in the Lord's Prayer - Debts and Sins
this show change
or completeness and full meaning?
a more detailed look at the Lord's Prayer and this question,
see this later article.
6:12 'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven
our debtors. (NASU)
11:4a 'And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also
forgive everyone who is indebted to us. (NASU)
"debts" and "sins" appear to be far different to
us in English, both in sound and in meaning. Those who love to
point out perceived discrepancies in the Bible often thrust examples
such as this into the forefront claiming such as "proof"
that the Bible is somehow unreliable.
Christian perspective, its amazes me that they could think that an all-powerful
God could have His word written down but somehow fail to make sure
it was done so accurately, let alone account for the fact that it
would have to transmitted throughout future history by copying and
translation. Because I do believe in this revealed sovereign
God, it always drives me to give further examination to any of these
perceived deficiencies or contradictions, looking for the higher
unity that is always part of the meaning and intent of God's unified
and perfect revelation.
who disparage Scriptures by viewing it as book that has undergone
revision typically hold the version in Luke as being an earlier form
of the Lord's prayer that had been subsequently reshaped into the one
in Matthew. They claim this with little cause and a few even
assert that it could have been the other direction.
having a higher view of Scriptures often state something to the
effect of "More likely the two reflect similar teachings of
Jesus from two different occasions in his ministry. (New American
Commentary, article on Matthew 6:9-13)" This is quite
probable as repetition in various circumstances, in whole or in part,
is certainly found throughout the Bible, including the gospels.
The specifically recorded contexts of these citations in Luke and
Matthew do not presuppose a single event, nor do they preclude
it. If two separate events, it perhaps leaves us a primary
question of why Jesus would change from sins to debts (or the
reverse) in His example prayer. Many expositors view debts here
as being primarily spiritual debts to God, with other commentaries
directly associating the word "debts" as being merely
alternate wording for "sins" (e.g. Hendriksen-Kistemaker NT Commentary).
the context of Matthew 6:12, where Jesus immediately returns to the
topic of sins in verse 14, draws the reader to the conclusion that
sin is in view.
6:12-15 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven
our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us
from the evil one.' 14 For if you forgive men when they sin
against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if
you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your
utilizes a different Greek word for sins (or trespasses) than Luke,
but both are legitimately translated as sins in English. But,
if sin was in view in Matthew 6:12, why use the word "debts?"
worthy of consideration deals with language and translation
issues. Matthew, who certainly wrote for a primarily Jewish
audience, himself an eyewitness and participant in the events he
recorded, would have memory of these events in the language he
normally used. The common language of Jesus and the disciples,
indeed of Israel in New Testament times, was Aramaic (a related
Semitic language to Hebrew, also found in the Bible especially in the
book of Daniel).
never really died out, continuing on through history in a form called
Syriac which subsequently was retained as a liturgical language in
eastern churches. Missionary endeavors spread this translation
from Lebanon, Egypt, Sinai, and Mesopotamia, to Armenia, India, and
China (by the 8th century). In fact, there are a few isolated
populations in the Middle East or western Asia that still use Aramaic
as their native first language.
the New Testament written and distributed originally in Greek mostly
because it was a common language spread widely throughout the Roman
world. And yet, the need to have these same books translated
back into Aramaic for regional purposes still existed in the early
church. This translation, known as the Peshitta (meaning
"simple version"), is one of the earliest, dating to the
2nd century. This Old Syriac translation became the standard
for Aramaic populations even to this day - sometimes being called the
"Syriac Vulgate" equating it to the longstanding Latin text
that held predominance for most of church history in the west.
of Matthew 6:12, perhaps better revealing the wording that would have
been native to Matthew (as an Aramaic speaker), is quite
interesting. The Greek word which is translated
"debts" in English, in Aramaic is a word that had dual
meaning. The text utilizes a single Aramaic word that means
both "debts" and "sins."*
Here there is no need to infer that "debts" pertains to
"sins," the text reflects this directly. This Syriac
rendering provides us a clue that Jesus' original wording in Aramaic
may have been this word, meaning "debts" and
"sins." This left both Matthew and Luke to express it
in Koine ("Common") Greek, providentially each choosing one
of the two alternatives - making sure that the New Testament included
than viewing this difference between Matthew and Luke as being
something to disparage Scriptures, I see it as God working to assure
that the fullness of meaning and intent, of His original words, would
be carried into all future translations by having this built-in
An English translation of the Syriac Peshitta can be found in The
Antioch Bible by Gorgias Press. This specific occurrence and
word usage in the Lord's Prayer is highlighted in the translator's introduction.