Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from (who or what)?

Ask yourself this question: is there a difference between “evil” and “the evil one”?

I think there is a significant difference. If you were to say to yourself the Lord’s Prayer, and you get to the end where it talks of “deliver me from…” what do you say next? Do you say “evil” or “the evil one”?

Some questions about this were raised in today’s Greek class. The phrase used is tou ponerou, which is in fact ambiguous. It could mean ‘of evil’ or it could mean ‘of the evil one.’ So how can we decide what it means? Can there be a definite answer given? Some say no, but I say yes. Just see…

In another of Matthew’s usages of this phrase, found in the parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13:36f), Jesus divides up the world into two mutually exclusive camps:

the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil [one] –Matt. 13:38

This kind of labeling of two opposing camps is very common in the Judaism of Jesus’ day. Take for example one of the many occurrences found in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

the men of the lot of Belial -1QS 2.4-5

the men of Belial -1QH 13.26

all the lot of Belial -1QM 1.5

Belial, for those who aren’t familiar, is a name synonymous with the Devil and Satan.[1] Paul uses it in 2 Cor. 6:15 as the antithesis to Christ, similar to what we see in the parable. There are other examples found in the Jewish Pseudopigrapha.

My point is this: we can see that it was very common during the time of Jesus for Belial, a synonym of the Devil, to be used as a way of categorizing a group of people. This makes sense with the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, where Jesus specifically speaks of the devil in v.39. Therefore, if Matthew uses tou ponerou to mean “of the evil one” within his Gospel, it is highly likely that he has the definition in mind in the Lord’s Prayer.

What do you think? Does it make a difference if you pray for deliverance from ‘evil’ or deliverance from ‘the evil one?’


[1] BDAG 173.

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9 thoughts on “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from (who or what)?

  1. good discussion, and good evidence for your position. i’m trying to think, though, of what sort of difference it makes if one person over here prays for deliverance from evil while another person over there prays for deliverance from the evil one. their common ground is huge: they’re praying TO the Father, and they’re praying FOR deliverance. it seems maybe they’re really asking for the same thing: rescue. but i do believe we should aim for exegetical precision, and i think the evidence points toward “the evil one” (though just “evil” seems to work in both passages, especially considering abstracts tend to take the article in Greek).

  2. Thanks for commenting.

    I admit that there seems to be only hints at a personal devil within the Hebrew Bible (nothing concrete). It seems that the real force begins with the intertestamental literature, OT Pseudopigrapha, and is in full force by the time of the New Testament.

    I have argued with a small group of Christians who believe that there is no external devil. They have ways of explaining away all the verses, which I find unpersuassive.

    I just find it interesting how Jesus and Paul weave in and out of the Essene’s mode of discourse, which makes the study of the Scrolls all the more fun!

    1. yeah i think Job very forthrightly presents a “devil,” more specifically the Accuser/Satan. 1 Chronicles as well, in the passage about David and the census

      1. Good point.

        Ha satan in Job ch. 2 sends a whirlwind upon Job. This is hardly an impersonal figure!

    2. oh and even though these passages are a bit ambiguous, i wonder how those christians who don’t believe in a devil would handle the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4). i don’t see much wiggle room there.

      1. (I dont agree with this interp.) They say that it is “a satan”, meaning an indefinate acuser.

        This is far fetched considering the fact that he offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world and tempts him with worship. The narrative implies that Jesus was truly tempted in these things, but chose ultimately to side with God.

      2. interesting stuff, i guess i’ve never really heard that position before. but someone concedes that it’s at least “a” satan, then are they also conceding that there are many “satans” in the word? how would they define those? as demons? as impersonal tempations? just curious.

  3. I am thinking basically how Mike is thinking here. While it does seem to be referring to “the evil one”, I see it as making little practical difference to the prayer itself here. But it is worth pointing out anyway.

    I think it would be difficult to maintain the perspective that there is no external devil if one reads Job or the passage where Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. At least I can think of no good way to find harmony there.

  4. Good stuff and reassuring to hear someone else ask this question, since I have been shot down and ridiculed for doing the same at this oh so progressive institution…

    Newbie that I am…is it any different than Calvin’s theory of accommodation? An evil one is easier to relate to than evil? Which regardless, is the source – whether anthropomorphic or not?

    I am baffled when people deny evil (and satan.) And I love the line that the devil’s best lie is “I’m not here.”

    It seems to me that the difference between “evil” and the “evil one” is as big as the difference between “love” and the “loving one.” A relationship with “love” (in love with love) is very different than a relationship with the “loving one” (in love with Christ.)

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