16 May New Modern Version of The Lord’s Prayer | Benjamin Franklin
As we mentioned in our post on Benjamin Franklin’s religious beliefs, the Living Hour considers Franklin to be among the early progressive Christians of the United States, along with other Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson (who wrote the Jefferson Bible) and Thomas Paine. One of our favorite inspirational quotes from Franklin is: “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
Benjamin Franklin decided to write his own modern version of the Lord’s Prayer for his personal use. This new version isn’t of course very modern by today’s standards of English usage. But it is still interesting to see how Franklin decided to rewrite the Our Father Prayer to better suit his spiritual life and times.
New Version of Lord’s Prayer by Benjamin Franklin
Our Father which art in Heaven.
May all revere thee,
Hallowed be thy Name.
And become thy dutiful Children and faithful Subjects.
Thy Kingdom come.
May thy Laws be obeyed on Earth as perfectly as they are in Heaven.
Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Provide for us this Day as thou has hitherto daily done.
Give us this Day our daily Bread.
Forgive us our Trespasses, and enable us likewise to forgive those that offend us.
Forgive us our Debts as we forgive our Debtors.
Keep us out of Temptation, and deliver us from Evil.
And lead us not into Temptation, but deliver us from Evil.
Why Write a New Version of the Lord’s Prayer?
Benjamin Franklin wrote the following explanation on why he felt compelled to write his new version of the Lord’s Prayer:
Old Version: Our Father which art in Heaven
New Version: Heavenly Father, is more concise, equally expressive, and better modern English.
Old Version: Hallowed be thy Name. This seems to relate to an Observance among the Jews not to pronounce the proper or peculiar Name of God, they deeming it a Profanation so to do. We have in our Language no proper Name for God; the Word God being a common or general Name, expressing all chief Objects of Worship, true or false. The Word hallowed is almost obsolete: People now have but an imperfect Conception of the Meaning of the Petition. It is therefore proposed to change the Expression into New. May all revere thee.
Old Version: Thy Kingdom come. This Petition seems suited to the then Condition of the Jewish Nation. Originally their State was a Theocracy: God was their King. Dissatisfied with that kind of Government, they desired a visible earthly King in the manner of the Nations round them. They had such King’s accordingly; but their Happiness was not increas’d by the Change, and they had reason to wish and pray for a Return of the Theocracy, or Government of God. Christians in these Times have other Ideas when they speak of the Kingdom of God, such as are perhaps more adequately expressed by the New V. And become thy dutiful Children and faithful Subjects.
Old Version: Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. More explicitly, New V. May thy Laws be obeyed on Earth as perfectly as they are in Heaven.
Old Version: Give us this Day our daily Bread. Give us what is ours, seems to put in a Claim of Right, and to contain too little of the grateful Acknowledgment and Sense of Dependance that becomes Creatures who live on the daily Bounty of their Creator. Therefore it is changed to New V. Provide for us this Day, as thou hast hitherto daily done.
Old Version: Forgive us our Debts as we forgive our Debtors. Matthew. Forgive us our Sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. Luke. Offerings were due to God on many Occasions by the Jewish Law, which when People could not pay, or had forgotten as Debtors are apt to do, it was proper to pray that those Debts might be forgiven. Our Liturgy uses neither the Debtors of Matthew, nor the indebted of Luke, but instead of them speaks of those that trespass against us. Perhaps the Considering it as a Christian Duty to forgive Debtors, was by the Compilers thought an inconvenient Idea in a trading Nation.
There seems however something presumptuous in this Mode of Expression, which has the Air of proposing ourselves as an Example of Goodness fit for God to imitate. We hope you will at least be as good as we are; you see we forgive one another, and therefore we pray that you would forgive us.
Some have considered it in another Sense, Forgive us as we forgive others; i.e. If we do not forgive others we pray that thou wouldst not forgive us. But this being a kind of conditional Imprecation against ourselves, seems improper in such a Prayer; and therefore it may be better to say humbly and modestly New V. Forgive us our Trespasses, and enable us likewise to forgive those that offend us. This instead of assuming that we have already in and of ourselves the Grace of Forgiveness, acknowledges our Dependance on God, the Fountain of Mercy, for any Share we may have of it, praying that he would communicate of it to us.
Old Version: And lead us not into Temptation. The Jews had a Notion, that God sometimes tempted, or directed or permitted the Tempting of People. Thus it was said he tempted Pharaoh; directed Satan to tempt Job; and a false Prophet to tempt Ahab, &c. Under this Persuasion it was natural for them to pray that he would not put them to such severe Trials. We now suppose that Temptation, so far as it is supernatural, comes from the Devil only; and this Petition continued, conveys a Suspicion which in our present Conceptions seems unworthy of God, Therefore might be altered to New V. Keep us out of Temptation.
Now that you’ve read about Benjamin Franklin’s new version of the Lord’s Prayer, you may also be interested in reading Living Hour’s contemporary analysis of the Lord’s Prayer, which brings fresh insight to the Our Father prayer from a modern perspective: Metaphysical Interpretation of The Lord’s Prayer.
And if you are a student of American history, be sure to check our series on the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers, including their thoughts on Christianity, spirituality, and Jesus of Nazareth.