The Wartburg Project

August 30th, 2022

83. Deliver Us From Evil

Can you explain the translation difference between the EHV and NIV concerning the phrase τοῦ πονηροῦ (tou ponerou) in Matthew 5:37 and Matthew 6:13. There seems to be an inconsistency.

Here are the translations:

Instead, let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no.’ Whatever goes beyond these is from the Evil One. (Mat 5:37)All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Mat 5:37)
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Mat 6:13)And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Mat 6:13)

The inconsistency is that the EHV translates the phrase τοῦ πονηροῦ “the Evil One” in Matthew 5:37 and “evil” in Matthew 6:13.

Either translation is possible. Both passages could be translated the same way. The reasons that they were not kept the same are the context and the familiar text of the Lord’s Prayer.

In Matthew 5:37, it seemed more likely in the context that the influence of a person was involved. Compare the translation of John 17:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 John 3:12. The context suggests that ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ is masculine, “from to the wicked one,” not neuter: “from to the wickedness.” Why weaken the power of the thought by substituting the impersonal power of evil for the personal author of evil? And is there any wickedness that is not due to the Devil? In this verse, EHV has the same approach as NIV.

In the case of Matthew 6:13, we did struggle some on which way to choose. You will notice that the EHV adds the footnote "Or the Evil One" as an option, so this one could go either way.

In this case, however, familiarity mattered. This is, after all, the Lord’s Prayer. The background of the KJV and the traditional liturgical versions of the Lord's Prayer (which are still what most people say) leads one to lean toward, “deliver us from evil.” Many Christians say the Lord's Prayer with this very wording every day in many places. All of this is to say that it sounds very familiar to most people to say, “deliver us from evil.”

Often when I pray the Lord's Prayer in private, such as on my walks, I expand on the petitions, as Luther taught. In this case, I very often have prayed, “Deliver us from evil and from the Evil One.” So you can think of both options as you pray. But when we pray the Lord’s Prayer in worship, we say, “Deliver us from evil.”

When it came to translating the Lord’s Prayer, it seemed valuable to try to remain as familiar as possible. With very familiar, beloved passages like the Christmas story or Psalm 23, it seems wise to stay with the traditional wording unless there is compelling reason to change. There is no reason to “reinvent the wheel” or change just for the sake of being different.