The Lord’s Prayer: “Adding To” or “Subtracting From” Scripture?

ourfatherdoxology

Introduction

In many churches, the Our Father (“The Lord’s Prayer”) is said slightly differently. Some (e.g., the Catholic and Orthodox) conclude with the prayer for deliverance from evil, while others (mostly Protestant) go on to say, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” before saying “Amen.” Indeed, this follows from Matthew 6:13 (cf. KJV, NASB). So, are some churches subtracting this phrase from Jesus’ prayer, or are others adding to it? Neither seem to be good ideas for Christians (e.g., Dt. 4:2, 12:21; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:19).

The Our Father is found in Matthew chapter 6 where Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray. If this line is in the Bible, then dropping it seems to be a clear example of the Church “subtracting from Scripture” (due to some “tradition of man” perhaps). However, the history behind this little phrase is a bit more involved – and it argues for the reliability of Church tradition, not against it.

According to the Bible

The first thing to note is that the prayer differs even between the gospels themselves. Although the form in Matthew is the one used by nearly all Christians today, a shorter version is recorded by Luke in chapter 11 where it ends with “lead us not into temptation” (Lk. 11:4). So technically, one would be completely biblically justified in simply ending the prayer there.

Second, it seems that the verse in question probably was original to the Bible writings. It is not included in the “oldest and best” biblical manuscripts, and is therefore not considered to be part of the original biblical text by the majority of biblical scholars today whether Catholic or Protestant. The King James Version of the Bible is based on the Textus Receptus which itself was not based on the oldest manuscripts we have today. Neither Codex Sinaiticus nor Vaticanus contain the verse – in fact, the earliest witness we have to the longer ending is a late fourth or early fifth century parchment called Codex Washingtonensis.

The English wording of the Our Father that Protestants use today reflects the version based on the English version of the Bible produced by Tyndale in 1525. Tyndale’s version was not traditional in the liturgical tradition of western Christendom, until found the 1637 Scottish Book of Common Prayer. Finally, although the longer ending remains popular in use today, there are many Bibles that do not include it. Catholic Bible translations (e.g., the Vulgate, the Douay-Rheims, or the New American) have never included it, and today most Protestant Bibles do not either (e.g., the ASV, CEV, ESV, GWT, GNT, NET, NIV, NIRV, NLT, and TNIV do not include the phrase, and others such as the HCSB, NASB, and NCV often bracket the phrase to set it off from the original text). Even modern versions of the KJV includes a footnote stating that the phrase is omitted in older manuscripts.

According to Tradition

Third,  although early Church Fathers such as Jerome, Gregory the Great, Ambrose, and Augustine wrote of the importance and beauty of the “Our Father” prayer, none of them included the phrase when they referenced it. The commentaries on the prayer by Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian do not include it either. John Chrysostom did discuss the phrase in his 4th century homily St. Matthew (19:10).

Fourth, when we turn from Scripture commentary to Church Tradition, we find this phrase (which resembles 1 Chronicles 29:11) in ancient liturgical use as a short doxology (praise response) to the Lord’s Prayer. The Christian manual known as the Didache (c. 95 A.D.) has a short version of the doxology after the “Our Father” in chapter 8, and the longer reading is found in the 4th century Apostolic Constitutions (7.24). From there it was incorporated into the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as well. Thus, it seems that this phrase might very well have been a doxology – a conclusion to the original prayer that Jesus instructed his disciples to say.

Scriptural and traditional evidence points to a 4th century addition of the phrase to the original prayer. It is likely that around this time, a scribe familiar with the liturgy added the doxology to Sacred Scripture while copying the “Our Father” passage, and it found its way into later translations of the Bible itself. These copies eventually outnumbered the more ancient documents, and the phrase was included in the gospels in the majority of ancient Bible manuscripts from then on.

According to Protestantism

When early Protestants produced their own Bible translations in the 16th century, they used the majority text as their source. The result was that their translations included the phrase as if it were part of the original gospel writings. In England, Tyndale’s translation included it, and when Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church, he decreed its inclusion in worship. Finally, the virulently anti-Catholic Queen Elizabeth had it included in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Once it was brought over to America by the Puritans, the phrase’s addition was further solidified. So it seems that English Protestants added a traditional Catholic prayer to the Bible in order to distance themselves from what they thought were unbiblical Catholic traditions!

Conclusion

Ironically, what might at first seem to Protestants as an illegitimate subtraction from the Word of God due to Church tradition is actually more faithful to both. Contrary to Protestant fears, the truth in this case was better preserved by Church tradition than Bible translation. Although Protestants have corrected many of their modern Bible translations, it seems their tradition(!) of adding a Catholic doxology to the scriptural Lord’s Prayer may take a bit more time to overcome.

Post-Script

NOTE: A minority view exists among biblical scholars which holds that it was actually the minority (Alexandrian) text that was corrupted early and that the majority (Byzantine) text tradition is more accurate to the original writings. Although the evidence above can be explained according to this model, it is nevertheless a fact that the manuscript tradition best reflects the Church’s tradition.

Advertisements