In my spare time (!), I am currently reading through Nijay K. Gupta’s commentary, The Lord’s Prayer, Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary (Smyth and Helwys: 2017). The Smyth and Helwys commentary series, while not addressing the deeper exegetical questions of larger commentaries, produces short and accessible commentaries on biblical texts and are generally helpful for those with little formal training.
Gupta introduces the text with an exploration of prayer in the OT and Judaism, and the texts contexts in Jesus’ wider prayer life, and the theology of Matthew and Luke. He indicates the prayer’s significance, being “prayed by millions and millions of men, women, and children across the globe every day, in some cases several times a day” (2). Indeed, the first-century Christian text, the Didache, prescribes that the prayer be prayed three times daily. In his discussion of OT prayer in the Shema (Deut 6:4), the priestly blessing (Num 6:22-27), and the Psalms, Gupta focusses on the theme of covenant, where, though not equal parties, both God and human beings are responsible to each other. Later Jewish prayers demonstrate key similarities to the the themes of the Lord’s Prayer, underscoring again their common origin in early Judaism.
Much of the first chapter is given to the prayer’s context in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, for example, the prayer is divided into six petitions (seven if you split 6:13), which theologians from the early church divided into petitions concerning the things of God and those concerning the things of human beings–in a similar way to that in which the Ten Commandments are often divided. I was a bit disappointed that Gupta seems to dismiss the later, concluding clause, “for yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever.” Granted, this does not appear in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts, but can something be said about its importance throughout church history? It remains to be seen whether Gupta will provide any further comment in his chapter on this section. Interestingly, Gupta notes that Luke’s version has a lesser-known addition, replacing “Your kingdom come” with “May your Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us” in some manuscripts. It would be good to see further comment on this, too, but perhaps it falls outside the scope of the commentary. I am particularly interested in it because the work of the Spirit in the prayer is only ever implicit, which for me, who cannot but see God in a thoroughly trinitarian way, has always been an issue.
Also notable is Gupta’s quick treatment of the question of whether the very words of the Lord’s Prayer are to be prayed or if instead the prayer is to be used as a guide to other prayers. Gupta comes down in favour of the latter, which is of course necessary, considering the many different prayers in Scripture and the church’s history, but it would have been good to see something more positive said about praying the words themselves. It seems to me to be the same reason we read Scripture, so as not to forget what the latter says in the midst of our own reflections on it!