Skip to comments.Pondering the Mysterious Word in the Lordís Prayer No One Can Agree how to Translate
Posted on 06/21/2013 2:44:12 PM PDT by NYer
In the breviary we are currently reading St Cyprian’s commentary on the Lord’s prayer. It is a prayer shared by and prized by all Christians. Few if any have not committed to memory.
Yet within the Lord’s prayer is a mysterious word that both Greek and Biblical scholars have little agreement over or even a clear understanding of in terms of its precise meaning. Most Christians who do not read Greek are unaware of the difficulties and debate surrounding the word. They simply accept that the most common English translation of the Our Father is undisputed. To them the problem is largely unknown.
The mysterious word occurs right in the middle of the prayer: τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον (ton arton hēmōn ton epiousion) which is rendered most usually as “give us this day our daily bread.”
The problematic word is epiousion. The difficulty is that the word seems to exist nowhere else in ancient Greek and that no one really knows what it means. Even the Greek Fathers who spoke and wrote Greek as their mother-tongue were unaware of its exact meaning. It occurs no where else in the Bible (with the exception of the parallel passage in Luke’s version of the Our Father in Luke 11:3). It appears nowhere in wider Greek literature, whether Christian or Pagan. The early Church Father Origen, a most learned and well read man, thought that Matthew and Luke, or the early Church had “made up” or coined the term.
So, frankly, we are at a loss as to the exact and original meaning of this word! It’s actually pretty embarrassing when you think of it. Right there in the most memorable text of Christendom is a word whose meaning seems quite uncertain.
Now, to be sure, over the centuries there have been many theories and positions as to what this word is getting at. Let’s look at a few.
So when we have a Greek word that is used no where else and when such important and determinative Fathers struggle to understand it and show forth rather significant disagreement, we are surely left at a loss. It seems clear that we have something of a mystery.
Reverencing the Mystery – But perhaps the Lord intended that we should ponder this text and see a kind of multiple meaning. Surely it is right that we should pray for our worldly food. Likewise we should pray for all that is needed for subsistence, whether just for today or for tomorrow as well. And surely we should ask for the Bread of Life, the Holy Eucharist which is the necessary Bread that draws us to eternal life and which (Who) is over and above all earthly substances.
So there it is, the hidden and mysterious word in the middle of the Our Father. My own preference is to see that “epiousion” (supersubstantial) is a reference to the Eucharist. Jesus who super-abounds in all we could ask or want, said, “I am the Bread of life.” He is surely, in his Eucharistic presence, our Bread which super abounds.
Most modern translations have settled on the word “daily.” For the record, the Latin Liturgy also uses the word daily (quotidianum). But in truth no one word can capture what is said here. The Lord has left us a mystery to ponder.
I know many of you who read here are learned in Greek, Latin, the Fathers, and scripture scholarship and I am interested in your thoughts. This article is incomplete and has not covered every possible facet of the argument. I leave that you, all who wish to comment.
If you fit the category, please post your comment to Msgr. Pope's blog.
Aramaic is the language spoken by Jesus and the Apostles. Hebrew, at that time, was the liturgical language of the Temple.
Yes, but most of the gospels were likely back-translated into Aramaic. But, since this is a quote of Jesus that the Greek seems to have had problems translating, does this represent something originally recorded in Aramaic?
Drink Your Ovaltine
Tell me, if Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus and all the Jews, why did Titus have to draft the services of Josephus and others to speak Hebrew to the people barricaded in Jerusalem? There should have been thousands of Aramaic speakers in Titus’s army. Apparently, there were thousands of Jews who neither spoke Greek or Aramaic.
I am in the “inclusive” category — sustenance for the day, the strength, wisdom, and wherewithal to persevere, and the gift of the Bread of Life.
An excellent question!! As you may recall, I practice my faith in a Maronite Catholic Church which retains the Syriac Aramaic language of Jesus for the liturgy. I just sent this article to my pastor, and asked him the same question.
There are several possibilities:
1) in ancient writings “Hebrew” and “Aramaic” are sometimes confused with one another.
2) Josephus might have been bragging.
3) Josephus was more polished in his Hebrew and Titus wanted to have the most able spokesman possible no matter what language was used.
4) Jerusalem was in the South. Aramaic might have been more common in the North where Jesus and the Apostles were from.
5) Even though only a few decades had passed, Hebrew might have experienced a resurgence in usage - which might partially explain Hebrew nationalist uprisings in the 60s.
6) Josephus might have been speaking only to an elite which knew Hebrew and little else or preferred to use Hebrew for their own particular reasons.
Typo - problem solved.
Was there ever a time when Hebrew was the mother tongue of the Hebrews? I wonder what the Moses generation spoke. Egyptian?
Martin McNamara writes: “All of Josephus’ four extant works are important sources for Jewish history and tradition. The first to be composed was The Jewish Waran account of the war of the Jews against the Romans. Josephus himself tells us that he wrote two versions of this. ********The first one was in his own vernacular, i.e. Aramaic, and composed for ‘the up-country barbarians’, i.e. the Aramaic-speaking Jews of the Parthian kingdom, especially those of Babylon. This edition is lost.********** The extant Greek version is an adaptation by Josephus himself of the Aramaic work. It was published about A.D. 78, when Josephus was about 40 years old. The next work to be published was The Jewish Antiquities, about sixteen years later (A.D. 94 or so). It appears that soon before the publication of The Antiquities Justus of Tiberias had published his history of the Jewish War, with serious accusation of misconduct during the war in Galilee directed against Josephus. It is possible that Josephus’ third and autobiographical work, the Life, was published at the same time as the Antiquities and as a reply to Justus. Some scholars, however, maintain that the Life was published about A.D. 96, and may have appeared together with a second edition of the Antiquities that appeared between A.D. 93/94 and 100. Josephus’ final extant work to be published was Against Apion, or to give its original title, On the Antiquity of the Jews. In the first part of this work Josephus sets out to refute the detractions and contentions of anti-Semitic writings. In the course of doing so he excerpts from a large number of works no longer extant. In the second part Josephus gives his positive defence of the Jewish people, setting forth the inner value of Judaism and its superiority over Hellenism. In this we have a rather full presentation of Jewish halakah as known to Josephus.” (Intertestamental Literature, p. 239) http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/josephus.html
"from ἡ ἐπιούσἄ [ἡμἐρἄ], 'belonging to the morrow'
Webster 1887: "morrow [ME, morwe,morwen, fr. AS, morgen] 1. Archaic. Morning "
ERGO, belonging to the morning [?]
Or it was elites and invaders that spoke Aramaic and Greek, while the peasantry, who never had a reason to abandon it, still spoke Hebrew.
The Mishnah, which included records of debates from at least a generation or two after the destruction of the Temple, was composed in classical Hebrew. The generations that followed apparently had their discussions in Aramaic.
I would think that many knew both Hebrew and Egyptian. Think of the Gypsies. They know Romany and they speak the language of the land they live in too.
I don’t know if the elites would lose a language ability they once had since it was the elite who controlled the rituals and needed the language. But, who knows...?
Thank you very much. Simply beautiful and a wonderful blessing to hear.
I know that I can go into a Reform and Conservative synagogue now and a bunch of the service will be in Hebrew even though very few there, even those controlling the rituals, are fluid in everyday Hebrew vernacular.
The non-Biblical texts among the Dead Sea scrolls, mostly in Hebrew, also indicate its use as an everyday language past the Temple’s destruction.
When people view this from their human point of view, they are confused, as described above. But if they view it from faith in God’s point of view, “our daily bread” is completely sufficient, because we are asking for God to supply our needs as He sees fit, and allowing Him to be in charge of what those needs are, as only He can completely know. We certainly don’t know. We may think we know; but that’s not the same as what He knows.
I think it is just about our daily sustenance or living. Nothing magic about it. For instance “Man shall not live by bread alone” where bread means our regular meals.
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