The meaning of ‘temptation’ in the Lord’s Prayer

[Preliminary note: All the biblical quotations in English are from the New International Version (2011).]

Le Notre-Père, the French version of the Lord’s Prayer, was revised in La Bible : Traduction officielle liturgique (Paris: Éditions Mame, 2013), the official liturgical translation of the Bible.

French-speaking Catholics used to say:

Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation.
          translation:
And do not subject us to temptation.

They now say:

Et ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation.
          translation:
And do not let us enter into temptation.

The former formulation seemed to imply that God may put the faithful to the test, and even lead them to sin, which contradicted the Gospel of James, 1:13-14:

When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.

The new French formulation clarifies the fact that God is not the Tempter, thus emphasising the role of free will.

But this new formulation, with its verb entrer en (enter into), also hints at a geographical location, and points to a different understanding of the nature of temptation.

The term temptation in the Lord’s Prayer corresponds to the Greek term πειρασμός (= peirasmos), which is also found in the Greek version of the Book of Exodus, 17.

(Exodus, 17:1): The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, travelling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim.

(Hebrew Rephidim means rest, repose.)

As there is no water to drink, the people quarrel with Moses, who says:

(Exodus, 17:2): “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

Consequently:

(Exodus, 17:7): [Moses] called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

In Hebrew, Meribah means quarrelling, and Massah, which means testing, is peirasmos in the Greek version of the Bible. And this is why it is said, in the Book of Deuteronomy, 6:16:

Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.

The perspective is therefore reversed: in the Lord’s Prayer, the notion traditionally conveyed by the word temptation does not refer to the fact that God may put the faithful to the test, but to the fact that they may put God to the test by doubting him, as they did in Massah.

In the face of adversity, in times of trial, the faithful can react in two opposite ways: they can either choose Rephidim, consisting in trusting God, or Massah, consisting in doubting God.

Cf. also On biblical translations: “what is lacking” vs. “the number of fools”.

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