And forgive us our trespasses

This is part two in a three part series on The Lord’s Prayer by Dr. George Parsenios, Sessional Professor of New Testament at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and Associate Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. This article is republished with the permission of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Catacombs of San Gennaro, Naples

Catacombs of San Gennaro, Naples

The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35 provides a clear illustration of this petition. A servant begged his master to forgive him the enormous debt he had run up, but that same servant refused to forgive his fellow servant a paltry sum. The parable concludes with the admonition that God’s forgiveness is possible only if “you forgive your brother from your heart.” If we are to enjoy God’s forgiveness in the future, “when the master returns,” we must forgive one another in the present (see also Matt. 5:21-26).

3 Comments

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3 responses to “And forgive us our trespasses

  1. Mary Elizabeth Hansen

    Lately I have been pondering the ‘forgive us our trespasses’ phrase. Sometimes this is rendered as ‘forgive us our debts.’ Why the difference? What ‘trespasses’? In the English language, ‘trespass’ usually refers to physically going onto the land of another without permission, and often with ill-will in mind, while ‘debts’ refer to monetary obligations. Any comment or clarification? Many thanks.

    • Mark Caponigro

      “Debts” translates literally the Greek “opheilêmata,” which in turn represents an Aramaic original. And apparently that Aramaic word was used metaphorically to refer to any kind of injury for which someone might be charged before a judge (in a just system of law), and not just to money or property which is owed. So the translation “trespasses” is not literal, but succeeds in getting across the real meaning.

  2. Mark Caponigro

    Yes, we can’t emphasize enough that forgiveness, the readiness to forgive, is a principal Christian virtue.

    In order to emphasize the prayer’s eschatological urgency, we should translate more literally the verb given in the best manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we _have forgiven_ those who trespassed against us.” Our readiness to forgive, which we have already displayed in real life, is in a sense a rite of initiation into the true Christian community.