The Earliest Form of the Lord’s Prayer (Qn)

Those familiar with the many early versions of the Lord’s Prayer know how varied its forms were from text to text. Now that we have a solid basis for Qn–its themes, language, and concerns–we can now put together a reasonable reconstruction of the very earliest recoverable version of the Lord’s Prayer.

Here it is, alongside its later counterparts.

father, ours in the heaven, the holy spirit

let come your kingdom

your daily bread give us each day

pardon us our debt as we ourselves pardon everyone indebted to us

and do not pardon us to be led into trial

Some thoughts:

While Matthew and the Didache evidence a binitarian or very early trinitarian impulse, the version in Qn reflects a simpler monotheism, conflating “father” and “holy spirit.”

Qn tends to use the singular for “heaven” in reference to god, and Tertullian confirms this reading at this point, thus the customary Matthean plural should not be read back into Qn.

Qn has “your daily bread” not our daily bread.” god is seen as the provider of daily bread, and the bread is not something possessed by the community. The Gospel of Matthew changed the possessive to 1st person plural to align more poetically with a vision of the community approaching god together in prayer, more in keeping with Rabbinic Jewish tradition about a minyan (group of ten men) needed to constitute a group sufficient to carry out formal prayers and worship.

Qn very likely had “debt” language in the Lord’s Prayer, language followed by Matthew and Didache (which in a couple spots is a better basis to reconstruct Qn here than Matthew). Late Luke changed that language to “sins” and thus obscured its original source, one to which Matthew and Didache were more faithful at this point.

While Tertullian does not give solid attestation of Qn here, Matthew, Didache, and Late Luke all do. Once we use Gospel of Marcion as the preliminary, solid basis to reconstruct the vast majority of Qn, then, in specific places such as this one, where textual traditions were highly fluid because of ritual concerns, other sources such as Matthew and even the Didache can be enormously helpful in building reasonable reconstructions of passages in the first Jewish Gospel, Qn.