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.
enemies all around so that they could no longer withstand them13. In all that they undertook, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil". If God, in this way of thinking, is said to be the cause of such evil, then it is conceivable that he would lead them into situations of testing and temptation, even though the immediate source or origin of such testing or temptation is not God himself.
What is at issue in this mode of protological thinking is that there had not yet emerged in the history of ideas the distinction that theologians of later ages made between God’s permissive will and his absolute will. As a result, everything that happens to human beings was being attributed to God. Just when that distinction begins to emerge is not easy to say; it was certainly used in the predestinarian debates of the patristic period. Then God was said to allow or permit people to fall into temptation or apostasy, but he did not will it absolutely.
There is evidence of this protological thinking also in the NT, when the inevitable retribution of human sin is ascribed to God’s wrath or punitive judgment. For instance, Paul declares in Rom 1,24.26.28 that God delivered (pare/dwken) pagans over to impurity, dishonorable passions, and improper conduct. In these verses, Paul is seeking to give a logical explanation of the dire condition in which pagan humanity exists without the gospel; but he does it in a primitive way, echoing the OT mode of ascribing such evil condition to God’s decision and action, as a manifestation of his wrath (an attribute of God derived from the OT). Or again, in Rom 9:18, he speaks of God "hardening the heart of whomever he chooses," a reference to Pharaoh, whose heart was hardened by God in Exod 4,21; 7,3; 9,12; 10,20.27; 14,8 (even though other passages tell of evil Pharaoh hardening his own heart: Exod 7,14; 8,15.32)14. Moreover, in Rom 11,32, Paul asserts that "God has imprisoned all people in disobedience".
Over against such protological thinking, one begins to detect especially in the late writings of the OT a different mode. One instance has already been noted above, when 1 Chr 21,1 is compared with 2 Sam 24,1. In the deuterocanonical writing of Ben Sira, one notes an insistence on the freedom of the human will: "Do not say, ‘It was God’s doing that I fell away’; for what he hates he will not do. Do not say, ‘It was he who led me astray’; for he has no need of a wicked man" (Sir 15,11-12; see also 15,20).
Paul also has contributed to this different way of thinking when he writes, "No trial has overtaken you but what is human. God is trustworthy, and he will not allow you to be tried (o$j ou)k e)a/sei u(ma=j peirasqh=nai) beyond what you can bear; but with the trial he will provide also a way out, so that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor 10,13). Here one finds God permitting his faithful ones to be tried or tempted, and from this mode of phrasing the matter one sees how later interpreters have often sought to soften the wording of the sixth petition of the PN itself.