Matt. 6:12//Lk. 11:4a. "Forgive us our sins"
- B-Greeks, Synoptic Listers, Crosstalkers,
I beg the indulgence of list members for what you will see is a
rather lengthy post. But I'm not certain I could raise the question
I want to raise about the meaning of Matt. 6:12//Lk. 11:4a any more
As a preliminary (and admittedly cursory) probe into the literature
dealing with Matt. 6:12//Lk. 11:4a has revealed to me, the
"standard" understanding of this verse seems to be that the phrase
KAI AFES hHMIN TA OFEILHMATA (TAS hAMARTIAS, Lk.) hHMWN was
intended by Matthew and Luke (if not by Jesus himself) to be taken
as a plea to God to grant his "forgiveness" to the Jesus
community's for its failure to live up to the ways that God has
constrained it to show itself to be a people "worthy of God's
However, the more I think about what Matt. 6:12//Lk. 11:4a actually
says, the more I have begun to wonder whether this sttandard
interpretation of its meaning is actually the case. It seems to me
that for the petition to have the meaning it is usually assumed to
have, we must additionally assume not only (a) that the object of
AFIHMI is "guilt", and (b) that TA OFEILHMATA = sins, but also (c)
that the plea is grounded in and arises out of an awareness on the
disciples' part of being in a state of sin, of having done
something to offend God.
A fairly strong (though I think not necessarily compelling) case
can be made on behalf of the first two assumptions, for *Luke's
Gospel* at least, in the light of the fact that in Lk. 11:4a TAS
hAMARTIAS is the object of the verb, and that the Judaism of the
time seems to have conceived of "sin" as "debt" (assuming, of
course, that sin's liability was thought of in terms of "guilt").
But what indicates that this third assumption is correct? Does
anything in the text of the LP itself (or, for that matter, within
the respective Matthean, Lukan, or, yes, [sorry Mark G.], Q
contexts) really suggest it? I suspect not.
But what about the *larger* context of the LP, namely the thought
world of Judaism? According to exegetes, the answer is yes. And in
support of the idea that a consciousness of guilt stands behind KAI
AFES hHMIN TA OFEILHMATA hHMWN, many commentators point to the
parallel to Matt. 6:12//Lk. 11:4a that appears in the sixth
petition of the allegedly contemporaneous Jewish Synagogal prayer
known as the Eighteen Benedictions (EB). Here we find:
Forgive us, O our Father, for we have sinned;
pardon us, O our King, for we have transgressed;
for thou dost pardon and forgive!
(text from E. Lohmeyer, The Lord's Prayer, p. 166)
Quite obviously this plea for God's forgiveness *is* grounded in
and *does* arise out of a sense of having offended God. So don't we
have here, then, good evidence that this must also be the case in
the plea's parallel in Matt. 6:12//Lk. 11:4a?
Leaving aside the question of whether the EB, let alone its sixth
petition, is indeed contemporaneous with the LP (a highly doubtful
assumption, by the way), one should note, however, that the very
thing which allows us to see that the EB's petition for forgiveness
*does indeed* arise out of a sense of having offended God, namely,
an explicit confession of sinfulness, CANNOT BE FOUND IN EITHER
VERSION OF THE LP! Nowhere within the whole of Matt. 6:9-12//Lk.
11:2-4 is there anything materially or formally resembling the
heartfelt admissions "for we have sinned ..., for we have
transgressed". Rather, where we would expect to find a confession
of sinfulness, we have instead a declaration of how obedient the
disciples have been to God's will (hWS KAI hHMEIS AFHKAMEN TOIS
OFEILETAIS hHMON�, Matt; KAI GAR AUTOI AFIOMEN PANTI OFEILONTI
hHMIN�, Lk.). So I think it is doubtful that what is being asked
for in petition six of the EB is what is being asked for in Matt.
6:12//Lk. 11:4a or vice versa.
But, then, I say to myself "Come on, Gibson. What other meaning
could KAI AFES hHMIN TA OFEILHMATA hHMWN have had? How else--except
as the expression of a desire to have an acknowledged guilt
removed--could we expect the language of the Matt. 6:12//Lk. 11:2a
to have been functioned in Matthew's or Luke's or Jesus time? Is
there any other plausible alternative?"
Well, the answer may be yes. Consider what is implied concerning
the intention behind Matt. 6:12//Lk. 11:4a when it is set against
what I think is materially and formally much closer parallels to
our text than what appears in the EB -- Moses' petition to God
found int Ex. 34:6-10 (the sequel to the Golden calf episode) and
its echo in Num. 14:11-22 (the story of the apostasy of most of
Israel after hearing the report of those who were sent to spy out
Canaan). Ex. 34:6-10 reads
The LORD passed before him, and [Moses] proclaimed, "The
LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to
anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
[7keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving
iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no
means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the
fathers upon the children and the children's children, to
the third and the fourth generation." [8And Moses made
haste to bow his head toward the earth, and worshiped.
[9And he said, "If now I have found favor in thy sight,
O Lord, let the Lord, I pray thee, go in the midst of us,
although it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our
iniquity and our sin (KAI AFELEIS SU TAS hAMARTIAS hHMWN
KAI TAS ANOMIAS hHMWN), and take us for thy inheritance
(KAI ESOMEQA SOI)." [10And he said, "Behold, I make a
covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such
as have not been wrought in all the earth or in any
nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see
the work of the LORD; for it is a terrible thing that I
will do with you. [11"Observe what I command you this
The text of Numbers reads:
 And the LORD said to Moses, "How long will this
people despise me? And how long will they not believe in
me, in spite of all the signs which I have wrought among
them?  I will strike them with the pestilence and
disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater
and mightier than they."  But Moses said to the
LORD, "Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for thou didst
bring up this people in thy might from among them,
and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They
have heard that thou, O LORD, art in the midst of this
people; for thou, O LORD, art seen face to face, and thy
cloud stands over them and thou goest before them, in a
pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.
 Now if thou dost kill this people as one man, then
the nations who have heard thy fame will say,
`Because the LORD was not able to bring this people
into the land which he swore to give to them, therefore
he has slain them in the wilderness.'  And now, I
pray thee, let the power of the LORD be great as thou
hast promised, saying,  `The LORD is slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and
transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty,
visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children, upon the
third and upon the fourth generation.'  Pardon the
iniquity of this people (AFES THN hAMARTIAN TW LAW
TOUTW), I pray thee, according to the greatness of thy
steadfast love, and according as thou hast forgiven this
people, from Egypt even until now."  Then the LORD
said, "I have pardoned, according to your word;  but
truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled
with the glory of the LORD,  none of the men who
have seen my glory and my signs which I wrought in Egypt
and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the proof
these ten times and have not hearkened to my voice, 
shall see the land which I swore to give to their
fathers; and none of those who despised me shall see it.
 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different
spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the
land into which he went, and his descendants shall
Here, as in Matt. 6:12//Lk. 11:4a, we find a petition for
"forgiveness" uttered by a faithful remnant of a larger community,
against a backdrop of disobedience on the part of that larger
community (which, notably, has been "putting God to the test"!, cf.
Ex. 17; 33; and note Num. 14:22) because the petitioner recognizes
that forgiveness is not so much the pardoning of sins or the
removal of guilt, but both the ground and enabler of obedience and
the guarantee of the continuation of Israel as God's elect.
So I wonder, then, if what we really have behind Matt. 6:12//Lk.
11.4a is the expression of something along the lines of the
Regard us not as the unfaithful in the wilderness
generation, but as you did Caleb and keep us as your
people, for unlike the wilderness generation, we have
obeyed your word.
If this is the case, then the petition KAI AFES hHMIN TA OFEILHMATA
(TAS hAMARTIAS) hHMWN is, as I have been arguing all the other
petitions in the LP are as well, a plea for the community to be
protected against falling into the apostasy that the wilderness
generation engaged in.
Again, comments please.
- Many apologies if my lengthy post showed up twice in your respective mail
boxes. While I was first sending it out, my server was interrupted.
Thinking that because of this the message had not been posted, I sent it
out again. Well, as you can see, despite the interruption, the message
was indeed sent out on my first as well as my second attempt to do so.
Just call me the clutterer as well as the clutz.
- You're forgiven, Jeffrey.
Sorry, just couldn't resist...
I had the same problem happen to me the other day (two posts posted instead of one) but I have no idea why it happened. I apologize anyway...
> Many apologies if my lengthy post showed up twice in your respective mail