Should We “Recite” the Lord’s Prayer?

We’ve received the first two entries in a brand new commentary series called The Story of God Bible Commentary from Zondervan. The first two entries are Philippians by Lynn H. Cohick and the Sermon on the Mount by Scot McKnight. There are now three new commentary series that are aimed to be less technical and more user friendly for the busy pastor. We have the one from Zondervan mentioned above. From Baker Books we have Teach the Text. Finally, there is Christ-Centered Exposition from B&H Publishing Group. But alas the busy retailer (that would be me) has even less time to spend on these new commentaries. I do like to spend a little time on all of them just to get the gist of what they are attempting to do. I’ve been browsing through McKnight’s entry and I found the following section on the Lord’s Prayer especially good. For most of my background I’ve been told that the Lord’s Prayer was never intended to be recited but that it was more of a pattern or example of the types of concerns we can, and should, address in prayer. But listen carefully to what McKnight says here.

“Matthew’s ‘this’ and ‘how’ translate houtōs, an adverb. One could translate, ‘Pray thusly.’ That is, the Lord’s Prayer is how the disciples are to pray, and this would throw emphasis on the brevity and directness of the Lord’s Prayer in contrast to the length of Gentile prayers. The Lord’s Prayer is a model of how to pray; some infer that the Lord’s Prayer is not a set of words to be recited. Such a view ignores the plan meaning of Luke’s text. Here is Luke 11:1-2.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say….

The disciples approach Jesus and ask him to teach them to pray, and they ask to be taught the way John taught his disciples to pray. But the next words clarify what they are requesting and make the request much more concrete. Jesus says to them, ‘Whenever you pray, recite this.’ Jesus’ words show that his is thinking they are asking for a set prayer—something very Jewish to do—and he gives them just that. Then he says they are to pray this prayer whenever they (perhaps only as a group but probably whenever any of them prays) pray. And the word ‘say’ can be translated ‘recite.’

These verses, then, don’t teach so much how to pray but what to say whenever they pray. Jesus taps into the great Jewish prayer tradition of memorized prayers and gives them a template of prayer, but the kind of template that is recited over and over as a form of spiritual formation. We have the book of Psalms because these were prayers deemed worthy or recitation in public, and we have the Lord’s Prayer as another instance of recited prayer.

What is for me the clincher in this issue: the church has always recited the Lord’s Prayer. The recitation of the Lord’s Prayer among Catholics, the Orthodox, the Protestants (the Reformers emphasized the Lord’s Prayer as template and as recited), and among all Christians occurred until the informality of prayers became the rule in the twentieth century for some groups of Christians. It’s time for many of us to regain what we dropped. Informality has had its day; it’s time for some formality too.” (174-75)

Story of God Commentary



About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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