Deliver Us From Evil

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47da-e98b-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.rThe seventh and final petition of the Lord’s Prayer (and the original concluding words of the prayer) are “but deliver us from evil.”  This petition stands in parallel to the preceding petition, “lead us not into temptation.”  Each helps interpret the other.  We are to live lives of continual vigilance, recognizing the ongoing danger of temptation.  We call upon God to deliver us from that which tempts: evil.

It is necessary to note an ongoing point of debate in translation regarding this petition.  The traditional form of the prayer simply reads “evil,” thereby calling to mind evil as an abstract concept.  This is reflected in many translations:

KJV Matthew 6:13   13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

NAS Matthew 6:13   13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

ESV Matthew 6:13   13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

But, some translations have offered a different interpretation.  The word “evil” is the Greek adjective ponēros.  The adjective could be understood either as an abstract adjectival concept (as in the above translations), or it could be understood to refer to a person.  Understood in this light, ponēros would be rendered not as “evil,” but as “the Evil One.”  This is reflected in several other translations:

NLT Matthew 6:13   13 And don’t let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

NRSV Matthew 6:13   13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

NIV Matthew 6:13   13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Now, tinkering with the verbiage of the Lord’s Prayer should not be taken lightly.  But accuracy in translation should be the highest goal in seeking to handle the Word of God.  We don’t want to innovate, but we do want to be accurate.  And the translation “Evil One” is more likely to be the understanding that Jesus had in view.

We are driven toward this interpretation, I believe, from the broader New Testament context.  Jesus himself was tempted three times in the wilderness.  Not only was he tempted, he was tempted by a Tempter; he was tempted by Satan.

Mark 1:12-13   12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert,  13 and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.

The threefold temptation is described for us in Matthew 4:1-11, and also in Luke 4:1-13.  Both gospel writers relate Satan’s attempts to lead the Lord from his path of perfect obedience to the Father’s will.  Three times Satan tempts Jesus.  Three times Jesus successfully resists that temptation, appealing on each occasion to the Word of God in scripture.

Of course, Satan appeals to scripture too.  This is itself a form of temptation as he skews the intended meaning of the words of God.  Jesus doesn’t fall for this.  Not only is he committed to God’s Word, he is also committed to its faithful interpretation.

These temptation narratives are obviously intended to remind us of the temptation of our first parents.  Eve was thrice tempted in the Garden by the Serpent.  Unlike Christ, who displayed threefold faithfulness, Eve (and Adam, who was there with her!) fell in sin.

It wasn’t only Jesus and our first parents who were tempted by Satan.  Rather, we are repeatedly warned of the danger of temptation by “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan” (Revelation 20:2).

Jesus warns Peter:

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32   

Peter (himself having fallen in his threefold temptation, but having turned back) likewise in turn warns us:

8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8   

It sounds ridiculously old fashioned in our contemporary context to talk about the Devil.  People make jokes about red tights, pitchforks, and horns.  I suppose the Devil is a bit old-fashioned (he has been around since before there was fashion…or tights, or clothing of any variety), but there is nothing the least bit funny about him.  He is a malevolent being bent on our destruction.

He doesn’t need to get us through some sort of Exorcist-style possession, or through some sensational ritual of the occult.  He seeks to get us (and he quite often succeeds) by availing himself of old and familiar tools.  He tempts us to sin (in an enormous variety of ways, custom-catered to our particular vulnerabilities).  He leads us into temptation: to do those things which we ought not to do; to refrain from doing those things which we ought to do.

We may not believe in him.  He is OK with that.  As C.S. Lewis famously reminds us, “If devils exist, their first aim is to give you an anesthetic — to put you off your guard. Only if that fails, do you become aware of them.”  Satan is perfectly happy not to be believed in.  He is much more powerful for our spiritual slumber.

All the more reason to pray the Lord’s Prayer – to call upon God to deliver us from our ancient enemy, the Evil One.