There are two versions of the Lord's Prayer in the New Testament. Of the two versions (Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 11:2-4), Luke's is widely considered the earlier in form, and it does seem plain that Matthew presents what is, in effect, a commentary woven together with the prayer. The relative sparseness of Luke has won it virtually unanimous recognition among scholars as the nearest to the form of an outline which Jesus recommended.
Matthew Our father, who is in the heavens, your name will be sanctified, your kingdom will come, your will happen as in heaven, even on earth. Our bread that is coming, give us today, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors, And do not bring us to the test, but deliver us from the evil one. Luke Father, your name will be sanctified, your kingdom will come. Our bread that is coming, be giving us each day, and release us our sins, because we also ourselves release everyone who is indebted us, And do not bring us to the test.
The same basic prayer of Jesus is reflected in both these versions. The differences between them show that early Christians allowed themselves considerable freedom in how they put their prayers into words. They understood that true prayer was not a matter of literal repetition, and Jesus specifically warned against mechanical and ostentatious prayer (Matthew 6:5-8). Matthew gives us the version of the prayer most often used in its community, just as Luke provides us with the received view in its community.
The different versions of the prayer present the same meaning behind Jesus' teachings, but in different styles and wordings. The basic model or outline of the Lord's Prayer upon which both versions are based consists of calling God father, confessing that his name should be sanctified and that his kingdom should come, and then asking for the bread God will provide that day, forgiveness, and not to be brought to the test (i.e., not to be forced into disloyalty to God).
Assessed by its individual elements, the Lord's Prayer may be characterized as a fairly typical instance of the Judaic piety of its period. To call God "father" was-as such-nothing radical, and the association of his fatherly care with his actual provision for prayerful Israel is attested in Psalm 68:5. The same passage shows that the connection of God's holiness to his fatherhood was seen as natural, and the importance of sanctifying God's name within the earliest of Rabbinic texts of prayer-such as the Kaddish, which means "Sanctified [be God's name]"-is well known. That his holiness is consistent with people being forgiven and accepted by him is also unexceptionable. Finally, the idea that God's being king amounts to a "kingdom" that was about to be revealed is amply precedented within the Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible known as the Targumim, and they insist upon the loyal response of God's people to that revelation.
According to the prayer, God is to be approached as father, his name sanctified, and his kingdom welcomed. The act of prayer along those lines, with great variety over time and from place to place and tradition to tradition, has been a hallmark of Christianity. To address God as one's father, and yet to sanctify his name, acknowledges the ambivalence that might permeate attitudes toward God. He approaches us freely and without restraint, and yet is unapproachable, as holy as we are ordinary. The welcoming of his kingdom, of his comprehensive rule within the terms of reference of our world, wills away our ambivalence. His intimate holiness is to invade the ordinary, so that any ambivalence is overcome by the force of God itself. The kingdom is dynamically ingressive, and is welcomed in the act of prayer, however others might react to the kingdom.
The three elements that open the prayer, then, characterize a relationship and an attitude toward God which the one who prays makes his or her own. The distinctiveness of the prayer is nothing other than that consciousness of God and of one's relationship to him which is implied, and which is recapitulated whenever one prays in that way. Such an awareness of God and of oneself is what Christians kindle when they pray the Lord's Prayer. And at the same time, the prayer is nothing other than the Lord's; whatever the merits of such a consciousness, it is only ours because it was Christ's first. That is why the filial consciousness of praying in this manner is as strong as it is: one is God's child, and Jesus' sister or brother in the same instant.
This prayer reveals how Jesus conceived living spiritually on a daily basis. He taught his followers to turn to God as intimately as they would to their parents, asking their heavenly father for their needs as they would ask a father for bread. This prayer also stresses that God is holy so that the person who prays welcomes this divine sanctity into his or her life, and can experience forgiveness on that basis. Just as remembering God's holiness addresses human sin, so Jesus taught that welcoming God's Kingdom addresses human despair. Disciples who embrace God's Kingdom in the world perform the hopeful dynamics of God's revelation to his people just as Jesus did, and remain constant witnesses to divine presence in the world.
The Lord's Prayer is commonly recited in Christian worship, and people often first learn it as a form of words. But it was framed by Jesus for a much deeper purpose than that. This prayer is designed for constant use so that prayer helps a person become continually conscious of God's presence with us as an intimate friend, a source of holiness, and the most important force in the world. That, Jesus taught, makes us confident that the needs we encounter will be met, our faults dealt with, and any despair transformed into hope.