This is the first of a number of short reflections on Gregory of Nyssa’s fifth (and final) sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:12-13).
Gregory of Nyssa was a fourth-century Christian theologian and one of the so-called ‘Three Cappadocians’ who made such a significant contribution to orthodox Trinitarian belief.
You can find a brief account of the life of Gregory of Nyssa in my first article here.
In our series of reflections on Gregory of Nyssa we have been working through his recorded sermons on the Lord’s Prayer.
Sermon #5 on the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil”
There is a great deal we can say about Gregory’s fifth and final sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, and we will do so in a number of subsequent posts in this series.
“As late as the latter half of the fourth century when Gregory delivered these sermons, he reads the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples, without the closing words, ‘For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen,’ to which we are accustomed.”
For now it’s just worth noting that — as late as the latter half of the fourth century when Gregory delivered these sermons — he reads the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples, without the closing, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen,” to which we are accustomed.
This ending is said in Anglican churches up and down the land every Sunday, as well as being present in our classic English Bible text, the Authorized Version:
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
And, of course, the ending was present in the Book of Common Prayer, used liturgically in England for centuries:—
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.
However, modern-day Bibles generally omit it as a later addition to the text, relegating it to a margin note. Hence the English Standard Version (ESV) reads Matthew 6:11-13 thus:
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.*
The footnote at the place I’ve marked reads:
Or the evil one; some manuscripts add For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen
As with the Authorized Version, the ESV of Luke’s version ends with the words, “And lead us not into temptation” (albeit without the additional words, “but deliver us from evil”).
What does Gregory’s fifth sermon tell us?
This fifth is the last sermon of Gregory’s on the Lord’s Prayer.
The fact that we have no sixth sermon — and to all intents and purposes it would seem that he never gave one — on the words, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen,” is a clear indicator that that line wasn’t present in the text of Matthew 6:13 which Gregory had before him.
Where has “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen” come from?
“It would appear that the line, ‘For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen,’ has crept into the text of Matthew 6:13 from a very early date — probably from very early liturgical usage. Once it had slipped into one or more manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel, the addition would then have been proliferated by copying and eventually become part of the textual tradition — but only in certain witnesses or recensions of Matthew.”
It would appear that the line, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen,” has crept into the text of Matthew 6:13 from a very early date — probably from very early liturgical usage. Once it had slipped into one or more manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel, the addition would then have been proliferated by copying and eventually become part of the textual tradition — but only in certain witnesses or recensions of Matthew.
I say, “from a very early date” — and I would suggest that it crept into some copies of the text of Matthew during the second or perhaps even the first century — because the line is firmly New Testament in its theology. ‘Power,’ ‘kingdom,’ ‘glory’ are all standard New Testament concepts — see, e.g., Mark 9:1 (‘kingdom’ and ‘power’); John 1:14 (‘glory’) — and there is in this line none of the theological colouring of later ages.
What do I mean by ‘theological colouring’? Take as an example a fragment from the so-called Liturgy of St. James, which purports to be the liturgy used in the church at Jerusalem at an early period, and which comes down to us in two ancient Greek manuscripts dating from the tenth and twelfth centuries:—
“Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, O Word of God, who didst freely offer Thyself a blameless sacrifice upon the cross to God even the Father, the coal of double nature, that didst touch the lips of the prophet with the tongs, and didst take away his sins, touch also the hearts of us sinners, and purify us from every stain, and present us holy beside Thy holy altar, that we may offer Thee a sacrifice of praise…”
Here is a clear example of a text containing later theological colouring. When this liturgy speaks about Jesus Christ as “the coal of double nature,” the reference is to a well-known passage in Isaiah 6 in the Old Testament, in which the prophet Isaiah had his unclean lips cleansed by their being touched with a live coal taken from the altar of God. Characteristic of early biblical interpretation, the coal that touched Isaiah’s lips is seen as an Old Testament symbol of Jesus himself.
However, “double nature” is not New Testament language. It is the language of the theological controversies of the early fifth century over the Person of Christ. In these controversies, the theologian Eutyches argued that Christ possessed a single nature compounded of the human and the divine. Against this were those who argued that Christ possessed two natures — the human and the divine — each nature fully and distinctly. This was the view that was accepted at the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 and was enshrined in the famous ‘Chalcedonian Definition,’ and became the orthodox position of the Church both in the East and West.
Hence, even if the Liturgy of St. James contains a substrate which dates from a much earlier period, we can say with confidence that in the form we have it, it cannot date from earlier than the early fifth century. This is theological colouring at work.
By contrast, the line, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen,” has nothing in it to suggest it couldn’t have been written in New Testament times and so may date from as early as the first century.
The evidence of the Didache (or ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’)
A further piece of evidence in favour of an early date for the addition of this line into the text of Matthew 6:13 is presented by an early Christian writing known as the Didache, or ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.’
The Didache is hard to date with any exactitude, and its text has undergone a complicated history; however, it is clearly a very early writing and may date back to the first century.
“The Didache is probably our earliest witness to the line, ‘For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever,’ in some form at the end of the Lord’s Prayer.”
Didache 8.2, which you can find here, tells its Christian readers to pray “like this” — and there then follows a version of the Lord’s Prayer similar to Matthew’s. But this version includes the closing line, “For yours is the power and the glory for ever” (notice, no ‘kingdom’).
This is probably our earliest witness to the line, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever,” in some form at the end of the Lord’s Prayer.
And this being so, it suggests that the line began to be used liturgically from an extremely early period — probably before the close of the first century.
This being the case, it is quite easy to envisage how the ‘liturgical ending’ (let’s call it) of the Lord’s Prayer might have slipped into the text of Matthew — especially since the version quoted in the Didache appears to be based on Matthew’s version — in some manuscript copies.
This appears to me to be quite sufficient to explain the presence of the liturgical ending in many ancient witnesses and in some manuscripts, but not in our most important New Testament manuscripts.
What then? Can we trust the New Testament?
What then? Can we trust the New Testament? Can we really say that what we find taught therein, is what the earliest followers of Jesus believed?
“Can we really say that what we find taught therein, is what the earliest followers of Jesus believed? The answer is emphatically yes.”
The answer is emphatically yes, because these variations in the transmitted text of the New Testament have no substantial bearing on the important tenets of our faith.
As I remarked earlier, the ‘liturgical ending’ fits right in theologically with the rest of the text and thought of the New Testament.
That means that, if we consider it a later accretion to the text, we don’t lose anything significant from Christian theology by the omission. Conversely, if we include the line, it doesn’t add anything particularly significant to our theology. It just fits comfortably in there, or else it’s left out and the text remaining is still quite comfortable with itself.
And such is also the case with the other disputed or doubtful verses in the New Testament: their inclusion or omission does not have a significant impact on our Christian theology.
It is not as if, for instance — and as popular literature would sometimes have us believe — entire doctrinal statements about Jesus were later accretions. It is not, for instance, like losing a verse such as John 1:14,
“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”
or 1 John 5:20,
“we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
The one of these verses tells us very clearly that the Son of God became human, just like us; the other, that the man Jesus of Nazareth is fully divine.
“The few verses here and there which are doubtful, such as Matthew 6:13b, do not have a significant impact on our Christian faith either by their omission or inclusion.”
Strip enough of these verses away, and eventually you will end up with a New Testament either which teaches that Jesus is not fully divine — a position which plenty of good, churchgoing ‘Christians’ are prepared to take anyway — or which teaches that the Son of God never became truly human. Either one of which is no gospel at all.
Happily that is not the case. The few verses here and there which are doubtful, such as Matthew 6:13b, do not have a significant impact on our Christian faith either by their omission or inclusion.
And that means that we, as Christians, can be confident — confident that when we pick up the pages of the New Testament, we are putting our faith in the same things which the earliest Christians believed and taught.
The reflections in this series are based on Gregory’s sermons on the Lord’s Prayer and on the Beatitudes, which can be found in Ancient Christian Writers No. 18: St. Gregory of Nyssa: The Lord’s Prayer; The Beatitudes (tr. Hilda C. Graef). © 1954 Rev. Johannes Quasten and Rev. Joseph C. Plumpe. Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ.
You can read Gregory of Nyssa’s Fifth Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer online in another translation at https://www.orthodoxprayer.org/Articles_files/GregoryNyssa-Homily5%20Lords%20Prayer.html.
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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.