Re: ponerou in Matt. 6:13 and the meaning of Matt 6:13b

From: Jeffrey Gibson (
Date: Tue Sep 09 1997 - 19:37:18 EDT

On Tue, 9 Sep 1997 James R. Seefried ( wrote:

> I am normally on the sidelines but have a question concerning the Model
> prayer of the Lord in Matthew 6:13. Is this a substantival adjective use
> (tou ponerou, The Evil One) as Wallace refers to on pg. 233? Or, is Robertson
> suggestion of the ablative case obscuring the evil one from the the evil thing
> (to poneron)?
> Further, what is the implication from this petition in terms of the
> tribulation to come or is it simply temporary deliverance from evil while we
> sojourn on earth?

In answer to your first question, you might wish to be aware that
even the early church seems to have been divided in regard to
whether TOU PONEROU in Matt 6:13 is masculine and therefore should
be read as "the Evil One (i.e., the devil) or neuter and therefore
simply (1) "evil". The latter reading and interpretation seems to
have been the preference in the Western Church. But the former one
was assumed in the East (cf., e.g., Chrysostom's Homily on Mt.
19.10). Most scholarly commentaries on Matthew will give you some
inkling of this division. But you will find an extremely full
discussion of who in the early Church stood where on this matter
(as well as a detailed argument on how TOU PONHROU should be
rendered) in Appendix II, "The Last Petition of the Lord's Prayer"
in the 3rd edition (1891) of J.B. Lightfoot's _On A Fresh Revision
of the English New Testament_.
     For my money, the phrase more likely than not is masculine and
means "the Evil One". Matthean usage of PONHROS (not to mention
that of other NT and early Christian writers - cf. 1 Jn. 2:13-14;
3:12; 5:18-19; Eph. 6:16; 2 Thess. 3:3; Barn. 2.10) lends itself to
this conclusion. Second, had Matthew (or if Ben Crick is correct,
Jesus, since in Ben's eyes Matt 6:13b is dominical; but note, no
other dominical word of Jesus speaks of "the evil one") -- had
Matthew here meant TOU PONHROU to mean only "evil", then (as W.D.
Davies notes) might we not expect to have had here PANTOS
accompanying TOU PONHROU?

Now as to your second question regarding what the implication is of
accepting the one reading of TOU PONHROU over the other for the
meaning of the petition in Matt 6:13b for the *community* of
believers to be "delivered from TOU PONHROU", I would answer "not
one whit". But to a large extent, my answer is grounded in my
belief (noted in earlier postings to B-Greek) that the PEIRASMOS
referred to in Matt 6:13a//Lk. 11:4 is NOT something experienced by
believers, whether an "end time" tribulation" or a present
"testing" (let alone a seduction to evil), but something the
community of believers *engages in* and perpetrates, namely,
testing God. In fact I see Matt. 6:13b as evidence that Matt 6:13a
is a petition to God to preserve the community from doing what
Israel did at Massah and (at least in Matthew's and Luke's
perspective) many of Jesus' and the evangelists' Jewish
contemporaries (those labeled as members of "this generation") were
also engaged in, namely, putting God to the test.

In Matthew's Gospel the phrase ALLA RhUSAI hHMAS APO TOU PONHROU
follows so hard on the heels of the petition KAI MH EISENEGKHS
hHMAS EIS PEIRSAMON that it is obviously intended by Matthew to
serve as explication of what the petition's view of "not being led
into PEIRASMOS" means. Now if we assume that PONHROU here means
"evil" (and not "the evil one"), the phrase RhUSAI hHMAS APO TOU
PONHROU seems best to be understood as meaning "deliver us from
*doing Evil*". Why? In the first place, the interpretative context
of this petition - as well as of the LP as a whole - is the
exhortation of Moses to Israel in Deut 4-8, particularly Deut 6:10-
19. There are, after all, strong formal, linguistic, and thematic
connection between the language of the prayer of which Matt 6:13 is
a part -- a prayer which emphasizes the necessity of a community
called by God not to shame God's name, but to serve it, to be in
concert with, and therefore to avoid all that resists the
establishment of, God's will being done on earth -- and the
exhortation of Moses found in Deut. 6:10-19 for Israel to hallow
God's name, to obey him, and to see that his will is done:

     10"And when the LORD your God brings you into the land
     which he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and
     to Jacob, to give you, with great and goodly cities,
     which you did not build, 11and houses full of all good
     things, which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out,
     which you did not hew, and vineyards and olive trees,
     which you did not plant, and when you eat and are full,
     12then take heed lest you forget the LORD, who brought
     you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of
     bondage. 13You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall
     serve him, and *swear by his name*. 14You shall not go
     after other gods, of the gods of the peoples who are
     round about you; 15for the LORD your God in the midst of
     you is a jealous God; lest the anger of the LORD your God
     be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the
     face of the earth.... 17You shall diligently keep the
     commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies,
     and his statutes, which he has commanded you. 18And you
     shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD,
     that it may go well with you

Notably, this exhortation to see that God's will is done - an
exhortation given on the eve of the entry into a kingdom - is not
only explicated specifically in terms of an obligation on the part
of those who consent to revere God's name and obey him to do so *by
avoiding putting him to the test*

     16"You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as
     you tested him at Massah.

It also identifies this testing and provoking of God as "doing
evil" (cf. Deut. 4:25; cp. Deut 9:18).
    With all of this as the interpretative context of the LP as a
whole and Matt. 6:13 in particular, the petition to God to RhUSAI
hHMAS APO TOU PONHROU seems quite obviously to be a request from
"doing evil".
     In the second place, there is the evidence of 1 Cor. 10:6.
Here we find Paul engaged in the same sort of activity with which
Jesus is engaged in Matt. 6:13, namely, urging upon believers the
necessity of their praying to be delivered from "evil". Notably,
here Paul's exhortation that the Corinthians should hope to be
delivered from "evil" is an exhortation to hope to be delivered
from "doing evil" (and the evil that the Israelites did in the
     But what for Matthew constitutes "doing Evil"? Given the
application of the term in Matt. 12:39 and Matt. 16:4 to those
among Israel who, having seen God's mighty works in Jesus, still
seek proof from God that God is, as Jesus' claims, in their midst,
(thus recalling the "testing" themes in Ex 17; Num 14; Pss 78, 95),
there is little doubt that it means subjecting God to PEIRASMOS. So
to be "delivered from (doing) evil, and by implication to KAI MH
EISENEGKHS hHMAS EIS PEIRSAMON, is to be protected from putting God
to the test.

But we would reach this same conclusion even should it be the case,
as many commentators assume, that at Matt. 6:13 means "the
Evil One" and that therefore the explicatory phrase means "deliver
us from the Devil". For, as is shown by such texts as _TB
Sanhedrin_ 89b (which I take to contain tradition dating from the
first century C.E.), _Apoc. Abraham_ 13 (cf. esp. vs. 9-13), the
_Testament of Job_ (especially in Chapters 24-27), Mk 8:27-33, Lk.
4:1-12, Jn. 8.44, 2 Cor. 11.14), in Matthew's time the Devil was
know as one whose main activity was trying to get the pious to
break their faithfulness to God, and turn aside from obeying him,
by bringing them to doubt and then accept that what God has
commanded them to do (or put their trust in) is not really `of God,
thus involving the believer in putting God to the test. Indeed,
[Matthew'] stories of Jesus confrontations with the Evil One at
Matt. 4:1-11 and Matt 16:13-23, the Devil attempts to sway Jesus
from what Jesus holds to be his covenantal obligations to God! So
to ask to be "delivered from the Devil" would be to ask to be
protected against or removed from any inclination to, or actual
engagement in, subjecting God to PEIRASMOS.

In the light of all of this, it would seem that Matt 6:13b actually
not only assumes that petition in Matt. 6:13//Lk. 11:4 involves the
believer asking to be protected by God NOT from experiencing
PEIRASMOS, but from subjecting God to it, but is itself a repition
of that petition.

Jeffrey Gibson

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