Teaching about Money in the Lord’s Prayer
When Bread Is Scarce and Debts Are High
The Lord's Prayer is deeply concerned with economic hardship. Although it's not immediately obvious to most people who pray this prayer, this prayer is combines economic issues and spiritual issues. Versions of the prayer occur in both the “The Sermon On The Mount” in Matthew 6:9-13 and “the Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 11:1-4. This is a prayer concerned about hunger and debt.
Even though every Christian church prays the Lord’s Prayer — following Matthew’s version rather than Luke’s — there are variations in the exact wording.
Some churches use the archaic English, “thy” and “thine.” Protestant churches usually end the prayer with the words, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.” Roman Catholics do not recite this ending.
Sins, Trespasses, or Debts?
The most critical vocabulary difference is whether a church refers to “debts,” “trespasses,” or “sins.”
Jesus was referring to real bread and real debts when he taught his followers to pray for daily bread and forgiveness of debts. He was not simply teaching a prayer about spiritual nurture and forgiveness of sins.
In Greek, the word for debt is a financial term. Jesus’ concern for bread and debts is consistent with his social and ethical approach to his society. He focused on the injustices of his society against the poor and dispossessed.
The most important belief expressed in the prayer is that the time will come when God will establish God’s rule on earth, in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God does not refer to Heaven. It refers to God’s rule on Earth, when God will end oppression, poverty, and suffering on Earth. This is clear in the language, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Why Prayer for Money Was at the Heart of the Lord's Prayer
No one who heard Jesus speak would have limited his words about bread and debts to spiritual metaphors. Jesus spoke to a population who were underfed and overtaxed. Most of the peasants were in debt, because the king and the elite class owned the land. The king and the elites claimed proprietary rights to the land and everything grown on it. The money demands from the ruling class were so high that the peasants were deeply in debt. In addition, many of the beggars were people who had been forced off the land because they could not pay their debts to the ruling class.
Jesus condemned the society that created such a vast gap between the haves and the have-nots. He criticized the rich for exploiting and oppressing the poor. He also criticized the religious system for judging so many groups of people in the society to be “unclean” and unworthy of God’s blessing.
- He saw firsthand the extent of hunger, poverty, sickness, and suffering endured by most of the population.
- He saw how the rich landowners grew richer at the expense of the poor.
- He saw people who were homeless because they had been driven off their land by high rents and taxes.
- He saw people living in poverty because the largest percentage of what they grew or made or caught was confiscated by taxes.
- He saw how it was to live under Roman occupation, where Roman soldiers could force people to do almost anything.
- He saw how the Temple system collaborated with the Roman occupiers to bleed the people of their money and their power.
When Debts Become Sins and Trespasses
It's also true that Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer preserves an Aramaic idiom. Aramaic writings show that the language of “debt” and “debtors” was used regularly for “sin” and “sinners.” Jesus spoke Aramaic and clearly intended that the word “debts” in the prayer refer to both money debts and sins.
In Luke, the financial reality behind the metaphor is lost because Luke uses the word “sin” rather than “debt.” This obscures the underlying concern with real bread and real debts.
Jesus intended his words to refer to suffering and injustice in his own society. This prayer for bread and debts referred to real bread and forgiveness of real financial debts as well as spiritual sins and trespasses.
It is also important to recognize that the message of Jesus to his disciples in the New Testament Gospels is about salvation from injustice, as well as salvation from sin.
When Jesus money teachings about “bread” and “debts” become only spiritual metaphors with no connection to real food and economic debt, the essential foundation of the prayer is lost.
Restoring Real Bread and Real Debts to the Lord’s Prayer
Especially in times of economic hardship and massive debts, Christians who want to pray as Jesus intended need to restore the basic money meaning to the Lord's Prayer. This is especially significant for the millions of people who are swamped in debt and facing foreclosure and bankruptcy because of debts they cannot repay.
Money is one of the necessities of life. Money is power. Those who have money have social and political power, as well as food and shelter. Those without money struggle endlessly.
The heart of the problem is that much Christian Bible education reduces the topic of money to a few Bible verses. When this happens, the Lord's Prayer becomes a prayer about sin with little effort to include the topic of economic hardship. My book, Gospel of Wealth or Poverty? How Do Bible Verses about Jesus, Wealth, Poverty, and Heaven Affect Your Income?, includes the context of hunger and debt for the vast majority of the population in the Lord's Prayer.
Does the Bible Really Say That? Series focuses on the impact of Bible translations on what people believe "the Bible says" on any topic.
Gospel of Wealth or Poverty?: How do Bible Verses about Jesus, Wealth, Poverty, and Heaven Affect Your Income? connects your financial status and your biblical beliefs. The question mark in the title challenges either/or choices between wealth or poverty based on Bible verses.
Wealth and poverty are significant themes in the Bible. If you focus on isolated Bible verses, you can claim that God wants you to be poor. You can also claim that God wants to you to be rich. But neither claim can be justified if you go beyond the verses and read whole stories set in their original social, economic, political, and religious contexts.
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