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Matthew 6:9 "Jesus' Example of Prayer, Part 1"

Throughout the centuries, Christians have highly regarded these verses known as “the Lord’s prayer” or “the Disciple’s prayer” or even “the model prayer.” While these words are doubtlessly familiar to us all, it is necessary to study them with the same slow and careful scrutiny of any other passage.

Introducing the Model Prayer

Regarding the text itself, there is some confusion inserted into the ending of the prayer (evidenced by several English translations) in v. 13. Some English versions have the final clause (For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen) contained in brackets (NASB, LSB) while others make no markings of the text at all (KJV, NKJV) while still others omit the phrase all together (ESV). This discrepancy reflects the fact that the phrase clearly has an early origin in church tradition and liturgy.[1] Yet, the phrase is strangely absent from the majority of ancient copies of the Greek New Testament. [2] The fact that the Didache (2nd-3rd cent.) includes the phrase while the actual text of the New Testament of the same period and beyond (4th-5th cent.) does not, indicates that the words were added for liturgical purposes as the early church recited the prayer. That’s right, ironically the early church took what was supposed to not be a mindless prayer of rote memory and turned into just that.[3] Therefore, there is no clear evidence that these words were spoken by Jesus on this occasion and should therefore be considered as Scripture.[4]

It would be a mistake to forget the immediate context of these words, as so many of our predecessors have apparently done. Jesus has prohibited His disciples from praying to draw attention to themselves as the hypocrites do (vv. 5-6) and from attempting to manipulate God through flattery or pound Him into submission through their barrage of many words like the Gentiles (vv. 7-8). This prayer is therefore (1) exclusively designed for Jesus’ disciples, (2) God-glorifying rather than self-serving, (3) brief but on target, (4) expresses dependency upon God, and (5) anticipates God’s fulfillment of action. This prayer is offered in contrast to both the hypocrites’ motivation of prayer (vv. 5-6) and the Gentiles method of prayer (vv. 7-8).

In this light, it is doubtful that “in this way” (οὕτως) indicates a form prayer to be rehearsed and repeated verbatim. Not only is that not the meaning of οὕτως, but that would be the exact application of a Gentilic method of prayer which Jesus has already prohibited. The point then is that Jesus offers an example of a prayer that covers all the bases of being (1) God centered, (2) God-honoring, and (3) benefitting to man. This is not liturgy to be mindlessly recited nor is it a barebones outline to be filled in and expanded. Though brief, these words are carefully thought through and carry weight. Jesus beckons His disciples to pray in this manner and thus to think before they pray.

While it is certainly true that this prayer is a model in the sense that it is an example of how a disciple is to pray, it is certainly not all inclusive and thus should not be treated as such. For example, Jesus has already commanded that His disciples are to pray for one’s enemies (5:44), yet there is no such prayer here. In fact, there is no petition for other people whether friend or foe in this model prayer. This begins to reveal the fact that this is not a prescription or a template that must be fleshed out or added to so much as it is an example of what prayer is and how one goes about it. Simply put, prayer expresses one’s faith. What one believes, trusts, has faith in about God’s person, intentions, and promises is expressed to Him in prayer and thus places the worshipper in total dependance upon the One who is, was, and always will be.

The grammar of the prayer itself reveals a certain unity and structure. A total of six imperatives (the mood used to communicate requests in prayer) are found in vv. 9-13. The first three imperatives (vv. 9-10) are in the third person and thus indicate either a desire or an expectation that the task will be accomplished. These three imperatives are surrounded by second person singular pronouns that point back to the Father, expressing what is desired concerning His name, kingdom, and will. In other words, the first three petitions are completely God-focused. The next three imperatives (vv. 11-13) are in the second person and thus reveal petitions addressed directly to God from man. These imperatives are surrounded by first person plural pronouns that require God’s action concerning our bread, forgiveness, and protection. These latter requests center on man’s needs. As such, the following outline begins to emerge:

Exposition of the Model Prayer

That the prayer itself only extends through v. 13 is obvious. “For” (γάρ) in v. 14 introduces an explanation and is hardly the language of petition. The Example of how one expresses their faith therefore runs from vv. 9-13. The Explanation that one’s faith and one’s prayer must run consistently together is contained to vv. 14-15.

The Example: Prayer is an Expression of Faith (vv. 9-13)

The two parts of this prayer are evenly divided between three petitions that are offered in adoration to God’s person, work, and will (vv. 9-10) and three petitions for God to act to feed, forgive, and safeguard His people (vv. 11-13). As in the Ten Commandments, the first half of this prayer addresses God and His glory while the second half addresses man.[5] Because prayer is an expression of one’s faith, these verses are a declaration of what Jesus’ disciples believe about God.

Expectations of God’s Actions (vv. 9-10)

Therefore, you, be praying thusly: Our Father who is in heaven,”

The introduction leading up to the prayer and the address that begins the prayer are an example of tightly packed wording that explodes with meaning. As a marksman regards his ammunition, so our Lord makes every word count. “Therefore” (οὖν) points back to what was said regarding the pagan Gentiles. The emphatic “you” (ὑμεῖς) is thus set up to contrast the Gentiles (vv. 7-8) and the hypocrites (vv. 5-6). This is how disciples of the Lord Jesus, Yhwh’s Messiah, are to pray. The adverb οὕτως (thusly) indicates the manner of praying. Jesus wants His disciples to pay like He prays, not to pray the same words that He prays. It is better to understand what follows as manner to imitate rather than a template to follow or a recitation to memorize.

The opening address is simple, to the point, and packed to the brim with theological significance. It may be tempting to pull out all the stops as we attempt to make our prayers God-centered and spend the first twenty minutes of prayer listing all the titles (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, God, King, Judge, Ruler, Vindicator, Helper) and deeds (He created the world; made promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; provided His Son as an atoning sacrifice for sin; sustains the world by His power) that belong to Yhwh). Rather than heaping up accolades upon God as the Gentiles do, Jesus teaches His disciples to refer to God simply as our Father. Much can be gleaned from such an address.

First, there is an obvious sense of intimacy involved in the address of Father. Addressing the Almighty in so intimate a fashion is not a relaxation of God’s eminence or vulgar reference to the sovereign of the cosmos. This is a declaration of fact and faith: God is a Father to His people (Ex. 4:22-23). Rather than presuming upon God, this prayer begins by taking God at His word and coming to Him as He has already presented Himself, as a Father. There is safety and intimacy here.

Second, there is a sense of loyalty and exclusivity that comes with this familial language. God is not the Father of all people but only those who are His own. While all human beings possess a certain dignity as image bearers, it is wrong to consider all people as sons/daughters of God. After all, one cannot be both a son of God and of the devil (Matt. 13:38; Acts 13:10; 1 Jn. 3:8). Only one who has been born again can pray in this manner.[6]

Third, in referring to God not simply as the Father but as our Father, Jesus introduces a two-fold sense of fraternity. The first-person plural (ἡμῶν) indicates a public prayer (so much for praying exclusively in closets). It is almost as if Jesus anticipates and is here encouraging prayer within the context of a corporate gathering.[7] Jesus assumes that His disciples will gather together for the purpose of prayer. Yet, the pronoun also includes the speaker; that is, Jesus. Here we see a thread in the glorious tapestry which is the doctrine of join heirship with the King. God the Son beckons His disciples to join Him in calling the God of the universe Father.

This thought leads us to a fourth observation, and that is the concept of corporate solidarity. The concept of sonship to God begins with the nation of Israel (Ex. 4:22), includes the future Messianic King as a corporate head of the nation (2 Sam. 7:14), and becomes manifest with God incarnate, Jesus who is the Father’s beloved Son (Matt. 3:17). The Father is only our Father because of our relationship to His Son. In short, we affirm and proclaim the truth of Jn. 14:6 (Jesus answered: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except by Me.) when we address our prayers to our Father.

To this, Jesus adds that His disciples should address their prayers to our Father who is in heaven. Heaven is the domain of God because He is not a terrestrial. The earth is simply a footstool for His feet (Is. 66:1). Addressing the Father in heaven therefore assumes His sovereignty and omnipotence over the earth and all that it contains because the earth does not contain Him. In short, Jesus encourages His disciples to address their prayers with confidence that the Father to whom they pray is able to perform.

This introduction sets the tone for the whole prayer. Jesus’ brevity is not to be taken for laziness. With the utmost economy of words Jesus reminds His disciples who God is and why they can address Him in prayer. This pattern continues to permeate the formal requests that follow.

May Your name be sanctified,

May Your kingdom come,

May Your will be done; as in heaven so also upon earth.”

There is something to be said regarding the way we read these requests. Each of the three statements are identical in form and thus roll off the tongue in a beautiful and poetic fashion.[8] Unfortunately, the incessant need to prefer tradition to accuracy leads nearly all Bible translations to render the first request in a way that obscures the unity of this section (hallowed be Thy name). Not only is the term “hallowed” lost on 100% of 21st century readers, but it is also (a) not an accurate translation of ἁγιασθήτω and (b) ruins the form that Jesus purposefully puts together. The third person aorist imperative expresses the desire for God’s name to be sanctified, treated as holy. As with the initial address, this request is packed with theological implications.

May Your Name Be Sanctified

In addition to a translation that takes both the terms and the syntax seriously, it is also helpful not to overlook the obvious. That is to say, we should take into consideration God’s actual name before any discussion about how it might be sanctified or treated as holy.

What is in a Name? – “And God said to Moses: “I am who I am.” So He said, “Thus you will say to the sons of Israel, “I am sends me to you.”” (Ex. 3:14 ff.). Exodus chapter 3 records the calling of Moses to return to Egypt for the purpose of leading God’s first-born son, Israel, out of Egypt to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is here that God reveals Himself by His personal name to Moses as well as the nation of Israel through Moses. Hebrew names are frequently built on verbs. Joshua (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ) is built on the verb “he saves” (ישׁע), Nathan (נָתָן) is built off the verb “to give” (נתן), etc. A father would name His children in such a way that He hoped and expected his children to live up to their names. With a similar way of thinking, God’s name Yhwh (יהוה) is built off the verb “to be” (היה). Yhwh is not the God who was or the God who will be, but the God who is. I am who I am. A name is far from meaningless. A name sums up a person’s entity, personality, and character. God’s personal name declares His eternality, that He has no beginning and no end. He simply is.

At this point the question then turns to how one might sanctify or make His name holy, yet even that is something of an assumption. Jesus provides this example in the context of praying that the Father’s name will be sanctified. He does not provide a model of praying for the disciples to request that they sanctify/make holy the Father’s name. While it is possible, and even necessary, that God’s people treat and regard His name as holy, this is a task that only God can perform. This becomes evident when we realize that Jesus’ choice of words alludes to two different Old Testament texts. These two texts (Is. 29:23; Ezek. 36:23) reveal that (1) God’s people can, in a real way, sanctify the name of God and (2) this sanctifying action ultimately is something that God will personally bring about.

God’s People will Sanctify His Name – “…they will sanctify My name, indeed, they will sanctify the Holy One of Israel” (Is. 29:23). The text of Is. 29:17-24 addresses a day after Israel is judged for her rebellion against Yhwh when Israel is restored and redeemed. The curses that begin Isaiah’s prophecy that condemn Israel to a blind, deaf, and incoherent rebellion (6:8-10) will one day be reversed (29:34). In this sense, when God’s people, Israel, repent from their rebellion and live in fear and obedience to their God, the name Yhwh is sanctified, treated as holy, by His people.

While this action of sanctifying the name Yhwh is an action in which God’s people take part, it is worth asking if this is not really an action that only God can perform. This is made clear with the second reference to which Jesus alludes.

God will Sanctify His own Name through the New Covenant – “’I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned by the nations, which you profaned in their midst; so the nations will know that I am Yhwh’ declares the Lord Yhwh, ‘when I am sanctified by you in their sight.’” (Ezek. 36:23 ff.). This verse is at the beginning of the great New Covenant text which promises a new heart and cleanliness to the nation of Israel. Here is where we find out how Israel will be transformed from being deaf, blind, and stupid to those who rush to sanctify the name of Yhwh through humble obedience. The answer is the New Covenant.

This is foundational, not only to our understanding of Matt. 6:9, but to our understanding of how God’s people are able to sanctify His name. Israel will treat God as holy but only after He provides for them eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to know and believe.

This prayer then is eschatological in nature as it anticipates God’s fulfillment of the New Covenant with His people Israel. Yet, as those who are the first fruits of this New Covenant, it is also applicable to the present age and thus Matthew’s audience. To pray for God’s name to be sanctified is a prayer that begins with His people living in humble fear and submission to Him but that incorporates the whole world. The prayer has no boundaries set in time or space. This is a prayer that God will bring about when every knee bows and every tongue confess that He is Yhwh.

[1] The Didache, a manual of Christian teaching and doctrine written in the second or third century, includes this phrase when providing instruction regarding how Christians are to pray (Did. 8:2). Granted, the text of the Didache includes the phrase, but it does not claim that the phrase was spoken by Jesus during the SM. While proving that Christians added this phrase to the end of the “Lord’s Prayer” by the second century, this does not prove that the phrase is original.

[2] Multiple ancient manuscripts (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Bezae) from the fourth and fifth centuries do not include the phrase, ending abruptly after “and deliver us from the evil one.”

[3] Turner, p. 186.

[4] Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, 1971).

[5] Osborne, p. 227.

[6] Lenski, p. 265.

[7] Nolland, p. 286.

[8] Each of the three petitions proceed as follows: verbarticular noun personal pronoun. (ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σουmay it be sanctified the name of you ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου may it come the kingdom of you γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου may it come about the will of you).

It only makes sense that any attempt at translation should reflect the same form.


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