The Lord’s Prayer as a Matthean Composition Based on Mark
(recap of Goulder 1963 and Olson 2014)
It is widely held in New Testament scholarship that Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is generally more primitive than Matthew’s and largely goes back to Jesus himself. Michael Goulder challenged this consensus, first in his article ‘The Composition of the Lord’s Prayer’ (1963), and in several publications since.1 Goulder argued that the Lord’s Prayer had been composed by the author of Matthew’s gospel on the basis of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Mark’s gospel. Jesus gives his disciples direct instruction on how to pray twice in Mark. The first instance comes in Jesus’ response to Peter’s observation that the fig tree that Jesus cursed has withered: ‘And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father who is in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses’ (Mk 11.25, RSV). The second comes in the Gethsemane story, where Jesus exhorts his disciples to ‘pray that you may not enter into temptation’ (Mk 14.38). Additionally, Jesus’ own prayer on Gethsemane provides another example of how to pray. In Matthew, the second time Jesus prays to the Father, he concludes the prayer saying: ‘Thy will be doneT’ (Mt. 26.42). Goulder argued that these examples of Jesus’ prayers provided the core upon which Matthew constructed the Lord’s Prayer in the form given in his gospel (Mt. 6.9-13), which was then used in an abbreviated form by Luke (Lk. 11.2-4).
The majority opinion is that Matthew and Luke are dependent on a hypothetical Q source and that the shorter version of the prayer in Luke better represents what was in the source, with a few exceptions such as Luke’s change of “debts” to sins.” According to this view, the Matthean material that is unparalleled in Luke was added, either by Matthew or in a version of Q that came to Matthew (Qm) to improve the rhythm or poetry of the prayer for liturgical use. It is also widely held that liturgical texts lengthen in the course of transmission.
The formulation of G. D. Castor is fairly representative of the majority opinion:
‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ is only a further definition of ‘Thy kingdom come’. So also ‘Deliver us from evil’ only states in a positive form what “Lead us not into temptation” expresses negatively. These clauses amplify, but they add no new element of thought; nor do they contain anything extensively Jewish which Gentiles would have any reason to omit. The very reverse is nearer the truth. Both petitions are to be explained as interpretive additions to liturgical use, and not as Lukan omissions. (G. D. Castor, Matthew’s Sayings (1918) 53-54).
If Castor is correct that “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and “Deliver us from the evil one” only restate what precedes them, does it follow that Matthew added them to an originally shorter version of the text? Couldn’t the fuller, more poetic text be earlier and Luke later eliminated the unnecessary verbiage that adds no new thought to the text? Eliminating unnecessary repetition from his sources is a recognized Lukan tendency, although not an invariable one (he sometimes allows repetition to stand or even introduces repetition himself).
Also, there is no universal rule that liturgical texts lengthen over time. There are many examples that go the other way. Josephus gives shorter versions of biblical prayers in his retelling of Jewish history in the Antiquities. The shortening of Apocryphal Psalm 151.1-2 in the Syriac version is probably the closest parallel to the Lord’s Prayer. For that matter, when Luke was writing his gospel, he was writing an episodic narrative, not a liturgical text. It only became a liturgical text after its acceptance by the church. It is sometimes argued that Luke would not have dropped Matthew’s full address “Our Father in heaven,” because (1) he would not have dared to omit something from a prayer revered in the church, and (2) the fact that he has Jesus address the Father as “Lord of heaven and earth” in Luke 10.21, which shows the description of the Father as in heaven was congenial to him. The problem with this argument is that it (1) retrojects the respect the church later had for the Lord’s Prayer onto the time of Luke, whereas if Matthew composed it, it would have been of fairly recent vintage and perhaps not yet accepted as authoritative, and (2) neglects to take account of the sequence of Luke’s narrative. Jesus addresses the Father as “Lord of heaven and earth" the very first time he directly addresses the Father at 10.21. Every time Jesus addresses the Father in Luke after Luke 10.21, he uses the simple “Father” (or “the Father” in the latter part of Luke 10.21): Luke 11.2, 22.42, 23.34 if authentic, 23.46. Luke may well have felt that exactly which Father Jesus addressed was made clear in the first instance and he did not need to reestablish the identity of the Father each time Jesus addressed him subsequently.
I’m including a screenshot of the table I made to help conceptualize this theory (being too lazy to reformat it for the forum). I have mixed two or three different English translation to bring out the points I’m trying to make, and included the Greek in one place for clarity.
Thus, Mark 11.25 and Mark 14.36-38 together can provide about half the material for Lord’s Prayer. The material that remains unaccounted for is:
(1) May your name be honored (Matt 6.9)
Goulder suggests Matthew may have taken this from the LXX of the Ten Commandments from Deuteronomy 5: “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” (Deut. 5.11) and turned the negative command into a positive petition using the verb from the following commandment, “Keep the day of the sabbath to honor (or sanctify, or hallow) it.” (Deut. 5.12).
(2 ) May your kingdom come (Matt 6.10)
Goulder argues that it is odd that, if Jesus gave his his disciples specific instructions on how to pray, not only does Mark not mention it (except where it shows up in fragmented form in Mark 11.25 and 14.38), but Paul uses the Aramaic formula marana tha, “Our Lord come,” rather than the more familiar “Thy kingdom come”/ “May your kingdom come” known to us from Matt 6.10/Luke 11.2. He suggests that the latter may not yet have been in use in Paul’s time, but that it supplanted “Our Lord come!” after Matthew and Luke began to circulate.
Goulder thinks “May your kingdom come” as a petition (like marana tha), may have been suggested to Matthew by Mark’s (non-petition) 9.1, which Matthew renders: "I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” at Matt 16.25.
(3) on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6.10)
With “May your will be done” (or “Thy will be done”) this is an explication or gloss of the previous petition. God’s kingdom coming is the same thing as his will being done also on earth as it currently is in heaven.
(4 ) Give us today our daily bread (Matt 6.11)
Goulder points out that Matthew has a similar teaching of Jesus concerning bread and petitioning the Father at Matt 7.9-11:
Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, although you are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt 7.9-11; there is a Lukan parallel at Luke 11.11-13, but it does not mention bread),
5 But deliver us from the evil one
This is another petition that repeats or glosses the previous one. There is some disagreement on whether the final word is masculine (“the evil one” or Satan) or neuter (“evil” the abstract concept). Most commentators and most recent translations favor the former. Matthew has Jesus refer to Satan as “the evil one” in the interpretations of the The Parable of the Sower (13.19) and The Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matt 13.38). He is the only one of the evangelists who does. Luke likely understood the reference to the evil one as a gloss or poetic reiteration of the previous line, as he knows that Satan is the tempter in the Temptation Narrative (Matt 4.1/Mark 1.13/Luke 4.2) .
None of this, of course, definitely proves that Matthew composed the Lord’s Prayer and other theories are impossible. But I think it is a very plausible hypothesis, and I argue in my paper that the International Q project has no effective argument against it or establishing the shorter Lukan version of the prayer as earlier. I’m not expecting anyone to be fully convinced of this by a single post on the net, but perhaps people will grant the plausibility of the theory and I would encourage them to read Goulder’s paper and mine if possible.