Re: Translation Help on Lord's Prayer

Carl W. Conrad (
Thu, 23 May 1996 12:10:15 -0500

At 11:13 AM -0500 5/23/96, wrote:
> I need some translation assistance from you readers of Greek.
> In Matthew 6:9-13, the Lord's prayer, there are two words on which I'd like
> your comment. The last two lines of the prayer, conventionally rendered,
> "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,"
> are also translated,
> "And do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil
> one."
> Are the Greek words, translated alternately as temptation/final test and
> evil/evil one, referring to abstract ideas or to definite things? Is
> this language general/universal/quotidien, or is it specific/eschatological/
> apocalyptic? Which, if either, translation connotes the original sense?
> I am teaching a Literature of the Bible course in which we are tracing
> the development of the idea of embodied evil. Is Jesus here referring to
> the evil one or to evil itself?

Ultimately this is a matter of interpretation. The Greek in "deliver us
..." is APO TOU PONHROU. TOU PONHROU is genitive singular but could be
either a masculine (from the evil ONE) or a neuter (from EVIL)
substantive." Either is theoretically legitimate as a reading of the Greek.
What seems less likely here, however, is that EVIL is being thought of
abstractly as would be appropriate if we understood TO PONHRON as the
equivalent of a Platonic term, TO KAKON. It is curious that the adjective
PONHROS,-A,-ON, which originally meant something like "working (with bodily
effort of hands, muscles)" and then "laboring-class" or "from the wrong
side of the tracks" and then in Greek comedy comes to have a sense of
"mischievous," "naughty," has become a regular word for "wicked" by the NT
era. But isn't the adjective usually used of a person? At any rate we have
hO PONHROS in Mt 13:19 evidently used of the devil, and that has come, I
believe, the commonly accepted understanding of the phrase in the genitive
in Mt 6:13.

As for "into temptation," the word is PEIRASMOS, which appears to be
commonly used of the apocalyptic time of troubles immediately preceding the
Day of the Lord, or the Coming of the Son of Man as described in the
synoptic apocalypse passages in Mark 13 and parallels. Luke, however, uses
it in an almost "martyrological" sense of "ordeal"--the severe hardships
and testing that one who is to be a true evangelistic witness must expect
to face. Luke refers to Jesus' experience in Gethsemane as a PEIRASMOS; he
also has Jesus at the Last Supper say to the Twelve (22:30, very roughly
rather than literally): "You are the ones who have been with me in all my
PEIRASMOI; you shall sit on thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel."

In this review of these words I very much miss my BAGD, which has passed
from me in an extraordinarily bizarre accident: it was poised, open, across
the edges of my trash can where I could look at it as I typed at my
computer. It evidently fell in and was carried out with the trash by a
well-meaning but perhaps intellectually-challenged sanitation engineer and
thence carried off to some metropolitan gehenna. There must be a moral of
some sort in this, but I shall make it an excuse to purchase Fred Danker's
new revision which ought to be off the press pretty soon--the one with the
correction about Junia, "distinguished among the apostles."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR