'Lead us not into temptation': Should the wording of the Lord's Prayer be changed?

Moves to change the wording of the Lord's Prayer used by Catholics around the world appear to be gathering pace as the Italian Bishops' Conference has submitted a new version to the Vatican for approval.

At issue is the wording of the line usually rendered in English as 'and lead us not into temptation'. Pope Francis last year took issue with that, saying it was wrong to imagine God could tempt people to do wrong and that it was 'not a good translation'. 'A father does not lead into temptation, a father helps you to get up immediately,' he said.

He suggested the French version, 'do not let us enter into temptation'; Spanish-speakers have also changed their version, from 'lead us not into temptation' to 'forgive us our mistakes', though German bishops have declined to change the prayer.

The version suggested by Italian Catholics is, 'abandon us not when in temptation'.

At issue is not so much the literal translation of the Bible in Matthew 6:13, which does clearly imply that God is being asked not to do something. The Greek eisenenkēs, means to 'lead into' or 'bring in'; it is a second-person singular verb, in the active voice and the subjunctive ('expressing wish or desire') mood. If anything it is even more emphatic in the Latin favoured by the Church: 'Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.'

But questions of translation always involve some consideration of what words mean in context; some interpretation is not only permissible but is required. In this context, the verse concludes with 'but deliver us from evil', seeming to make God both responsible for evil and responsible for deliverance from it, with very little room in the middle for human choice. And this, of course, reflects a certain understanding of the mysterious sovereignty of God. But it's also true to say that while in the providence of God we may go through tempting and testing times, these are not to be sought after or welcomed (after all, we might fail the test!) – so this is a prayer of humility, showing a proper trust in God.

If a translation can make that clear, without doing violence to the text, it should be welcomed; as things stand, the version commonly used in English raises many questions which it isn't always easy to answer.

One short and snappy alternative is Eugene Peterson's in The Message: 'Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.'

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods