The Lord’s Prayer

This post is from Chris Wooldridge’s blog. His take on the structure of the Lord’s prayer is a little different to mine (I have the evil one at the center) but I find it very attractive and interesting. He writes:

The Lord’s Prayer is a very special prayer. I have prayed it more times than I can count, both in personal and in corporate worship. A while back I spent some time analysing its structure and it appears to be based on the ten commandments. But before I get into that, I need to explain how the ten commandments themselves are structured.

Although evangelicals typically treat the first two “You shall” statements as separate commandments, I think they are best viewed as a unity. The reason for this has to do with the fact that the commandments ‘pair up’. Here is how this works:

  1. Do not have other gods before Yahweh, do not worship idols (Idolatry)
  2. Do not take Yahweh’s name in vain (Name)
  3. Remember the Sabbath (Sabbath)
  4. Honour your parents (Parents)
  5. Do not murder (Murder)
  6. Do not commit adultery (Adultery)
  7. Do not steal (Theft)
  8. Do not bear false witness (Witness)
  9. Do not covet your neighbour’s house (House)
  10. Do not covet your neighbour’s household (Household)

This is how the commandments are paired up:

  1. The first two commandments are both specifically about God and how to honour him in all things. They are related to the book of Genesis, since they are foundational marks of a true believer in all ages.
  2. The second two are both about authority, they are also the only two commandments not to begin with “You shall”. They are related to the book of Exodus, since they both relate specifically to Israel’s distinctness from the nations (the Sabbath being a special sign for Israel and living long in the promised land of Canaan being the blessing for honouring one’s parents).
  3. The third two commandments both involve death, the first of a person and the second of a marriage, both are also punishable by death. They both relate to Leviticus, which is a book about death. There are regulations pertaining to the death of animals, houses, skin, and various forms of ritual death featured throughout Leviticus.
  4. The fourth two commandments both carry an eye-for-an-eye penalty, in the second case the offender would suffer whatever punishment they caused the victim to suffer by falsely testifying against them in court. They both relate to Numbers, which is all about the penalty that Israel bore in the wilderness for disobeying God.
  5. The fifth and final two commandments are both about coveting, one relating to the house and the other to the household (the various people, animals and objects in the house). They both relate to the book of Deuteronomy, which is all about Israel’s plans for setting up and moving into their new home in the land of Canaan.

Now that we have examined the structure of the ten commandments, we can see them reflected in the Lord’s Prayer, as demonstrated below:

  1. Our Father, Who is in heaven (God)
  2. Hallowed be Your Name (Name)
  3. May Your Kingdom come (Sabbath)
  4. May Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven (Mother and Father/Land-promise)
  5. Give us this day our daily bread (Bread) and forgive us our sins (Wine)
  6. As we forgive those who sin against us (Adultery)
  7. And lead us not into temptation (Theft)
  8. But deliver us from the evil one (False Witness)
  9. For Yours is the Kingdom (House)
  10. And the Power, and the Glory, unto the ages, Amen (Household)

Some comments are in order. The fourth commandment is seen in the fourth line in several ways. Firstly, there is the reference to earth and heaven, which represents mother and father (Adam was formed from the dust of the earth and was filled with heavenly breath). Also, the word for “earth” can also mean “land”, which links back to the fact that the blessing for obeying the fourth commandment was tied up with the promised land.

The fifth commandment is trickier to see here. The references to ‘bread’ and ‘forgiveness’ remind us of the story of the baker and the butler in prison (Genesis 40). The baker (who made bread) was killed on the third day, whereas the butler (who served wine) was forgiven and restored on the third day. It’s only with both parts in place that we can see the reference to death in this line. A reference to bread and wine also reminds us of the Last Supper and Jesus’s death on the cross. When we get to the seventh line, there is a plea not to be ‘stolen’ through temptation, and the person attempting the stealing is revealed to be “the evil one” (Satan – a false witness) in the eighth line.

In conclusion, when Jesus teaches us how to do something foundational like prayer, we should pay very careful attention.

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7 Responses to “The Lord’s Prayer”

  • Chris W Says:

    Nice picture!

    And a great recent post on the trinity house blog :)

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Yeah, they’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel. now.

  • David Says:

    That is a very interesting comparison of the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. The pairing up of the Commandments is also an interesting link. I remember reading somewhere (maybe in your blog :)) that the Ten Commandments are all about the rights of God and others, but I think the Lord’s prayer is more about me (us). Very thought provoking.

  • Mike S Says:

    Interesting, but I think the link between forgiveness of sins is more closely and more naturally tied to Christ’s words in the sermon on the Mount. The association to the events in Genesis seems to be more eisegetical than anything else (reading INTO a passage what we want to see, rather than reading out of the passage what is clear or natural).
    Also, I do not think that the interpretation of line 8 is correct, as the natural Greek words do not talk of the evil one, just evil. Again, I think Chris is getting into dangerous territory of trying to shoehorn a simple passage into a complex framework.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Thanks Mike
    This post assumes a fair amount of familiarity with previous material.
    The prayer is certainly part of the Sermon on the Mount and nobody is disputing that. Chris’ point (and mine) is that the prayer also follows a formula common throughout the Bible. It begins with God, moves through a human delegation, who are tested, then rewarded/cursed, and ends in the glory of God. I guess you could say it’s deep structure, or the internal logic of everything God does. So it’s not reading things *into* the text so much as discovering why they are ordered they way they are. That’s what the coming seminar is about: a common literary/historical architecture. This prayer is thus also a microcosm of the entire Bible. Everything is a process of maturity and it has exactly the same stamp. But we need to learn the Bible’s pictorial language first. For instance, the bread and wine theme has ties to the Land of Israel, the Table of Showbread and the Land of Day 3 in Genesis 1, as well as Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer, as Chris has noted. And each time it appears in the same place in the structure.
    I agree on evil/evil one, but the structure here would make that evil the curse of the Covenant, which satan uses as a tool of tyranny and destruction: temptation and then legal (and just) condemnation, a witness like those at the trial of Christ. You are welcome to come and ask tough questions / throw fruit. And the best place to start is the ebook:
    Cheers and thanks for reading!

  • Mike Bull Says:

    David – I don’t think that was me but it is a good observation.