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Matt. 6:12//Lk. 11:4a. "Forgive us our sins"

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  • Jeffrey Gibson
    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
    Message 1 of 3 , Mar 11, 1998
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      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
      briefly.

      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
      name".

      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?

      I wonder.

      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
      day.

      The text of Numbers reads:

      [11] 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? [12] I will strike them with the pestilence and
      disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater
      and mightier than they." [13] 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,
      [14]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.
      [15] Now if thou dost kill this people as one man, then
      the nations who have heard thy fame will say,
      [16]`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.' [17] And now, I
      pray thee, let the power of the LORD be great as thou
      hast promised, saying, [18] `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.' [19] 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." [20] Then the LORD
      said, "I have pardoned, according to your word; [21] but
      truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled
      with the glory of the LORD, [22] 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, [23]
      shall see the land which I swore to give to their
      fathers; and none of those who despised me shall see it.
      [24] 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
      possess it.

      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
      following sentiment:

      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.


      Yours,

      Jeffrey Gibson
      jgibson@...
    • Jeffrey Gibson
      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
      Message 2 of 3 , Mar 11, 1998
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        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.

        Yours,

        Jeffrey Gibson
        jgibson@...
      • Yuri Kuchinsky
        You re forgiven, Jeffrey. Sorry, just couldn t resist... Yuri. p.s. I had the same problem happen to me the other day (two posts posted instead of one) but I
        Message 3 of 3 , Mar 11, 1998
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          You're forgiven, Jeffrey.

          Sorry, just couldn't resist...

          Yuri.

          p.s.
          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...

          Jeffrey wrote:

          > Many apologies if my lengthy post showed up twice in your respective mail
          > boxes.
        Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.