The Other Lord’s Prayer

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Professor, Reformed Theological Seminary

The KJV translation of the Lord’s Prayer is one of the most well-known portions of Scripture in the West. But we find the Lord’s Prayer twice in the Gospels — once in Matthew (6:9–13) and once in Luke (11:1–4). Doubtless Jesus delivered this prayer on multiple occasions. While the Matthew and Luke versions are remarkably similar, there are a handful of important differences. The most obvious difference is Luke’s omission of “Your will be done” and “Deliver us from evil.” In this article, however, we will briefly sketch two of the subtler differences and apply these insights to our personal lives.

Before we comment on a handful of unique features of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke, we will first examine one common, salient denominator between the two presentations of the Lord’s Prayer (a point I expand upon further in my Handbook on the Gospels). Both evangelists underscore the name “Father” at the beginning of the prayer (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2).

Our Father

This appellation is odd, as Jews typically do not address God as their “Father.” The Old Testament primarily casts God as Israel’s covenant-keeping King who rules over the cosmos and graciously commits himself to preserving his people. This explains why the typical names are, for example, “Lord,” “Yahweh,” and “God.” While the Old Testament presents Israel’s God as Father on a few occasions (Exodus 4:22–23; Deuteronomy 1:29–31; 32:6; Psalm 103:13–14; Proverbs 3:11–12; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Malachi 2:10), the title appears relatively rarely.

In the four Gospels, on the other hand, Jesus’s favorite term for addressing God is “Father” (for example, Matthew 10:32; Mark 8:38; Luke 2:49; John 5:17). Furthermore, Jesus, on a number of occasions, claims that God is also the “Father” of the disciples (Matthew 5:16, 48; 6:1; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:36; 11:13; 12:32; John 14:7, 21). What accounts for the shift of language from the Old Testament to the New? Richard Bauckham argues that “Jesus may have understood Abba to be the new name of God that corresponded to the new beginning, the new exodus, the new covenant with his people that God was initiating” (Jesus: A Very Short Introduction, 67). Just as God gives Israel a distinct name for himself in the exodus (Exodus 3:14–15), so now God receives another name in the second exodus.

The term “Father,” then, would include not only a new dimension of intimacy but also a new revelatory description of Israel’s Lord. God, the Father, will now be known by his work of redemption in his Son. The Lord’s Prayer, then, is primarily marked by pleading to God to continue working out the new eschatological phase in his program — the long-awaited second exodus.

Teach Us to Pray

Now that we can appreciate the trajectory of the Lord’s Prayer more fully, let us consider how Luke frames the prayer. The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew (6:9–13) occurs within the famed Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29), whereas Luke places the account in Jesus’s journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51–19:27).

All three Synoptic Gospels record Jesus’s journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, but Luke reserves more than one-third of his narrative for the journey. This portion of Luke’s Gospel is largely filled with parables and difficult sayings. The crowds (and Luke’s audience) must be willing to suffer for the sake of the kingdom and embrace a Messiah who suffers and bears God’s curse. The Lord’s Prayer, then, serves as a guide for communing with God, asking him to achieve his redemptive purposes in the life of believers, and solidifying one’s commitment to him.

“The Lord’s Prayer serves as a guide for communing with God.”

Luke dedicates more space to Jesus’s prayer life than any other evangelist (3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 29; 22:41, 44). Jesus prays at critical moments in his ministry. Indeed, prayer bookends his ministry: we find Jesus praying at his baptism in the Jordan River (3:21) as well as on the cross (23:46). We should assume that the disciples, like many first-century Jews, would have sought a robust prayer life. They would have recited the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5–9) in the morning and evening and often prayed in their local synagogues.

The second half of Luke 11:1 reads, “When [Jesus] finished [praying], one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” This verse gives us the impression that the disciples noticed something peculiar about Jesus’s prayer life. Was it when Jesus prayed, how he prayed, or what he prayed? Was it all three?

Each Day’s Bread

Five imperatives are found in both Matthew’s and Luke’s depictions of the Lord’s Prayer — “hallowed,” “come,” “give,” “forgive,” and “lead . . . not.” The first two commands are somewhat synonymous since they entail the expansion of God’s presence throughout the cosmos (Luke 11:2). The remaining three petitions constitute the manner in which the first two are carried out. That is, the requests for provision (11:3), forgiveness of sin, and deliverance from temptation (11:4) entail the responsibilities of the disciples in the ever-expanding kingdom.

Matthew’s Gospel reads, “Give us today our daily bread” (6:11), whereas Luke adds, “Give us each day our daily bread” (11:3). The addition of “each day” (to kath’ hēmeran) accents the disciples’ radical dependence upon God’s provision in their lives. This precise idea of relying upon God providing “bread” for his people recalls Jesus’s first wilderness temptation, where the devil entices Jesus to transform a stone into bread (Luke 4:3). Jesus refuses and then quotes Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’” (Luke 4:4). In Deuteronomy 8, the general point is that Israel must be wholly dependent upon God’s life-giving promises and presence. If Israel trusts God, then the nation will enter the promised land, “a land where bread will not be scarce and you [Israel] will lack nothing” (Deuteronomy 8:9).

The Lord’s Prayer likely has in mind Jesus’s wilderness temptation and Deuteronomy 8 — a passage that, in turn, looks back to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and God’s feeding them daily with manna. Because Jesus succeeded in clinging to the promises of God by not transforming the stone into bread, he gained the victory over the devil. Jesus’s success in the wilderness empowers the disciples to conquer sin and thereby receive the “daily bread” of the Lord.

In a word, the daily provision of bread the Father delivers to his people concretely demonstrates that they have spiritually entered the promised land of the new creation. Perhaps, then, Luke’s addition of “each day” functions as a continual reminder of God’s end-time blessing in one’s life.

Forgive Our Sins

Luke’s prayer also contains another unique detail. Matthew’s Gospel reads, “Forgive our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12), but Luke’s Gospel states, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4 NIV). The forgiveness of sins is exclusively bound up with Jesus’s atoning work on the cross.

Old Testament prophets, especially Isaiah, expected God to forgive the sins of his people at the end of history — a final, eschatological act of pardoning grounded in the servant’s faithful atoning ministry (Isaiah 43:25; 52:13–53:12; Jeremiah 31:34; Micah 7:19). Luke explicitly identifies Jesus as the long-awaited servant of Isaiah (Luke 2:32 [citing Isaiah 49:6]; 22:37 [citing Isaiah 53:12]). Forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, then, rests upon Jesus’s sacrificial death.

Remarkably, Jesus institutes the Lord’s Prayer before his work on the cross, but we must remember that all of Jesus’s life is oriented toward securing forgiveness of sins on the cross (see Luke 3:3, 21; 5:20–24; 7:47–49; 24:47). In addition, because Jesus’s followers fully identify with Jesus, they are endowed with the authority to grant “forgiveness” to others. What is true of the “servant” is true of his followers — the little “servants.”

Pray Like This

How do we apply these truths to our daily lives?

“Those forgiven have firsthand knowledge of the need for forgiveness.”

First, by asking God to provide us “each day our daily bread,” we admit our radical dependence on him, pleading with him to finish what he began. God has initially and spiritually placed us in the promised land of the new creation, but we still await the full transformation of our hearts and bodies.

Second, Jesus calls us to always ask God to grant us forgiveness of sins. While Christ died for our sins once for all, we continually come before the throne and plead with him to forgive the sins that beset us. In addition, he commands us to extend forgiveness to those who have offended us. Those forgiven have firsthand knowledge of the need for forgiveness, so we should never be tightfisted in granting it to others.

(PhD, Wheaton College) is professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has written several books on biblical theology, edits the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series, and serves on the editorial board of Themelios.