Jesus teaches his disciples to pray

As I have written throughout the book, religious language is replete with metaphor. But the problem with metaphors is that they quickly lose their metaphorical power and we are quick to literalize them away to the point where we no longer even recognize them as metaphors.

It can be shocking, then, to take a moment to reflect at just how metaphorical our religious language is. To do this, let’s take a look at perhaps the most famous prayer in the world—the Lord’s Prayer or “Our Father”—the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples and recited by billions of Christians around the world.

Greek TextEnglish TranslationIncluded Metaphors
Πάτερ ἡμῶνOur FatherGOD IS A FATHER
ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·which is in the heavensGOOD IS UP (IN THE SKY)
A variation on a very common conceptual metaphor where that which is good is up: “Things are on the rise!” Here, God, the ultimate good, dwells in the highest place of all: the sky.
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·may your name be holy,HOLINESS IS AWE
The Greek word for holy—hagios—comes from a root meaning to be honored or held in awe.
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·may your kingdom come,GOD IS A KING

Dominion is also a metaphor. It is very difficult to come up with a word to describe that realm (a metaphor) wherein God’s will (a metaphor) is perfectly enacted (a metaphor) without using another metaphor.

Assuming the Kingdom of God is a future reality, then time is motion toward the present. If however, the Kingdom is a present reality elsewhere, then the sense is less metaphorical, but still not quite literal since the kingdom does not physically move, but the realm of God’s will perfectly enacted expands to include the present world.

γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,may your will be done,GOD IS A KING
The idea of a king who pronounces a will that is acted upon is at the heart of this metaphor.
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς·as it is in the heavens, so also upon earth.GOD IS UP
(see above)
τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον·Give to us for today our [daily]* bread,


(*scholars aren’t really sure what epiousios means)

If literal bread is meant here, then this is an instance of synecdoche, where the specific bread is used for the general food. This may also be a Hebraism preserved in the Greek where bread often performs this function.

If literal bread is not meant here, then bread is a metaphor for that which we need for our continued living.

καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,and forgive us our debtsSIN IS A DEBT
The text literally says “debts” but as we cannot literally owe God money, the association made is one of our sins having created a debt to God. The term forgive began its life as an economic term referring to debt forgiveness.
ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν·as we, too, forgive our debtors.THE WRONGED ARE CREDITORS
In the same way that we owe debts to God for our wrongdoing, so, too, do others owe us debts for their wrongs against us.
καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,And lead us not into a time of testing,A SEQUENCE OF EVENTS IS MOTION
Similar to the metaphor TIME IS MOTION. Here we ask God not to LEAD us toward events that will put our faithfulness to the test.

The testing (trad. temptation) referred to is over the choices we make to do good or evil. The prayer requests that God not put us into situations in which we will be susceptible to making the wrong choice.

ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.but deliver us from the evil one.GOD IS A DELIVERER
An ancient metaphor from the time of the Exodus, God is depicted as one who rescues the people from situations of peril.

Salvation from evil (or the Evil One) is analogous to being rescued.

Once more, we see that metaphor abounds in religious language. And as metaphors are first and foremost pointers, we come to understand that our religious language is not so much capturing divine reality with certainty, as pointing in its direction.

For where there is metaphor, there is uncertainty.

The Certainty of Uncertainty is available at Amazon and at other online retailers.