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by Al Maxey

Issue #820 -- April 16, 2021
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-
leggety beasties and things that go bump
in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!

A Scottish Prayer

The Great Deliverance Dilemma
Are We Delivered from a What or a Whom?

Within the parameters of that great body of practical instruction known as the "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus gave His disciples, who had asked, "Lord, teach us to pray," what has come to be called "The Lord's Prayer," although it is more correctly the disciples' prayer, for it is a model that helps us appreciate what our Father seeks in our daily communications with Him. Matthew's version of this prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13; Luke's version is found in Luke 11:2-4 (Note: a third version may be found in Didache 8:2). As one will very quickly see, these two prayers are not exactly the same, just as the two Gospel narratives of these two men differ at a number of points (with the former being intended more for Jews, while the latter had a Gentile audience in mind). This model was never mandated with respect to form: i.e., it was never intended to become the "official" prayer of the disciples of Christ, one that had to be recited verbatim within the context of some religious function or duty. Sadly, what it has become today, after two thousand years of human meddling, borders on sacrilegious sacramentalism and futile formalism.

Although this prayer is well-known to most of us for its simplicity and spiritual focus, yet it has for centuries been the cause of not a little confusion as well as great contention. For example, some debate whether it is acceptable for Christians to pray the phrase "Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10a; Luke 11:2c). This implies, some suggest, that God's kingdom is not yet in existence on earth; that the reign of the Lord within His people (the "church" - the "called out ones") is not truly His kingdom, even though we are seemingly regarded as such according to Revelation 1:6 ("He has made us to be a kingdom," NASB). Others vehemently insist, however, that Christ's church and God's kingdom are not one and the same, and that each entity is in some ways diminished by the conflation. I dealt with this issue in Reflections #418 ("Thy Kingdom Come: Should Christians Pray This?"). Another aspect of the so-called "Lord's Prayer" is the phrase "lead us not into temptation" (Matthew 6:13a; Luke 11:4c). Some argue that this contradicts the statement by James in which he emphatically asserts, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' ... for He Himself does not tempt anyone" (James 1:13). Why, they argue, would God lead us into such temptations and enticements to sin?! Would this not make Him complicit, they wonder, with the forces of evil in our spiritual downfall?! I address this concern within my study titled "Satan's Solicitations of the Savior: A Reflective Study of the Temptations of Jesus" (Reflections #754). Yet another point of contention with respect to this model prayer is the closing phrase, "For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen" [KJV]. Most versions omit this phrase, for it seems rather likely to have been added to the text at a much later date. "It is a liturgical ending, no part of the original prayer, and tending to turn a religious reality into a devotional form" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, editor, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 122]. Just as an additional point of interest, one will find within this prayer a well-known principle that impacts many areas of our earthly lives. I have dealt with this in my article titled "The Principle of Reciprocity" (Reflections #172).

In this present study I would like to narrow our focus to a phrase found in Matthew's version of this prayer (it does not appear in Luke's version): "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13, KJV). Luke's version concludes with the word "temptation." This phrase (which is included in the Didache, an early Christian treatise dated by most scholars around 96 A.D., about the same time as the writings of the apostle John) poses some interesting challenges to us as we seek to understand its meaning and application. For example, consider the word "deliver." If we believe that God "leads us into" times of "temptation" (enticements to commit sin), then the petition in this passage seems to be a dual appeal to our Father: "Lead us NOT into temptation, but if You DO, then deliver us from the clutches of the evil into which you have led us." Paul's statement to the church in Corinth comes to mind here: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV). It is probably good to point out that the Greek word for "tempt" is the same Greek word translated "test." Thus, we can perceive a dual meaning of this term, one positive, one negative. God does not "tempt" any person to sin; God does, however, "test" His people in various ways and for various reasons. The significance, therefore, in light of this distinction, may be that Jesus is encouraging His followers to appeal to the Father during such times of intense testing to deliver us from a negative outcome (which failing these "tests" could easily bring about). Paul informs us that God is faithful; He will provide that escape route.

"Since trials and temptations are sure to come, therefore we turn to God to draw us out of their snares and out of their bondage, and especially to deliver us from the evil one, the devil, who makes use of every occasion to bring us into his power" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: the NT - vol. 1, p. 33]. "No one can tell beforehand how he will be affected by persistent, insidious, and vehement temptations. If it is a duty to avoid evil, it is surely permissible to solicit Divine help thereto" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 276]. The word translated "deliver" in this passage is the Greek verb "hruomai," which means, "to rescue, deliver; to drag out of danger" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 360]. This verb appears in the imperative mood, which conveys a strong sense of urgency. We see that intensity and urgency when Jesus appealed to the Father for deliverance from "the cup" of suffering and death from which He was about to drink (Matthew 26:39f; cf. Hebrews 5:7). "This is a very expressive word: break our chains and loose our bonds; snatch, pluck us from the evil and its calamitous issue" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 88]. When one confronts the full force of EVIL, one's appeal to the Father is not calm or matter-of-fact in nature; it is a fervent, heartfelt cry for divine intervention in a circumstance that one finds personally overwhelming and life-threatening!

Perhaps the most obvious and well-known difficulty associated with this phrase at the end of Matthew's version of The Lord's Prayer is how we are to understand that from which we seek deliverance: "...deliver us from evil" [KJV]. In the Greek text this is literally "apo tou ponerou" ("from the evil"). The King James Version, along with a number of other translations, drops the definite article ("the"), thus rendering the phrase "from evil." However, it is literally "from the evil." Dr. Daniel B. Wallace writes, "This is one of the many passages mistranslated in the KJV" [Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, p. 294]. This seems to imply, at least in the minds of many biblical scholars, that Jesus wasn't just referring to the presence of "evil" in a general sense, but that He may have had in mind a more specific "evil" which His followers would encounter. Evil is always present in the world around us; we all accept the truth of that fact. But evil can also become focused in its targeting of us. It has its sights trained on US, with the obvious intent of destroying us, thus soliciting from us an intense appeal for rescue, deliverance, and salvation from its deadly effects.

Yet, the difficulty doesn't end there for the reader of this phrase. "The petition is problematic in several respects" [Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 822]. There is an "ambiguity" very much in evidence here [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, p. 59]. "The difficulties of the passage have caused a number of variants" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 975]. The phrase "tou ponerou" may be either neuter or masculine (it is the same Greek form for both). "The ablative case in the Greek obscures the gender" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. If it is neuter, then it refers to evil itself (whether general or specific); if it is masculine, then it could very well be translated "the evil one," which would most likely be a reference to Satan. Thus, are we praying for the Lord to deliver and rescue us "from evil" (or "from the evil") or "from the evil one" himself (the Devil). The biblical scholars are divided on this matter. In fact, I examined almost 70 different translations and versions to see how they translated this phrase: half of them had "from evil" and the other half had "from the evil one." The same is true of the many Bible commentators I consulted. Some scholars felt the pervasive evil and wickedness in the world around us was in view, and as the children of God we should appeal to Him for aid in our daily battle with the world. Some felt "the evil" may be more focused on "the evil within us" (our fallen human nature which so easily tends toward darkness rather than light in our attitudes and actions). The Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) stated, "The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness" [Under Western Eyes, published in 1911].

"The evil" within us, by virtue of our own nature, is a powerful force. I think we can all agree on that based on our own experience. We can most certainly find enough godless things to do without the leading of "the Evil One" himself. C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) rightly observed, "You never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it" [Mere Christianity]. The apostle Paul would certainly concur (Romans 7:15-25). On the other hand, we are called to put on the full armor of God "so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:10-12). There is evil, and there is Evil. Although some would disagree with me, I nevertheless believe there is an Evil One who is powerful, and who "prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (1 Peter 5:8-9a). This "him" is the roaring lion; it is the Devil, the Serpent, the Accuser, the great Dragon; it is Satan. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus very likely had Satan in view. Yet, I do not discount the need to pray to God to deliver us from all the darkness both within us and outside of us. "The Greek may grammatically be either neuter or masculine, 'evil' in the abstract, or the 'evil one' as equivalent to the 'devil,' although the whole weight of the usage of New Testament language is in favor of the latter meaning. The prayer against temptation would not have been complete without reference to the Tempter whose presence was felt in it" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 36].

Yes, there is much evil in this world, and, sadly, there is far too much evil within each of us as well. From the effects of both these tragic realities we do indeed need to be daily delivered, and it is not inappropriate for us to appeal to "our Father which art in heaven" for such deliverance. However, I believe our fight is also, if not primarily, with a real, living, powerful EVIL: an evil being, whose mission is to do as much damage as possible before the Lord God ultimately and forever destroys him. From this Evil One we most definitely need a divine Deliverer! Dr. A. T. Robertson, in his massive work titled "A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research," writes, "In Matthew 6:13, 'apo tou ponerou' most likely means 'diabolos,' not mere evil" [p. 653]. "Eschatologically, the addition in Matthew must be read: 'Deliver us from the evil one' - namely, the Devil, Antichrist, etc." [The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 157]. There are a number of places in the NT writings where Satan is characterized as "the evil one" (Matthew 13:19; 1 John 2:13-14; 3:12; etc.), so there is some justification for this interpretation. Thus, "the probability is in favor of the masculine: the evil one" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 122]. This phrase ("the evil one") was "a characteristic Matthean title for the devil" [Dr. Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 224].

Again, the forcefulness of this imperative appeal cannot be overstated: it is a prayer that one might be "rescued and, if need be, snatched from its tyrannical hold and merciless thralldom" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 257]. "The petition is not merely to be delivered from evil, either in the moral or physical sense, but to be delivered from the devil who is the author of the temptations" [H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, p. 162]. This phrase "is probably best understood as referring to 'the evil one,' since the preposition used is 'apo' rather than 'ek,' and since the definite article is used with 'poneros' ('evil'). This interpretation is also consistent with the concept, not only in the NT but also in the Qumran literature, of a continuing holy war between God's people and the evil spiritual forces under the leadership of Satan" [The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 162]. "A reference to Satan is far more likely here for two reasons: (1) 'deliver us' can take either the preposition 'ek' or 'apo,' the former always introducing things from which to be delivered, the latter being used predominantly of persons. (2) Matthew's first mention of temptation (4:1-11) is unambiguously connected with the Devil. Thus, the Lord's model prayer ends with a petition that, while implicitly recognizing our own helplessness before the Devil whom Jesus alone could vanquish, delights to trust the heavenly Father for deliverance from the Devil's strength and wiles" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 174].


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Scotland:

Good Morning, Al. I'm on here to pick your brains, but first of all I want to tell you how much I enjoy your family pics on your Facebook page. They always cheer up my day. Right Al, I have been back into reading Cecil Hook's essays, and I have discovered two subjects that I just don't understand, and I was wondering if you can shed some light on them for me. Now, I don't want you to spend a lot of time or effort, just a quick summary or a direction to one of your Reflections essays on the subject. Question #1: Cecil is of the belief that there is no such entity as Satan; rather, Satan is just the evilness that exists within us. I'm totally confused, as many scriptures read differently to me, but I've learned enough to realize that the Bible isn't always straight-forward (LOL). Question #2: Cecil reckons that Heaven is a bit "blah" (I'm paraphrasing). Not that I mind that, it's just that it makes me all the more curious. I'm not quite sure what he thinks, but it's probably more that we are just at peace (which is fine by me). However, it's so far removed from everything I've ever heard about Heaven. I must confess that it's not a subject I've ever studied. Anyway, Al, I'd much appreciate any enlightening info you can give me on this. Sadly, it's one year further on in this pandemic, and we are still in lockdown here in Scotland. I'm beginning to think this is not about a virus, but far more about the world entering "the end times." Just my take on it.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, soldier on!! You have approached knowing God with integrity and unequivocal devotion to seeking the Truth. You have torn down the statues to Traditionalism that carry the weight of "divine doctrine" in the minds of some. Thank you for constantly challenging your readers to approach our Creator with a fresh and open mind in order to "get" what He has said to us.

From a Reader in Washington:

This world is a better place because of you, Al Maxey!! You have blessed our lives and so many others! To God be all the glory. It's wonderful to see all your photos of your parents and your children and all of your grandchildren that you share with us on Facebook. May God bless your health and grant you long life, as the world needs you.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Whew!! I just read your piece "'And He Added No More': Reflecting on a Mysterious Phrase Spoken by Moses to the Israelites" (Reflections #819). AMEN!! I have been teaching this same thing for years! Thank you for stating it so eloquently.

From a Reader in Texas:

At the end of Deuteronomy 29 we find this statement, which we need to read over and over again: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (vs. 29, NKJV). This means that God wasn't vague or sly in regard to His commands. He stated His will directly, and that which was not stated was not to be regarded as LAW. This means that to the Jews, only direct commands from God were regarded as binding commands, and NOT inferences and unstated directives (drawn from "silence"). This is true of both the OT and the NT.

From a Reader on Prince Edward Island, Canada:

Good Day, Brother! "'And He Added No More'" is another thought-provoking article. I have maintained that the old law dealt with our actions (DO this, DON'T DO that, etc.), while the new law under Jesus deals with our attitudes/hearts (lusting, hating; loving, forgiving). The old was completed by Jesus in the new. It transcended the physical and focused on the hearts and minds as the motivators of our actions. Too bad that God's "Moral Law" has been subjected to so much change by men, especially these days! Homosexuality, killing babies, the loss of value of human life, etc. God's will in so many such areas is no longer respected or obeyed. I cannot help but expect God to return soon, or at the very least bring a strong judgment on all of North America and our corrupt influence around the world. Love ya, brother!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Al, at 86 years old, and close to the end of my years on this earth, I find it hard to believe that our God will put up with the foolishness of mankind for much longer!! Not only have we added a mountain of conflicting "laws" to His simple will for us, but we have, just in my lifetime alone, done everything possible to ban Him from our lives! I am constantly amazed that His LOVE is so great that He allows us to continue existing! Stay safe and well, my brother. I love you!

From a Reader in Canada:

"'And He Added No More'" was a great article, Al. The simplicity of the Lord Jesus is seen in His creed given in Mark 12:29-31. We are commanded to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength," and to "love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." Everything else is commentary.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I have not written you or commented on any of your Reflections lately, but I continue to look forward to seeing your articles in my inbox. It's not often that I can agree 100% with another person on religious matters, but I find this to be true with you! I am writing now just to let you know that I am still here (thanks to God) and that sometimes I am just so in awe of your knowledge that I don't know what to say! Please keep writing!! Love is the foundation and unity of the Spirit is what holds us together.

From a Reader in Georgia:

GREAT Reflections ("'And He Added No More'"). I was thinking, as I was reading, that if mankind were to adopt the same type of love for people as God has, we would probably have much greater participation in "religion" as a whole. But it seems that history is filled with examples of denominations putting a stranglehold on its members and exercising control over them rather than providing direction and support. I read an article recently that talked about the declining participation in "church" by people today, and I couldn't help but wonder what could be causing people to turn away from God like that. But then I realized that they weren't turning away from God so much as they were just turning away from the "structure" of "church" as it exists in its forms in various denominations. Shame, condemnation and "thumb control" are very poor ways to encourage people. In some circles, for example, one need only mention "instruments of music" or "divorce and remarriage" to start an internal war! I guess all in all, "church" is a messy place for messy people. We just need to take a step back and appreciate the fact that we all are fallible people, and we need to be giving grace to others where and when we can! Love ya, brother!

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