It almost sounds like the beginning of a joke of some type: what does a white Israeli Jew have in common with a black American Christian pastor? But luckily for those of us who appreciate the richness of Scripture from the original Hebrew perspective, the answer is not a joke, but rather a wonderful journey into the Lord’s Prayer, called Avinu (Our Father) in Hebrew.
More and more Biblical scholars are coming to the solid conclusion that at least part, if not all, of the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew. After all, Jesus was a Hebrew, with Hebrew disciples, so the very idea that they would speak and write in Greek needs to be reconsidered. There are currently 28 known transcripts of the book of Matthew written in Hebrew. Nehemia Gordon (the Jew) and Keith Johnson (the Christian) became friends and Bible students together through a series of seeming miracles laid out in the first part of their book, titled A Prayer to our Father. Together, they explored many locations throughout Israel, including the desert where Yahshua (Jesus) fasted 40 days at the onset of his ministry and six different potential sites of the location where he gave the Avinu Prayer. As fascinating as those stories are, you’ll have to read the book to hear them, as the rest of my focus will be on the richness of the prayer itself, as revealed from the Hebrew text. This miniaturized version will hopefully whet your appetite to study not only their complete findings of this one passage, but the vast richness hidden in all of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Although some Christian sources claim that the opening phrase “Our Father” is neither Jewish or Hebrew in origin, Isaiah 63:16, Jeremiah 3:19, and Malachi 2:10 all quickly disprove that idea. The Hebrew Bible repeatedly attributes fatherly characteristics to God. Among his fatherly attributes are that He is our creator, provider, and protector, who reprimands us when necessary.
The next phrase in the Avinu prayer is often said in English as “hallowed be thy name” but a more appropriate interpretation is “may your name be sanctified”. Rather than a simple statement acknowledging that His name is holy, this phrase is a call to action for us to honor His name. The Hebrew Scriptures call him by his true name, YHVH or Yahovah, many thousands of times. He tells us in Exodus 3:15 that his name is to be a memorial forever. Despite a long standing Jewish tradition of not speaking his name, there is no Scriptural basis for this, and when we proclaim his true name, we show honor to him. See Jeremiah 12:16 for some interesting food for thought on this issue. Another aspect of sanctifying his name is to offer praises (Psalm 145:1-2) and perform deeds that bring glory, instead of desecration, to his name (Ezekiel 20:39).
“May your kingdom come” from the Hebrew text is more appropriately translated “May your kingdom be blessed”. A subtle difference in these two is actually of major importance. In the first, his kingdom appears to be in some type of exile, not yet here, but in the second, it is a kingdom that is here now, of everlasting dominion (Daniel 4:34). The Hebrew word for bless is from the root word for knee. One day, every knee will bow (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10) to Yahovah’s eternal kingdom. (If that day has not yet come to you, I pray that you will stop reading and start praying right now.)
The Hebrew adds an imperative, shall, to the next phrase, so it reads “your will shall be done”. This is both a statement of fact, and a call to action in our lives. We should acknowledge that Yahovah cares for each and every one of us (the statement of fact) and we invite Him to be intimately involved in our life (the call to action).
In our modern day world, we often take bread for granted, and throw out portions that have become stale, but as recently as a couple of generations ago, your next meal was not something you could just take for granted and nothing was wasted. But in the Avinu prayer, bread does not simply mean physical food. Bread in Scripture is often used to symbolize the Torah, the Word of Yahovah. This part of the prayer asks for both physical and spiritual nurturing from our Heavenly Father. The word “daily” in the phrase “give us this day our daily bread” is from a Hebrew word that is more often translated elsewhere in Scripture as “continually”. We should continually be seeking the Bread of Life.
Next the prayer moves into the idea of forgiveness, and reminds us that our level of forgiveness from Yahovah is dependent upon our willingness to forgive those who have wronged us. Nehemia and Keith explore the original Hebrew word, and why in Greek, the book of Matthew used the word that translates as “debt” while Luke used the word that translates as “sin”. They also consider the reasons behind the prayer being phrased as “us” rather than “me”. Due to the size of this column, I simply don’t have room to cover this, or the remainder of the prayer. If you want to really feel the richness when you recite the Lord’s Prayer, I suggest you visit www.aprayertoourfather.com and explore the hidden treasures that Nehemia and Keith have uncovered for us.