Following the French, the Italian bishop’s conference recently voted to adjust the wording of the Our Father for liturgical purposes, changing “Lead us not into temptation” to “Abandon us not into temptation”. They had agreed with Pope Francis who had stated that,
“A father does not lead into temptation, a father helps you to get up immediately. …It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation” (Link).
A key point in his public letter correcting Card. Sarah on the new protocol with respect to liturgical translations revealed the pope’s preferred methodology:
“Here we can add that, in light of the MP [Magnum Principium], the “fideliter” of §3 of the canon implies a triple fidelity: to the original text in primis; to the particular language into which it is translated and, lastly, to the comprehension of the text by the recipients” (link).
His methodology for liturgical translations (including scripture) is threefold:
- Establishing the authenticity of the original text.
- Establishing the linguistic equivalent in a given language.
- Establishing if and how the readers will understand the translated words.
The third point can possibly nullify the second, forcing a retranslation that better conveys the author’s meaning. This can be unavoidable, particularly in the case of metaphorical language; if you want to translate “it was raining cats and dogs” into another language you’re better off with “it was raining a lot”. But in terms of didactic language, especially from inspired scripture, one must be careful not to distort the author’s intended meaning.
“To Lead into Temptation”
Any Word in a given language possesses a range of meaning, as will the word that is commonly used to translate it in another language; but the range of the the two might not be the same. So sometimes the common translation will not work and would need to be replaced by a word or phrase that better corresponds to the particular meaning within the original word’s broader range of meaning.
The verb “to Lead” in Greek is eisphero, and it is usually translated “to bring” or “to bring into”, less commonly “to lead” or “to lead into”, but that’s pretty much it. It has a very narrow range of meaning. Review the Biblical (Koine) Greek lexicon entry here. View the Classical Greek entry here.
It is theologically uncomfortable to affirm that God leads his children into temptation, but that’s what St. Luke and the other evangelists wrote. It doesn’t imply that God does the tempting. Greek has a large vocabulary and the evangelists had many other words at their disposal. In fact, leading into temptation it is exactly what God did to Jesus:
Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1).
Recall what Jesus urged His sleepy disciples to do during His agony in the garden:
“Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
The word “test” is the same word in Greek as “temptation”, peirasmos, which carries a broader range of meaning than just “temptation”, including “test,” “testing”, or “trial”, which do not necessarily imply an inducement to commit sin. Review the lexicon entry here, Classical Greek here.
“Norms of Language”
In E.D. Hirsch’s Validity in Interpretation, a classic on the subject of literary hermeneutics, professor Hirsch argues that the goal of interpretation is to understand what an author intended. Hirsch argues that the norms of language allow the interpreter to access the intention of an author because they impose limitations on both:
“Although verbal meaning requires the determining will of an author or interpreter, it is nevertheless true that the norms of language exert a powerful influence and impose an unavoidable limitation on the wills of both author and interpreter” (p. 27).
“Verbal meaning is whatever someone has willed to convey by a particular sequence of linguistic signs and which can be conveyed (shared) by means of those linguistic signs” (p. 31).
St. Luke has no problem with the pope changing the translation of “temptation” to “trial” or “testing”, they are within the Greek word’s range of meaning. But the limitations imposed by the norms of language mean, like it or not, he’s stuck with “Lead us not…”