Lost in translation

One side of the church was silent. On the other side, people prayed aloud and in unison.

Not long ago, I presided at the wedding of a Catholic bride and a Protestant groom. The bride insisted that the wedding be in her church, with a priest. The groom was very agreeable. His parents were very pleased with everything, thinking that their son had found the perfect wife for himself. Her parents were pleased. Indeed, his minister approved. No unpleasantness whatsoever was present.

So, we proceeded through the wedding ceremony, all according to Roman Catholic ritual. As the ritual requires, at the given point, I began the Lord’s Prayer. The entire congregation joined me.

Then, just as the prayer ended, the Catholics present, most seated on the right side of the church with the bride’s family, stopped praying. The people on the other side, generally Protestant friends of the groom, by habit, continued. “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Amen.”

It was not surprising. Rare is the Protestant rendition of the Lord’s Prayer that does not close with this verse, because it is in the King James Version of the Bible, published 400 years ago, still used by most English-speaking Protestants, although, with the support of England’s King James I, who also was King James VI of Scotland, it was prepared for the Anglican Church. In the King James Version, the verse appears as Matthew 6:13, as part of the Lord’s Prayer.

No Bible accepted by the Roman Catholic Church has this verse. Why? The Catholic Church’s venerable Vulgate, the Latin translation of the ancient Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, prepared by St. Jerome in the fifth century, does not have it.

Nothing is wrong with the saying. To the contrary, it is a magnificent proclamation of God’s might and majesty. It is in the Roman liturgy of the Mass, and it is in the liturgies of Eastern Rites as well.

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The problem is that Jerome, and many other biblical scholars through the centuries, have thought that, to the best of their abilities in researching the oldest copies of Matthew, “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory” was added by some pious translator to some very old translation of Matthew, but it was not there in the beginning. If it was not written by the Evangelist whom we call Matthew, it is not part of the Bible. (The original of the Gospel has never been found.)

Protestant biblical scholars have thought that indeed the verse was in the original copy of Matthew.

The scholarly disagreement through the years about this verse has a doctrinal dimension, however, regardless of what it actually says.

It goes to the authority of the Church. Actually, many works from the earliest days of Christianity presented themselves as Gospels. While many factors were at play long ago, such as widespread acceptance of a text or work, authorities in the Catholic Church, popes and ecumenical councils, did come together in identifying only Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as being inspired by the Holy Spirit. They rejected the gospels of Peter and Barnabas and others as not being inspired.

After the Reformation, Protestant scholars accepted the Catholic Church’s approval of the four Gospels familiar to us, never accepting as divinely inspired the other gospels. (Few Christians, Catholics or otherwise, today even know about the other gospels, although copies of the other gospels are readily still available, even in English.)

Disdaining Catholic Church authority, Protestant translators picked and chose, deleted and eliminated, placing the prayer “for thine is the kingdom …” in their Bibles.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.