The Lord's Prayer: Benjamin Franklin's Version

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

Old Version: 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 of Temptation."

[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.

~TEC

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: webmaster@toddcreason.org

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