The Lord’s Prayer In The First Century -- By: Simon J. Kistemaker
JETS 21:4 (December 1978) p. 323
The Lord’s Prayer In The First Century
*Simon Kistemaker is professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.
Because the Lord’s prayer is so much used and so well known, we tend to forget its place, setting and significance in the early Christian Church. Admittedly the evidence relating to the Lord’s prayer in the first centuries of the Christian era is sparse. Yet valuable background information may be gleaned from sources including Qumran, Judaism, and even Scripture itself.
Source material from the early Church is very limited. Besides the evidence in the Didache and references in the writings of the apostolic fathers, virtually no information is available. Also, these sources “give us no clear description of the way in which the church of that period used the Lord’s Prayer.”1
The Christian Church, as is evident from the book of Acts, has its roots in the Jewish synagogue. It is therefore not surprising that the early Christians adopted much of the liturgy of the synagogue worship service. By way of the NT and the apostolic fathers we learn that the early Christians used the word “synagogue” rather indiscriminately. James speaks of a rich man and a poor man entering the “synagogue” of the early Christians (Jas 2:2). And Ignatius, in his letter to Polycarp written on the way to Rome in A.D. 108, exhorts the readers to have frequent meetings in the synagogues (Ign. Poll 4:2).
The apostles proclaimed the gospel first in the local Jewish synagogues. Paul reasoned with Jew and Gentile in the synagogues, for example, of Thessalonica and Corinth (Acts 17:2; 18:4). In this setting the apostles taught the Lord’s prayer. They placed it within the framework of the rich liturgical tradition of the Jews, and they used a form already sanctioned by long devotional use.2
I. Jewish Prayers
The fact that Matthew addressed his gospel to the Jews and that Luke wrote for the hellenists is demonstrated in their respective versions of the Lord’s prayer. Matthew’s version is liturgically rich, while Luke’s is brief and liturgically poor.
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