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.
2. The Testing or Tempting in the Petition
No matter how one formulates this basic sense of the sixth petition of the PN, it shows that Jesus taught his followers to ask God not to lead them into temptation, a trial, or to the final test of their fidelity.
The NT even records that Jesus himself was so tested by God. After his baptism by John the Baptist, Mark records that "immediately the Spirit drove him (au)to_n e)kba/llei) out into the desert", where he stayed for forty days, "being tempted by Satan" (1,12-13). The causality of the Spirit is unmistakable. Matthew similarly records, "Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil" (a)nh/xqh ei)j th_n e!rhmon u(po_ tou= pneu/matoj peirasqh=nai u(po_ tou= diabo/lou, 4,1). In this case, the causality of the Spirit is even more expressed. See also Luke 4,1-2, who notes that Jesus was "filled with the Spirit", an allusion to the baptismal scene of 3,21-22. The Spirit leads Jesus to a confrontation with Satan, in which he would prove himself faithful as Son of God. Clearly, the Spirit is not the source or the origin of the testing or temptation but acts as the divine agent in bringing Jesus into a situation where his filial fidelity is tested.
If Jesus during his earthly life was subjected by God’s Spirit to such a testing or temptation, it has provided the background for the sixth petition in the prayer that he taught his followers to address to his and their heavenly Father.
Both Jesus’ example and the sixth petition are simply echoing a notion already found in the OT of God subjecting his people Israel to tests, trials, or temptations. Thus Abraham was "tested" by God in requesting him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac (Gen 22, 1-2), after he had promised him a numerous offspring (Gen 15,5-6; 17,19; cf. Sir 44,20d; 1 Macc 2,52; Heb 11,17). Again God "tested" the Israelites in the desert, when they sighed for the fleshpots of Egypt, to see "whether they would follow my instructions or not" (Exod 16,4). See further Exod 20,20; Deut 8,2-3.16; 13,3; Prov 3,12; and especially Job 1,8-12.22; 40,8; 42,2.7, where God even initiates the testing of Job. In Tob 12,14 Raphael admits that he "was sent to test" Tobit, i.e., sent by God (Tob 3,17).
This testing often involved an action on the part of God that was not always good for the people involved, at least not immediately good; indeed, sometimes it was evil. Thus when God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem (Judg 9,22-24); or when God sent an evil spirit against Saul (1 Sam 18,10). Similarly, when God’s anger was enkindled against Israel, he incited David against them, urging him to take a census of the Israelites (2 Sam 24,1), an evil deed that the Chronicler later ascribes rather to Satan (1 Chr 21,1). Dan 1,1-2 records how Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem, "and the Lord gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah, into his hand" (Myqywhy-t) wdyb ynd) Ntyw, LXX: kai_ pare/dwken au)th_n [Jerusalem] ku/rioj ei)j xei=raj au)tou=); cf. 2 Kgs 24,11. Again, "Who delivered Jacob to the spoiler, and Israel to robbers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned?" (Isa 42,24-25). Many other examples of such attribution to God of evil effects caused for human beings could be cited; in many cases the purpose or end result may be good, but the immediate action is not so. Hence the counsel in