The Lord's Prayer (Lk 11:1-13)


Text and Parallels



Luke (NKJV)

11:1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he stopped, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 11:1 Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
11:2 So he said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come.

6:9 So pray this way:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,

11:2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is
in heaven.

6:10 may your kingdom come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11:3 Give us each day our daily bread, 6:11 Give us today our daily bread, 11:3 Give us day by day our daily bread.
11:4 and forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins [Grk "who is indebted to us" (an idiom)] against us.
And do not lead us into temptation.”
6:12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.

11:4 And forgive us our sins,

For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And do not lead us into temptation,

 But deliver us from the evil one.?

6:13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
11:5 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
11:6 because a friend of mine has stopped here while on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’
11:7 Then he will reply from inside, ‘Do not bother me. The door is already shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.’
11:8 I tell you, even though the man inside will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of the first man’s sheer persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
11:9 “So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.
11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 7:8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened.
7:9 Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
11:11 What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 7:10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
11:12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
11:13 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 7:11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

I. Text-Critical Issues

There are two versions of the Lord's prayer in scripture:  Lk 11:2-4 and Mt 6:9-13.  The two are very similar, but there are several differences.  Matthew's version is embedded in his extended discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount.   Luke's version is in answer to a direct request for instruction from one of his disciples.  Over the course of his ministry Jesus certainly taught on the topic of prayer many times.  Luke immediately after the Lord's Prayer has several additional verses on prayer, many that are also paralleled in Matthew, though not immediately after Matthew's version of the prayer.

The prayer itself is a pattern for prayer, and not a magical incantation.  (See Jesus' teaching on "vain repititions", Mt 11:7).  It is not necessary that Jesus would use the exact same wording each time he provided a model prayer.  The basic outline and gist seem to have been the same each time however.

If one is reading the KJV or the NKJV, the differences bewteen the two are not as great.  Basically, Luke's version is conformed to be nearly identical to Matthew's.   This reflects the so-called Byzantine manuscript tradition.  In ancient times, like today, Matthew's longer version was known from memory by most Christians, and certainly by the scribes copying the Greek manuscripts.  When copying Luke, they simply added the extra material from Matthew.  The older manuscripts do not have these alterations.  We see these sorts of scribal modifications frequently.   Where Luke is longer than Matthew, later manuscripts of Matthew often incorporate the additional words from Luke and vice versa.  Most modern English translations follow the evidence of the older manuscripts and have the shorter readings since this is closer to what the authors originally wrote.  The KJV translators had only a limited number of later Greek manuscripts available, and so usually have the longer readings.

The NKJV translators believe, erroneously, that the later manuscripts are the more accurate.  They argue that the older manuscripts are corruptions.  The evidence is against this however.  Accidental corruptions of this scale would produce incoherent texts, which the older, shorter manuscripts are not.  If the differences were purposeful, motivated by (false) theological concerns, as most supporters of the Byzantine manuscript tradition (also referred to as Majority Text or Textus Receptus) claim, then one would expect that parallel passages to receive similar treatment.  If someone wanted to delete "may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" to perpetuate some heresy, one would expect it to be deleted form both Matthew and Luke's version of the Lord's prayer.  Instead it is only ever found missing from Luke's.   The same is true of nearly every single difference between parallel passages in the Synoptic Gospels.  It is therefore certain that the shorter version has been lengthened by scribes rather than the longer version shortened.

II. The Prayer (Lk 11:2-4)

A. Father

As with any communcation, the prayer opens with with a salutation.  What is significant here is not that God is addressed with a salutation at the beginning of a prayer (the salutation being a pragmatic necessity), but how he is addressed:  as Father.  The Aramaic word Jesus used was probably "Abba".  Contrary to popular belief, this word does not mean "daddy".  It is intimate, but it is not baby talk; something like "My Dear Father" would capture the nuance.   Although such address to God is not unknown in early Judaism, it is very rare, but a hallmark of Jesus' teaching.

The longer version in Matthew adds a possessive pronoun which makes explicit that the fatherhood relationship is to us (the church) personally.  We are not praying to just Jesus' Father, but to Our Father.  The "in heaven" phrase makes it explicit that we are talking about spritual fatherhood -- about God -- and not to our biological father.   In historical context, whether Jesus would use these additions or not would depend on his audience and whether they would understand what he meant by just "Father" or misunderstood, thinking he was addressing his ancestors in prayer.

B. May your name be honored

A person's name takes on many metaphorical meanings.  Even at its most basic meaning, a name is a metaphor for a person's identity: it is not the identity itself.   It can also stand for one's reputation, that is, the identity that people perceive in the one being named.  In this context, we may read the line to mean "May you yourself be honoured" or "may your reputation be honored".  The line probably envelops both ideas.  May men worship God.

The sentence is passive.  It is not explicitly stating "may you cause your name to be honored" or "may we honor your name" or "may the world honor your name".  Rather we should see all these actors together.  How do we honor God's name?  Not just by worship, but by good works (James 1:27), and how do we do good works?  By the grace of God (Ephesians 2:10).  In essence, when we pray for God's name to be honored, we pray for God to honor his own name through us.

C. May your kingdom come

Like in other passages where Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God, this is not an eschatological passage.  Jesus is not instructing the disciples to pray for the end of the world per se.  Rather it is synonomous with the following line in Matthew's version:  "may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven".  That is, may man obey God as their sovereign King.  May human societies be God-fearing.

These first two petitions are remarkably like an ancient Aramaic Jewish prayer known as the Qaddish: "Exalted and hallowed be his great name in the world which he created according to his will.  May he let his kingdom rule in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon.  And to this, say: amen" (EBC:Mt 6:10).  We should not be surprised that Jesus' prayer is throroughly Jewish in tone and form.  From a selecular-historical persepective, Jesus was a Jew, and so were those he was teaching.  From a spiritual-historical perspective, the God of the Jews was the true God.  The Pharasees and Sadducees may have corrupted the Jewish religion, but the religion itself was still the true religion of God.  Jesus' teaching and Christianity is not a discontinuity from that religion, but a perfection of it.

D. Give us each day our daily bread

It is not wrong to ask God for our needs.  We should probably understand "bread" to mean all our basic necessities: food, clothing, and shelter.  A Lambourgini would generally not count.  It should not be stretched to include the Eucharist, the word of God, or the eschatological meal, as dispensationalist interperters sometimes take it.  Immediate physical sustinence is the intent of the passage.   Compare with Jesus' teaching on relying on God for daily physical needs: Mt 6:25-34.

The previous clauses were God centered.  They acknowledge God as Father and express our desire for him to be honored and obeyed.  This and the following clauses are "us" centered.   This clause centers on our physical needs.  The following on our spiritual needs. (The prayer, though short, is comprehensive).

E. Forgive us our sins...

Matthew's version of this petition has "forgive us our debts".  Jesus elsewhere uses debt  in his parables.  This usage is Jewish idiom of the day.  The Aramaic Targums (scripture paraphrases) use debt toward God to mean sin.   Luke, writing for Gentiles, changed one of he references to "debt" to refer explicitly to "sin".  Some translations go the whole way and render them both as "sin".

Is our forgiveness dependant on our forgiving others?  This is not what what this passage says.  It is a request for giveness that holds up ourselves as an example of what we want God to do for us.  God may be able to forgive us anyway, but we certainly can't pray this prayer in good faith if we haven't forgiven others.  In fact, we would be praying for God to not forgive us!  Think about that the next time you recite the Lord's Prayer:  you'd be saying "God, please damn me to hell in the same way that I hold grudges towards others!"

F. And do not lead us into temptation

Asking God to not tempt us seems strange (James 1:13).  The verse however does not say "And do not tempt us".  The temptation is by Satan.  The request, to cast it positively is "And lead us from away from being tempted by Satan".   In fact the longer version in Matthew almost says exactly that: "deliver us from the evil one".  God permits Satan, or his followers, to tempt.  If we read this line as "And not allow us to be tempted" might better capture the nuance.  We should avoid temptation, and are within our rights to ask God to not allow that temptation.  Compare this with Gethsemene where Jesus asked to be spared the trial he is about to undergo.

III. The Friend at Midnight (Lk 11:5-8)

Luke includes a number of additional teachings on prayer after the Lord's prayer.   Whether Jesus taught these at the same time as the Lord's prayer, or more likely, Luke gathered independant teachings of Jesus' together here because they covered to topic at hand is irrelevant.  Either way, they are the authentic teaching of Jesus on prayer.

Compare this parable with the Persistant Widow (Lk 18:1-8).   These two parables demonstrate how Jesus would make the same point with similarly structure parables that differ greatly in content.

In the historical context, most dwellings would be just  one room.  Note that the conversation does not begin with a knock at the door.  Such a dwelling would not have had glass windows, just a shuttered window.  The conversation would have been understood to have been wispered through such an opening without waking the family.   But the activity to get the bread, open the door, and give it to the friend in need would certainly have disturbed everyone in the house.

Some translators debate the meaning of the word translated "sheer persistence" and about which man the pronouns refer to.  Whether it is because of the one man's persitence, or boldness, or chutzpah (as one Jewish commentor sees it)), in asking, or the second man's shame, that the second man provides the first with bread is irrelevant to the point.  God will act from purer motives and provide even better.

The point is that sinful man will relent and grant a request in spite of his evil motive (whether the motive is to get rid of a persistent friend, or to avoid shaming himself), how much more so will God do so with good (nay, perfect) motives?

IV. Ask... Seek... Find.... (Lk 11:9-10)

Jesus teaches here that prayer is never futile.  But Jesus is not teaching a prosperity Gospel here.  Remember that his, and God's, perspective is eternal.   What we think we need is only temporary.  See also what James said about unfulfilled requests:  James 4:1-3.

V. Good Gifts from the Father (Lk 11:11-13)

Jesus had a series of sayings about what a father would give his son when his son requests something: 1) a stone instead of bread? 2) a snake instead of a fish?  3) a scorpion instead of an egg?  Of course a father wouldn't give his son something bad in place of the good thing requested.    Jesus probably had even more than these three, but Matthew and Luke have each selected only two of the three known to get the point across.  Some commentors see an escalation in the three substitute gifts: useless, unclean, then deadly.

(What isn't said here is what the father would do if the son requested a snake, ie, something bad; but, we may extrapolate that he would refuse  See James 4:1-3 cited above).

In verse 13 Jesus summarizes the point of the father-son sayings.  Even earthly fathers will give their children the good things they ask for, so our Father in heaven will do the same for us.  The comparison is the same as we encountered in the parable of the friend at midnight above.

Luke makes Matthew's "good gifts" more specific, specifying God's greatest gift:  the Holy Spirit.



Expositors Bible Commentary: Luke
Expositors Bible Commentary: Matthew
IVP Background Commentary
IVP Commentary
Jewish New Testament Commentary
Word Biblical Commentary: Luke

Brad H. Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian.
Geza Vermes, The Religion of Jesus the Jew.