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.
“give us this day the needs of the body.”
FWIW, I have an Aramaic version translated to English.
Matthew 6:11 says “Give us bread for our needs from day to day”
Luke 11:3 says “Give us bread for our needs every day”
This webpage should help clear up some of your questions. You come closest to being right suggesting the possibility that Hebrew was primarily spoken in Jerusalem while a dialect of Aramaic was the language of Galilee. When Jesus spoke to his Galilean disciples it was most likely in Aramaic, but he was fluent in Hebrew and Greek. The Samaritans spoke Hebrew. When Jesus spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus it was in Hebrew. Paul was fluent in Hebrew, and he used it when addressing the people of Jerusalem.
I recently read an excellent paper on this subject, and I can’t find it, though it should have been stored on this computer. There is plenty of research that lays to rest the misconception that Aramaic was the only language, or even the primary language of most Jews during the time of Jesus. Hebrew was very much alive and well, and spoken as a common language, in addition to being the language of the Torah and the temple.
“This webpage should help clear up some of your questions.”
I didn’t have any questions in post #12. I have no idea what questions you’re talking about.
My apologies, I meant your suggestions.
Titus’s army, I believe was the 15th Roman Legion. Native Latin speakers? Just a guess.
My understanding is that Aramaic was the native language, Hebrew was the language of the synagog and Greek was the “lingua franca”- the language of commerce and trade. It was being supplanted by Latin at that time.
Sort of like modern Rome. Italian the native language, latin the language of the church, and English by those doing business with foreigners.
By the Middle Ages spoken Hebrew was a dead language. The grammar of modern Hebrew was adapted from Arabic - sister Semitic languages - and revived in Andalusia under Muslim rule when Jews were employed as functionaries by the rulers. They were literate, and since they were hated more by the Christians of that age than by their Muslim rulers they could be trusted to not betray their masters. One reason they were expelled or forced to convert (see: Conversos) in 1492 along with all Muslims from Reconquista Spain.
The grammar of modern Hebrew was adapted
What was wrong with the grammar of old Hebrew?
ping for later
Actually, the best reason for supposing that the gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew/Aramaic is the simple fact that numerous 2nd century AD sources say so, including Irenaeus and Papias.
I remember hearing about someone who was a Greek scholar on their first actual visit to Greece. They tried communicating with the locals and were mostly laughed at. They were speaking the language of Plato and Aristotle. Languages, all of them, change over time and distance.
Manna is the first thing to spring to my mind after reading through this. Manna from heaven, from the Lord above, superlative, bread, morning, it fits the known meanings of the apparent root words. Greek would lack a means of describing something that was apparently difficult to describe for those with direct exposure. Then, there’s the long association of manna with communion or the “Eucharist.”
My father grew up in a household of Swedish immigrants ( came over at the turn of the last century). My grandparants must have spoken Swedish in the house quite a bit because he had a pretty good grasp on the language.
We visited Sweden in the seventies and he was able to converse fairly well but all the Swedes just broke up listening to him because he was speaking, to their ears, an antique version of their langage.
The poor guy, we flew into Copenhagen. We checked into the hotel and he proudly spoke his antique Swedish (to the Danish hotel clerk). She smiled and said, “Mr. Anderson, we speak English here.
Several ancient sources attest to a gospel by the disciple Matthew as having been written in Aramaic, but with Hebrew letters.
Also, Aramaic is not the dead language people suppose. It persists today, among Syrian and Lebanese Christians. As I understand it, Hebrew is the language of the Jews (Judeans), whereas Aramaic was a language of the Gallileans and Samaritans. In the few places where Jesus’ language is retained in the gospels, it is Aramaic, yet Jesus certainly knew Hebrew as a rabbi who read scripture in the synagogue.
I wonder if anyone has used this word as the name of a hi tech company?! Or an anti-depressant? Web domain name?
I believe the Samaritans spoke Hebrew.
Language evolves over the course of time, with the exception of "dead" languages. For example, the Lebanese speak "lebanese" at home but learn Arabic which is the official language of their country. It's quite fascinating. When two individuals converse in "lebanese" they interject English or French words for the ones, like "ticket" or "computer" that do not exist. I encountered a similar situation while working for Air France. All correspondence exchanged with HQ had to be written in French. As automation evolved rapidly in the US, with no word for "tape drive", etc. we would insert the English word. It did not take long before the government agency that controls language, issued a document with the new French translations. "Tape drive" became "bande magnetique". One of my French coworkers visited Canada and explained that the "french" spoken at home, is what was spoken in France in the 16th century.
Latin, Koine Greek, Aramaic and many other languages are defunct. There are still a few villages in the Middle East where Aramaic is still spoken but ... other words must be substituted for those that are missing.
See my post #41.
So if I understand you correctly, you are saying that Jesus spoke with a Drawl. So He actually said "Give us this day our daily bread Y'all."
Look at this in the context of the manna in the wilderness. The Hebrews were commanded to collect only enough for that day, except, prior to the Sabbath, they were to collect two days worth. Exodus 16:1-30
More than a few villages... about 2.5 million people.
“So if I understand you correctly, you are saying that Jesus spoke with a Drawl. So He actually said “Give us this day our daily bread Y’all.””
I don’t know if He had a drawl, but He and the Apostles had a recognizable accent: Matthew 26:73
Seeing that some suppose that it is meant that we should pray for material bread, their erroneous opinion deserves to be done away with and the truth about the needful bread set forth, in the following manner. We may put the question to themhow can it be that He, who says that heavenly and great things ought to be asked for as if, on their view, He has forgotten His teaching now enjoins the offering of intercession to the Father for an earthly and little thing, since neither is the bread which is assimilated into our flesh a heavenly thing nor is it asking a great thing to request it?
For my part I shall follow the Teacher's own teaching as to the bread and cite the passages in detail. To men who have come to Capernaum to seek Him He says, in the Gospel according to John, Verily, verily, I tell you you seek me not because you saw signs but because you ate of the loaves of bread and were filled . . . for he that has eaten and been filled with the loaves of bread which have been blessed by Jesus seeks the more to grasp the Son of God more closely and hastens toward Him.
Wherefore He will enjoin: Work not for the food that perishes but for the food that abides unto life eternal which the Son of Man shall give you. And when, upon that, they who had heard inquired and said: What are we to do that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them: This is the work of God that you believe on him whom He has sent. As it is written in Psalms, God sent His Word and healed them, that is the diseased, and believers in that Word work the works of God which are food that abides unto life eternal.
And my Father, He says, gives you the true bread from heaven, for the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. It is true bread that nourishes the true man who is made in God's image, and he that has been nourished by it also becomes in the Creator's likeness. What is more nourishing to the soul than Word, or what more precious to the mind of him that is capable of receiving it than the Wisdom of God? What is more congenial to the rational nature than Truth? Should it be urged in objection to this view that He would not in that case teach men to ask for needful bread as if something other than Himself, it is to be noted that He also discourses in the Gospel according to John sometimes as if it were other than Himself but at other times as if He is Himself the Bread. The former in the sense of the words: Moses hath given you the bread from heaven yet not the true bread, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. In the latter sense, to those who had said to Him Ever give us this bread, He says: I am the bread of life: he that comes unto me shall not hunger, and he that believes on me shall not thirst; and shortly after: I am the living bread that is come down from heaven: if anyone eat of this bread he shall live unto eternity: yea and the bread which I shall give is my flesh which I shall give for the sake of the life of the world.
Now since all manner of nourishment is spoken of as bread according to Scripture as is clear from the fact that it is recorded of Moses that he ate not bread and drank not water forty days, and since the nourishing Word is manifold and various, not all being capable of nourishment by the solidity and strength of the divine teachings, He is therefore pleased to offer strenuous nourishment befitting men more perfect, where He says:
The bread which I shall give is my flesh which I shall give for the sake of the life of the world: and shortly after: Except you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drinks His blood, you have not life in yourselves. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood hath life eternal, and I will raise him up in the last day. for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.As the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so also he that eats mehe too shall live because of me. This is the true food, Christ's flesh, which being Word has become flesh, as it is said And the Word became flesh. When we eat and drink the Word He tabernacles in us.
(Origen, On Prayer)
Get n answer?
Look at this in the context of the manna in the wilderness. The Hebrews were commanded to collect only enough for that day, except, prior to the Sabbath, they were to collect two days worth. Exodus 16:1-30
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