Prayer from a Jewish Carpenter
The Lord’s Prayer. The majority of Americans have heard it at one point or another in their lives. It has been a point of contention in America through the ages. While many people in America want to throw shade at Madalyn Murray O’Hair for getting the Lord’s prayer removed from schools, her case in 1963 just helped to define prayer in the schools and add further clarification to cases that were already completed. In 1948 McCollum versus Board of Education decided to ban religious exercises in the classroom. In 1962, the case that specifically removed prayer from the classroom was Engel versus Vitale. It wasn’t until 1963 that O’Hair and other cases came to light that added more clarification to previous decisions.
The controversy about a short prayer is remarkable! This prayer has been around since before even Jesus’ public ministry. Depending on your translation, it can be as short as 55 words or as long as 75. It has been prayed and studied by countless millions worldwide for centuries.
But was Jesus the first to say those words?
While it isn’t a controversy, most Christians believe that Jesus was the one who first said the words to Lord’s Prayer. Many people don’t realize that Jesus came to fulfill much of the Jewish Bible and create a new covenant. Many of Jesus’ teachings speak directly to the heart and soul of Jewish Law. And the Lord’s Prayer is no different.
Every part of the Lord’s Prayer can be found in different Jewish prayers or Psalms. I want to look at each area below and give the Jewish counterpart.
Our Father in Heaven
While Origen, one of the church fathers in the 3rd century, through that the Lord’s Prayer separated Christianity from Judaism because of calling God “Father,” the truth of the matter is that God has been called Father since the early days of Judaism.
Many prayers in Judaism begin by calling God “Father.” And the term “Father in Heaven” comes from a reader’s Kaddish at the end of Jewish services that would be recited as the following, “May the prayers and petitions of the entire community of Israel be accepted by their Father in Heaven.”
Isaiah goes so far to call God “Father” directly.
Isaiah 63:16 – But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.
Israel is even known as the “children of God.” These expressions show a familial relationship with God, who is our Father.
Hallowed be Thy Name
The Kaddish goes on to say, “sanctified be His great name.” Throughout much of the Old Testament we find that “holiness” is God’s prevailing attribute.
Leviticus 11:45 – I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
Something interesting to note, here, though is that when the Bible was translated for the common people, the Saxon word “haelig” was used, which is where the word “hallow” is derived from. The original term in the Kaddish is “yitkadash” which means “sanctified.” This would then line up to the Old Testament and the book of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 38:23 – I will magnify and sanctify Myself, and will reveal Myself in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.’
Thy Kingdom Come
To continue with the use of the Kaddish, it says, “May He establish His kingdom during your life and in your days and in the life of the whole house of Israel.” These are the prophecies that are taught in both Zechariah and Daniel.
Daniel 7:27 – Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’
The “kingdom” as a symbol of God’s dominion is the messianic hope of the believers.
Thy will be done
The Kaddish says, “By His will, He created the world.” Many other prayers in Judaism begin with “May it be Your will.” This is usually followed by some specific desire that we obey and be given the opportunity to perform something commanded in the Torah. For example, “Obey His will, so that he may fulfill your will – the desire of your heart.” (Mishnah Avot 2:4)
This is a very clear section of the prayer. We should work for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. It is needed here on earth. In heaven it is already done.
Give us this day our daily bread
In the Middle East, it was customary to have our primary food be placed inside bread. This is still going on today in meals that are surrounded by pita.
Genesis 3:19 – By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread, until you return to the ground—because out of it were you taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
In synagogue, it is required to offer thanks before a meal, “Blessed are You, oh Lord our God, who brought forth bread out of the earth.” Also, there is a grace given after a meal that would thank God “who provides bread to all flesh, for His mercy lasts forever.”
Forgive us our trespass (sin, debt)
Three times daily Jews will pray the Amidah. In it we find, “Our Father, forgive us for we have sinned. Our Sovereign, pardon us, for we have transgressed; You kindly forgive and pardon.” If this is done in sincere repentance, then God grants forgiveness.
Around 170 BC, a Jewish scholar named Ben Sira changed the idea of forgiveness. He changed the idea from simply God forgiving to us needing to forgive our neighbors. “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Can a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek healing from the Lord? If he has no mercy toward a man like himself, how can he pray for his own sins?” (Ben Sira 28:2-4)
This is similar to the Mishnah in the first and second centuries in describing Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
In both Luke and Matthew, though, the words used are different. Matthew asks to forgive our debts and Luke asks to forgive our sins. The original word, “h’ovah” can be translated in three different ways: an obligation, a debt, or a sin. If we were to strictly use the Hebrew text of the Amidah, however, we would find that the word “sin” would be prevailing winner.
Lead us not into temptation
Again we run into multiple possible translations. Both the Aramaic-Hebrew words and the Greek words can mean test or temptation.
The origin of this section of the prayer comes mainly from the Psalms.
Psalm 26:2 – Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;
People have the ability to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, death and life.
Save us from evil
Again we look to the Psalms for the inspiration for this section of the prayer.
Psalm 34:14 – Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
The end of the Amidah says, “Oh my God! Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile.” It is important that the Jewish prayer does not refer to the “Evil one.” Many churches have translated this to say “deliver us from the evil one.” In a strictly Jewish context, this would mean to save from doing that which is evil.
For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever
This section was added much later, about the 4th or 5th century. It comes from the book of 1 Chronicles in which it is recited at a Jewish service when the Ark was opened and a scroll of the Torah was removed.
1 Chronicles 29:11-13 – Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
The Lord’s Prayer is recited millions of times on Sundays around the world. In the early church and even in many churches today it is recited as much as 3 times a day. Augustine said that it should be recited by every Christian at least once a day.
Regardless of how much you pray it or even how much you desire to learn from it, the truth is clear, Jesus did not put this together specifically for the Christian church. This was a bridge between religions. This is an opportunity for Christian and Jew alike to come together in prayer to the Almighty God.
It distinctly ties Jesus to His Jewish roots.
And it should go without saying that it should also tie us to those roots.