In Catholicism, the highest authority—besides perhaps God Himself—is the so-called Vicar of Christ, the Pope. Catholic belief says that when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, with papal authority, the Pope is infallible concerning faith or morals to be followed by the whole church. In this way, he is superior to the Bible, as he can redefine and even replace biblical doctrine through his declarations from Rome. Many popes have used this authority down through the centuries, adding and taking away from Scripture (for example, Sabbath observance, Mary worship, purgatory, holy wars, papal authority itself, etc.).
It should come as no great surprise, then, that the present pontiff, Pope Francis, has approved a change in Jesus’ model prayer, traditionally called “The Lord’s Prayer,” in Matthew 6:9-13. The emendation is a small but significant one in the wording of verse 13, which reads in the New King James Version, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” With Francis’ go-ahead, Catholic Bibles—at first only Italian ones (although French, Spanish, and Portuguese Bibles have already implemented the change)—will render the verse as, “And do not let us fall into temptation. . .” (emphasis ours throughout).
The Vatican approved the change following, they say, sixteen years of research by scholars who found the current translation mistaken “from a theological, pastoral, and stylistic viewpoint.” Evidently, the Catholic experts cite “the Aramaic original” to claim that Jesus’ spoken words might have carried the “permissive sense.” (Theologically, the permissive sense is when God allows or permits circumstances from which He would normally shield a person. For instance, in I Samuel 16:14, “a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled [Saul].” Read in the permissive sense, this verse implies that God allowed a demon to torment the king but did not Himself send it.) However, a “permissive sense” reading cannot be inferred from the Greek text of Matthew 6:13.
The Pope’s publicly stated reason for the change runs along these same lines:
“I am the one who falls; it’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen,” Francis explained to Italian broadcasters about the phrase change. “A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation. That’s his department.” (Fox News, “Pope Francis made this big change to Lord’s Prayer,” June 5, 2019)
The difference in wording may seem minor at first, but in the end, it subtly weakens the nature of God in the minds of readers of Scripture. The apostle James does state, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13), which the Pope has gone to great lengths to stress. There is, though, a difference in God leading a believer into temptations and God directly tempting him. Jesus’ use of “do not lead us into temptation” is intentional, teaching us something critical about the God we worship.
The Greek verb in Matthew 6:13, eispherô, means “to bring into.” “Do not bring us into temptation” and “do not lead us into temptation” are thus correct, literal translations. The idea of God putting His people to the test is common in Scripture (see Exodus 16:4; 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2, 16; 13:3; Judges 2:22; etc.). He frequently leads people into such trials because He wants “to know what [is] in [their] heart, whether [they] will keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2), that is, when He needs to prove a person’s loyalty or commitment to Him.
In formulating the model prayer this way, Jesus instructs His disciples to beseech God to lead them in such a way that such testing against the world’s temptations is not necessary. It is far preferable to avoid any such trials of our faith, as this world’s temptations can be both extremely seductive and destructive. Thus, Jesus completes the couplet with “but deliver us from the evil one,” when we find ourselves in spiritual troubles we cannot handle.
We see, then, that while it may seem minor to some, the papal emendation inserts a subtle distortion into Scripture that undermines God’s personal work with His elect. The Pope’s change shifts God’s activity with His people from proactively walking us through life, even through testing and trial, to help us grow in character to being merely a last line of defense when we are about to make an unwise choice.
Matthew 4:1 teaches that the Father was intimately involved in the preparation of His own Son: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” a necessary exercise to demonstrate the Messiah’s unshakeable commitment to His purpose. God works just as deeply with His elect, yet this new translation obscures this fact, reducing God’s involvement to the level of throwing a life-preserver to a drowning person.
God unambiguously commands in Deuteronomy 12:32, “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (see Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19). The Pope should know this and fear to defy it, yet in his pride, he has proven once again that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (I Corinthians 1:25).