Joseph A. Fitzmyer, «And Lead Us Not into Temptation», Vol. 84 (2003) 259-273
The sixth petition of the "Our Father" has been translated in various ways across the centuries. This article discusses its literal meaning and the permissive paraphrases of it, explaining the sense of "temptation" and God’s activity in "leading" into it, as well as the various subterfuges adopted to avoid the obvious meaning of the Greek formulation, including its supposed Aramaic substratum. It concludes with a pastoral explanation of the petition.
And Lead Us Not into Temptation
The evangelist Matthew depicts Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount instructing his followers how to pray and to address God as "Our Father"1. The sixth petition of the Pater Noster (PN) in his Gospel (6,13) reads: kai_ mh_ ei)sene/gkh|j h(ma=j ei)j peirasmo/n, "and lead us not into temptation". The same wording is found in the fifth and last petition of the PN in Luke 11,4. It has been transmitted in this form in all the Greek manuscripts of both Gospels; there are no variant readings. The same wording is found also in Didache 8,2 and is echoed in Polycarp, Phil. 7,2.
Different from all the preceding petitions in the PN, it is formulated in the negative, but is followed by a complementary petition introduced by an adversative conjunction, "But deliver us from evil (or the Evil One)2. Pace G. Schwarz, there is no reason to exclude the sixth petition from the original PN as formulated by Jesus3. Only two words in the sixth petition call for some explanatory comment.
The first is the verb mh_ ei)sene/gkh|j, the aorist subjunctive of ei)sfe/rw, used as a polite form of a negative imperative. The verb ei)sfe/rw means "bring into" (an area or place), as in Luke 5,18-19, where men, who were carrying a paralyzed man on a pallet, sought to bring him in (au)to_n ei)senegkei=n) before Jesus, but found no way to do so (ei)sene/gkwsin au)to/n) because of the crowd. Similarly in LXX of Gen 43,18: Exod 23,19; Num 31,54. In 1 Tim 6,7 it is said that "we brought nothing (ou)de_n ei)shne/gkamen) into the world", a saying that is quoted in Polycarp, Phil 4,1. See further Heb 13,11; Luke 12,11 (bring into court).
The verb is also used in a wider sense of causing someone to enter an event or a condition, as if it were a place; this is the sense of the sixth petition, as in Matt 6,13; etc. A related, but slightly different nuance is found in Acts 17,20, where Paul is said "to be bringing in subjects foreign" to the ears of Athenians (ceni/zonta/ tina ei)sfe/rontej). Similarly, Hermas, Sim. 8.6.5 (didaca_j ce/naj ei)sfe/rontej); Xenophon, Mem. 1.1.2. In all these instances, the meaning of the compound verb (ei)j + fe/rw) is clear, "bring, carry in", "lead in". In view of modern discussions of the meaning of the verb, it is important to note that ei)sfe/rw translates in the vast majority of its