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?

5 Answers 5


How it has been translated into English

The Greek word is a form of ὀφείλημα (3783), which according to Strong's has been translated

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

The word comes from ὀφείλω (3784):

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

Lexical sources

According to BDAG (and Moulton & Milligan), the primary meaning of ὀφείλημα is

that which is owed in a financial sense, debt, one’s due.1

It can also refer to an "obligation in a moral sense, debt" (and is used in a similar way to the Aramaic חוֹבָא in rabbinical literature).2

Analysis of usage in biblical literature

The other appearances of ὀφείλημα in biblical literature support the primary meaning of this noun according to BDAG.

  • Deuteronomy 24:10

Ἐὰν ὀφείλημα ἦ ἐν τῷ πλησίον σου, ὀφείλημα ὁτιοῦν, οὐκ εἰσελεύσῃ εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ ἐνεχυράσαι τὸ ἐνέχυρον (LXX, emphasis mine).3

If there is a debt with your neighbor, whatever kind of debt, and you shall not enter into his house to take in pledge his pledge.4

  • 1 Esdras 3:20

καὶ πᾶσαν διάνοιαν μεταστρέφει εἰς εὐωχίαν καὶ εὐφροσύνην καὶ οὐ μέμνηται πᾶσαν λύπην καὶ πᾶν ὀφείλημα (LXX, emphasis mine).5

It turns every thought to feasting and mirth, and forgets all sorrow and debt.6

  • 1 Maccabees 15:8

καὶ πᾶν ὀφείλημα βασιλικὸν καὶ τὰ ἐσόμενα βασιλικὰ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν καὶ εἰς τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον ἀφιέσθω σοι (LXX, emphasis mine).7

Every debt you owe to the royal treasury and any such future [debts] shall be canceled for you from henceforth and for all time.8

  • Romans 4:4

τῷ δὲ ἐργαζομένῳ ὁ μισθὸς οὐ λογίζεται κατὰ χάριν ἀλλὰ κατὰ ὀφείλημα... (NA27, emphasis mine).9

Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.10

This last use by Paul of Tarsus in his letter to the Romans makes it clear that in the first century (the same approximate historical time frame in which the Gospel commonly attributed to Matthew was likely written), the meaning of ὀφείλημα was in contradistinction to a gift (χάριν).

Analysis of usage in extrabiblical literature

The distinction between χάριν and ὀφείλημα brought out by Paul of Tarsus is elucidated several hundred years earlier by Thucydides (4th-5th century BCE), when he writes

οὐκ ἐς χάριν, ἀλλʼ ἐς ὀφείλημα

not as a favor but as payment of an obligation.11

The primary meaning as given by BDAG is supported by numerous other extrabiblical writings as well.12


Both Matthew Black and Bauer, Danker, & Arndt suggest that ὀφειλήματα means 'sins' in Matthew 6:12.2 The parallel reading in Luke 11:4 has "τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν" ('our sins') which lends support to this reading. In addition, analysis of the verb form of this noun (ὀφείλω)13 and its relationship to חוֹבָא and corresponding חַיָּב in rabbinical literature also lend support to this reading (particularly if the prayer was originally composed in Aramaic).

The strongest support, however, comes from the immediate context of the prayer, recorded in vv. 14-15:

Ἐὰν γὰρ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τὰ παραπτώματα αὐτῶν, ἀφήσει καὶ ὑμῖν ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος· ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις, οὐδὲ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἀφήσει τὰ παραπτώματα ὑμῶν.14

This context makes a clear comparison between ὀφειλήματα and παραπτώματα, the latter meaning "a violation of moral standards, offense, wrongdoing, sin" (clearly not solely restricted to financial debt).15

For these reasons (but particularly the contextual support), it is likely that 'sins' are the intended 'debts' in this context, but the actual reading is that word generally used for financial 'debts', i.e. 'that which is owed.'

1 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 743.

2 Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, 3rd ed., ed. Patrick H. Alexander (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 67, 140.

3 Septuaginta: With Morphology, electronic ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979), Dt 24:10.

4 Rick Brannan, Ken M. Penner, Israel Loken, et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), Dt 24:10.

5 Septuaginta, Esd A 3:20.

6 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 1 Esd 3:20.

7 Septuaginta, 1 Mac 15:8.

8 NRSV, 1 Mac 15:8.

9 Eberhard Nestle, Erwin Nestle, Barbara Aland, et al., The Greek New Testament, 27th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), 415.

10 NRSV, Ro 4:4.

11 cp. Thu. 2, 40, 4. From BDAG, 743.

12 "Pla., Leg. 4, 717b; Aristot., EN 8, 15, 1162b, 28; 9, 2, 1165a, 3; SIG 1108, 10 [III/II B.C.]; PHib 42, 10 [262 B.C.]; PLond III, 1203, 4 p. 10 [113 B.C.]; POxy 494, 10 ὀφειλήματα." Ibid., 743. Also cf. Moulton and Milligan, 468.

13 Cf. especially the verbal form (ὀφείλετε) in Romans 13:8.

14 Nestle & Aland, 27th ed., 13-4.

15 BDAG, 770.

  • 1
    I think the noun is ὀφείλημα (with φ rather than πη, then η not ε) and the verb is ὀφείλω (same difference + ω rather than ο). I'm totally baffled by what's going on at the NET bible links to Strongs (you quoted the main entries exactly as they are there, even 2 yrs later). @Frank Luke answered later and didn't mention this so I'm wondering if I'm missing something? (I also can't make edits without one of you approving anyway...)
    – Susan
    Jun 8, 2014 at 15:42
  • @Susan: Feel free to suggest an edit and one of us will very likely approve it. The Blue Letter Bible seems to agree with you. My guess (given only a small amount of understanding of the Greek language) is that this is was an error caused (somehow) by transliterating the word to Latin characters and back to Greek. φ => ph => πη Jun 9, 2014 at 16:01
  • Done. I checked out a few more of the entries in the NET bible Strongs links, and the spelling of the main entries is frequently wrong in similar ways, I suppose due to some systematic errors related to the transliteration chain as you suggested. For the consonantal changes this is often obvious if you look at the example uses below. The other frequent error is verbs ending in ο which I think is safe to say is never correct for a lexical form - ω is usually meant (μι and μαι are also possible but usually correct there).
    – Susan
    Jun 10, 2014 at 0:29
  • I know this is old and represents a bygone era of BH.SE, but for future readers it bears repeating that Strong's is a concordance, not a lexicon. Strong is showing how the words are translated, but that doesn't mean that the words should or can be translated that way. I've edited the answer to cite better resources and to glean insights from analysis of other usages of the word.
    – Dan
    Jun 10, 2014 at 3:07
  • @majnemɪzdæn A different take on this. - courtesy of Davïd's links in the library.
    – Susan
    Nov 5, 2014 at 15:34

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.

  • Very interesting connection to Talmudic sources. Feb 6, 2012 at 7:52

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.


BibleHub.com has 23 different bible translations, and 21 of them use the words "debt" and "debtors". None of them use "trespasses" in the Lord's Prayer. In the actual prayer stated by Jesus, he only uses the words "debt" and "debtors". Jesus never used word "trespasses" in the actual prayer. Trespasses was only mentioned after prayer, in Matt. 6:14. So, the addition of "trespasses" into Matthew 6:12 was a fiction created by those with "interest" in the matter, literally interest, those being the lenders in the church, and lenders to the church, and bankers, i.e. moneychangers in order to keep their money train running smoothly. But, Trespasses in not used in actual prayer. Based on Old testament bible teachings, Jesus most likely meant "debt" as in financial debts, since usury was viewed as a well-known sin. So, as such, Aramaic word could have meant both sin and debt, as claimed, so even Matt. 6:14 could have been translated as "debt" instead of "trespasses". A few bible examples are: "You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest." - Deuteronomy 23:19 "He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head." - Ezekiel 18:13 "You must not lend them money at interest" -Leviticus 25:37 "you shall not charge him interest" - Exodus 22:25.

  • 3
    Where's your evidence that it was bankers who introduced trespasses into the prayer?
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 18, 2017 at 22:39
  • Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted. Jun 22, 2017 at 18:33
  • @curiousdannii - actually, there may be some support for this idea or something like it. In the intro Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation the authors assert that "forgive us our trespasses" actually referred to landlords and debt and include a paper about it in their bibliography. I don't have much more detail than that, but it was a point of interest I meant to pursue. Jun 22, 2017 at 18:35

It is already sufficiently explained above that "debts" is the most appropriate translation for the ὀφειλήματα, and also for a spiritual growth it is better, for one has to make an effort of cracking a metaphor independently, for it is impossible for humans to have a real debt, as some material thing - money, commodities - to God, who does not need them. In fact, "sins" and "trespasses" are also kind of metaphors, for "sin" in Greek is ἁμαρτία which comes from the verb denoting missing a target, so it metaphorises our not living a teleological life directed to fulfillment of divine plan on our lives; and "trespass" means crossing the forbidden borders, which is, again, a metaphor for basically the same, not obeying the divine ordinance for our lives and in a self-will deviating from it.

Thus, all three, "gaining debts", "sinning", "trespassing" are metaphors of ill-grounded motions, or lack of God-pleasing motions within our souls, within our "inner man" (Eph. 3:16). However, again "debts" is Jesus' own metaphor and why to change it to or explicate it by other metaphors within the very translation? It is not nice, to say the least. However, the explication is totally blameless and permissible in exegesis, of course.

So how then can we be God's debtors? What does He give us that we should return? He gives us His only Begotten Son, who loved us even up to His death on Cross, and we, as Christians, are debtors of this love: we owe gratitude to God for such an awesome gift - making us able and giving us authority to become sons of Light (John 1:12), inheritors of the Eternal Heavenly Kingdom that eternally belonged to the Father and the Son, so that we, creatures and mortals be eternally shrouded by what is uncreated, eternal and immortal (1 Cor. 15:54).

But how we gather our debts to Him? By not practicing virtues, by indifference, by lukewarm prayers and a half-hearted devotion, but most of all by ingratitude to countless good things He gives to us. Thus, it is those debts that we are poised to get rid of every time when we say the prayer "Our Father".

Therefore, we owe gratitude, and love, and also, since He forgives us all our ingratitude and indifference, if we repent sincerely, so we also owe Him forgiveness of our neighbors who trespass against us, whom He loves as He does us, whom He forgives, inviting us to participate in His forgiveness; thus we owe Him loving and forgiving our neighbors.

Yet, most of all we owe Him the knowledge of His Son as Lord and God (John 20:28) through His Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13); and through the same Holy Spirit we owe Father the understanding and free blissful commitment not to live for ourselves, but for His Son, who died for us and rose again (2 Cor. 5:15), and we owe to His Son to hearken to His commandment of perfection, that is: becoming as perfect as our Heavenly Father is (Matt. 5:48).

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