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It seems that there are three popular versions of this passage in the Lord's prayer. "Forgive us our sins", "Forgive us our debts", and "Forgive us our trespasses".

I see one version here in the NIV:

Matthew 6:12 (NIV)
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

There's the "sin" version in the New Living Translation:

Matthew 6:12 (NIRV)
Forgive us our sins, just as we also have forgiven those who sin against us.

Where does the "trespasses" version come from? Also, which of these three translations is the closes to the original?

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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The Greek word is οπηειλεμα(3783), which according to Strong's means

1) that which is owed 1a) that which is justly or legally due, a debt 2) metaph. offence, sin

The word comes from οπηειλο(3784):

1) to owe 1a) to owe money, be in debt for 1a1) that which is due, the debt 2) metaph. the goodwill due

So a literal translation would be "debt", but "sin" or "trespass" could be used if the translator believes the term is being used in a metaphorical sense.

(I used the handy tools at http://net.bible.org/#!bible/Matthew+6:12 to get this answer.)

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The word used is the word for "debt" (as Jon states), but in rabbinic teachings and parables, a person's sin before God was often symbolized by debt owed to a king, landowner, or other person.

An excellent example of this can be found in Matthew 18. Peter asks Jesus how often to forgive when a brother sins against him. Jesus responds with a parable about debt and directly links the two in the conclusion with "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Matthew 18:21-35 Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

23 ¶ "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 "When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 "But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 "So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' 27 "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 "But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' 29 "So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' 30 "But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 "So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 "Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' 34 "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

The word for debt is the same one in the Lord's prayer.

From the rabbinic literature, Sifre Deut. 26

A parable: A man borrowed from the king a thousand kor of wheat per year. Everyone said, "Can it be possible for this man to manage a loan of one thousand kor of wheat in one year? It must be that the king has made him a gift of it and has written him a receipt!" One time the man had nothing left over and could not repay anything to the king, so the king entered the man's house, seized his sons and daughters, and placed them on the auction block, whereupon everyone knew that the man had received no pardon from the king.

Added on Edit "Blessed art thou O Lord our God King of the Universe who grants grace to debtors" (Jerusalem Talmud Berakot 14a ch. 9, halakah 2 and parallels)

Also the texts in Exodus Rabbah 31:1 and Pesik Rabbah 44.

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Very interesting connection to Talmudic sources. –  Jon Ericson Feb 6 '12 at 7:52
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Although I don't know which of the translations is the closest to the original, I did find the "...trespasses.." translation in The Book of Common Prayer on page 302-303

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In sensus plenior it appears that the prayer is an interpretation of Ps 23:

The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want.

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Father and Shepherd

David was shepherd who was the ruler of Israel. The word 'ab' means both 'father' and 'ruler'. He was the shepherd father of Israel. Jesus teaches us to pray to the father ruler of all.

I shall not want vs. Hallowed be thy name.

The word for 'want' is 'void'. In the beginning God created the void and then filled it with his light, which represents holiness. " I shall not be the void, but God's holiness will be made manifest in me." "Holy be your name"

Peace with God

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: 3 He restoreth my soul:

10 Thy kingdom come.

One can lie down when there is peace with God in his kingdom.

Trusting God

Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.


he leadeth me beside the still waters.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

Water is the word of God. In flood it destroys. The still water is the dead Word of God, Christ in the grave. He said his body was the bread given for us.


he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

13 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.


5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

In middle eastern cultures one does not eat with your enemy. Since the Psalm has the enemy at the table, all things have been forgiven. You have been filled with God's spirit (anointed with oil) and the life he has given you, you give to your enemy (cup runneth over).

In this context, if Jesus was interpreting the 23rd Psalm, the original meaning is that you should love your enemy. The translation alone does not do it justice.

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