by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
Todd E. Creason, 33°
Many of the things that Benjamin Franklin dabbled in during his
lifetime weren't known until many years after his death. One of these interesting exercises he
undertook was writing a new and more concise version of the Lord's Prayer. This unusual manuscript was found by Jared
Sparks as he putting some of Franklin's papers in order so they could be
published, and it was originally published his book Works of Benjamin
Franklin in 1847.
Sparks was unable to ascertain when Franklin had created the
manuscript, but determined that it was consistent with some of Franklin's early
writings. And of course, in Franklin's
meticulous way, he not only rewrote the Lord's Prayer, but explained line by
line why he thought the changes should be made.
The following are copied from that manuscript:
"Heavenly Father, may all revere thee, and become thy
dutiful Children and faithful Subjects; may thy Laws be obeyed on Earth as
perfectly as they are in Heaven: Provide for us this Day as thou hast hitherto
daily done: Forgive us our Trespasses, and enable us likewise to forgive those
that offend us. Keep us out of Temptation, and deliver us from Evil."
Reasons for the Change of Expression
Our Father which art in Heaven
New Version: Heavenly Father, is more concise, equally
expressive, and better modern English.
Old Version: Hallowed be thy Name. This seems to relate to an
Observance among the Jews not to pronounce the proper or peculiar Name of God,
they deeming it a Profanation so to do. We have in our Language noproper Name
for God; the Word God being a common or general Name, expressing all chief
Objects of Worship, true or false. The Word hallowed is almost obsolete: People
now have but an imperfect Conception of the Meaning of the Petition. It is
therefore proposed to change the Expression.
New Version: May all revere thee.
Old Version. Thy Kingdom come. This Petition seems suited to the
then Condition of the Jewish Nation. Originally their State was a Theocracy:
God was their King. Dissatisfied with that kind of Government, they desired a
visible earthly King in the manner of the Nations round them. They had such
King's accordingly; but their Happiness was not increas'd by the Change, and
they had reason to wish and pray for a Return of the Theocracy, or Government
of God. Christians in these Times have other Ideas when they speak of the
Kingdom of God, such as are perhaps more adequately express'd by New Verson:
And become thy dutiful Children and faithful Subjects.
Old Version: Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven More
explicitly, New Version: May thy Laws be obeyed on Earth as perfectly as they
are in Heaven.
Old Version: Give us this Day our daily Bread. Give us what is
ours, seems to put in a Claim of Right, and to contain too little of the grateful
Acknowledgment and Sense of Dependance that becomes Creatures who live on the
daily Bounty of their Creator. Therefore it is changed to New Version: Provide
for us this Day, as thou hast hitherto daily done.
Old Version: Forgive us our Debts as we forgive our Debtors.
Matthew. Forgive us our Sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to
us. Luke. Offerings were due to God on many Occasions by the Jewish Law, which
when People could not pay, or had forgotten as Debtors are apt to do, it was
proper to pray that those Debts might be forgiven. Our Liturgy uses neither the
Debtors of Matthew, nor the indebted of Luke, but instead of them speaks of
those that trespass against us. Perhaps the Considering it as a Christian Duty
to forgive Debtors, was by the Compilers thought an inconvenient Idea in a
trading Nation. There seems however something presumptious in this Mode of
Expression, which has the Air of proposing ourselves as an Example of Goodness
fit for God to imitate. We hope you will at least be as good as we are; you see
we forgive one another, and therefore we pray that you would forgive us. Some
have considered it in another Sense, Forgive us as we forgive others; i.e. If
we do not forgive others we pray that thou wouldst not forgive us. But this
being a kind of conditional Imprecation against ourselves, seems improper in
such a Prayer; and therefore it may be better to say humbly and modestly New
Version: Forgive us our Trespasses, and enable us likewise to forgive those
that offend us. This instead of assuming that we have already in and of
ourselves the Grace of Forgiveness, acknowledges our Dependance on God, the
Fountain of Mercy, for any Share we may have of it, praying that he would
communicate of it to us.
Old Version: And lead us not into Temptation. The Jews had a
Notion, that God sometimes tempted, or directed or permitted the Tempting of
People. Thus it was said he tempted Pharaoh; directed Satan to tempt Job; and a
false Prophet to tempt Ahab, &c. Under this Persuasion it was natural for
them to pray that he would not put them to such severe Trials. We now suppose
that Temptation, so far as it is supernatural, comes from the Devil only; and
this Petition continued, conveys a Suspicion which in our present Conceptions
seems unworthy of God, Therefore might be altered to New Version: Keep us out
[End of Franklin's Text]
Nobody really knows what Franklin's motives were in writing this
manuscript--perhaps it was merely to entertain himself. There will be those that will dislike the
idea that Franklin even considered altering such an important and revered part
of the New Testament. But there will be
others that will respect the fact that Franklin obviously had a deep reverence
for the Holy Bible, and an extraordinary understanding of Theology to even
undertake such an exercise and justify the changes he made.
It's just another example of the remarkable and diverse mind of
one of America's most celebrated Founding Fathers.
Todd E. Creason, 33° is
the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and continues to be a
regular contributor. He is the author of several books and novels,
including the Famous American Freemasons
series. He is a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and currently
serves as Secretary. He's also a member of Homer Lodge No. 199. He is
a member the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, the York Rite Bodies of
Champaign/Urbana (IL), the Ansar Shrine (IL), Eastern Illinois Council
No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Charter President of the Illini High
Twelve in Champaign-Urbana (IL), and a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of
Research. He was recently awarded the 2014 Illinois Secretary of the
Year Award by the Illinois Masonic Secretaries Association. You can
contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org