I recently had a question asked of me regarding a petition found in our Lord’s Model Prayer or what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. The petition specifically referred to is, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil [One]” (Matthew 6:13). The question asked was, “The way the sentence is worded it implies that the Lord is the one who leads us into temptation, and the petition is requesting the Lord not to do so. Does not James tell us that it is not the Lord who tempts us, yet that petition suggests He does?”
This presents an exegetical problem for many. How is one to interpret the meaning of “lead us not into temptation?” Let it be stated, the Bible is clear that God does not tempt us to do evil (James 1:13-14), but “God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape” (I Cor. 10:13). One can be sure that “lead us not into temptation” does not imply that God brings us into the place of temptation.
It is understood that many times when translating words into another language it is often difficult to find an equivalent word that best conveys the meaning of the original thought, and, as well, words often carry with them several meanings. The word translated “lead” in Matthew 6:13 in εἰσενέγκῃς (eisenegkes) which is the inflected form of the verb εἰσφέρω (eispheró) (eis-fer’-o). This is a compound verb formed by the preposition εἰς (to/into) and the verb φέρω (to bring into/carry something or someone). While “to bring into an area or bring in” is the basic meaning of εἰσφέρω the word has a rich history in Greek literature which sheds light on what the verse is petitioning.
Homer (c. 8th Cen BC) in the Iliad employed the word εἰσφέρω to speak of that which is “sweep along or swept away” like in the waters of a river. Herodotus (4th Cen BC) in Histories used the word εἰσφέρω to speak of “the proposing of political measures.” Other Greek writers used εἰσφέρω to refer to “being brought into” or “introduce” or “bring forward” (Henry George Liddell & Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford: Clarendon Press, revised 1940).
The various usages of the word conveys the idea of “don’t allow me to be swept away by temptation” or “don’t allow anything to be proposed against me that would defeat me” or “don’t let me to be introduced into or brought into temptation.” The petition parallels with what is found in Psalm 141:4 – “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties.” This petition also has a parallel in a daily prayer found in the Talmud (the Talmud is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law and Jewish theology), “Bring me not into sin, or into iniquity or into temptation. And may the good inclination have sway over me and let not the evil inclination have sway over men” (Berakot 605, Str-B 1:4).
In the light of the rich heritage of the word εἰσφέρω, the OT parallel in Psalm 141:4, and the daily prayer in the Talmud, the petition in Matthew 6:13 is best understood as meaning “don’t let me be swept away by the power of temptation” or “don’t let me succumb to the power of temptation” (Craig Blomberg, “Matthew,” New American Commentary, Volume 22, (Broadman Press, 1992) 119-121). The sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is requesting protection against and deliverance from the sway of the Evil One who seeks to sweep us away like mighty river.
It is truly a daily prayer we need to lift to the Lord.