This is something I wrote a few years ago where I question our understanding of the meaning of evil.
I have seldom used the KJV over the last 40 years, but on this occasion it seems to be an appropriate starting point:
After this manner therefore pray ye. 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 debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matt 6.9-13 – KJV).
Then in verses 14-15: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
In Luke the wording is slightly different:
When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. (Luke 11.2-4 – KJV).
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Mark 11-25-26 – KJV).
Why in the traditional rendering of “The Lord’s Prayer” do we use trespasses instead of debts?
The word debts is only used once in the NT – something owed (3783)
Debtors – a person who is indebted (3781)
Trespasses – a side slip (lapse or deviation) i.e. (unintentional) error or (wilful) transgression – fall, fault, offence, sin, trespass (3900)
Sins (Luke 11.4) – offence, sin(ful) (266)
Let’s look at “The Lord’s Prayer” using modern language:
Father, may your name be honoured (the glory belongs to you).
May your kingdom come and may your will be done on earth.
Please give us each day the bread (both physical and spiritual) we need for the day.
And forgive us what we owe to you (our failures) because we forgive everyone who owes us anything (fails us).
Please keep us clear of temptation and save us from evil.
There is an emphasis on a need to ask for forgiveness for our failures.
For the purposes of discussion can I suggest the following:
- Sins – things done that should not have been done (not something we are)
- Debts – things left undone that should have been done (sins of omission and commission)
- Trespasses – offences that grieve God and grieve one another
I am not a scholar but looking through the gospels a number of things stick out. Consider that Jesus told Peter that he should forgive his brother seventy times seven. What is the significance of John the Baptist saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. Jesus didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery. In John 9.41 talking to the Pharisees (the leaders of the day), Jesus said, “If you were blind you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see’, your guilt remains”. I find the last verses of John 15 particularly significant, If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin …Jesus was talking to those who thought they knew! Then in John 16.8, And when he (the Counsellor) comes, he will convince (or convict) the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. There is I suggest a need to listen to the Holy Spirit rather than the beliefs and doctrines of men (such as the theology of ‘Original Sin’ or ‘Total Depravity’).
There is a challenge for us to forgive from the heart as often as necessary. We need daily forgiveness just as much as we need daily bread. It works both ways – we receive forgiveness whenever we ask, and we in turn need to extend that to others. It is surely obvious that we cannot reasonably pray for forgiveness, if at the same time we are harbouring any unforgiveness?
It’s worth considering that unforgiveness (or bitterness) leads to physical and mental suffering (we become prisoners of our own emotions) – we need to forgive for the sake of our own emotional well-being! [Do we allow fellowship with Father to be disrupted by what others have said and done?]. But how can we really forgive others if we don’t understand what it means to have been forgiven? This I would suggest is part of the process of growth when we accept the challenge of Jesus to follow me, and then allow Jesus to live his life in and through us.
Please keep us clear of temptation and save us from evil (taken from J B Phillips’ translation).
Temptation – a putting to proof (by experiment [of good], experience [of evil], solicitation, discipline or provocation) – by implication adversity (3986 from 3985) – 3985 from 3984 – to test (endeavour, scrutinise, entice, discipline), assay, examine, prove, tempt(-er), try. 3984 – a test i.e. attempt, experience – assaying, trial. Thus temptation (putting to proof – examining) seems to be related to judging and distinguishing between good and evil – which in turn seems to make sense when we think of the knowledge of the tree of good and evil (the symbolism of Genesis 2?).
I would suggest (just using Strong’s Concordance) that the meaning of evil is very obscure.
Evil as in the Lord’s Prayer (4190) – hurtful in effect or influence – differing from 2556 which rather refers to essential character. 2556 is defined as intrinsically worthless, while 4190 refers to effects i.e. depraved or injurious – bad, evil, harm, ill, noisome, wicked. [There is a very big difference between an adverse effect, and something that is intrinsically worthless. This seems to be a very good example of using one word that has significantly different meanings in the original. No wonder that people are confused!].
Could we reasonably describe evil (in the context of the Lord’s Prayer) as anything that resists God’s purpose (intentionally or otherwise)? This fits with missing the mark or falling short of what God intended us to be as a result of ingrained habits of selfishness, self-interest, unbelief, pride, or self-righteousness – doing what is right in our own eyes.
There is surely no such thing as evil – it is an action or experience that we perceive in a negative way – something we feel!
Are evil and sin two completely different things or are they both representative of a lack of love?
Do we need to be emotional to know and experience this kind of love?