The Lord’s Prayer or “Our Father,” is the most famous prayer in Christian, given to us by Jesus himself. But did you know that there’s a deeply Catholic meaning to this prayer, in what it reveals about formal prayer, about the Church, about the Eucharist, and about the impossibility of “salvation by faith alone”?
You are listening to Shameless Popery with Joe Heschmeyer, a production of Catholic Answers.
Hi, welcome back to Shameless Popery. I’m Joe Heschmeyer. So today I want to explore the Lord’s prayer that Jesus gives us, the Our Father and I want to explore four theological implications of it that we often overlook and things that I think are going to be challenging for many particularly evangelical Protestants, these very kind of Catholic themes in Our Father that again, this is something I think Orthodox will agree on. Some Protestants will agree with at least big parts of what I’m about to say, but a lot of contemporary evangelical Protestantism has deviated from Our Father in four major ways. So let’s give a little bit of background first. When we talk about Our Father, where does it come from? Now obviously it comes from the Bible, it’s the Lord’s Prayer, it comes from the Lord, but the context is worth maybe a little bit of a refresher for us.
In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus says to the people “And in praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do.” Now we’re going to return to that line because it’s a bit of a controversial translation. “For they think they’ll be heard for their many words. Do not be like them for your Father knows what you need before you ask him, pray then like this.” And then he gives Our Father, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name and so on. So what are we supposed to take from that? Now there’s a lot to take from that. This is by no means going to be an exhaustive sort of treatment of Our Father, and I’m looking at it less spiritually, shall we say, and more theologically and apologetically. So again, I’m only scratching the surface. I’m not even saying this is the most important things to take from it. These are just four areas that I think we can easily overlook.
And the first is that Jesus is showing us the power of formal and repetitive prayer. Now, those are both controversial ideas. There are a lot of evangelical Protestants who are distrustful of formal, like pre-written with sometimes called rote prayer and are extremely distrustful of and think Jesus is condemning here repetitive prayer. But that’s the tremendous irony that Jesus is actually giving us a form prayer. He says, “Pray then like this,” and then he gives us Our Father. Now, we don’t have to only pray in those words, but he’s giving us a form prayer. And moreover, we know from the first century, this was used repeatedly as a form prayer. The Didache in the first century quotes this and says thrice in the day, thus pray. So three times a day, Christians were supposed to pray the Our Father. It’s a repetitive prayer given by God as a rote or a formal prayer.
And so I think many Protestants watching this are going to have an obvious objection. Wait a second, isn’t rote prayer bad? Because you’ll find a lot of evangelical leaders who make these claims. It is really kind of astonishing. So John MacArthur, who’s very popular is talking about this book called The Prayer of Jabez. Now, The Prayer of Jabez has a lot wrong with it. It’s kind of prosperity gospel-ish, and it’s using the prayer of Jabez from the Old Testament where he was wanting to get rich basically and saying that’s the model for prayer. There’s a lot to critique about the book, but MacArthur’s critique is that Wilkinson encourages Christians to repeat the words of Jabez as his prayer regularly. And MacArthur says, “But Jesus spoke against that kind of wrote prayer style in Matthews 6:7 where he warned his disciples not to use vain repetitious prayers.”
So in other words, MacArthur is not complaining here that the Jabez prayer is this prosperity gospel sounding prayer or that this book is a New York Times bestseller because people want to pray and get rich. No MacArthur’s critique is that Jesus is against having a form prayer, that rote prayer style is condemned. In Matthew six, the passage we were just looking at. Rather MacArthur says “Christians should pray to God with heartfelt sincerity, simply repeating the prayer of Jabez as daily runs the risk of reducing a believer’s prayer life to vain repetition.” So you might be wondering how in the world could anyone read Matthew 6 and come away with such a profound misreading of the passage? Well, we’re going to get into that because part of this is based on a poor translation in the KJV, but I want to give another source to this is Got Questions.
Now gotquestions.org is just a popular kind of Christian Q&A website. So people write in with questions, they give answers and the answers are wildly different levels of quality. Sometimes they’re good answers. Frequently they are very poorly sourced answers and I regularly find myself pulling my hair out saying, “These are basic mistakes.” And so they actually claim as Jesus points out, the use of repetitious words or formulaic phrases is a heathen or pagan practice and should not be part of Christian prayer that if you’re using a form prayer, I don’t know, say the Psalms, that’s heathen, that’s pagan. You’re not allowed to do that. You can’t even have formulaic phrases. Now all of this is a really astonishing misreading of Matthew 6. Got Questions goes on to say our prayers should be the short simple prayer of Elijah on Mount Carmel and less like the prolonged repetitious prayers of the prophets of Baal.
Here are the problems. First, as I said, there’s a misreading, a mistranslation in Matthew 6,, the RSV, the RSVCE, the NIV, almost all modern translations are going to have some version of Jesus warning us not to heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they’ll be heard for their many words. The KJV though says, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. So is Jesus condemning just rambling, babbling prayers or is he condemning repetitious prayers? There’s an important difference there, right? You can ramble without repeating yourself. I unfortunately do sometimes, both in prayer and in conversation, but you can also have repetition. So is Jesus condemning repetition?
Well, it comes down to this word that is in Greek that it only appears one time. [foreign language 00:06:20] So we know the root, there is logos, word, but we don’t know what the prefix batta means. So this is, it’s a hapax legomenon, a word that only appears once and it just appears here in the Lord’s Prayer. And so John Stott, who’s an evangelical Anglican, explains that the Greek verb is unique not only in biblical literature but elsewhere as well. So in other words, it’s not just that this is the only time in the Bible we see this word, this is the only time anywhere we see this word. So when people are debating how do we best translate this word, the problem is this is the only time this word ever appears and no one knows either its derivation or its meaning. For sure that’s a major interpretive problem. But Stott goes on to say most regarded as an meaning, a word that sounds like what it is, like quack or those kind of words.
And it because we know there’s these other Greek words. So [foreign language 00:07:21] means to stammer. And the variation for bar, bar, bar, bar bar, bar is where we get barbarian because that’s what the Greeks non-Greek language sounded like. And so this is a Greek word that seems to be related to barbarian language, seems to be related to stammering. And so just speaking nonsense, that kind of idea, that’s the best kind of scholarly guess. There’s nothing in the word inherently about repetition. Now maybe you could say, well, stammering is repetitive, but it’s important there that it’s not repetition that’s a problem. It’s the meaninglessness of the repetition. When you’re stammering, that’s different than saying very, very much where you’re intending to use repetition for a particular purpose. Someone who’s stammering unintentionally is vainly repeating themselves, meaning they want to say one thing, but it takes them a long time to say it.
That seems to be the idea of what is being condemned here. Long windedness or meaninglessness in repetition, not repetition itself, that if Jesus wanted to condemn repetitive prayer, he could. But as we’re going to see not only does he not intend to condemn that he actually encourages repetitive prayer. But I want to go back to Stott because he says the familiar AV rendering that’s authorized version, that’s the KJV used not vain repetitions is therefore misleading, unless it’s clear that the emphasis is on vain rather than on repetitions. And he goes on to say Jesus cannot be prohibiting all repetition for he repeated himself in prayer, notably in Gethsemane when he went away and prayed for the third time saying the same words, right? Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane prays that the Father take the cup away but his will not Jesus’s be done. And then he goes back and does the same thing. Then he goes back and does the same thing.
According to Got Questions, that makes Jesus a pagan, right? He’s using repetitive prayer. He is using the same phrases and formulas, and that’s insane, right? Like a model of Christian prayer that condemns Christ is a bad model of Christian prayer. And then Stott goes on, perseverance and even importunity in prayer are commanded by him also. Okay? So that cannot be what he means. The KJV version cannot be what Jesus is condemning here. Rather, Stott says, he is condemning verbosity, especially in those who speak without thinking. So RSVs heap up empty phrases is helpful to better translation. The word describes any and every prayer which is all words and no meaning, all lips and no mind or heart. So as we’re going to see, that can be a legitimate critique of some bad forms of Catholic praying.
If we’re praying mindlessly, you’re praying the rosary, but your mind is totally elsewhere, you’re not really thinking about what you’re praying. Yeah, you’re just saying about, “Oh, I got all these things to do today,” and you don’t know your lips are moving. That’s the kind of thing Jesus is saying. That’s not the model of prayer, that’s not the Christian model. But as we’re going to see, this is also an indictment of spontaneous forms of prayer because you can have the all lips and no heart, meaningless, long-winded evangelical prayer as well. So repetition is not what Jesus is condemning here. That’s just not it. Vain prayer, we could say that is condemned. Heartless, unthoughtful prayer. We can say that is condemned, but we can’t say that rote kind of formal prayer is condemned or repetitive prayer.
One reason is because we have the Psalms, right? And the Psalms are wrote prayer that were prayed repeatedly by the Jewish people. So it makes no sense to say Jesus who prayed the Psalms is condemning the Psalms. Again, a model of Christian prayer that condemns Christ’s prayer is a bad model of Christian prayer. In Luke 18. Jesus tells us, well, Luke says Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. So what’s the parable that Jesus gives us? He gives you the example of a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man and a widow in the city who kept coming to him and saying, vindicate me against my adversary. So she’s just repeatedly coming at him with the same request, vindicate me against my adversary, vindicate me against my adversary, vindicate me against my adversary. Jesus does not say that woman is vainly repeating herself.
No, he says, “For a while the unjust judge refused. But afterward he said to himself, though, I neither fear God nor regard man yet because this widow bothers me. I will vindicate her or she will wear me out by her continual coming.” And then Jesus uses out model forever to pray. He says, hear what the unrighteous judge says. “Will not God vindicate his elect to cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” So we’re actually encouraged to pray persistently, emphatically, repeatedly. That’s good. That actually is the Christian model of prayer because look, when the widow is saying vindicate me against my adversary, she’s not just mindlessly repeating a phrase. She’s repeating this phrase that’s at the very heart of what she’s trying to express. And so it’s okay if it’s the same word she used last time. Jesus is not policing the choice of language here.
And again, we see in Matthew 26, as Stott already mentioned, that Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane makes the same prayer three times verse 39, verse 42, verse 44. So this reading by MacArthur, this reading by Got Questions profoundly misreads Matthew 6, because it’s based on a bad translation in the KJV, vain repetition is not being condemned. And more importantly, repetition is not being condemned. Even if you say vain repetition, if by vain you mean like mindless repetition, fine, mindless prayer is being condemned. If you want to make it about repetition so you don’t think it applies to you, I think you’re missing the point of it. But you can’t just use it against all repetition because Jesus doesn’t use the word for repetition there. He uses this word only found here that seems to mean like a babbling, stammering, nonsensical sort of prayer.
Second objection you might raise, well, isn’t spontaneous prayer more heartfelt? I mean, okay, fine. You can use a pre-written prayer, you can use a prayer more than once. But why would you want to? Remember, MacArthur says Christian should pray to God with heartfelt sincerity. He contrasts vain repetitious prayers with heartfelt sincerity. Don’t use the Prayer of Jabez don’t use any kind of pre-written prayer because you want to pray from the heart. Now, this is a very common kind of American, and I think western more broadly idea that if we really want something from the heart, we can’t use something pre-written. You can’t use the Hallmark card, you got to write the note yourself. And this is actually pretty profoundly unbiblical. Again, remember the Psalms, but we’re going to get back to this. Cause I think when you look at the example of wedding vows, it’s a great example of how this is a terrible idea.
But I’m going to return to that because first I want to talk about Kevin De Young who has a commentary on Matthew. He’s again a Protestant who says, praying with empty phrases and meaningless words happens more often than we might think. And you say, sure, it can happen in liturgical churches, pastors can read their liturgical formulas, this very precise language that has been shaped over centuries and is so rich with all the passion of an exhausted customer service representative reading the same script for the millionth time, that you can recite the Nicean Creed or you can make a prayer to God or you can do all these things and not really think about what you’re saying. You can do the Our Father that way too, right? Jesus gives us a prayer that we can mindlessly abuse, but De Young goes on to say, on the other hand, you can also pray with empty phrases, in meaningless words, in very casual churches that don’t make use of liturgies.
And he gives a kind of funny example that worship leaders can offer their prayers that any forethought in pilot phrases that don’t make a lot of sense or may even be heretical. And here’s his example. Oh, dear Lord, Father God, we praise you for dying on the cross for our sins and we just ask Holy Spirit that you’d be with us today and snuggle us up under the blanket of your love. Well, the Father doesn’t die on the cross. That’s a heresy. And so we can have this way where we’re just sort of mindlessly trying to do spontaneous prayer but sometimes kind of gets away with us and we don’t really know what we’re saying. We’re just saying pious sounding things. And so sure, you don’t have a fully, fully fleshed out liturgical formula, but you’ve got little formulas. I’m just asking you, Jesus, da, da, da, da. Evangelical worship has a bunch of formulas. They’re just piecemeal. And so you can’t say that Catholics are the ones Jesus is going after here and not Protestants. All Christians should take note. Don’t pray mindlessly. Don’t pray in this babbling nonsensical way.
So I said I wanted to talk about marriage vows because I think this is at the heart of this heretical, which is what it is, this heretical understanding that form prayers are bad because a spontaneous prayer is more heartfelt. David Blankenhorn, who did a lot of stuff on marriage, but I’m not going to go into the whole Blankenhorn story, but he had an old piece in First Sings Magazine where he points out that there have been two basic innovations which have transformed the marriage vow in the United States. Both innovations are particularly widespread in both mainline and evangelical churches, in which about half of all US marriages occur. The first is marriage vows that downplay or avoid altogether any pledge of marital permanence. There’s no till death to you part The second he calls it a more subtle but far more profound change that great numbers of couples compose their own vows.
And he says, my wife and I did that in 1986. Most couples we know did. And he said, with the exception of maybe Orthodox Jewish and Catholic weddings, self-composed vows seem to be more the rule than the exception among newlyweds today. Well, what’s the problem with that? Using the kind of MacArthur reasoning, isn’t that more heartfelt? Well, he points out, I think quite accurately this is a really significant shift because the traditional view the vow was prior to the couple. Marriage is a thing that exists with certain rules, with certain attributes. And the couple enters into it that the vow has a certain social and sacred authority independent of the couple. The vow creates the couple, you become a couple in the fullest sense through these vows. Now, when you’re making your own vows, the couple has this joint mission of just writing some beautiful creative thing and it’s no longer the vows that make the couple, the couples make the vow, the vow’s no longer an external reality, but is instead a subjective projection deriving it’s meaning solely from the couple.
So if we want to talk about the redefinition of marriage, Protestants did that long before gay marriage. Once you start just reinventing wedding vows and saying, “I don’t like the things we used to promise, we’re going to promise a whole new bunch of things.” That’s what you’re doing. You’re reinventing marriage in this really subjective way where marriage means whatever you want it to mean. If you want to cut out the part til death, do you part if you want to cut out, remove anything you find objectionable or difficult and you can make it totally subjective and what’s the result? Well, if MacArthur is right, you would expect to find churches in which there’s a lot of personalized self-made vows. Since it’s more heartfelt, you would expect people to actually live by those vows more, right? But of course that’s not true. Protestants have a much higher divorce rate than Catholics. They have a higher divorce rate than do atheists.
And so by all evidence, inventing your own heartfelt vows is not actually any guarantee of you being more likely to live out those vows. To speak personally, right? I didn’t make up my wedding vows, but you can bet I believe them. I meant them with my whole heart. So it’s a mistake to conflate pre-written and not heartfelt. If you are praying the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, you can pray that from the heart. Just because David wrote it and you didn’t, doesn’t mean it can’t be yours in prayer. So MacArthur is just totally wrong about this, and the fact that you make up a prayer as you go doesn’t mean it’s more heartfelt than the fact that you use the Psalms or something like this or the Our Father. So in fact, and I know I’m sitting a long time on the first point, the other points are going to be shorter. Don’t worry.
St. John Henry Newman makes what I find to be a really convincing case for formal prayer. And he’s coming from an English tradition. He was an Anglican who converted to Catholicism. There may be a little more, I hope I’m not offending any Anglicans or English people. They have a tendency to be a little more stuffy and Newman has a little bit of stuffiness to him sometimes, as much as I love him. But it’s something that’s instructive that as an American I’m much more casual and that’s maybe a problem in prayer. It’s good to have intimacy with God, but casualness is not the same as intimacy. So Newman gives several reasons why he thinks formal prayer is really good. The first he says prayers framed at the moment are likely to become irreverent. An excessive casualness seems to be irreverent.
He says, well, think about what you’re doing. Think about in whose presence you’re entering, the presence of God. He said, what need have we have humbled, sober and subdued thoughts. Now he says, this is true in several ways because we’re creatures, sustained hourly by his bounty, because we’re lost sinners who have no right to speak at all but must submit in silence to him who is holy, but even more because we’re grateful servants of him who brought us from ruin at the price of his own blood. So he says, to avoid the irreverence of many or unfit words and rude half religious thoughts, it is necessary to pray from book or memory and not at random. And he quotes here Ecclesiastes 5:2, which says, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God. For God is in heaven and you upon earth. Therefore, let your words be few.”
This is actually surprisingly similar to what Jesus says. If you don’t have this long-winded babbling, have something thoughtful, and yet strikingly Newman is using this passage to say the opposite of what MacArthur is saying, that you’re actually much more likely to babble if you start talking to God and having no idea what you’re about to say and that having a formal prayer keeps you from babbling that the babbling prayer Jesus is condemning is better protected against by a formal prayer. Now, neither Newman nor I argue that only formal prayer should be used, spontaneous prayer has its place, it’s very good, but the idea that it should only and always be spontaneous prayer is this weird kind of American/Protestant idea that is a bad, it doesn’t stand in the history of Christian prayer, doesn’t stand in the history of Jewish prayer very well. It doesn’t make sense of Our Father or the Psalm. It doesn’t make sense of any early Christian prayer that it’s just, it’s a bad misunderstanding where we assume casualness and intimacy are the same thing and they’re not. Sometimes casualness is just irreverence.
Newman’s second reason, he said, forms of prayer necessary to guard us, can see a reverence of wandering thoughts. If you sit down not knowing what you’re going to say and you got a lot on your plate that day, you are likely to stray from the subject. But if you have something you’re praying with that can kind of help direct your thoughts. Third, he says they’re helpful or useful in securing us from the irreverence of excited thoughts. So maybe you’ve got a lot to talk about with God. And it happens, he says that forms of prayer are criticized for the very thing about them that is their excellence because they’re said to be subdued and dried and he points out, look Jesus’s prayer, Our Father is reserved.
It’s not this excited over the top sort of prayer to God the way you get in some evangelical churches, right? You don’t have this really excessive emotion. It’s much more rational and reserved and thoughtful than it is emotional, because here’s the thing that MacArthur’s getting wrong and that many Protestants get wrong about this, is it’s putting too much emphasis on big emotions in prayer. And that is not the Christian model. That is not the model Jesus gives. He doesn’t say feel big things in prayer. He gives us a straightforward prayer to pray. And so Newman grants, there are times on a thankful or a wounded heart bursts through all forms of prayer. In other words, you’ve got something on your heart you just got to talk to God about. By all means, in those cases, whether you’re super joyful, whether you’re wounded, whatever it is, go to him with those things, right?
But that’s not the norm. He said to be excited is not the ordinary state of the mind, but the extraordinary, the now and then state. So don’t think that good prayer means constantly getting worked up in a lather. It doesn’t. That’s not even good rationality. God wants you to be a human creature governed by reason, not just governed by emotions. So yeah, sometimes you’re going to feel a big emotion. You should take those big emotions to God, but when you’re not feeling the big emotions, you still go to God that in other words, this turns us away from excited thoughts being over the top. Now this is also important because it may be that you’re excited with say, someone has offended or wronged you and the thing you want to pray if you’re just left to your own devices might actually be wrong. It might actually be bad, much more like the heathen prayer, cursing the other person or something like this.
And instead we’re going to say, well, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, that you’re being called into something more sober minded than your big emotions. That can happen too, right? This is another good use of form prayers.
Finally, he says forms, formal prayer useful to help our memory to set before us at once completely and in order what we have to pray for. That is even if I’m not feeling a big emotion, even if I’m not super distracted, if I just sit down to pray, I might say, “Well, what am I going to pray about?” And Our Father answers that question. This is one reason we have formal prayers. It gives us something to pray about. If we’re just coming up short, I don’t know what I want to talk about to God, and this is strikingly why the Our Father is given to us.
In Luke 11, Jesus is praying in a certain place and when he stops praying, one of the disciples says to him, Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples. And Jesus says to them, when you pray, say, and then there’s a variation of the Our Father. Now, this is important for two reasons. One, it shows that Our Father isn’t something we have to use that exact verbatim structure. Matthew and Luke have slightly different versions. He’s given us a model of prayer, not saying you’re only allowed to say these words, but two, he’s showing us what to pray for. And if we don’t have that, which is one of the forms, one of the reasons for formal prayer, then we often don’t know what to pray for. We often don’t know how to pray. This is what the apostles who are our companions of Christ, who are holier than we are, I would argue, find themselves in this situation and say, we don’t know what to pray about. We don’t know how to pray.
And so if our model of prayer is so casual that the question teach us how to pray doesn’t make sense because you just say whatever comes to mind. You don’t need to be taught how to just blurt things out spontaneously. You don’t need to be taught how to babble, but you do need to be taught how to actually offer a good, thoughtful, reverent prayer from the heart that’s both authentic to who you are and praying for the things you ought to be praying for. Like that the Lord’s will be done and not just your will. So hopefully that makes sense. There’s a lot of reasons why formal prayer and repetitive prayer are really good, that we should be persevering in prayer and that we should be praying the kind of things God tells us to pray about, not just whatever we might reach for on our own.
Again, in saying all of this, I’m not condemning spontaneous prayer. It has its place, but for many people it has too much place and there’s need for something a little more organized, thoughtful, rational, reserved even that might actually be helpful for their spiritual life. That’s first of the four areas that Jesus shows us a different model of prayer than evangelical Protestants show us. That’s telling, I think.
Second Jesus’s prayer points to the corporate nature of the Christian religion. And I don’t mean corporate like Jesus incorporated, I mean that we have in the west, in evangelical countries, like in the United States, this idea that the Bible’s all about having a personal relationship with Jesus, so that Christianity is all about a personal relationship with Jesus. And yet when you try to find that idea in the Bible, you will come up short that this is something that Protestants have largely invented. Now again, there’s going to be one way in which we can say it’s true, but you don’t find this emphasis at the very least because this is a distortion in an incomplete vision of Christianity.
So Frank Viola and George Barna point out that the phrase personal savior is a recent innovation that grew out of the ethos of 19th century American revivalism. This is something that we can think of as this 2,000 year old idea or phrase, and it’s just not, they say originated in the mid 1800s. It grew to popular parlance by Charles Fuller who was from 1887 to 1968. He used the phrase thousands of times, and he’s incredibly popular, old fashioned revival hour radio program that aired from 1937 to 1968. At the time of his death, it was heard on more than 650 radio stations around the world. So you’ve got a radio preacher who’s really popularizing this way of describing them thinking about Christianity, but it’s not something biblical.
And in fact, Viola and Barna call it ludicrous. He said, well, have you ever introduced one of your friends? “This is my personal friend, Billy Smith.” And the answer of course is no, but I don’t think that really gets to the heart of it. The problem isn’t just that it sounds silly. The problem is that it’s actually unbiblical in the way it’s often used that I don’t need the church, I just need a personal relationship with Jesus. Chad Bird, who is I believe, reformed based on his beard, he’s at 1517, so he’s a Protestant. He says, “We talk about having personal things, and again, think especially of Americans, I think we’re very guilty of this or susceptible to this, we employ a personal trainer to help us shed pounds and get that coveted beach body. We open a personal bank account to manage our finances, and please keep your hands off our personal property and your eyes out of our personal diary.”
And then he say, “Christians, particularly evangelicals, can import this language into faith as well. We talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus or working on or a personal relationship with him, et cetera.” But then he points out, “Here’s the thing, Christianity is not about a personal relationship with Jesus. The phrase is never found in the Bible. The whole biblical witness runs contrary to it. Our life with Christ is communal, not personal or private or individual. When the scripture speak of believers, they’re part of a community, a fellowship of other believers.” Now, I would say Catholic, we go further and say, no, no, they’re part of a church. The body of Christ. You can form a community at a human level, but a church in the sense scripture speaks of it as something that’s not of human but of divine origin. And so the idea is that yes, Jesus wants communion with you, but communion with you is inseparable from communion with the church.
You cannot be in relationship with Christ the head without being in relationship with Christ to the body that you can’t have Jesus without the church. You cannot decapitate Christ. And so often this language of personal relationship, it’s like, well, doesn’t matter if you go to church, just matters. If you have a personal relationship, you can follow the shepherd. You don’t need the flock that is totally unbiblical totally apart from what we see throughout the New Testament. And this is very clearly true in Matthew 6 with Our Father, for the simple reason that is the Our Father and not the my Father. This is a point that I’m stealing blatantly from a fourth century church father by the name of [inaudible 00:31:50] of Malivas. He’s North African church father. He was pretty influential in St. Augustine and he’s writing against the Donatist heresy that Augustine will later combat himself. And he says, you the Donatist will not have peace with us, that is with your brothers.
Now, notice he calls them brothers, even though these are schismatics, these are people who denied the validity of sacraments if it was a bad priest or a bad bishop. And Optavus goes on, you cannot escape being our brothers, you whom together with us, one mother church has born from the same bowels of her mistress, it is the sacraments and whom God the Father has received in the same manner as sons of adoption. So if you have, God as Father, if you have the church as mother, you’re a brother, you’re a sister, and you have the church as mother if you’re baptized. That’s what his argument is. And then he says, where for Christ foreseeing this time, how it would come to paths that you should today be at variance with us gave such commands with regard to prayer that at least in prayer, unity might remain and that supplications might join those who should be torn us under by faction.
That is, okay, so maybe right now there’s a schism going on. Maybe right now you cannot be fully with us because you’re in schism, but we can have at least this unity, a unity in prayer. How do we know that? Because we pray for one another. He says, we pray for you, for we wish to do so and you pray for us even though you do not wish it. Otherwise, say my Father who art in heaven and give me my daily bread and forgive me my trespasses. So you get the idea that like Our Father is very intentionally not on the first person singular like a personal relationship would suggest It’s in the first person plural, “Our Father who art in heaven give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses.” That is an intentional decision by Jesus to emphasize the need for the church to be united that we pray together because we’re meant to be one.
Again, this is an idea that I think runs counter to a lot of strains and evangelical thought. Now, I don’t think evangelicals would deny on paper. Well, of course the church should be one, but the emphasis is so different from Christ’s emphasis that you just don’t see, at least I don’t see this kind of point being made, that it’s important that we pray Our Father because we shouldn’t be in a bunch of different denominations. We shouldn’t be in schism, we should be united and one way of being united starts with praying for one another. That’s is the second major point.
The third is that in the Our Father, we pray for our eucharistic super substantial bread. Now you might be wondering, what are you talking about? Well, it’s right there. There’s an apparent redundancy in Our Father in Matthew 6:11. Jesus tells us to pray. “Give us this day our daily bread.” And you might think if you’ve got any kind of editor inside of your mind, couldn’t you have made that easier. Give us this day our bread or give us our daily bread. It sounds redundant, right? Give us this day our daily bread. Well, the word being translated is daily. There is [foreign language 00:35:09]. Now [foreign language 00:35:11] is another hapax legomenon well, it actually meant is twice. That’s not actually a [inaudible 00:35:14] because it appears two times in Matthew’s gospel and in the parallel account in Luke’s gospel. Nevertheless, this is a word only found in Our Father, in fact only found not just in the Bible, but only found in Our Father among Greek literature. Origin points this out.
He says, okay, it should be known that this word is not found in Greek writer, whether in philosophy or in common usage, but it seems to have been formed by the evangelists, at least Matthew and Luke, and having given it to the world concur in using it in identical form.
So there is something about the bread we are praying for that [foreign language 00:35:54] expresses that other words wouldn’t. And you might be saying, well, we just translate it daily. Well, the problem is [foreign language 00:36:04] is daily. And in fact, we see that all over the place. So this, it’s two words, [foreign language 00:36:10]. So in Matthew 26, when Jesus says, I sat daily with you, that’s the phrase he uses. Or in Mark 14, same thing, Luke 9, take up your cross daily [foreign language 00:36:20]. And in fact in Luke 11, give us day or give us this day or day by day, [foreign language 00:36:28] . So far so good, our daily bread that doesn’t use [foreign language 00:36:35] that uses [foreign language 00:36:37]. So what does [foreign language 00:36:38] mean? Well, as I said, the word does not appear anywhere else and there’s some dispute about what it means. [foreign language 00:36:51] means substance and [foreign language 00:36:55] is like the previous.
So super substantial is a very literal way of translating what’s going on here. So St. Jerome, he takes this and in the translation of Latin Vulgate in one instance, he translates it as daily. In the other instance, he translates this as super substantial. That is fascinating. But even before that, even Jerome go back to the early 200s. Origin talks about this. He says, okay, some people think we’re talking about material bread. And he says, that’s a mistake. He says, we can do away that erroneous opinion because Jesus tells us that’s not what we should be setting our hearts on. Don’t toil for bread, that’s Jesus’s kind of mentality. He says that. And so the idea that he wants us to pray about material possessions and about bread as like the emphasis in the prayer. Origin says that’s a mistake. And he points to the Bible for this.
In John 6, Jesus presents himself as the true bread come down from heaven. John 6:32 says, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven. My father gives you the true bread from heaven. And then jumping down to verse 51. He says, “I’m the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” So there are three ways we can understand Our Father. One in the sense of daily bread, the stuff you need to live material sustenance. That’s the lowest of the three. Second, we can think about it as a word of God. You know it don’t live by bread alone up every word that comes from the mouth of God. There’s a sense in which that we can talk about that nourishing us, that being our daily bread and a spiritual sense.
But in the fullest sense, the daily bread is Jesus himself, the true bread come down from heaven. Now notice when he uses that, he’s recalling the manna in the Old Testament, which was bred from heaven, that the Jews went out for every day. They had to get it just for that day. And so however you understand Matthew 6, however you understand the Our Father, it should be recognized that this is a reference to the manna, however you understand it is applying to Jesus, as applying to the Christian life. In the Old Testament in numbers, the Jews, while they’re going through the desert, have a daily bread. They go out and they receive the bread from heaven. They cannot take more than one day’s version. So they have to be constantly relying upon our Lord. Jesus says He is now that bread, he is now the true bread come down from heaven.
And so we should understand this in the three senses, material, necessities being taken care of by God, trusting in him for that, be nourished by his word. And I’d say most fully, the eucharistic sense. That Jesus is the super substantial bread from heaven and calling it the super substantial bread, which again is a pretty literal translation of the Greek, points to the fact that we’re dealing with something sacramental here.
St. Augustine argues that we should take all of these three meanings conjointly. He says it is to say we are to ask for all at once as daily bread, both the bread necessary for the body and the visible hallowed bread and the invisible bread of the word of God. So we should have the material bread, we should have the eucharistic bread. We should have the invisible the word be nourished by the word. That is I think, a good way of understanding that he has multiple meanings to that.
But notice there that again, if you’re someone who thinks that the Eucharist is just a symbol and you don’t think it’s super substantial bread, you can’t really pray this part of Our Father and ask for super substantial bread in the full sense of what Jesus is talking about here. You can have a partial sense. You can still say, well, I want my material needs met, want to be nourished by the word of God daily. But you’re not being nourished by the Word capital W in the Eucharistic sense. So that’s the third of the fourth, third of the four areas. I think Our Father should be a challenge to those who particularly again here are evangelicals, that they are just these Catholic themes to what Jesus is teaching us to pray.
But the fourth and the one that I see as going right to the heart of the reformation is idea of conditional forgiveness. This is in the very next verse. So right after praying for our super substantial our daily bread, we then pray and forgive us, our debts is we have forgiven our debtors. Sometimes you’ll say it forgive us our trespasses as we forgive our trespass. You know what’s going on here? Well, that line, as we have forgiven our debtors or as we forgive those who trespass against us, that line is shocking. And that’s not just me saying that. The catechism says that. This petition is astonishing it says in paragraph 28 38, and it points out, look, if it just consisted of the phrase, forgive us our trespasses, no big deal, right? Like you could say, well, okay, that’s why Christ dies for us. So the sins can be forgiven. But there’s that really critical as we forgive those who trespass against us, as we forgive our debtors, we are praying that our petition not be heard unless we have first met a strict requirement.
That is a terrifying kind of spiritual reality. I am praying every time I pray our Father, I am praying not to be forgiven. If I’m unforgiving, I’m praying for the measure of my forgiveness, be the measure measured back to me. That is a serious thing. And significantly, it’s a thing that the reformers worked really hard to deny. Here’s what I mean by that. I looked at both Luther and Calvin’s commentaries on Matthew 6 here, and Martin Luther said, yeah, there’s attached necessary yet conciliatory edition as we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned. Yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor for just as we daily sin much against God, and yet he forgives everything through grace. So too we must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence and wrong, shows, malice toward us, et cetera.
If that’s all Luther said, I’d have no beef. But he goes on to say, if therefore you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you. But if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving for God forgives freely and without condition out of pure grace because he is so promised as the gospel teaches. What? Luther just said, that God’s forgiveness of us is without condition. But Jesus just said it was with condition. We are forgiven on the condition that we forgive others. And so if this isn’t a condition, then what is it? Well, Luther claims this is just that God sets us up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords to this prayer forgiven you shall be forgiven. Then, in other words, my forgiving of others is a sign to me of the fact that I’ve already been forgiven.
But that’s not it at all. Think about the man in the parable who’s forgiven a large debt and then he refuses to go out and forgive a small debt. What happens to him? Well, he’s unforgiven. The person heals a large debt to the master then says you’re going to jail until you pay off the last penny. The forgiveness is retracted because it was conditional on him also forgiving others. Well, Luther claims that’s not true. Luther says there’s no condition. Calvin says something even more shocking. He says this condition. So he at least admits it’s a condition as we forgive our debtors is added, that no one may presume to approach God and ask forgiveness who is not pure and free from all resentment. But then he says, yet the forgiveness which we ask that God would give us, does not depend on the forgiveness which would grant to others.
He just literally says, our being forgiven does not depend on the forgiveness we would grant to others. That instead, Christ’s intention is just to exhort us in this manner, to forgive the offenses which have been committed against us. Man, at the same time to give, as it were, the impression of his seal to ratify the choice in our forgiveness. So in other words, it’s just Christ would really like it if you forgive. It’d be really nice. He wants to encourage you, but it’s not a condition for forgiveness except that it is in fact. Well, I’ll get to that. Because he then goes on to say that Christ’s intention here is just to remind us of the feelings which we ought to cherish towards brethren when we desire to be reconciled to God. Just it’s all about feelings. It’s just encouragement, right?
Jesus doesn’t say anything like that. He says the exact opposite. He says, this is the condition. He even says, if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. If you do not forgive men in their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses. So in logic, we could say this is an if and only if conditional. If you forgive others, you’ll be forgiven. If you don’t forgive others, you won’t be forgiven. At the heart of the reformation debate is this notion that salvation is by faith alone. You don’t have to do anything. You just have to believe, and Jesus is very clear. That is not true. If you don’t take the action of forgiving those who’ve harmed you, those to whom they’re indebted towards you, you won’t be forgiven. If you’ve been forgiven a large quantity and then you refuse to forgive a small one, you will be unforgiven.
You will lose that forgiveness. You’ll lose your salvation. That is extremely clear in scripture, and yet the reformers deny it. So that’s where we are in the Our Father, we’re doing four things. One, we’re praying a formal repetitive prayer. Two, we’re praying a corporate prayer with the church for the church, our father. Third, we’re praying for a super substantial bread, our Eucharistic daily nourishment. And fourth, we’re praying that we will only be forgiven as we forgive others. We are praying for a conditional forgiveness that is directly contrary to what the reformers taught about justification, directly contrary to what the reformers taught about how salvation works. So for all of these reasons, I’m arguing that the Lord’s Prayer is a very Catholic prayer, and that if you’re coming from certain schools of Protestantism, while you may say the words of the Lord’s Prayer, it’s worth probing deeply to say, what does Jesus mean by those words? How did the earliest Christians understand them? Because chances are it’s radically differently than you may have learned. For Shameless Popery, I’m Joe. Heschmeyer. God bless you so much.
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