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Matthew 6:11 "Jesus' Example of Prayer, Part 4: Our Daily Bread"

This post continues the discussion began in Jesus' Example of Prayer Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

The shift between vv. 10&11 is quite jarring grammatically, syntactically, and logically. Grammatically, Jesus changes from the third-person imperatives that focus on various results anticipated in the course of God’s providence to second person imperatives (and their equivalents) of direct requisitions for God to give and forgive.[1] Syntactically, these requests are not as uniformed as the previous three. In fact, there is little uniformity in the syntax of the following three verses. The verbs of petition are fronted in vv. 12&13 while in v. 11 the object being requested receives the emphasis. In v. 11 the request stands on its own yet in v. 12 the request is followed by a comparative clause and in v. 13 the request is modified by a contrastive clause that may or may not contain an additional request. That these verses are linked is demonstrated by the initial καὶ in vv. 12&13 and yet there is clearly a lack of the rigid consistency demonstrated in vv. 9-10. Logically, these verses no longer point specifically to the eschaton, but are focused in the present time. The need for bread, forgiveness, and protection are not indicative of Christ’s millennial reign nor of the eternal state. They are, however, certainly needed in the church age as we proclaim the coming kingdom in a dark and dead world. The model prayer, therefore, is consumed with both the glorious future and the needs of the present. Our heavenly Father wants His children to think His thoughts and be consumed with His plans while at the same time cares for the needs of the present.

There is a sense where the first three request rise in an ultimate climax from the desire for the Father to be worshiped worldwide, to the establishment of the Father’s kingdom, and finally coming to the completion of the Father’s plan of redemption. From the ultimate highpoint of the Father’s will coming to fulfillment, Jesus changes to introduce prayer requests for man’s genuine needs. This transition indicates at least two things: (1) man is not at this time living in a time or place where any of the first three requests have come to pass and (2) the Father not only understands this but is revealing that it is part of His will to grant to His children physical sustenance as well as forgiveness and protection. To put things quite plainly: vv. 11-13 contain prayers that (a) address man’s need in the present time (not the eschaton) and (b) are perfectly consistent with the Father’s will.

Daily Bread (v. 11)

Our daily bread, give to us today

It is shocking that this prayer so suddenly turns from the complete accomplishment of the Father’s will to something as mundane as one’s daily ration of food, and yet this is exactly what Jesus models. Those who substitute the natural understanding of bread (ἄρτος) for something uniquely spiritual or mystical have utterly missed the point that Jesus (and the Father) takes seriously the needs of His disciples.[2] The early church fathers misunderstood this point when they understood this bread as indicating the elements of the Lord’s supper. It was this confusion that led to the Roman Catholic error of transubstantiation. Even in Protestant circles, the need to spiritualize Jesus’ words remains as evidenced by publications like the one that derives its name from this very verse. Attempts to “feed” people a spiritual diet is supposedly a fulfillment of this prayer. Such sentiment is utterly ridiculous for two reasons: (1) the request is for physical food not spiritualized musings, (2) this is a prayer that expects divine fulfillment rather than human initiative. The fact that God, the One whose name will be sanctified, whose kingdom will come, and whose will is going to come to fulfillment is concerned with the daily needs of His people is amazing, humbling, and glorious. With these things in mind, there are at least three statements that summarize Jesus’ intention in this portion of the model prayer.

The request is for man’s needs, not man’s wants – As already stated, the request makes little to no sense unless understood quite literally. By instructing His disciples to ask the Father for bread, Jesus indicates that man’s needs for daily survival are in the hands of the Father. Bread was a, if not the, staple foodstuff of the ancient (and not so ancient) world. The quality, shape, and method of ancient Israelite baking may differ, but bread could be found on the tables of kings (1 Kings 4:22), feeding the common people (1 Kings 17:12), and even as a centerpiece of worship (Ex. 25:30; Lev. 2:1ff; 7:13; 1 Sam. 1:24). Bread was the go-to rations to be packed for a journey (Gen. 21:14) and the most accessible foodstuffs to provide for troops (Gen. 14:18) or travelers (Gen. 18:5). The connection with bread and food in the ancient world was nearly synonymous (Ex. 2:20).

In a day when dietary trends ebb and flow on the tide of fashion rather than necessity or economy, the fact that bread=food cannot be overstated. We live in a society that has no need to produce food within the home because food is ready for purchase in hundreds of forms from dozens of vendors within a few minutes of one’s front door. We are a people who are at liberty to abstain from a particular food or to eat exclusively a particular food for any reason at any time with little difference in cost or effort. The absence of bread would make little difference when, for the same price, one could order a quarter-pounder with cheese. This is a relatively new situation in the world. Ancient man knew so such luxury. The average first century Palestinian was likely to eat the same kind of home baked bread three times a day (unless it be twice daily) every day for his entire life. The absence of bread in the ancient world meant starvation. The point is this: to ask for bread is to ask for the bare necessities of life.

That this prayer is not a request for the frivolous (a sports car, a new house, or a leather jacket) is apparent enough. Yet there are many things that while not frivolous are far from being considered needs (a car, a second or third pair of shoes, a second or even a first vehicle). This prayer does not attempt to look at these things that are practical and justified in owning. There is a vast chasm separating needs from wants, even if those wants are practical and easily justified. This prayer simply requests the Father to grant what is truly necessary for survival.

The request is focused on today’s needs, not tomorrow’s – There has been much discussion regarding this bread as being daily (ἐπιούσιον) bread vs. necessary bread. The term ἐπιούσιος is found only here and in Luke’s companion passage (Lk. 11:3) and is utterly absent from the LXX. As such, there is some debate as to the term’s precise meaning. The debate might be summarized into three arguments: (1) The term could be a combination of the preposition ἐπί and the noun οὐσαι (property, wealth, estate). The sense would then be the bread of substance or sustenance. (2) The term is a combination of the prepositiοn ἐπί and the feminine participle from the verb of being (εἰμί), ἐπιοῦσα. The feminine gender would imply the following noun ἡμέρα (day). The meaning would then describe the requested bread as that which is necessary for the day. (3) The term is a combination of the preposition ἐπί and the feminine participle of the verb ἰέναι (to come near). Again, there is an assumption that the feminine noun ἡμέρα (day) is to be supplied and thus giving the sense of the bread coming for today.[3] The third explanation is the most likely, though the sense that the request is for the bread that is needed for one’s daily ration is in view regardless of which of the three routes is taken. The point is that this request focuses all attention on what is needed today while neither lamenting the shortage of yesterday nor fretting over tomorrow’s supply. The supplicant’s attention is focused on today’s portion.

There is a reason most English translations render τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐριούσιον as “our daily bread”. Two Old Testament texts appear to be alluded to in this statement. The first is Ex. 16 and the account of Israel’s daily portion of manna in the wilderness. Yhwh was faithful to provide for the Israelites each morning and Israel was commanded to trust that Yhwh would provide each morning. Those who decided to hedge their bets and gather more than a daily portion found that the manna would not keep overnight. Israel’s daily bread was a lesson in trust. This same idea is picked up by Agur in Proverbs 30 when he asks not for riches nor for poverty but only for his daily portion. In this way he will neither want, nor will he become proud and thus deny Yhwh (Prov. 30:7-9). Having plenty is a blessing to be sure, but better to live in constant dependence upon Yhwh, knowing and appreciating every breath that He graciously gives.

The request is uttered in humble faith – It is interesting that Jesus chose the verb give (δός/δίδωμι), and thus defines this daily bread as a gift. To ask for a gift denies that this daily bread is somehow deserved. Daily sustenance is not presented as wages that the disciple has earned, but a gracious gift that is freely given. Even so, this humility to ask for a gift is not without demonstrative faith. Bread will either need to be bought or made. Even bread that rains down from heaven still needs to be gathered. Ever since the curse we know that it is by the sweat of a man’s face that he will eat bread (Gen. 3:19), yet there is no guarantee that one’s seed will germinate or that the harvest will not be ruined in the field. Man does not sit idly by awaiting God to feed him. To trust God’s providence assumes that planting, irrigating, and harvesting will be done with vigor and faithful anticipation. The generation of wilderness wanderers arose every morning because they trusted God to have already given a day’s worth of manna. This prayer likewise assumes that the disciple will not remain idle, but that his industry will be motivated by humble faith.

[1] Broadus, p. 135-6.

[2] Morris, p. 146.

[3] Nolland, p. 289-90.


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