The Lord’s Prayer

I’ve been thinking about prayer lately and would be interested in other’s ideas about some questions that have been part of that thinking. Specifically these question have to do with the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15; Luke 7:1-4; 3 Nephi 13:5-14). Here are the verses in question (from Matthew, the longest version, with the differences from the version in Alma marked by underline), each verse followed by a few questions for thought.

I’m interested in your thoughts on my questions as well as your own questions.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

What kinds of things do we do today that are like praying standing in the synagogues or on street corners? Is the key phrase “that they may be seen of men”? That seems to be the problem with their prayers. If so, what kinds of prayers today are, in general, more likely to be those kinds of prayers?

Given President Kimball’s request to change “be” to “do” in “I am a Child of God,” it is interesting that Joseph Smith changed “be” to “do” here. But being something seems more fundamental than doing (though being something always implies doing particular things). What are we to make of these changes?

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Why this emphasis on private prayer? Given this emphasis, how are public prayers justified?

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking [babblings].

The specific vain repetitions that Christ has in mind are those of the heathen. I find it interesting that he does not here speak of the vain repetitions of the hypocrites among the believers. Having just mentioned them in verse 5, they are obviously available for the comparison, so it seems significant that he singles out the heathen instead. I wonder why.

8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

The argument of verses 7-8 looks like this: don’t say long, repetitious prayers because your Father in Heaven already knows what you need. On the face of it, that seems like a non sequitur. What implicit assumptions make it a sound argument?

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

We teach our children that they should begin prayers by addressing the Father and then expressing their thanks. But the Lord’s prayer begins with an address and then praise. Why do we generally omit praise from our prayers? Or is thanksgiving a kind of praise? Even if it is, ought we not to consider also including other kinds of praise?

The standard LDS explanation for why the underlined part of verse 10 isn’t included in the 3 Nephi version of the prayer is that the Lord had already come when he taught the prayer to those in the New World. But that interpretation seems weak to me. After all, the coming of the Kingdom in full has yet to occur. Are there other plausible explanations for the omission?

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

Why does the 3 Nephi version of the prayer omit this? An answer to that question might also be an answer to the question about verse 10.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The prayer closes with praise, raising the same that verse 9 raised.

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The only part of the prayer on which Jesus comments after having given the model for prayer is the necessity of forgiving others if we are to be forgiven. Why does he single out that particular part of the prayer for comment?

6 comments for “The Lord’s Prayer

  1. Nate
    December 22, 2003 at 11:08 am

    Jim: I wonder if the omission of “thy kingdom come” in 3 Nephi can be understood politically. The two different versions of the prayer were given in very different political contexts. The NT version was given in a Palestine simmering with resentment against Roman domination and Hasmodean corruption. In contrast, the 3 Nephi prayer is given in a kind of post-apoclyptic political vacum. The existing Nephite power structures have been completely destroyed “Thy kingdom come” in the NT seems to be explicitly addressed to the poltiical expectations of the audience. I am not quite sure how best to read it. In contrast, however, there is no ambivalence about the Kingdom in 3 Nephi for the simple reason that there are no viable competitors with Zion.

  2. Kaimi
    December 22, 2003 at 11:48 am

    Good questions and ideas.

    As far as the post-prayer discussion, it relates to the only part of the prayer that is conditional. Perhaps Jesus is explaining the conditional nature of the request.

    As far as vain repetitions, I think we have far too much of that in the church. Fast and testimony meeting in particular seems to bring out the worst in the “look at me pray!” tendencies of members.

  3. December 22, 2003 at 1:45 pm

    I’m not sure the standard reading of “kingdom come” is actually weak at all. After all, what is the kingdom? It isn’t the full *manifestation* of the kingdom but rather the keys of the kingdom. Put an other way, what is necessary for the kingdom is the king, not the castle. In an LDS understanding that transpired on the mount of transfiguration.

  4. December 22, 2003 at 6:19 pm

    Re: 7 Is this a reference to a specific practice of the heathens of the time?

    Kaimi: I am with you on the fast and testimony meeting. There was something the first presidency released about the purpose a couple years ago. I wish it was read every month before the meeting started.

  5. Steve Evans
    December 23, 2003 at 1:38 pm

    Hi Jim!

    Re: #6

    My favorite “pray in secret” apocrypha is that if we pray in secret (i.e., not aloud), Satan can’t know our thoughts and try to tempt us during prayer. Probably not the thrust of your lesson.

    Aren’t public prayers justified by virtue of being a communal experience, a shared moment of the Spirit? Public prayers certainly aren’t the right forum for much wrangling with sins, etc., but they are useful for expressing shared grief, history, etc. in a way that binds the prayer-ors together. My favorite examples are temple dedicatory prayers which serve a specific purpose but also speak to shared concerns and experiences.

    Perhaps Christ realized that true repentance and closeness to God depends on a personal relationship, and that personal prayer can help establish that relationship. I don’t think that Christ was trying to demonstrate that public prayers were unnecessary or harmful. After all, the only recorded prayers we have for Christ are the public ones (Gethsemane being the exception — but how do we know what he said in the garden if no one was there??).

  6. Jim
    December 24, 2003 at 3:42 am

    Nate: This is a very insightful response. I think the different political context may have everything to do with the omission of the first part of verse 10 in 3 Nephi. Thanks.

    Kaimi: Good point, but why does the conditional part of the prayer need elaboration?

    Kaimi & Renee: I certainly understand what I think you are talking about, and I have found myself responding in a similar way sometimes. Nevertheless, I wonder whether the things we sometimes criticize in our meetings are vain repetitions. The Greek word here, battalogeo, seems to be related to the word for stuttering, battarizo. “Babbling” or “vain repetitions” seems to be a good translation. Many of the things we say in our meetings are repetitious, to be sure, but Jesus condemns only vain repetitions, not all of them. In other words, he isn’t demanding eloquence, but meaningfulness. But I suspect that my complaints are more often complaints about eloquence than about meaningfulness.

    I first noticed the difference—and what difference that difference made—once when I was listening to my son, then a child, give one of his first talks in church. We had helped him write the talk and had worked with him on delivering it. Of course, it didn’t say anything new and it probably didn’t say it in a particularly new way, nor was it something eloquent. I doubt that it was objectively significantly different than the talks given by a thousand children before him. In many senses it was a repetition of what has been said before. But when he gave it I listened as if he were the president of the Church. When I asked myself why I could listen so intently (and wakefully) to him but sometimes find talks by other children or adults tiresome, I realized that the difference was that I love my son and I did not really love those others (at least not at that particular time and context). When I do love the person who is speaking, I rarely hear that person babble. Instead, I usually hear them speak meaningfully of Gospel truths.

    But if the kinds of inarticulate repetitions of Mormon-speak that we often say in our meetings aren’t the kind of thing that Jesus had in mind when he condemned vain repetition in prayer, what are? In context, it seems to me that he may be condemning the self-righteous, paralleling his condemnation of self-righteous Jews with a condemnation of self-righteous pagans. But another possibility comes from seeing the last half of the verse, with verse eight, as an interpretive key: the babblings in question are babblings about things we need. On that reading, we could paraphrase verses seven and eight like this: “When you pray, don’t babble on about what you need like the heathen do, thinking that their demands will be heard if they pray for a long time; don’t be like them because your Father in Heaven already knows what you need.”

    Gordon: Were keys given on the Mount of Transfiguration that had never been given before? Perhaps. I don’t know. If so, then your answer is a good one. However, if not, why was that event the coming of the Kingdom?

    Steve: Hello! And hello also to Somer. I agree that verse seven doesn’t imply that we ought not to have public prayers, and I agree that they are important occasions of spiritual experience. D&C 19:28 commands us to have public prayer. But that doesn’t explain the strong emphasis on private prayer when Christ teaches the disciples how to pray. Perhaps private prayer, and the personal or individual relation that it implies, is the model for all prayer. (However, the fact that the prayer begins with “our Father suggests that even in private, I pray as part of the community.)

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