When people ask, “Why do you say the Lord’s Prayer that way?” I respond, “It’s the ecumenical version.”
People are often surprised to hear the Lord’s Prayer in modern English, i.e. “Hallowed be your name” and the old words, “debts” and “trespasses” replaced with the broader term “sins.” Those who have experience in a Presbyterian Church will know that “debts” is the usual word choice, while in most other churches, the word “trespasses” is used. Have you ever wondered why?
In the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord’s Prayer includes the Greek word translated “debts” in the prayer itself, but in the verses after the prayer, the word “trespasses” is used to further guide the followers of Christ as to the vital importance of forgiving others when you pray to be forgiven by God.
9 “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Now in Luke’s Gospel, the words in the prayer are different. Luke uses the Greek word for “sin,” and then the word for “debts.” Luke also leaves off the “Your will be done on earth as it is heaven.”
“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Sins, trespasses, debts. What’s the difference?
They are all trying to speak of the distance we fall short of God’s glory. We sin against God. We trespass by stepping outside the boundaries of God’s good intentions for us.
We are indebted to God for the free grace we are given. And when we are grateful for our forgive- ness by God, then forgiveness of others is the challenging but expected response.
Remember, we do not pray, “Forgive us our sins as we continue to hold a grudge against those who are mean to us.” “Forgive me my sin while I justify my bitterness toward the one who has hurt me.”
No, we pray “Forgive us our sins AS/LIKE/WHILE/IN THE SAME WAY AS we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
George MacDonald, a Scottish minister who influenced CS Lewis, once wrote, “It may be infinitely worse to refuse to forgive than to murder, because the latter may be an impulse of a moment of heat; whereas the former is a cold and deliberate choice of the heart.”
So no matter which version of the Lord’s Prayer you use, remember that the important word is “as.”
Rev. Elizabeth M. Deibert, is pastor of Peace Presbyterian Church, 10902 Technology Terrace, Lakewood Ranch. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 753-7778.