Deliver us from evil.

Matthew 6.13.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus has us pray not to be led to temptation—properly, not put to the test, whether such tests tempt us or not. Instead, in contrast, we should pray we be delivered from evil.

Matthew 6.13 KJV
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The original text is ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ/allá rýsë imás apó tu ponirú, “but rescue us from the evil.”

Now. The Greek τοῦ/tu is what grammarians call a determiner, although I’m pretty sure your English teachers called it a definite article, ’cause that’s what English determiners usually do: This noun is a particular noun. When you refer to “the bus,” you don’t mean a bus, any ol’ generic interchangeable bus; you mean the bus, this bus, a specific bus, a definite bus.

So when people translate tu ponirú, they assume the Greek determiner is a definite article: Jesus is saying, “Rescue us from the evil.” Not evil in general; not all the evil we’ll come across in life. No no no. This is a definite evil. It’s the evil. You gotta personify it.

And that’s what many recent bible translations have chosen to do.

ASV. “…but deliver us from the evil one.”
CSB, ISV, LEB, NET, NIV, WEB. “…but deliver us from the evil one.”
GNT. “…but keep us safe from the Evil One.”
ICB, NCV. “…but save us from the Evil One.”
NLT, NRSV. “…but rescue us from the evil one.”

Of course Christians figure “the evil one” would be the evilest one, i.e. Satan. So that’s kinda how we interpret the Lord’s Prayer:

Matthew 6.13 Message
“Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”

We even extrapolate this backwards into the bit about temptation: Satan wants us to be led into temptation, so it can have at us. And from time to time it’s probably appearing before God himself, asking permission to take a dump all over us like it did Job. Tempting God himself to remove his hedge of protection from us, and let Satan have its evil, evil way with us.

But no, Jesus isn’t talking about Satan. He’s talking about generic evil.

English determiners don’t work like Greek ones. We have three (“the,” “a,” and “an”) and we use them to determine whether an article is definite or indefinite (“the bus” is definite, “a bus” is not). Greek has dozens, and we use them to help determine whether an article is a subject, direct object, indirect object, or genitive. Or how prepositions like apó connect to the nouns of a sentence.

So because we have apó tu ponirú, we’re praying “from evil.” Now if we simply had apó ponirú, it could likewise be translated “from evil”… but now it could potentially be translated “by evil.” In other words, “Rescue us—by evil means if you have to.” And Jesus doesn’t want us praying that. God doesn’t do evil! 1Jn 1.5 He doesn’t co-opt evil, he doesn’t suborn evil; all those Christians who claim God can take evil things and use ’em for good, do not understand how God works. He’s not an evil mastermind! He doesn’t use evil things. He undoes the evil. What we’re seeing is God fixing stuff, redeeming stuff—not manipulating evil till it’s unwittingly doing something good for once.

So the Book of Common Prayer version, and the King James Version, have the Lord’s Prayer right: “Deliver us from evil.” Or as I translate it, “Rescue us from evil”—same idea. We shouldn’t only ask to be specifically rescued from Satan: There are plenty of other evils in the world, and we need to be saved from all of it.

There are a lot of Christians who naïvely think Satan is the source of all evil. It’s “the father of lies,” y’know, Jn 8.44 so Christians presume it’s the first cause of every evil thing in the cosmos. It got Adam and Eve to sin, so all sin is its fault. But that ignores the fact humans are inherently selfish, and we can sin just fine without any input from Satan. I would argue most of our sins are self-motivated. The devil doesn’t have to do anything but nudge us to do what we’re already inclined to do anyway.

So in many ways, “deliver us from evil” means we’ve gotta be rescued from ourselves—much as The Message put it. We tempt ourselves to give in to our desires. And justify ’em. And even invent all sorts of Christian-sounding labels on them, and make ’em sound like they’re godly instead of wholly selfish. When we ask God to deliver us from evil, we want the Holy Spirit to likewise show us where we’re wrong—because we are. Keep us from lying to ourselves. Keep us from falling into those old evil patterns that, as new creations in Christ, we’re supposed to quit.

Shifting the blame from ourselves to the devil, is a great way to keep committing those same old sins. After all we don’t have to change; we just need to banish the Tempter, and our inherent goodness oughta shine through, right? But that’s self-delusional. We need to resist temptation, and we need God’s help. So, pray that he deliver us from our own evil, as well all the other evil in the world.