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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Repost: Christus Victor in the Lord's Prayer

Here is a repost from Richard Beck's Experimental Theology blog. Interesting on several levels, not least of all because he explores Greek genitives. Concerned primarily with the translation of the final phrase in Matt 6.13, Dr. Beck peruses the possibilities. Enjoy!

I'm sure you are familiar with the Lord's Prayer from Matthew 6. I'd like to draw your attention to the translation of verse 13:
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil...

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

And bring us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Do not bring us to hard testing,
but keep us safe from the Evil One.

Keep us from being tempted
and protect us from evil.
As you can see, there is some ambiguity about how to translate the version of the Greek word πονηρός (ponēros, pronounced pon-ay-ros') in this text.

As best I can tell, the ambiguity comes from the genitive case in the Greek. The genitive case for singular nouns in the Greek is the same for masculine and neuter nouns. Thus the genitive usage in Matthew 6.13--tou (the) ponērou (evil or evil one)--can be either masculine or neuter. We know we are working with the singular (rather than the plural). If we read tou ponērou as a singular masculine noun we have "the evil one." But if we read it as singular neuter noun then we have something that is more abstract, evil rather than evil one. The Greek, as best I can tell, allows for both readings.

Contrast this with the use of ponēros in Matthew 13 (the Parable of the Sower) whereponēros is preceded by ho, the singular masculine version of "the." In this instance the translation seems clear : Evil one (the devil).
Matthew 13.19
Those who hear the message about the Kingdom but do not understand it are like the seeds that fell along the path. The Evil One comes and snatches away what was sown in them.
The phrase tou ponērou occurs three other times in the book of Matthew. Perhaps the context of those verses will clear things up?
Matthew 5.37 (NIV)
All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Matthew 12.35 (NIV)
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.

Matthew 13:38 (NIV)
The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one...
Matthew 5.37 isn't clear. The NIV has tou ponērou as "evil one." But the ESV renders it as "evil" with no loss of meaning. In Matthew 12.35 we have tou ponērou describing treasure--tou ponērou treasure--which the KJV renders as "the evil treasure." Finally, in Matthew 13 we have the children/people of tou ponērou. All these translations have this as children/people/sons of the "evil/wicked one."

This last is interesting in that, as we saw above, when telling the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13.19 Jesus uses the masculine ho ponēros to designate "the evil one." A few verses later, in verse 38, Jesus uses tou ponērou to describe the same object. This suggests, at least within the Parable of the Sower, that Matthew's use of tou ponērou is sliding toward the masculine usage. Consequently, if forced to guess about the use tou ponērou in the Lord's Prayer we might break toward "the evil one."

The phrase tou ponērou occurs in Luke twice (Luke 6.45, 11.4) in parallel passages to the Matthew texts. A different usage occurs in John 17.15:
John 17.15 (NIV)
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
This prayer seems to echo the Lord's Prayer. The NIV, ASV, NLT and GNT keep their translations consistent with their Matthew 6.13 renderings, staying with "evil one" in both cases. By contrast, the KJV stays consistent with "evil" in both texts. Both the ESV and CEV make changes, going with "evil" in Matthew 6.13 and switching to "evil one" in John 17.15. In short, all the modern translations go with "evil one" in John 17.15 which again builds a case, given the parallels between the prayers in Matthew and John, for translatingtou ponērou as "evil one" in the Lord's Prayer.

In the epistles tou ponērou occurs three times:
Ephesians 6:16
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

2 Thessalonians 3.3
But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one

1 John 3:12
Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.
2 Thess. 3.3 seems to echo the Lord's Prayer. Thus we find the now familiar diversity in how the translations render tou ponērou. The NIV, ASV, NLT, ESV and GNT all go with "evil one." The KJV stays consistent with "evil." The CEV does something interesting and goes with "harm." More about this choice below.

However, all these translations, given the context, go with "evil one" (or something similar like "the devil" or "the wicked one") for Eph. 6.16 and 1 John 3.12.

So what is the conclusion of the matter? As I assess the evidence, more often than not tou ponērou tips toward the singular masculine interpretation: "the evil one." More, I think this translation is in better keeping with the Christus Victor worldview of the New Testament writers.

That said, there is enough interpretive wiggle room for interpreters wanting to modernize the meaning. If "the devil" is an unattractive idea for many modern readers of the bible you can go with "deliver us from evil" in the Lord's Prayer. And most versions of the Lord's Prayer go in this direction.

But this is what I find most interesting. The word we have been kicking around--ponēros--comes from the root ponos (πόνος) which is the word for work or toil and, by association, suffering or anguish. This fits the context of Matthew 6.13: "Lead us not into trials, but deliver us from suffering/pain/anguish." This is why the CEV translates 2 Thessalonians 3.3 as "protect you from harm." Evil here is harm, pain and suffering.

Interestingly, this understanding fits the biblical depiction of "the evil one." The devil is the one who brings ponēros--harm, calamity, disease, hurt, suffering and pain. This fits with what we see Satan doing in the Book of Job and in Paul's thorn in the flesh, a suffering sent by a "messenger of Satan."

To be sure, when we see moral disease and brokenness the meaning of ponēros shades toward the ethical--sin, moral brokenness, wickedness. But the background meaning is broader--suffering, pain, hurt, harm, and brokenness. "The evil one" is the personification of all this pain, suffering and brokenness.

This suggests, to me at least, that there is a cosmic aspect to praying "deliver from the evil one." And why, perhaps, the generic term evil is just fine. Particularly if we focus on the root idea, that the universe is broken on a cosmic scale. We suffer. We hurt. We die. And we harm each other. More, life is tedious, full of toil and boredom. Again, the root idea behind ponēros is the suffering associated with toil and work. The malaise and dissatisfaction associated with working within modern economies is also wrapped up in the biblical notion of evil. There is a chronic suffering associated with the world of work.

All of this is implicated in the word ponēros. Everything is broken. Everything hurts. Everything is heavy.

We seek Shalom. Restoration. Reconciliation. Peace. Relief. Healing. Salvation.

And so we pray: Lord, deliver us from tou ponērou.
In the face of all this hurt, toil, suffering, pain and brokenness, may your Kingdom Come.

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