February 19, 2018

Scripture or Tradition? Which Version of The Lord's Prayer Do You Pray?

As a Catholic, I have wondered why non-Catholic Christians pray the Lord's Prayer differently than we do.  I mean, it's pretty straight forward in the Bible.  The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray and He says, "Pray like this."  And what follows is what we call the Our Father - because it begins, "Our Father" (clever, eh?).  And it ends, "but deliver us from evil."  Amen!  But, if you've ever been at an ecumenical gathering, you may have noticed not everyone stops there.  This can be somewhat awkward.

And more than a little confusing!  Why are they saying, “For Yours is the power and glory forever” and we’re not?

When I first encountered this, my reactions included the thoughts, "What?!?!?!  How can we differ in this most basic of Christian prayers, taught by Jesus himself!?!"  "Well, they're supposed to be more adept in the Bible.  Maybe Catholics are just stopping short."  "Hey!  I recognize that extra part from the Mass!"

So, by and by I have gathered more information about the discrepancy.  I first looked to the Bible to be sure my ignorance didn't begin with an ignorance of Scripture.  (You know what St. Jerome says: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  That’s something I hope to avoid!).  This passage where Jesus teaches the disciples to pray in those words occurs in two Gospels, Matt 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.  Both accounts end the prayer where Catholics do.  Of course they do; mine is a Catholic Bible, right?  Maybe theirs is different?

So I asked a Baptist friend why they said the Lord's Prayer that way and where she thought the additional words came from.  It had never occurred to her.  Obviously, she had never felt the discomfort of praying in a mixed-Faith group in which some people stopped at "deliver us from evil.  Amen" while she carried on with "For Thine is the kingdom . . ."  She hadn’t noticed that the phrase wasn’t recorded as Our Lord’s words in her Bible.

She, too, looked up the Bible passage on line right away.  Looking in a Protestant edition Bible, she found that the line in question was not in the text.  There was, however, a footnote at the conclusion of the text of Jesus’ prayer.  Apparently, "Some later manuscripts" contain the extra doxology.  That was the only explanation.  Whoa!!  A person could find this unsettling!  Is it or isn't it part the inspired, inerrant Word of God?  The footnote suggest that they're not sure.  Where do those words come from and why the discrepancy?

I mean, we want to pray as Jesus taught us to, so we ought to know with certainty the prayer He taught.  Either it is an extra-biblical tradition, or it is what our Lord taught.  If it is part of the Word of God, then why isn’t it in Bibles?

Apparently I'm not the first person to be interested in or concerned about this discrepancy.  I typed the question into the magic 8 ball we call the internet.  Who knew there are forums populated with pastors and Bible scholars devoted to discussing the various possibilities to determine whether or not this sentence is, in fact, part of the inspired Word of God?  And, if it’s not, what to do about it.  They discussed probable dates of its inclusion in certain manuscripts (hand copied Bibles) and archeological discoveries that might help tease out whether it can be truly considered Scripture.

To quote George Baily, “this is a very interesting situation.”  If one’s faith – in creed and practice - is determined solely by what is contained between the covers of one’s Bible, then one will want to be sure of what is and is not in there.  “For Thine is the power and glory, forever.” is said to be found in some old manuscripts of the New Testament – but not others.  How did it get into some and not others?  Who gets to decide which versions are really Scripture and which are not?  It either is or is not part of the inspired Word of God.  If you can not tell for this passage, then you can not know the inerrancy of any passage of Scripture!

I know that Catholics use the phrase in our liturgy (the Mass), and that we know it is not part of Scripture.

Naturally, I did more research to find out when that phrase first appeared on the Christian scene.  That is to say I asked my theology nerd friends.  I am blessed to have several.  They are friends from the graduate theology program I was in, who have continued studying and working in the field since that time, more than a decade ago.  It's like having a research department at my disposal!

They directed me to the Didache (The Teaching of the Lord for the Nations through the Twelve Apostles), a short document generally believed to be written between 50 and 150AD.  It contains teachings regarding morality, liturgical practices, Church structure and eschatology (the last things) for Christian communities.  Scholars of all stripes accept that “the Didache was known and used in the ancient church.  In the first three centuries, some authors cited or referred to it as if it were part of the Scriptural canon.” (Clement of Rome & theDidache: A New Translation and Theological Community by Kenneth J. Howell, p.58).  It is the earliest known mention of the doxology in conjunction with the Lord’s Prayer, and this appears in what is likely to be a liturgical setting (that is, the Mass).

Of course this makes sense to me, as I grew up saying this doxology following the Our Father during Mass!  This wonderful document, the Didache, highlights the incredible continuity of our liturgical celebrations from very early in the life of the Christian Church.  Now, why didn’t I ever read it before this?  Some have suggested that perhaps during the arduous task of hand copying the Bible, a tired monk slipped it in after Our Lord’s Prayer from long familiarity with it in daily Mass.  Perhaps.  We can’t be sure.

Obviously, the practice of praying the Lord's Prayer and including the doxology, "For Thine is the power and the glory," came into the practice of Protestant Christians through its use in the Mass, not from the possibility of it being part of Sacred Scripture.  When their predecessors departed from the Catholic Church, they took much of the liturgical tradition with them and it has only gradually and partially fallen out of use.  Some parts have remained (like the doxology following the prayers of the priest after the Our Father at Mass), but the knowledge of its origin has been lost to them.  What they're left with is a discussion of whether or not these words are part of Scripture - because they are erroneously contained in some manuscripts.

But, the question remains for our Christian brethren.  How can we know what is and is not contained in the Bible and how did what’s in there get there in the first place?  Why this letter and not that letter?  Why this book and not that book?  Who decided this a way back when?  The books in the New Testament were separate, written accounts, letters and instruction circulated and read within the liturgical celebrations.  At some point, our early Christian predecessors had to assemble them in an approved collection of those considered to be Scripture, leaving out some letters and accounts that had been read and valued by Christian communities as if they were Scripture.  Many of these other instructions, like the Didache, continued to be valued as teaching sources, but were not treated as the inerrant Word of God.  Who were these people and how is it that we trust their decisions today?  Do we even know this?

Oh, if only Jesus had left us an authoritative body that would remain with the Christian community to speak on His behalf, to guide them in these difficult matters, to teach them, to “guard the deposit” (cf 2 Timothy 1:14), so we wouldn’t have to wade through archaeological evidence (once it is eventually discovered).  Ah, but He did!  He left people, not a book.  He left his Apostles.  And they left apostles behind them by the laying on of their hands (see Acts 1:15-26 & 13:3), and so on right down to today.    We can be sure of what is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, because of the authority Jesus gave to them.

This amazing picture was taken by my friend, Mike Denz, who leads pilgrimages to Italy.  www.TakeaPilgrimage.com

This is a great unifying principle that Our Lord left us, without which, His Church splinters as individuals decipher different meanings from Scripture.  Without which they do not even know what is the inspired, inerrant Word of God.  Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, indeed.

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as though, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and has loved them even as thou hast loved me.”  John 17:20-23

Photo credit: Mike Denze, pilgrimage leader.  See below for contact info below.

 Further reading about the origin of the Bible and the Church that will rock your world:
 Why Are Catholic Bibles Bigger and The Case for the Deuterocanon: Evidence and Arguments by Gary Michuta.  https://catholicproductions.com/collections/books/gary-michuta

Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church by Henry G. Graham

Clement of Rome & the Didache: A New Translation and Theological Commentary by Kenneth J. Howell

Many, many more at https://stpaulcenter.com/

For more information on a pilgrimage to Rome with my fun friend, Mike and his lovely (and also fun) wife, Sue, visit www.TakeaPilgrimage.com.  You can be edified and engaged about Catholic teaching at his blog:  www.sacredheartshrine.org/sacred-thinking 

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