The Catholic bishops in France have begun implementing a new translation of the sixth petition of the Our Father so that instead of reciting “ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” (“do not submit/subject us to temptation”), the petition is now prayed as “ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation” (“do not let us enter into temptation”). The previous translation was thought to express the notion that God brought people into difficult trials that could influence them to sin. Pope Francis in a recent interview is reported to have said that the rendering “do not lead us into temptation,” in Italian “non ci indurre in tentazione,” is a poor translation because God as a father would not push someone into a temptation to see them fall. Rather, humans fall and Satan is the one who leads people into temptation. The pope’s thought is probably influenced by the Spanish translation of the Our Father which says, “do not let us fall” (“no nos dejes caer”). His comments have been picked up by major news outlets, some of which have taken his remarks to say the pope suggests or proposes changing translations that say “do not lead us.” Fr. Jonathan Morris has said the Italian and English versions of the sixth petition are “bad theology” and that languages with the translation “do not let us fall” are closer to the Greek.
So, is the Greek text more accurately reflected in translations that say, “do not let us fall?” Is the English rendering “do not lead us into temptation” bad theology? In short, the answer to both questions is “no.”
As a liturgical text, the vernacular translations of the Our Father in Mass are based on the Latin text of the Roman Missal and the Latin word rendered “lead” in English is “inducas,” which means “to lead in,” “bring in,” and “introduce.” The current Spanish and new French translations translate “inducas” as “fall” and “enter” respectively but this is inaccurate and a mistranslation because other Latin words such as “decumbere” and “cadere” mean “fall.” Thus, the English is a better translation of the authoritative Latin text but there is also the question of the meaning of the biblical Greek text underlying the Latin.
The Latin word “inducas” is a translation of Greek word εἰσενέγκῃς in Matthew 6:13 which means “to carry in”, “bring in”, “introduce,” and “lead in”. Thus, the English and Latin translations of the Greek text are more accurate renderings than those which ask, “do not let us fall/enter into temptation.”
To render the main verb of the sixth petition as “fall” is not only a mistranslation of the Latin and Greek texts but also an imposition of an improper theological viewpoint without trying to understand the meaning of εἰσενέγκῃς/inducas in its proper context. In other words, understanding εἰσενέγκῃς/inducas as “fall” is based upon a reaction to the modern understanding of the word “lead” apart from its proper theological context. It is better to try to understand what εἰσενέγκῃς means in its context instead of trying to change a theological phrase or notion that is uncomfortable to us because Job’s sufferings permitted by God, a virgin giving birth, a man coming back from the dead, and God becoming man are all just as jarring. Pope Benedict XVI noted in Jesus of Nazareth that the last two petitions of the Our Father are closely connected and they help make sense of the word εἰσενέγκῃς.
The first clue is the word “temptation” which renders the Latin “tentationem” and the Greek πειρασμόν, which can mean temptation or trial. This word can refer to individual circumstances where a person encounters temptations or trials in their life but it can also be an eschatological reference to the end times when there will be a great trial or tribulation. The fact that πειρασμόν occurs only one other time in Matthew’s Gospel in the garden of Gethsemane (“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation,” Matt 26:41) lends credence to understanding πειρασμόν eschatologically because the Paschal Mystery is the central eschatological event of salvation history that tries the faith the apostles. Luke uses πειρασμόν in his rendition of the Lord’s Prayer and his other uses of this word suggest that it means individual trials or temptations. In the end, πειρασμόν probably refers both to an eschatological event at the end of time and to individual temptations or trials.
The second clue is the seventh petition which reads, “but deliver us from evil,” and this is a literal translation of the Latin. The Greek text is a bit more vague because it can mean deliver us from evil as an abstract concept or deliver us from the “Evil One.” The Latin and English versions opt for the abstract understanding which can mean the petition is asking God to deliver a person from evil in their individual temptations and trials or from evil generally. However, if the Greek text is understood as the “Evil One,” this interpretation comports well with some Second Temple Jewish expectations of the end times. Some groups of Jews, such as the Qumran community and Enochic Jews, envisioned an end time battle between a messiah figure and an ultimate evil entity like the Catholic understanding of Satan in the book of Revelation. Like πειρασμόν, the seventh petition can be a prayer to be delivered from evil in one’s individual trials and to be released from the clutches of the evil enemy of God in an eschatological sense.
Advocates against translating εἰσενέγκῃς/inducas as “lead in” are not giving enough attention to the eschatological overtones in the sixth and seventh petitions of the Our Father. Asking God to not lead us into temptation does not mean asking Him to forgo trying make us fall. Instead, “lead” should be understood from the theological perspective of divine providence in conjunction with Second Temple Jewish eschatological expectations where God leads all creation both as a whole and in each individual’s life. Thus, using the word “lead” is not “bad theology;” it is just misunderstood.
The Father led Job in his life through sufferings inflicted on him by Satan and the Father led Jesus through the Paschal Mystery because it was the Father’s will. God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13) and does not cause anyone to fall. Rather, the word “lead” asks God to direct our lives and the sixth petition is asking God to not give us more than we can bear as Pope Benedict XVI teaches following Saint Cyprian. It can also mean asking God to not let us undergo the trial of the end times. To translate εἰσενέγκῃς/inducas as “fall” or “enter” is not only linguistically inaccurate but also dismisses the eschatological dimension present in the Lord’s Prayer.