Keep Us From Evil
by Lois Tverberg

And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil ... (NASB) or - the evil one (NIV). Matthew 6:13

This is another line from the Lord's prayer that is confusing to many. Some translations say "deliver us from evil", others say "deliver us from the evil one". Does it mean evil in general, or Satan in particular? And why would we ask God not to tempt us? Since Jesus told us to pray this way, certainly it would benefit us to clarify his words.

A key to understanding is to look at how the phrase "deliver us from evil" is used in both the Bible and in other Jewish prayers. In Psalm 121 it says,

The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. (Psa. 121:5-7)

Here protecting from evil means protection from harm in general. So Jesus may mean that we are asking God to protect us from harm. But there is another possibility, coming from a text from the Jewish prayers found in the Talmud*. It says, "Deliver me...from a bad person, a bad companion, a bad injury, an evil inclination, and from Satan, the destroyer." Four times the word for evil is used, and here it is a petition to ask God to deliver the person from harm, but also from sin and the company of those who would cause a person to sin as well, and even Satan.

What about the line before it? The phrase "do not lead us into temptation" is a Jewish way of saying "Do not let us succumb to the temptation of sin." It is a parallelism which means the same thing as the next line, "Deliver us from evil," meaning, "Keep us from doing evil," that is, "Do not let us succumb to the evil inside us, do not let us sin."

It is likely that Jesus' intented meaning is, "Oh Lord, help us to keep doing Your will, and don't let us be led away from Your path. Keep us from the evil within us, but keep us from all harm and calamity too. It is an all-encompassing plea for God to protect us from what is outside us, but what is inside as well.

*The Talmud is a compendium of Jewish commentary written about 300 AD, containing oral traditions from Jesus' time and before. This quote is from Berachot 16b.

A major source for this article is Deliver Us From Evil, by Dr. Randall Buth, in the online jounal

  ©2003 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., All rights
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