Also known as the “Our Father” (Latin Pater noster) from its first words, the Lord's Prayer occurs in the New Testament in two slightly different forms. The longer form is included in Matthew's account of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (6.9–13) and reads (in the NRSV):

Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come.Your will be done,on earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread.And forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors.And do not bring us to the time of trial,but rescue us from the evil one.

The doxology at the close (“For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen”) is absent in ancient and important Greek manuscripts, and is not mentioned in early commentaries on the Lord's Prayer by Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen. It occurs in twofold form (“power and glory”) in the Didache (8.2). In liturgical use, some kind of doxology (perhaps composed on the model of 1 Chron. 29.11–13) could have concluded such a prayer as this. The shorter form of the Lord's Prayer is given in Luke 11.2–4, where Jesus responds to a disciple's request, “Lord, teach us to pray,” with the following:

And do not bring us to the time of trial. Father, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come.Give us each day our daily bread.And forgive us our sins,for we ourselves forgive everyoneindebted to us.And do not bring us to the time of trial.

Later manuscripts, on which the King James Version depends, include additions that assimilate the Lucan form of the Prayer to that in Matthew. Furthermore, two Greek manuscripts of the Gospels (no. 162, dated 1153 CE, and no. 700, of the eleventh century) replace the petition “Your kingdom come” with “Your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us.” This adaptation may have been used when celebrating the rite of baptism or the laying on of hands.

It is likely that Luke's shorter version is closer to the original and that Matthew's is an elaboration. But, of course, Jesus may well have given the prayer in different forms on different occasions.

It would seem that the mode of address that Jesus habitually used in prayer to God was “Abba, dear Father” (the only exception is Mark 15.34, itself a quotation from Ps. 22.1). It seems that nowhere in the literature of the prayers of ancient Judaism does the invocation of God as “Abba” occur. Perhaps there is an intimacy of relationship implied here that others had hesitated to use. However, in teaching his followers to address God in this way, Jesus lets them share in his own communion with God. That they rejoiced to do so is apparent in the letters of Paul (see Gal. 4.6; Rom. 8.15). Ancient Christian liturgies reflect something of the sense of privilege in using this approach when they preface the Lord's Prayer with the words “We are bold to say ‘Our Father.’ ”

But if the address “Our Father” suggests intimacy, not to say familiarity, the next words, “in heaven,” speak of the “otherness,” the holiness, the awesomeness of God. It is when these two aspects of approach to God are held together in creative tension that real prayer can be engaged in. Further, the plural “our” should be noted—not, at least in this instance, “my.” This is the prayer that Jesus' followers as members of one family are bidden to say together (see Matt. 12.49–50 and par.); the Father presides over the family unit.

Following the invocation in the Matthean form of the prayer, the petitions fall into two parts: three “you” petitions are followed by “we” petitions. The former focus on God and his purposes in the world; the latter pertain to our provision, pardon, and protection. In other words, before any thought is given to human need (“our daily bread”) or even to divine forgiveness of sins or to the problem of temptation, God's name, God's kingdom, God's will must first engage our attention. This is the order of precedence when human beings engage in communication with the God who is at once immanent and transcendent.

“Your will be done” is not a prayer of resignation, but one for the full accomplishment of the divine purpose (as in Matt. 26.42). The words “on earth as it is in heaven” may be taken with all three preceding petitions.

The Greek adjective (epiousios), usually translated “daily,” is extremely rare; it may mean “[the bread we need] for tomorrow.” In either case, the sense is that we are to pray for one day's rations, perhaps with the implied suggestion that asking for more would be to engage in needless concern for the future (cf. Matt. 6.25–34).

The petition for God's forgiveness is closely linked with our forgiveness of one another (the difference in tenses between the Matthean and Lucan versions should be noted); Matthew elaborates the teaching in the following verses (6.14–15). The Aramaic word for “debt” is used in rabbinic writings to mean “sin,” and would be so understood by Jesus' hearers.

The petition often translated “lead us not into temptation” is best understood as a prayer to be kept in the hour of severe trial; it is an acknowledgment of spiritual frailty (cf. 1 Cor. 10.12) in the face of the evil one (or evil, for the Greek can mean either; see Satan; Temptation).

Donald Coggan