As we conclude our time in the Lord's Prayer with John Calvin, the giant from Geneva, we turn to the final phrase of the prayer, often termed the doxology. A doxology is a term describing any attribution of glory to God, often at the end of a prayer or a teaching of some kind.
Many, if not most, contemporary English translations do not actually include this line in Matthew 6:13, which ends with, "but deliver us from evil." But if you ever memorized this prayer or if it's recited in worship and you're a Protestant, you more than likely included this line. At the end of this post, we'll look at why some Bibles do not include this line and why some churches still recite it in worship.
There is debate on the historicity of the doxology of the Lord's Prayer. Regardless, we are able to discern great truth from it.
"For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen."
What power do our prayers have? We often talk about "the power of prayer." What do we mean? Do we change God's mind when we pray? If we do, doesn't that mean God is capable of change and is therefore not actually unchanging? And if he's changeable, who's to say someone else's prayers wouldn't undo what I did?
Scripture nowhere teaches that our prayers change God's mind. While God's "repentance" is a topic for another day, God is yet unmoving and unchanging. So why do we pray? What power is there in prayer?
Calvin reminds us, "For if our prayers were to be commended to God by our worth, who would dare even mutter at all in God's presence?"
So why do we even bother to pray? Our prayers aren't really all that powerful, so why does Jesus even teach his disciples to pray? That actually gives way to the good news. Our prayers aren't powerful, but the God who "knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8) is! Because the Almighty hears our prayers, Calvin writes, "we will yet never lack a reason to pray, never be shorn of assurance, since his kingdom, power, and glory can never be snatched away from our Father."
Because of who God is, we always have a reason to pray. We can always go before him to worship him and bring our deepest needs before him. We can always cast "our anxieties on him, because he cares for [us]" (1 Peter 5:7).
We go before his power and glory assured that he hears us and cares for us. As his children, we are invited into his presence to speak to him. All of this loving communication is assured to be heard because of the eternality of his kingdom. What a beautiful promise to such undeserving children of God!
Now let's turn to why some Bibles have this doxology and why others don't.
First, there are some general principles that guide what scholars call "textual criticism." While we might be skeptical of those trying to "critique" the Bible, textual criticism is actually all about finding the best manuscripts that are closest to the original, something all Christians can get behind. Translators and scholars apply two general principles (oversimplification of the century) when trying to find the oldest manuscript:
1. Which manuscript is the shortest?
2. Which manuscript is the most difficult to interpret?
As copyists did their work, they would often add marginal notes to define a term or phrase. They might also insert words or phrases from other passages of Scripture to clarify the way they would interpret a particularly difficult passage. As we get to the medieval era, many manuscripts have these simple additions.
It's important to note that it is extremely obvious where most of the additions are made. Translators and scholars don't really see these as "changes" to the text. To be upset at these additions wouldn't be much different than getting upset at notes you've made in your own Bible.
Also, there are two categories of translations: Alexandrian and Byzantine. The Byzantine tradition was the most well-known up until the 1800s, and it included the doxology. At that time, more copies of the Alexandrian tradition were found, which did not include the doxology. The King James Version is based off of the Byzantine text, so it includes the doxology. Contemporary translations, even revisions of the KJV, either remove the doxology or put it in a footnote.
Perhaps the most perplexing fact is that while the earliest manuscripts we have of Matthew do not include the doxology, there is a book that does. It's called the Didache, and it's a book or a guide to worship from no later than A.D. 90 used by churches in the west (what predates the Roman Catholic Church). That's around the time John wrote Revelation, and the church was already organized enough to see the need to have guides for worship! And when the Didache had the people recite the Lord's Prayer, it includes the doxology!
This is an issue that clearly should not divide the church. The theology of the doxology is sound, and it has a nearly 2000-year history of use. But sometimes, it's just neat to see the history of God's Word in action! Seeing that our brothers and sisters in the east, we are reminded that Christ's church is bigger than we might be aware of on a daily basis.