“Our Father which art in heaven” is the beginning of one of the most famous prayers in history, often referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer.” According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus of Nazareth taught his followers this prayer, and the Church hasn’t stopped reciting it for 2,000 years. The King James Version reads:
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 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.
Why does the prayer start with “our”? What’s the significance of calling God “Father”? Why did Jesus tell people to say that God is in heaven? Do all major English translations of the prayer basically read the same way? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see What Is Heaven? to learn more.
What does “Our Father which art in heaven” mean?
“Our Father which art in heaven” is the first line of a prayer found in the Gospel of Matthew. The prayer is traditionally called the “Our Father” or “the Lord’s prayer,” though some scholars suggest that its name should be “the Disciple’s prayer” since in the passage Jesus is instructing his followers how to pray.
|NIV||This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”|
|NLT||Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.|
|ESV||Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.|
|KJV||After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.|
|NASB||Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.”|
Why is this instruction important? Prayer is an important practice for Christians. Jesus is teaching people how to pray in this passage. It’s a wonderful and awe-inspiring reality that believers can approach the God of the universe in prayer and with confidence (cf. Heb. 4:16). Yet, there is a proper way to pray, and Jesus teaches the “manner” (KJV) in which Christians are to do it.
Should Christians recite the prayer word for word? Most Bible scholars agree the prayer Jesus taught is both a model for how to pray and an example of what to say. Therefore, Christians can recite the prayer word-for-word or they can use their own words, following the principles and attitudes expressed in it.
“Christ taught us to pray ‘Our Father.’ This eternal everlasting God has become our Father and the moment we realize that, everything tends to change.” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Welsh pastor)
Also see What Do Angels Look Like In Heaven? to learn more.
Our Father: Praying With God and Other People in Mind
The way the prayer starts may remind people of what the two greatest commandments are, according to Jesus: to love God and love others. Matthew 22:38-39 read, “This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (KJV)
- Our: Because the prayer starts with “our” doesn’t necessarily mean it must only be spoken with a group of people. Individuals are free to speak the prayer in private. Yet as they pray, one of the principles that should guide their requests are the needs and concerns of other people.
- Father: The English word “Father” is a translation of the Greek word “pater,” which some scholars believe comes from the Aramaic word, “Abba.” The name “Abba” is less formal than the word “father” — some say the closest English equivalent is “daddy” — and suggests a close, personal, intimate relationship.
God is approachable in prayer. For Christians, God is accessible and believers don’t need to be afraid to speak prayers of thanksgiving, petition, or even confession. Hebrews 4:16 reads, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (KJV)
“When we pray, we pray in the certainty that our “Father” is hearing us, the one who loves us so deeply and watches over us. There is a whole new intimacy and reverence in our prayer life.” (Grant Osborne, Matthew, ZECNT commentary series, pg. 228)
Also see What Does Jesus Look Like In Heaven? to learn more.
Which Art in Heaven: Being Aware of God’s Holiness
While God is accessible through prayer for those who believe in him, Christians shouldn’t approach prayer in a cavalier manner. While God has enabled people to have a personal relationship with him, it must be remembered that he is holy (e.g. Isa. 6:3).
Is God only in heaven? The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent, meaning he is everywhere (e.g. Psalm 139:7-10; Jer. 23:24). When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven,” he wasn’t teaching them that God is confined there. Rather, the description expresses God’s majesty, sovereignty, and reign are unlike anything on Earth. Isaiah 46:9 reads, “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.” (KJV)
How shouldn’t Christians pray? Pastors, ministers, and theologians have offered different analogies to describe an unhealthy approach to prayer. For example, some Christians approach prayer like they are asking Santa Claus for presents. This means that there is no recognition of God’s holiness and their requests are almost always self-centered. This isn’t the spirit of how Jesus taught people to pray.
Another analogy for improper prayer is treating God like he is a vending machine. If a person puts the right amount of money into a vending machine, they get food or a drink. Similarly, some believe that if they say the prayer enough times, God will give them whatever they want. This approach to prayer violates the heart of the prayer Jesus taught his followers.
The Lord’s Prayer: Translation Comparison
|Verse 9||Verse 9||Verse 9|
|After this manner therefore pray ye||This, then, is how you should pray||Pray, then, in this way|
|Our Father which art in heaven||Our Father in heaven||Our Father, who is in heaven|
|Hallowed be thy name||hallowed be your name||Hallowed be Your name|
|Verse 10||Verse 10||Verse 10|
|Thy kingdom come||your kingdom come||Your kingdom come|
|Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven||your will be done,|
on earth as it is in heaven
|Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven|
|Verse 11||Verse 11||Verse 11|
|Give us this day our daily bread||Give us today our daily bread||Give us this day our daily bread|
|Verse 12||Verse 12||Verse 12|
|And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors||And forgive us our debts,|
as we also have forgiven our debtors
|And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors|
|Verse 13||Verse 13||Verse 13|
|And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil||And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one||And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil|
|For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.||Doesn’t appear in the main body of the text, but in a footnote||Doesn’t appear in the main body of the text, but in a footnote|
“This prayer begins where all true prayer must commence, with the spirit of adoption, ‘Our Father.’ There is no acceptable prayer until we can say, ‘I will arise, and go unto my Father.'” (Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon)
Also see What Will People Look Like In Heaven? to learn more.
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