Posted by: Pastor Tim Mason on Sun, Jul 28, 2013
Martin Luther and The Lord's Prayer
[This paper was written for my Reformation and Enlightenment class at Capital University, where I am seeking a minor degree in religion.]
April 19, 2012
Martin Luther and the Lord’s Prayer
“O Almighty God, in your unmerited goodness to us and through the merit and mediation of your only beloved Son, Jesus Christ, you have permitted and even commanded and taught us to regard you and call upon you as one Father of us all.” Martin Luther wrote these words in his Personal Prayer Book, published in 1522 (Luther 44). This paper will be discussing Martin Luther’s view on the Lord’s Prayer, as well as discussing how he came to these conclusions through the use of Scripture readings. Even though all seven petitions will be discussed, we will be delving into the fifth petition, which is the petition of sin and forgiveness. Also to be discussed will be several ultimate examples of forgiveness. The two primary sources used in this paper will be a sermon given by Martin Luther called “An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer,” published in 1519 (known hereafter as the “sermon,”) and the Personal Prayer Book. The Personal Prayer Book is a small book published by Luther just days after returning to Wittenberg from hiding in Wartburg. This book is printed in a diary format that was common among the time (Tunseth 25).
The Lord’s Prayer, or sometimes called the Model Prayer (Golloday 157), is an easy and short prayer that Jesus offered to his disciples after they asked him about prayer. Jesus states that one should not “sound trumpets” or pray loudly. One should not use long sophisticated phrases or, as Jesus called it, empty phrases, when praying as to impress people. Instead, one should go to a quiet area and pray quietly. In the gospel of Luke, an unnamed disciple asked Jesus how to pray. Jesus then gave a more intimate and smaller form of the Lord’s Prayer than what Matthew had in his gospel. There are only about sixty-seven words in the prayer, making it very easy to memorize if used with a poetic meter. Jesus does not give long exaggerated words, but instead makes it very simple and easy to remember (we will be looking at the format of the Lord’s Prayer near the end of this paper). We should be careful, however, not to take “simple” as meaning being “dumbed down” or “shallow.” That wasn’t the point of Jesus giving such easy words in the prayer. The point was to make it simple to memorize, and to make it easy to come up with your own version of it if needed (Golloway 158). The Lord’s Prayer is to be memorized in Lutheran Catechism classes, along with Luther’s explanations in The Small Catechism.
The first line of the Lord’s Prayer is not a petition. It is an address to God. Luther states that the word father is intimate, warm, and friendly (Luther 22). Other words such as God, Lord, and Judge are too harsh in a situation like this. This prayer is to bring peace and comfort to those who are praying it. Luther states that since this prayer is said directly by Jesus, it is a necessity to pray it. Throughout his sermon, Martin Luther gave “modern-day” explanations of each petition using new words and phrases. Luther uses the following words to describe the “Our Father,” section of the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, you are in heaven, while I, your poor child, am in misery on earth, far away from you surrounded by many perils, in need and want among devils, the greatest enemies and in such danger,” (Luther 23). These little phrases really help explain what Luther is trying to say in not only his sermon, but also in later articles and resources he published.
Those who are praying should notice the use of plural possessive forms in this prayer (our Father), giving a sense of community to those who pray this prayer. Luther tells us to pray this prayer from the heart, and not to “count the beads…while [the] mind wanders far from the confession of [the] lips,” (Luther 23), for God said in the book of Isaiah 29:13, “’These people come near me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men,’” (Bible Across America 1238) (this scripture is also quoted in the gospel of Matthew 15:6-9).
The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Hallowed be thy name.” This states that God’s name is holy unto itself. To hallow something is to hold something sacred (Schramm 128), or something regarded as holy (Simcox 44). In Luther’s Personal Prayer Book, he states to God, “In this wretched vale of tears your holy name is sadly profaned, blasphemed, and reviled in so many ways. In so many instances it is regarded without honor to you and is often misused in sinning, so that to live a disgraceful life might well be regarded as the same as disgracing and dishonoring your holy name,” (Tunseth 45). Here, Luther is trying to say that God is everything, and man in nothing. In his sermon, Luther states that humans use God’s name to justify war, sinning, and breaking the second commandment, which is, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name,” (Bible Across America 142). Using God’s name to justify these things is taking his name in vain according to Luther. One of the more interesting things that Luther stated in his sermon is that, “if anyone were to hallow God’s name perfectly, then we [wouldn’t] need the Lord’s Prayer,” because we would be sinless (Luther 33).
“Thy kingdom come,” is the second petition. According to Luther, this petition humbles us (Luther 37). As mentioned before, Luther “rewrote” the petitions to help people understand what they are saying. “O dear Father…I confess and am sorry that I have dishonored your name so often and that in my arrogance I still defile your name by honoring my own,” (Luther 35-36). The fourth commandment states, “You shall honor your father and your mother,” (McCain 452). Luther stated that to honor your own name is to honor your father and mother since your last name is generally your family name. It is a commandment to honor your father and mother (or your own name), but you should not honor your name more than you honor God’s name.
The third petition is “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Whose will needs to be done? God’s will, according to this petition. Luther states in the Personal Prayer Book that compared to God’s will, the will of humans is never good and always evil (Tunseth 48). Martin Luther states in his sermon several things about this petition. First, he discusses the meaning of the petition. Luther states that without a teacher, people must learn to not follow their own wills. In fact, people need to run counter to their own will because it is usually the will of God. However, we are sinners who cannot do God’s will, for it is difficult for us to surrender our own wills (Luther 44).
Martin Luther gives a great example of this. King David wanted to build God a temple, but God refused David for doing it. God said to David, “You are not to build a house for my name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood,” (Bible Across America 814). After this, God set Solomon on the throne to build the temple.
The “daily bread” mentioned in the fourth petition (“Give us this day our daily bread), could have several meanings. The first meaning is obvious; God wants us to be fed and stay healthy. During ancient times when the people of Moses were wandering the wilderness, God provided manna to keep the people fed. Could the “daily bread” mentioned in this petition have something to do with being fed by God? This could be possible, but it doesn’t seem to fit the theme of the Lord’s Prayer. According to the old outdated food pyramid, humans should generally eat 6-11 servings of bread per day (1 slice of bread is a serving) ("Pyramid Servings: How Much? How Many?"). It seems that bread signifies life. Jesus broke bread during the Last Supper and gave it to his disciples. It would make more sense to see the “daily bread” as the Word of God. The Word, mentioned in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, is Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God [Jesus is God], and the Word was God [Jesus is the Word]. He was with God in the beginning,” (Bible Across America 1844). According to the fourth petition, we need Jesus everyday to get through our lives, since Jesus is the Word, and the Word is the bread of life. We are reminded that Jesus is the bread in Luke 22:19, “[He] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to [his disciples] saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me,’” (Bible Across America 1834).
Luther, who is explaining the fourth petition in his own words, says, “Oh Father…comfort me, a poor and miserable wretch. I cannot bear your hand and yet I know that it works to my damnation if I do not bear it. Therefore, strengthen me, my father, lest I despair,” (Luther 51).
The fifth petition states, “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Luther states simply that we cannot lie to God. He knows what we want before we pray. Matthew 6:8 states, “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” (Bible Across America 1667). Ironically, this verse is just one phrase before the start of what is known as the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible, which is Matthew 6:9-13. What does this petition mean? According to Luther’s Small Catechism, it means that we should pray that God not hold our sins against us if we forgive others for their sins toward us.
A very good example of forgiving someone is the assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II (1920-2005). On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was struck with a bullet while traveling in St. Peter’s Square in the “Pope Mobile.” Mehmet Ali Agca had in fact shot him twice (Tanner). Three months after the shooting, the Pope visited his attacker in jail to discuss the situation. Even though the Pope never revealed the conversation between the two, one can only guess that the Pope prayed with his attacker, and forgave him. This is a prime example of someone forgiving someone’s trespasses against them.
Another great example of forgiveness is the story of Nelson Mandela. In 1962, Mandela was arrested for organizing a national worker’s strike. He was sent to prison for five years, but was sent back to trial in 1963. This trial led him to be sent to prison for life, for which he spent nearly 20 years. While still in prison, he somehow managed to earn a bachelor of law degree, and in 1981, an international campaign was set up to help release Mandela from prison. Mandela refused to recant his beliefs on armed struggle. However, when former President P.W. Botha of South Africa had a stroke in 1990, his replacement, Fredrick Willem de Klerk released Mandela. President de Klerk released Mandela. In 1994, after a series of negotiations with President Klerk, Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa (“bio”). Mandela tried to unify South Africa and encourage forgiveness among the people. Mandela could have held a grudge against the people who put in him prison in the first place, but instead he decided the best thing to do was to forgive them and encourage other people to forgive others.
Matthew 18:21-22 says, “Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times,” (Bible Across America 1698). Jesus didn’t specifically mean we should forgive someone only seventy-seven times, and then not forgive them the seventy-eighth time. He was saying we should always forgive someone, no matter what he or she does to us or to God. Martin Luther says in his sermon that, “Christ does not say, ‘because of your sins you must fast this much or pray this much or donate this much or do this or that.’ Rather does he say, ‘if you would render satisfaction and atone for your guilt and wipe out your sins, listen to my advice, yes, to my command. The only thing for you to do is to forgive and to renew your heart…As long as you forgive, all will be well,” (Luther 65).
The Old Testament story of Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, found in Genesis 25-33, provides another example. Esau, the “manly man,” came in one day from the fields. He asked Jacob to make him some food. Jacob, who was “Mr. Mom,” sold Esau some beans in exchange for the larger inheritance. When their father, Isaac, was dying, Isaac ordered two deer to be killed and eaten before dividing up the inheritance. Jacob and their mother deceived Isaac into giving Jacob the larger inheritance (which involved filleting the flesh of the deer and putting it on Jacob’s hands). Jacob ended up having to run for his life to a foreign land. Many years passed before Jacob returned to his home, before God told Jacob to return to his homeland. When he did, his brother, Esau, came running at him and hugged and kissed him. Esau had forgiven his brother.
In 1543 Martin Luther made mention of the Judensau, or Jew Pig, at Wittenberg. The Judensau is usually a depiction of Jews in various disgusting activities involving swine. These Judensau are considered anti-Semitic. The Nazis revived the Judensau in the late 1930s. As we all know, the Nazis tragically exterminated millions of Jews in the early part of the 20th century. A most surprising thing happened in 1988 when a debate began on whether to remove the Judensau that is located at the Wittenberg church because of the horrible nature the Jews faced fifty years before. Consequently, a bronze plaque was placed in the pavement of the walkway memorializing the death and torture of the Jews under the name of God (Lopez). The Jewish community believes it’s very important to forgive someone because God doesn’t forgive our sins until we forgive those who have sinned against us (which sounds familiar) (Graubart). The Jewish community forgave the Germans by permitting them to leave the sculpture up, but also installing a bronze plaque to memorialize the millions of deaths the Jews faced under the Christians. This plaque also states that Germans and Jews today are tolerant of each other and respectful of each other (Winkler). It’s very ironic that Martin Luther seemed to have some very anti-Semitic views. He believed all Jews needed to be banished from Christian society (Trachtenberg 219).
It’s very dangerous to assume that we are without sin. 1 John 1:8 states, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” (Bible Across America 2151). Those who do not worship fall into this sort of deceit. We as humans cannot recover knowing ourselves unless we know God (Simcox 74). At the conclusion of this paper, we will discuss the importance to reciting the Lord’s Prayer regularly.
The sixth petition, “Lead us not into temptation,” is pretty self-explanatory. We pray to God to not let us fall back on our sins anymore. There are two types of temptations (or trials as Luther calls it). The first temptation is the “left hand” temptation, or the one that incites us to have anger, hatred, and impatience. The most famous story about impatience in the Bible is the when the people of Moses were wandering the wilderness for forty years. During those forty years, Moses’ patience was tested many times. Moses said in Exodus 16:8, “’You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him,’” (Bible Across America 134). The “right hand” temptation is one of unchastity, lust, pride, and greed. These ideas come from Psalm 91:7, which states that a thousand men may fall at the left hand, but ten thousand fall at the right hand.
Later, in the Personal Prayer Book (which was published after his excommunication from the Catholic Church), Luther states that there are three temptations: of the flesh, of the world, and of the devil. He prays to God to help people not overeat (sin of gluttony), not get drunk, not sleep too much, or be lazy: all of these are sins of the flesh. He prays to God to protect us from seeking honor and power on the earth. He even asks God to keep us from getting into positions of power. Does Luther pray that we should not seek positions in government offices? Shouldn’t there be some sort of hierarchy or order? Without some sort of government, there would be anarchy. Luther was not stating this. He was referring to the honor and the “messiah” complex or the “god” complex that some people in authority positions get when they have been in a position of power for a long time.
Erwin Kurth, in his book called Catechetical Helps, wrote that temptation is a test put upon us by God to prove and improve our strength. “A weight is attached to a rope, not to break it, but to prove it. Pressure is applied to a boiler, not to burst it, but to certify its power of resistance. Temptations are intended to do more than merely prove; they are meant to improve,” (Kurth 129).
The very last petition, “but deliver us from evil,” sums up the entire Lord’s Prayer. Luther says in his sermon that, “we should pray for deliverance from evil so that trials [or temptations] and sin may cease and that God’s will may be done, and his kingdom come,” (Luther 76). In Luther’s Personal Prayer Book, he states, “Deliver us… in death and on Judgment Day, from your severe condemnation,” (Tunseth 53). He goes on to pray to God to protect us from sudden death, fire and flood, lighting, hail, hunger, famine, war, and bloodshed. He asks God to protect us from plagues, pestilence, disease, and other sicknesses.
It’s very important to say this prayer in church, since it’s from Scripture, and that Jesus, who is God in the flesh, gave it to his disciples to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is God’s own way of showing us how to pray. These things give us a glimpse of what is in Jesus’ mind, and how important they are compared to other things Jesus believes (Golloday 156). The entire Lord’s Prayer seems to push you forward as you recite it (Schramm 133).
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Each line seems to push you toward the next one, and finally ending with the word, Amen, which means, “verily,” or, “Yes, Lord, let it be so.” It seems to have a poetic feel to it, and is generally portrayed as an ancient poem. The meter is irregular, but if set correctly, it could be sung.
One should note that the final three lines of the Lord’s Prayer aren’t actually petitions, since they didn’t come from Christ himself. These lines seem to come from 1 Chronicles 29:11, which says, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours,” (Bible Across America 816). A common theme in Chronicles is that God is portrayed as a king (Harper Collins Study Bible 644), and this verse very clearly shows this. The worshipping community added this to the Lord’s Prayer. We should be careful, however, not to dismiss this last portion (Simcox 104). It is a very valuable part of the prayer, and even brings a nice refreshing ending to a prayer of pleading.
The Lord’s Prayer is simple, easy to memorize, and very important to the life of Christians. As mentioned before, Jesus himself gave this prayer to humans to recite, tweak, and pray to God. Martin Luther made this prayer much easier to understand throughout his ministry. Without him, who knows how we would be interpreting this Lord’s Prayer today.
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