The Lord’s Prayer

Like most of his teaching, Jesus gave this teaching on prayer in response to need and request. He was praying in a certain place, and his disciples overheard him. This was scarcely difficult, since in that day (unlike our own) prayer was offered aloud, even when one was in a public place. One could pray quietly enough not to be heard, as Hannah once did (see 1 Sam 1: 10–13), but this was unusual. Praying, like reading, was then an audible activity. His disciples were impressed with the quality of his prayer and wanted to pray like him. They therefore asked him to teach them to pray, even as John the Baptizer taught his disciples (Luke 11:1).

In response the Master gave them not a lecture or a collection of spiritual principles to put into effect, but a model prayer. By praying this prayer, they could at length learn what all prayer should be. It was concise enough to be immediately committed to memory and stored in their heart for meditation. It was not just a model, however. It was an actual prayer, meant to be prayed, for Jesus did not just say, “Pray like this” (Greek outos) in Matthew 6:9, but in Luke 11:2 He also said, “When you pray, say” (legete). And the Church has ever after obeyed him, using this prayer along with all her other prayers.

The Lord’s Prayer is present in the New Testament in two different forms: a longer one in Matthew 6:9–13 and a shorter one in Luke 11:2–4. Some manuscripts, however, have a longer Lukan version which corresponds more completely to Matthew’s version. Given the liturgical habits of the time in which Matthew’s longer version was always used liturgically, later scribes copying Luke’s text were tempted to regard the shorter Lukan version as incomplete and to correct it by inserting the omitted phrases. Thus, though manuscripts of the Bible1 like Sinaiticus and Vaticanus have the shorter version, other manuscripts like Alexandrinus and Ephraimi have the longer one. There can be little doubt, however, that the shorter version is the original one that Luke wrote, for if Luke’s original version conformed to Matthew’s version, it is difficult to imagine why a scribe would edit it so severely.

Probably because Matthew’s version is fuller and longer, it soon became the one preferred by the Church at large, so that when the author of the Didache (written probably around 100 A.D.) bids his readers to say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, it is Matthew’s version he offers (chapter 8).


  1. For example see (opens in a new tab)