Over the past year, I’ve had a lot of people ask about the obvious changes to the Lord’s Prayer in the Sunday bulletin. I wanted to take some time to answer the questions about what this translation is, where it came from, and why we’ve been using it.
It can be a shock when a prayer as familiar as the Lord’s Prayer is suddenly changed. But over the decades and even centuries, our worship texts and translations of scripture have constantly been updated and evolved. The current version we are printing in the bulletin isn’t actually new. It was the result of The Consultation on Common Texts, ecumenical conversations involving both Catholics and Protestants about what texts to use in worship that took place in the mid 1960s. The focus was to develop agreed upon versions of worship texts used in common by the churches.
The most familiar version of the Lord’s Prayer (beginning “our Father, who art in heaven) is the translation that comes from the King James Version of the Bible which comes from the 16th century. 20th century breakthroughs in biblical scholarship led to more accurate and complete translations of scripture. Also, there has always been an emphasis on presenting scripture in the vernacular, or common language (this was one of Luther’s primary concerns!)
In 1981, the New Revised Standard Version of scripture was published by the World Council of Churches which contained the more “modern” version of the Lord’s Prayer that is currently in our bulletin. It was included as an option in the liturgy in the Lutheran Book of Worship (The “Green Book”), which was published in 1978. There was also briefly another version in the Revised Standard Version of scripture, which contained the somewhat known lines “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” However, this translation never made it into primary Lutheran worship resources.
But if that’s the history of translations of the Lord’s Prayer, it still leaves the question of why start using it now? I think it’s important to remember that our worship texts and prayers come from scripture, and that our efforts to translate scripture are always evolving and updating. In every age, we do our best to translate the original Greek and Hebrew into modern language that represents our best attempt to capture what the original languages were saying. Said another way, the exact words are not as important as getting the message across in a way that makes sense in modern language. I think it’s great when we stop and really think about the words we are saying.
That being said, prayer is the language of our hearts, and there’s something to say for the power of repetition and familiarity. Our words do have power, and over the years we become attached to them. There’s nothing wrong with that. In our beautifully diverse Church and world, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed by millions of Christians in so many different translations and languages. Personally, I think it would be a gift to hear it in different ways often, perhaps praying it in Spanish one week to pray in solidarity with our Latinx neighbors, and maybe German another week to celebrate the history and heritage of our particular congregation. Whatever language we pray, or versions of scripture we use, rest assured, God hears our prayers.