)
No human father should send a famine on his children’s land. And no human father should send one of his children into slavery to be the means of saving his brothers. But God did both of these.
When he summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread, he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. (Psalm 105:16–17)
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20)
My point here is not whether God “leads us into temptation.” My point is: We should learn whether he does or not from Scripture, not from our prior notions of what good fathers do. Our notions are finite, and distorted by sin and culture. We must continually refine them by what the Bible teaches.
Lead Us Not into Temptation
The Bible teaches that we should pray, “Our Father . . . lead us not into temptation.” It really does mean “lead into” or “bring into” (see also Luke 5:18; 12:11; Acts 17:20; 1 Timothy 6:7; Hebrews 13:11). Which may mean,
Father, since “a man’s steps are from the Lord” (Proverbs 20:24), forbid, we pray, that any temptation we encounter by your leading would trap us and suck us in with no way of escape. For you are faithful, and you have promised that with every temptation “you will provide the way of escape, that we may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Do for us, dear Father, what you did for Jesus, when you “led (!) him by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). You filled him with the word of God and, though he was led to the crisis of temptation by your Spirit, he did not get sucked into sin, but triumphed by your word (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). For this same grace, in all your leadings, we earnestly pray. Amen.