When Grammar Changes Prayer
Shortly after my daughter turned two years old I began teaching her the Lord’s Prayer. But the version I taught her was slightly different than the one to which most of us are accustomed. Instead of praying, “And deliver us from evil,” I taught her to pray, “And deliver us from the evil one.” It’s a change of words, but one that has fairly significant theological implications.
But who am I to change the words of Scripture? Surely, tinkering with the words of Christ himself calls for linguistic and translational justification. Do I have one? I do, and it’s something I found long ago back at the beginning of my biblical studies. And it’s all about adjectives. Here it is:
Adjectives have a theological importance that is hard to rival. They can modify a noun (attributive), assert something about a noun (predicate), or stand in the place of a noun (substantival). Sometimes it is difficult to tell exactly which role a particular adjective is in.
Take the adjective (“evil”) in Matthew 6:13, for example. The King James Version (as well as more than one modern translation) translates this as “but deliver us from evil.” But the adjective has an article modifying it (tou [“the evil”]), indicating that it is to be taken substantivally: “the evil one.” [“A substantive is a noun, pronoun, or any word functioning like a noun”- source]
And there is no little theological difference between the two. The Father does not always keep his children out of danger, disasters, or the ugliness of the world. In short, he does not always deliver us from evil. But he does deliver us from the evil one. The text is not teaching that God will make our life a rose garden, but that he will protect us from the evil one, the devil himself (cf. John 10:28-30; 17:15).
—Daniel B. Wallace, quoted in William Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, 64.
I want to instill in my daughter a realization that the prayer isn’t about God delivering us from the dangers and infelicities of this life. It is a cry from the battlefield, requesting that the King rescue us from the enemy of our souls.