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Those famous words from The Lord's Prayer, Matthew 6:13:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

I find puzzling. Why would anyone ask God not to lead is into temptation, when James explicitly said that God does not tempt us in James 1:13-14:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.

What do these words mean? Is something lost in translation here?

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up vote 17 down vote accepted

I think you have it right there in the difference between what you quoted - the Lord's Prayer doesn't say "do not tempt us" (and James agrees as to why) and James does not say "God does not allow people to be dragged away and enticed" (which would make the world a very different place).

A prominent example of God explicitly allowing someone to be tempted is the book of Job.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:8-12, ESV quoted)

"Lead us not into temptation" would be a prayer specifically against that sort of scenario. Eve's being enticed by the serpent to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3) might be another example. Being led into temptation also happened to Jesus himself, according to Matthew 4:1, just two chapters before the Lord's Prayer:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

In all these cases it is not God doing the tempting - the devil, the serpent, Satan are specifically named. God may indeed lead us into temptation, but James points out that God is not the tempter—likewise we might say, the trainer that brings us into the arena to fight is not the opponent we face.

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Joachim Jeremias in New Testament theology p.202 says that it means 'do not let me fall victim, not to everyday temptations, but to the last great trial'. He says that Jesus expected his mission to lead to a time of terrible widespread suffering before God's reign starts, and therefore the disciples are to pray to be protected from apostasy.

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I think your question is theological and belongs elsewhere. However, your question contains a nugget of Hermeneutics. Also, I believe the accepted answer is mistaken.

James is clearly stating that the Prayer recorded at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount should be amended or clarified. In Greek, he uses a nearly matching phrasing which he states that no person should say.

There is no question that a large amount of material in James parallels the Sermon on the Mount. In many cases, the sentences have matching phrases in Greek.

In the case of James 1:13-15, and particular 1:13, my conclusion is that James was attempting to clarify a misconception that was running through the early Church, of which he was head. He seems to have been addressing a similar misconception in 4:15-16. In this regard, I would see the contradiction not as a direct refutation, but as a clarification of some teaching that has gone awry at that locale and time.

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This is an interesting theory, but the Greek doesn't seem to back it up. The phrase in Matthew 6:13 is μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν (do not bring/lead us into temptation), whereas in James it's μηδεὶς πειραζόμενος λεγέτω ὅτι Ἀπὸ θεοῦ πειράζομαι (let no one being tempted say, "From God I am being tempted"). In other words, Matthew talks about being led into temptation (noun), where James talks about being tempted (verb). If that's supposed to be an allusion, it's not a very straightforward one. – Kyralessa Apr 20 '14 at 3:05

This is a prayer. Prayer assumes that the actions of God are not inevitable. Our prayers make a difference to the outcome. In this sense the leading of God is something specifically to be requested. And what we are requesting is for God to lead us in a path that avoids temptation - if that isn't pushing the text too hard.I can't see this as if God is about to lead us into temptation and we're asking him not to. Rather that God responds to our prayer by leading us down the 'not temptation' path. The commentaries focus on the meaning of temptation. This is insufficient. We need to know what the whole phrase means. If I ask you not to do something - in English it implies you were about to - but is that the implication in Greek or the Aramaic it translates? Sorry. I don't know. But even in English, I might say 'Don't let me say that again.' or 'Shoot me if am about to make that inappropriate joke again.' We may have a clue in the Hebrew style couplet, where the same thing is said twice but in a different way. 'Deliver us from evil' is the second half of this couplet and its meaning is clear. One further thought - Jesus says 'if your eye causes you to sin . .' So he does encourage us to actively avoid circumstances which will cause us to be tempted and this prayer asks for divine back up in doing this.

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Hello Mike, and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. Please keep in mind that not all of your readers here are Christian. Please consider editing to describe your perspective rather than prescribing it to readers. – Susan May 18 '15 at 21:13

“Do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.” (Matt. 6:13) How are we to understand these two related requests in Jesus’ model prayer? One thing is certain: God does not tempt us to commit sin. (Read James 1:13.) Satan—“the wicked one”—is the real “Tempter.” (Matt. 4:3) However, the Bible speaks of God as doing things that he is merely permitting. (Ruth 1:20, 21; Eccl. 11:5) Therefore, “do not bring us into temptation” is a petition that God not permit us to succumb when we are tempted to disobey him. Finally, the plea “deliver us from the wicked one” is a request that God not allow Satan to overcome us. And we can be confident that ‘God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear.’—Read 1 Corinthians 10:13.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Thank you for taking the time to share your insights. Due to the nature of this site, a reference may be required to support your conclusions. – Paul Vargas May 16 '14 at 0:18
The verses cited support each other. – mccjeff May 16 '14 at 0:32
@mccjeff I believe one thing Paul is saying is about helping our readers by showing data like your “Do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.” (Matt. 6:13) but also the Bible you used, and then do the same for the other citings. E.G. James 1:13 "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:" (KJV) Whereas I used the KJV in my example above, that is not the Bible I usually read; we only need to identify the source of the citing. Thanks. – John Martin May 16 '14 at 16:23
I personally like to read the NWT as it is translated into real world modern English and the most up to date. It also received high reviews recently. You can however looks at those same texts in any translation and they will say the same thing. Reading all the texts that have to do with this topic will help you reach the same conclusion. – mccjeff May 16 '14 at 20:16

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