About a year ago Pope Francis caused a bit of a stir when he suggested in a TV interview that the clause in the Lord’s Prayer that reads “and lead us not into temptation” was not a good translation, “because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.” He argued “a father won’t do that. A father will immediately help you pull yourself up. Satan’s the one leading you into temptation. That’s Satan’s work.” Since then the Italian Episcopal Conference has been working on an alternative rendering, and has recommended replacing the traditional phrasing with “abandon us not when in temptation.” The Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster – Our Father) is recited as part of the mass.
But is the revision a legitimate translation of the text? Can “lead me not into temptation” be accurately rendered “abandon us not when in temptation”? The Greek original uses the verb “eisenenkes” which literally means “to bring into.” The Latin Vulgate, however, uses the word “inducas” which could mean “to move, excite, persuade, induce, or seduce.” “Induce us not to sin,” then, obviously would not be a good translation, and Pope Francis is correct: God does not induce us to sin.
But the standard English translation, “and lead us not into temptation,” does in fact accurately reflect the force of the Greek. Translation experts will sometimes argue that a good translation would be “idea-for-idea” and not necessarily “word-for-word.” This is commonly referred to as “dynamic equivalence.” But in this case is “abandon us not when in temptation” really the dynamic equivalent of “lead us not into temptation”? What did Jesus mean when He said these words? And then there is the underlying theological problem: In what sense can it be said that God “leads us into temptation”?
Part of the answer lies in the meaning of the word “temptation.” Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “temptation” as “the act of tempting or the state of being tempted, esp. to evil,” and defines the word “tempt” as “to entice to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain: allure into evil: SEDUCE.” But the Greek word peirasmos means “a trial, of ethical purpose and effect, whether good or evil” (Abbott-Smith). In other words, it is a test or trial to determine the genuineness of something. And that gives us a better idea of what it means to “lead us not into temptation.”
We can see a concrete example of how this actually works by looking at the temptation of Jesus. We are told, just a few chapters earlier, that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1; NKJV). Here it is the Spirit who leads Jesus into the place of temptation, but it is the devil who does the actual tempting. Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights, and “afterward He was hungry (v. 2). The tempter then comes to Him and says “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (v. 3). Jesus refused, quoting Scripture instead. Two more temptations followed, and again Jesus responded by quoting Scripture. The passage then concludes by saying “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (v. 11).
James makes it clear that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (Jas. 1:13,14). And yet the Bible also makes it clear that God is ultimately in control of the overall circumstances of our lives, and that He allows various trials and tribulations into our lives for several different reasons. Part of it is to test the genuineness of our faith, and this, in turn, gives us the assurance of salvation (Jas. 1:2-4, 12; I Pet. 1:6-9). And part of it is to increase our sanctification. Trials serve to give us humility (II Cor. 12:7-10), patience ((Rom. 5:3,4), and the ability to comfort others (II Cor. 1:3-7). But in it all genuine Christians are “kept by the power of God through faith” (I Pet. 1:5), and God has promised us that “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).
To change the wording, then, of the Lord’s Prayer from “lead us not into temptation” to “abandon us not when in temptation” probably does undue violence to the original. It is one thing to explain the meaning of a difficult passage of Scripture; it is another thing to change the wording to reflect our own thinking on the subject. While Pope Francis is correct in saying that the passage is easily misunderstood, he does want to put himself in the position of rewording what Jesus actually said!