The Hebrew Origin of The Lord’s Prayer (with cogent quotes from ‘A Prayer to Our Father’ by Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson).
‘Our Father in Heaven’
Prayer for Mercy
Isaiah 63:15-16, KJV “Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? are they restrained? Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.”
Malachi (2:10a) echoes this as he says, “Have we not all one Father? Did not God create us?”
The prophet well understood that we are all God’s creatures: his created beings – that which He personally created by the divine will of His own hand.
There are those who say that there is no Jewish foundation for God, The King of Glory and Creation, to be called, ‘Our Father.’ Conclusively, do both Isaiah and Malachi publicly and spiritually proclaim the validity of how we open ourselves up to God in this wonderful, soul-revealing prayer.
As is, in fact, reiterated, for instance, in the Anglican/Episcopalian Communion in which is intoned,
‘And so, we are confident to say…Our Father who art in Heaven!’
I come to this prayer prayerfully and humbly each and every day in my morning devotionals. This is the moment when, in my’ secret closet,’ my soul opens to my Creator-God, whom I claim as my eternal Father.
How do I come?
I come broken, as the returning ‘prodigal.’
Weary of my loathsome burden (that of my fallen state), I forsake, yet again, a surfeit of sin that daily threatens to overwhelm and break me. I seek to return to my Father against whom I have repeatedly sinned.
Though each day commences unsullied, as it progresses, it is not perfection that accompanies me, but my propensity to err: to fall away to the World.
Each hour so often reminds me that I am falling short of the obedience and filial love that I owe my Father. For every true son seeks both the favor and pleasure of knowing that his conduct has proven pleasing to his ‘Dad.’
When we, stepping aside from our preoccupation with this world, become aware that we have caused him pain and distress, we are stricken and mortified.
What son who, loving his father, would not do anything to re-attain the paternal blessing and affection that his conduct has compromised?
Our Heavenly Father is the father of fathers. He transcends all filial paternal relationships on this ‘mortal coil’ that Shakespeare called the earth.
This prayer I am praying is my opening recognition (as appreciated and understood by Isaiah) of the status of Glory due to Him before whom I now come.
‘Yea, though I approach the eternal throne!’
In His divine majesty, how can dust approach the Throne of righteousness? Is it possible that I can approach Him who sits gloriously enthroned as the ‘Ancient of Days’?
This prayer, through its opening salutation, recognizes His glory as the Father Creator of the Earth, its created inhabitants and the Universe itself. My status is, therefore, instantly obvious. I am the suppliant son who, having displeased his father, seeks whatever the personal cost to retain his blessing.
And so I approach in abject poverty of spirit, ‘unfit to lick the crumbs underneath the banquet table.’
The way was paved for me by His Son, whose ‘finished’ work was the salvation offered to all humankind made in God’s image.
‘May your name be sanctified.’
Some pray “Hallowed be thy name,” yet in both the Greek and from its Hebrew roots, ‘may your name be sanctified’ is given.
The meaning is clear.
We are, by this invocation, ‘called to action.’ We are commanded to sanctify the name of God above all others – certainly above and forsaking any other that is proclaimed amongst our kind as ‘god,’ or vainly inclusive of a plethora of other objectified and worshiped entities that, beneath His Glory, have no substance or existence in fact.
The Hebrew intones, ‘the Lord, the Lord thy God is one!’
The Muslim comes part-way, ‘there is no God but God!’
The Christian, through the advent, ministry, execution and resurrection of Jesus, sings, ‘God in three persons, blessed Trinity!’ – the latter statement pertaining to the reconciliation that only the Christ will finally bring back the created world.
It is that reconciliation which the Christian now claims as a personal blessing – the Grace of Jesus, Himself, as the paschal lamb and intercessor between ourselves and God.
The Christian has attained this blessing of Grace because we have confessed and repented our life of sin, claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior – blessed redeemer.
We believe this implicitly with mind, heart and soul. And we are confident to acknowledge it with our lips, publicly.
Indeed, we are so commanded to acknowledge this, our covenant with God. It is the completion of an inviolable contract. Only the Judge Himself can break it. But He vowed that He will never forsake what was freely given Him through His Son.
We, in our fallen state, won’t, unfortunately, stop sinning.
Oh, that we could, but our sanctification is incomplete this side of our own rapturous resurrection and completion within our eternal, transcended state that is to come.
‘Therefore, do I acknowledge that I will sanctify your name above all names. King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Almighty God, Ancient of Days, Eternal Father and God Creator of all that was, is and is to be.’
‘May your kingdom be blessed.’
(vee-yeet-ba-rekh mal-khoot-kha) as opposed to, ‘Thy Kingdom come.’
The Hebrew translation of the Avinu Prayer (the ‘Our Father’) is that translated from the known manuscripts Of Matthew. There are 20 of these that are held in the one place. That is as microfiche in the Institute of Microfilmed Manuscripts (IMHM) in Jerusalem. Many of the original manuscripts themselves are held throughout Europe. After Kristallnacht when the Nazis destroyed the Synagogues and many priceless Jewish artifacts from antiquity, Hitler seized much of what was left to establish the Museum of the ‘Extinct Race.’ Since the end of the war, the manuscripts have found their way around the world. The Vatican has some, but it is allegedly difficult to get access. However, Israel has the entire 20 known manuscripts on microfiche.
The ancient Breslau manuscript has translated Matthew to read, ‘May your Kingdom be blessed.’
What is the blessing confirmed upon? It is asking God the Father to confer His blessing upon the present kingdom, that which exists now.
If we go to Chronicles, we see the blessing that King David conferred upon the entire congregation of the nation.
David’s Prayer of Praise
1 Chronicles 29:10-13, KJV “Wherefore David blessed the LORD before all the congregation: and David said, Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name.”
King David is blessing the Kingdom of God in its entirety and specifically in Heaven and on Earth. He is not calling the blessing on that which is to ‘come,’ but that which exists in Heaven and Earth as it presently exists.
Matthew’s version of the prayer prayed by Jesus translated as ‘blessed’ rather than a blessing on the Kingdom to come.
Is this at odds with the KJV? Not if we go to the King James Translation of the prayer. It ends with “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever,” does it not?
The KJV is thereby recognizing that we bless the Kingdom of God for its existence in the ‘here and now’ as well as that to come. God rules the Heavens and the earth. And God rules in the Kingdom that He will yet bring. God is the Creator/Ruler of the ‘here and now,’ and it is on that basis that we bless His Kingdom as an expression of His will, for we recognize His hand in all that transpires.
For instance, whatever the outcome of the American Election and the presidency of Donald J Trump, we of Christ will bless God’s kingdom, for we know that the eventual outcome is as He wills it to be.
Jesus summed it up exactly when the Pharisees challenged him to predict the future:
The Coming of the Kingdom
Luke 17:21, KJV “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
We bless what we know exists now; we bless the gift of His Word. Jesus went on to say that we do NOT know what will happen on the morrow, nor what will be the exercise of God’s will in that which is to come.
‘Your will shall be done in Heaven and on Earth.’
(re-tson-kha yee-he-ye a-sui ba-sha-mai-yeem u-va-a-rets)
King David prayed, ‘Teach me to do your will, for you are my God,’ and that this is what Jesus was referring to when he taught, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven.”
The same in the KJV:
Matthew 7:21 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
What then do I personally glean from this?
That which I see of God’s will is always expressed to me through that which I see Him doing now.
I did not see what He did in the past. However, in faith, I accept its validity.
However, it is the expression of His will at the present moment that is of the greatest concern to me. Some of it I see in our everyday lives. Other things I see are in the way I see His will expressed in the Heavens and in, of course, the natural elements. Feast or famine, healing rain or tsunami flood, earthquake’s roar or pyrrolic volcanic blast, I see the will of God Expressed.
Even the atheist and agnostic, arriving at some wonderful corner of the earth still unsullied by man, filled with glorious trees and vegetation, a crystal-clear stream meandering her gurgling, bubbling way through it, is awestruck. He feels that there is something here beyond what his eyes and senses reveal to him. Though, in all probability, he will never understand that he stands in a remnant of God’s garden.
‘Give us our bread continually/daily.’
(vee-tee-tayn la-may-noo tee-me-deet)
Bread is the staff of life, though “man shall not live by bread alone.” KJV
Remember the Lord Your God (Moses speaks to the Hebrews)
Deuteronomy 8:1-3 “All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers. And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”
To the Hebrew/Jew, bread is sacred. It is not to be wasted and is always to be made available freely to him who hungers.
This is particularly so with those Jews who have come to live in Israel from lands of great deprivation where often they starved. Amongst those Jews, bread is often left out for the wayfarer where he might see it as he passes by.
Nehemia Gordon spoke to this and explained that bread is so sacred (quote page 133 A Prayer to Our Father) ‘that when a piece of bread falls to the ground, these Israelis rush to pick it up and kiss it as they would a holy book that fell on the ground!’ (end quote)
In translating this, Gordon affirms that the early church Father, Origen (2nd century), strongly affirms that Jesus taught the Avinu prayer (The Our Father) in Hebrew. The Jews say, ‘Give us our bread tamid.’ The closest we can get to that in English is ‘continually.’ There is no similar word in Greek, so it is affirmed that the evangelists themselves simply invented a new Greek word, ‘epiousion,’ to cover its meaning as they understood it from the Hebrew. Apparently, there are other examples of the evangelists doing this when the Greek did not possess a similar or identical word. They invented a new one, not dissimilar to we of this generation wherein English is a living language that changes constantly. Go to America, and even similar or identical words have different meanings to those we use here in Australia.
And so, this wonderfully compelling prayer, The Avinu (Our Father), is reminding us of the symbolic nature of bread. Quoting again, ‘In Hebrew thought, “bread” is often a metaphor for the Word of God!’ (Nehemia Gordon, A Prayer to Our Father, page 138)
When I pray the Our Father each morning, this is how I personally pray it according to the dictates of my inner heart:
‘Father give us this day our daily bread. Feed me continually, for I know and understand that through your Holy Spirit, You and You alone sustain both my body and my soul.’ And I am often moved to add, ‘And Father, I understand that you give me life, sustaining both my body and soul that I might grow in my understanding of Your Word and come to worship you as I should!’
In truth (for me personally), I am praying my understanding that I have no other purpose in the time allotted me than to seek the utmost reconciliation with my Father through Jesus. This, to me, is and must be the entire focus of my journey through the day.
Some might consider it terribly incorrect of me to add to the prayer. However, the way I see it, it is the prayer that Jesus gave me directly. This is how I both understand and, with gratitude and love, thank him for feeding me thus. And I want Him to know that I know.
‘Forgive us the debt of our sins as we forgive the debt of those who sin against us.’
(oo-me-hol la-noo ha-to-te-noo ka-a-sher a-na-noo mo-ha-leem la-ho-teem la-noo)
Nehemia Gordon makes the point that Torah teaches that forgiveness is a central part of his Jewish heritage. It teaches men to walk ‘in His ways,’ to be merciful and forgiving to others, just as our wonderful Father is merciful and forgiving to us. We should add, ‘and long forbearing.’ And thank God for that alone, or else we would have ‘had it’ long ago.
We are commanded to emulate these traits, but the one trait we must not emulate is vengeance. This is a trait reserved for God alone. It is divine and singularly His right, according to the exercise of His divine will entirely.
Leviticus 19:17, KJV “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”
If we cannot bring ourselves to forgive the wrong done to us, then we place our own forgiveness in jeopardy if not confessed and repented. Might I add…and quickly!
Jesus strongly endorsed this when teaching the multitude the Avinu Prayer.
In my devotions, I sometimes am moved to painstakingly go over even ancient wrongs I have guiltily committed upon the souls of others. AND ask Him to forgive those same people who, in some cases, attempted (with some relative success) to ‘pay me forward’ and get ‘even.’
There are no winners when we take up the cudgels against others: only losers. Sometimes we can never reconcile with them.
‘Do not bring us into the hands of a test.’
(vee-al te-vee-e-noo lee-day nees-sa-yon)
“The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven.”
They were tempting Jesus by attempting to put Him to the Test.
‘You say you are who you say…then show a sign from Heaven; then we might believe you because, actually, we of the Sanhedrin reckon you to be just another charlatan and false prophet.’
Pharisees and Sadducees Seek a Sign
Mark 8:11-13; Luke 12:54-56, KJV “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.”
The Hebrew always translates this, even in the Aramaic, as a ‘test.’ The Greek translation used a word that can be interpreted either way. Behind the Greek, always, is the Hebrew/Aramaic, and they say ‘test,’ so the joint translation of the Prayer by Gordon and Johnson opts for ‘test.’
Whether ‘lead me not into temptation’ or ‘don’t put me to the test,’ I am appealing to God, in the weakness of my fallen nature, to keep me out of the clutches of the ‘Evil One – Har Shatan, who is always, it seems, ready to ‘do me down.’ And of course, there is the ‘small’ matter of the iniquity that forever dwells in my soul, always whispering to me, pandering to my hidden desires and proclivities, and saying, ‘Well…why not?’
‘And protect us from all evil.’
(ve-shom-re-noo mee-kol rah a-men)
The translation from the Greek can be interpreted two ways: Either, ‘deliver us from evil,’ or ‘deliver us from the evil one‘ (by inference har-Shatan…Satan).
The original KJV opts for “deliver us from evil” and follows the Hebrew/Aramaic. The NKJV, conversely, has gone with “deliver us from the evil one.”
Eve opted for this when attempting to explain her way out of her temptation to which, ultimately, both she and Adam succumbed.
Genesis 3:13 “Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ ‘The serpent deceived me,’ she replied, ‘and I ate.'”
Well, this old sinner prays both.
I have opted to ask God to deliver me from my own personal propensity to fall readily into sin because of my fallen state. Particularly, as a follow-on from not being subjected to a ‘test.’ I fear my weakness where sin is – that is, centered right smack dab in the middle of me.
Then, I ask Him to protect me from the power of the Evil One who is ever-ready to exploit my weak will and spoil my resolve to avoid sin in all its form.
I consider this wonderful prayer the singularly most important statement of my daily devotions.
We can pray it in the morning or evening or whenever. Just pray it from the heart. Dwell upon this most excellent food for the sustenance of your soul. You are communing with your Father, the God of our fathers; and because of the sacrifice of Jesus, every syllable is heard as this prayer wafts its way heavenward – a rising essence that equates as a sacrificial offering before the Throne of God.
Nehemia Gordon holds a Master’s Degree in Biblical Studies and a Batchelor’s Degree in Archaeology from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has worked on the translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and as a researcher in the deciphering of ancient Hebrew manuscripts. He is a native of Chicago but now resides in Israel.
Keith Johnson holds a Masters of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has spent nearly 20 years in Christian Ministry. He is an ordained Elder of the United Methodist Church. Keith lives in Charlotte, N.C with his wife and sons.
Together, they co-authored this in-depth journey into the origin and interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer- The Avinu, also called ‘The Our Father.’