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Biblical-theological Reflections

Prayer Prayers

Luke 11:1–4 recounts Jesus’ teaching his disciples how to pray. The substance of the prayer much resembles the parallel account in Matt 6:9–13. Yet, Luke’s version is considerably shorter than Matthew’s at a couple points. Also, rather than coming in the context of a longer discourse, Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11:2–4 responds to a specific request from one of the disciples that he teach them to pray, just as John had done with his own disciples (Luke 11:1).1

To some extent, the prayer’s final three petitions may evoke Prov 30:7–8,2 but whether in this connection or when compared with Matthew’s fuller version of the prayer itself, Luke’s retention of καὶ γὰρ αὐτοὶ ἀφίομεν παντὶ ὀφείλοντι ἡμῖν (Luke 11:4b; for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us) is a striking explanatory expansion within his otherwise terse report.3 The verb ἀφίομεν could be performative (we forgive as we pray), but given the larger context of Luke’s Gospel, a broader, customary sense is still more probable (we regularly forgive; e.g., Luke 6:37; 11:5–13; 17:3–4).4 Even when they are not praying per se, Jesus summons his disciples to forgive others in such a way that does not immediately give the lie to their own requests for forgiveness when they ask it of their Father (cf. Luke 4:16–21; 10:21–37; 11:5–13; 18:9–14; see also Matt 6:14–15; 18:21–35).5 Although Jesus frames his instruction with ὅταν προσεύχησθε λέγετε (Luke 11:2a; when you pray, say), the content of the prayer itself makes demands on Jesus’ disciples that extend far beyond their speech in prayer to their Father.6


1. Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 141.

2. Cf. Acts Thom. (ANF, 8:547); Augustine, Ep., 188.2.6 (NPNF1, 1:550); John Cassian, Conferences, 9.21 (NPNF2, 11:394–95); Tertullian, Jejun., 15 (ANF, 4:112).

3. Cf. N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 169.

4. Clement of Alexandria, Strom., 7.13 (ANF, 2:546). Nearly quoting Matthew’s version of this prayer verbatim, Didache 8:3 prescribes that it be prayed three times a day. In such a context, even if the community’s confession of its own forgiveness toward its debtors within the prayer itself is purely performative, it certainly also happens with a frequency and regularity that would, in itself, put the community in a fairly consistent state of forgiveness toward such people.

5. Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo., 7.11 (NPNF1, 7:51–52). Cf. Augustine, Pecc. merit., 2.21 (NPNF1, 5:53); Tertullian, Marc., 4.26 (ANF, 3:391–93); Tertullian, Pud., 2 (ANF, 4:76–77). See also Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Combined ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 1:119–41; Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1990), 276; Bock, Jesus according to Scripture, 141–42; James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Christianity in the Making 1; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 411, 589–92; Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 292–95.

6. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 168–70. Cf. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (ed. Irmgard Booth; trans. R. H. Fuller; rev. ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1963), 183–87.

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This site and its content are licensed by J. David Stark under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person(s) or institution(s).
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