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  • Peter Carras
    The following article written by BRYAN BLAIR, PROFESSOR OF GREEK, THORNTON HALL, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO offers his thoughts on the correct translation of
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 3, 1999
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      The following article written by BRYAN BLAIR, PROFESSOR OF GREEK,
      THORNTON HALL, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO offers his thoughts on the correct
      translation of Deliver us from evil/the evil one (o poneros) of the
      Lord's Prayer, Matthew 6:13. In this article a*a*a refers to poneros =
      the evil one and b*b*b = evil.


      The Greek text of Mt. 6:13 reads a*a*a. If we were to decline the word
      a*a*a, we would say that it is the genitive singular form of a second
      declension noun. This noun could be either b*b*b ("evil") or a*a*a
      ("the evil one" = satan), for both these nouns have identical genitive
      singular forms and both occur elsewhere in the New Testament. Therefore
      the form or morphology of a*a*a cannot tell us whether it means "evil"
      or "the evil one".
      Let us now look at the linguistic evidence for and against each of
      these translations.

      Deliver us from evil

      - a*a*a is taken to come from b*b*b (= "evil"). This interpretation has
      the support of Jerome (the Vulgate translates aaa), Augustine, and many
      of the Latin Fathers.
      - in the majority of instances in the New Testament, this word is used
      to mean "(that which is) evil".
      - e.g. Lk. 6:45 "an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart
      bringeth forth that which is evil (= b*b*b)".
      Mt. 5:39 "but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil (= b*b*b)".
      b*b*b cannot refer to the devil, for a Christian must resist the devil
      (Jm. 4:7, I Pt. 5:9, Eph. 6:14-17). The context would also indicate
      that we must translate b*b*b* as "evil".
      - satan is not referred to as "the evil one" in Hebrew or Aramaic
      literature. However, he is referred to as "the evil one" in the
      vocabulary of the early Church.
      - elsewhere in the New Testament, a*a*a or b*b*b does not refer to the
      devil but to men (R. 15:31, 2 Th. 3:2, 2 Pt. 2:7) and powers (2 C. 1:10
      a*a*a [= "death"], 2 Tm. 3:11 a*a*a [= "persecutions"], 2 Tm. 4:17 a*a*a
      [= "the mouth of the lion"], 2 Tm. 4:18 a*a*a [= "every evil deed"], 2
      Pt. 2:9 a*a*a [= "tribulation"])
      - the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament writes: "the prayer
      may be for deliverance from all evil...In such petitions prayer is made
      for deliverance from all temptation, shame, evil impulse, evil events
      and sickness, evil thoughts and dreams, and consequently from aaa in the
      sense of evil and the bad".
      - Luther follows the tradition when (in the Greater Catechism) he
      includes the devil, the "wicked malicious arch-enemy", in this evil.
      - might we not expect a qualifying a*a*a (= "all") with a*a*a?
      - cf. 5:11 a*a*a (="all evil")
      - 2 Tim. 4:18 a*a*a (= "every evil deed")
      - 1 Th. 5:22 a*a*a (= "every appearance of evil")

      Deliver us from the evil one

      - a*a*a is taken to come from b*b*b (= "the evil one" = satan)
      - this interpretation has the unanimous support of the Greek Fathers:
      Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nicea, and John Chrysostom.
      - it also has the support of Tertullian, Cyprian, and Ambrose, and its
      later supporters include Erasmus, Zwingle, and Karl Barth.
      - other usages of this noun to mean "the evil one" include:
      (i) Mt. 5:37 "Let what you say be simply "Yes" or "No"; anything more
      than this comes from the evil one ( = a*a*a)".
      (ii) Mt. 13:19 (the parable of the sower) "the evil one comes (= a*a*a)
      and snatches away what is sown..." N.B. cf. the same parable in Mk. 4:15
      a*a*a (= "satan comes") and Lk. 8:12 a*a*a (= "the devil comes").
      (iii) Eph. 6:16 "taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench
      all the flaming darts of the evil one (= a*a*a)"
      (iv) 2 Th. 3:3 "the Lord will strengthen you and guard you from the
      evil one (= a*a*a)".
      (v) 1 Jn. 2:13 and 14 "I am writing to you, young men, because you have
      overcome the evil one (= a*a*a)".
      (vi) 1 Jn. 5:18 "any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born
      of God keeps him, and the evil one (= a*a*a) does not touch him".
      (vii) 1 Jn. 5:19 " we know that we are of God, and the whole world is
      in the sower of the evil one (= a*a*a)".
      - cf. also the parallel in Lk. 22:28-32, where aaa (= "in my
      trials/tribulations/temptations") is immediately followed by mention of
      - many have interpreted the sixth petition ("lead us not into
      temptation") as referring to deliverance from the eschatological
      tribulation. If this is true, then the mention of satan in the nest
      clause ("but deliver us from the evil one") would be very appropriate,
      for the last time will include the assault and fall of the devil.


      Having sifted through all the evidence presented in this paper, I would
      translate the words a*a*a as "deliver us from the evil one". I
      translate in this way not because of the theological relevance of the
      reference to eschatological tribulation, but because of the Greek
      Fathers. Greek was their native language. They read the Bible in Greek,
      studied it in Greek, and discussed it in Greek. Their knowledge of the
      nuances and subtleties of the New Testament text was and is
      unsurpassed. Their unanimous support of this interpretation has
      convinced me of its truth.


      I am particularly indebted to the scholarship of two works: W. Bares
      Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian
      Literature (Chicago, 1979), and G. Friedrich's Theological Dictionary of
      the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1964).
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