Wednesday 21 December 2011

Three little words - in The Lord's Prayer


Three little words in the Traditional Anglican version of the Our Father seem to represent the infinite perils of modernization, and yet in themselves them seem to be an example of reasonable and cautious modernization.


The Book of Common Prayer 1662 version was in use for about ten generations universally, and I learned it as a child attending a Church of England school:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
[For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.]


At some point, three little words were changed:

"Our Father, which art in Heaven" - and this was modified to "who art in Heaven".

"Thy kingdom come, in Earth as it is in Heaven' - which was modified to "on Earth".

"As we forgive them that trespass against us" was modified to "those that trespass against us".

I'm not sure when this change was made, maybe 1928, but it spread gradually and widely.


In some ways the change to three little words made an almost imperceptible difference - certainly it did not destroy much of the power of the language.

In another sense they make the prayer slightly clearer to modern ears.

And yet - changing three little words was the first step that led to the horrors of the paradoxically named 'Common Worship' which is (apparently) the most commonly used form now:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

Which is merely a literal translation of the poem - an 'executive summary' of the Lord's Prayer (complete with invisible bullet points). 


We now see that there should have been no meddling.

If people really cannot understand the usage of which, in and them (and the idea is nonsense since the meaning is obvious from context) - then the meaning should have been explained to them.

The prayer should not have been changed at all, not even by three little words.



S. F. Griffin said...

Catholics use the 1928 BCP version. We have not gone on to incorporate the madness of those other changes.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SG - If you can really stop the process at the three little words that is fine.

I suppose it ultimately depends on why the changes are made, I mean the *real* underlying reason why changes are being made, not the public and official reason.

In retrospect, it is clear that the real reason for small changes in the 'translation' of the Bible, prayerbook and liturgy was as the first step and softening-up working towards *big* changes - in particular towards re-writing Christianity to fit with modern Leftism.

dearieme said...

If memory serves, the old version is the one used in the Kirk when I was a boy. All three changes are for the worse.

Them -> those: seems to be a mere genteelism.

in -> on: rather misses the point, doesn't it? I'm assuming the point involves being an intrinsic part of earthly human society, rather than being about the geographical location of a bunch of individuals on the surface of the sphere. (May I coin a neologism? It's intrinsic versus ontrinsic.)

which -> who: is this an attempt to imply that God is just some old codger, rather than a most mysterious entity? Or one aspect of a most mysterious entity, at least. If so, it's a rum bit of theology smuggled in, I suppose. To what end?

Wm Jas said...

With a few liturgical exceptions, Mormons don't believe in using "set prayers." However, I went to a Protestant kindergarten where we had to recite the Lord's Prayer every morning, and we used the version with the three little changes. This was in New Hampshire in 1984-85.

(Oddly enough, my occasional prayers these days usually follow a fixed script: "O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart" -- which comes from the Book of Mormon. I can't really explain why someone who doesn't even believe in God should use a prayer from a religion that doesn't even believe in fixed prayers, but there it is.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - thanks for this.

It seems to me that an emphasis (not exclusive) on fixed prayers is a sign of spiritual maturity (at an institutional as well as individual level).

The highest levels of spirituality have been attained by ascetic monks and nuns, many of whom use very short, simple repeated prayers such as the Jesus Prayer - but there are many other examples.

So long as the prayer contains (explicitly or implicitly) acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ - as does your example - then the prayer has potentially limitless power.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but English not being my native language, I don't understand. The changes seem rather trivial. They mostly boil down to some updating of the language.

Maybe the change of "trespasses" for "sins" carries a lot of theological connotations. But it is hardly a political correct move, since "sin" is non-existent in political correctness. Ironically, "trespasses" sounds more politically correct ("you are not evil, you only did some mistakes").

In addition, I have never understood the influence that King James language has over English-speaking people.

I get that new versions are to be despised when they want to introduce political correctness or "gender-neutral" language.

But I don't think using "thine" is better than using "your". After all, the Bible was not written in XVII century English, but in Hebrew.

But maybe there is something that I don't get. I am a learner and I have a lot to learn.


Bruce Charlton said...

@Imnobody - Poetry doesn't translate. It can only be remade into new poetry by another poet.

English has the Book of Common Prayer and the King Jales/ Authorized version of the Bible - these are essentially poetic translations of the poetic Vulgate Latin Bible, and the Septuagint Greek Bibles seems like it is another poetic masterwork.

Anonymous said...


Thank you, Bruce, for the explanation. Since my English is not my language, I fail to detect poetry, especially English poetry, which does not have to rhyme but often relies on rhythm, stresses and alliteration.


Valkea said...

About them ---> those.

Them to me seems to be in closer relation to oneself, more clearly defined group, better known people, an ingroup or closely related to an ingroup.

Those seems to be out there somewhere, more an outgroup, less clearly defined, more inclusive and accepting, more tolerant, softer, more indiscriminately forgiving, more PC.

Hence the reason for the changes seems to be the striving towards worldly universal power. Typical subtle but effective power hungry change, done by de facto non-Christian intellectuals.

I found two of those three changes in the newest translation of Finnish Bible; them ---> those and in ---> on.


Merry Christmas.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Valkea - yes, that's how it seems to me, too.

Happy Christmas