«HAS THE TRUE MEANING AND PURPOSE OF THE LORD’S PRAYER BEEN LOST? A SOCIOLINGUISTIC STUDY OF THE LORD’S PRAYER IN DIALOGUE WITH WILSON-KASTNER AND ...»
[MJTM 14 (2012–2013) 98–123]
HAS THE TRUE MEANING AND PURPOSE
OF THE LORD’S PRAYER BEEN LOST?
A SOCIOLINGUISTIC STUDY OF THE LORD’S PRAYER
IN DIALOGUE WITH WILSON-KASTNER AND CROSSAN
Hughson T. Ong
McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, ON, Canada
My objective in this article is to show that Jesus’ immediate concern in teaching his own prayer to his disciples was to teach them that it was important for them to pray, and that they must pray with the right motive and attitude. I agree that the content of the prayer serves as a model, but I do not believe that this is the focus of the passages where it appears.
Since the time Jesus taught it, the Lord’s Prayer has not only become a significant part of the believer’s life and the liturgy of the church, 1 but it has also received much scholarly attention.2 In our postmodern context today, where there seems to be a great need for both human transformation and the transformation of
1. The Lord’s Prayer has established a special place in church liturgy and personal prayers. Palmer, The Lord’s Prayer, 8, refers to it as the “love-song of the Christian world”; Marty, Hidden Discipline, 83, calls it “a battle cry, a shout for the end time.”
2. The bibliography for the Lord’s Prayer is large, but an excellent classic resource is Jeremias, Prayers of Jesus. Apart from the various renditions into different languages and biblical and liturgical versions of the Lord’s Prayer (see Porter, “Translations of the Bible,” 366–68, for E. Nida’s excellent study on the liturgical structure and translation of the Lord’s Prayer), the Lord’s Prayer has also been interpreted through John 17, the Pauline epistles, and 1 Peter. See Ayo, The Lord’s Prayer, 225–44. Many have pointed out the connection, as well as the distinction between the prayer that Jesus taught (the Lord’s Prayer) and the prayer that he himself prayed (John 17). See Chase, The Lord’s Prayer, 110–11; Walker, “The Lord’s Prayer”; Brooke, “The Lord’s Prayer.” ONG The Lord’s Prayer 99 the world system, the Lord’s Prayer continues to receive such unabated attention because of its practical value for Christian living. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this, but I strongly believe that the true meaning and original purpose of the Lord’s Prayer are often overlooked when practicality and application become the central focus, that is, when we ignore its original historical and sociolinguistic contexts in our interpretation.
Two scholarly works that exemplify such practical goals for the study of the Lord’s Prayer are Patricia Wilson-Kastner’s “Pastoral Theology and the Lord’s Prayer” and John Dominic Crossan’s The GreatestPrayer. 3 As a practical theologian, Wilson-Kastner offers her theological reflection on the Lord’s Prayer and raises two issues concerning the correlation between preaching and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as the pastoral and theological implications of the prayer.4 With reference to preaching, she asks whether the pattern of the prayer is appropriate for sermons by virtue of the prayer’s prominent status in the Sunday worship service, Morning Prayer, and the celebration of the Eucharist. Accordingly, she points out that the Lord’s Prayer raises all kinds of pastoral and theological issues for the preacher and subsequently mentions nine interrelated issues in which the Lord’s Prayer becomes relevant to contemporary human reality. 5
3. There are, of course, many other works in this regard. However, my decision to mention these two is largely because of my own concern, as a New Testament scholar, for both the exegetical and practical aspects of New Testament studies. Whereas Crossan’s position may be seen as a more liberal construal of the Lord’s Prayer that can be contrasted with my more conservative sociolinguistic interpretation of the prayer from within the New Testament’s horizon, Wilson-Kastner’s position represents an interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer from the pastoral and theological end.
4. Although Wilson-Kastner had a PhD in World Religions, she fully recognized her calling as a practicing minister of the church. In an interview by the Greensboro Daily News in August 1974 she said, “My ideal of what a theologian ought to be was what you have in the early church, a practicing minister who writes about and reflects upon the faith of the Christian. I didn’t want to be a minister or just be a professor” (cited in Reyman, “Finding Aid for Patricia Wilson-Kastner Papers, 1944–1998,” 2–3).
5. See Wilson-Kastner, “Pastoral Theology.” 100 McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 14 Crossan’s proposal, on the other hand, can in various ways be seen as a novel (and postmodern) way of construing God’s kingdom as the new egalitarian community Jesus inaugurated during his earthly life, in which Christians are called to collaborate through the Lord’s Prayer. He lists five themes that he claims are interwoven, and contends that they emerged out of the firstcentury Roman socio-political context, where the early believers prayed the Lord’s Prayer under an imperial government that had a different world system. 6 Despite living under such an awful world government, Christians were called to pray in collaboration with God’s universal plan of equity and justice for the world—the God of the Lord’s Prayer is a God of nonviolent distributive justice and not a God of violent retributive justice.7 Thus, Crossan asks, if God is a nonviolent God, is the person who taught this prayer a representative of violence or non-violence? 8 This is what he seeks to explain by exploring the biblical tradition of each phrase of the prayer through the lens of biblical Hebrew poetry. 9 While these values and purposes of the Lord’s Prayer are important (and I agree with much that these scholars say), I
6. These five themes are: (1) the translation of πατήρ by the more appropriate term “householder” rather than “father”; (2) human beings as cohouseholders or stewards of the divine householder; (3) Jesus as the Heir (not the Son, a patriarchal term) of God; (4) Christians as co-collaborators with Christ; and (5) how all the above themes converge in the Lord’s Prayer to show that it is “both a revolutionary manifesto and a hymn of hope... from the heart of Judaism through the mouth of Christianity to the conscience of the earth” (Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 181–82).
7. Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 2–3, points out that true “justice” is not retributive but distributive, which means an equitable distribution of everything.
8. Crossan challenges us “to think about Jesus as the creator of the Abba Prayer and to ask ourselves: Do we find any violence in it? Or do we find in it—and in the life that produces it as its summary—a nonviolent vision that is still the last best hope for our species and our earth?” (Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 188).
9. Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 4–8, suggests that the entire biblical tradition of Judaism “flowed through every unit of this prayer” and that the Lord’s Prayer exhibits a synonymous parallelism that divides the “you” and the “we” sections, and a crescendo parallelism within each of these sections.
ONG The Lord’s Prayer 101 suggest that any study of the prayer must first take into account its sociolinguistic context, since the Lord’s Prayer in Matt 6:9– 13 is embedded within the larger discourse context of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 4:17—7:28). As such, I discuss my sociolinguistic methodological approach to the study of the Lord’s Prayer in the next section and identify the various sociolinguistic factors in Matt 4:17—7:28 that are tied in to the Lord’s Prayer passage. Subsequently, I analyze each of these sociolinguistic factors, from which I simultaneously integrate and respond to these scholars’ theological opinions. Then I conclude with a word on the practical application of the Lord’s Prayer for the contemporary Christian and church, and the difference it will make if this sociolinguistic context is considered in the study of the Lord’s Prayer.
A Sociolinguistic Methodological Approach to Matthew 6:9–13 The New Testament is a collection of texts written in a variety of the Greek language of the first-century CE. As such, one of the useful ways of examining this collection of texts is by way of discourse analysis, which “seeks to understand the relationships between language, discourse, and situational context in human communication.” 10 From this definition and goal of discourse analysis, I employ two sociolinguistic approaches known as the “ethnography of speaking” and “politeness theory” to describe, analyze, and determine the various social factors in the environment of the communicative process. Ethnography of speaking is a sociolinguistic tool originally developed by Dell Hymes that generally aims at synthesizing the message, form, and context of a speech (or communicative) event.11 Thus, it is typically conReed, “Discourse Analysis,” 189.
11. For Hymes’s summative discussion of this topic, see Hymes, “Ethnography of Speaking.” A “speech event” is a series of “speech acts” (a speech act is an instance of speech or utterance that seeks to achieve an objective) in a discourse or conversation within a specific “speech situation” (the entire setting or situation in which people speak, e.g., a party, a church, a classroom, a conference, etc.). For a thorough discussion of speech act, speech 102 McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 14 cerned with a systematic and descriptive analysis of the various ways in which people as groups use language (oral or written) to communicate with one another in a specific social and cultural environment. 12 Several ethnographic components are involved in describing a speech event. Hymes’s ethnographic framework and formula is a useful and effective tool in describing the various factors involved in a speech event, each of which is intricately interrelated to the others. 13 For my purposes, I describe these various factors according to Hymes’s definition of each of these components and Holmes’s and Ottenheimers’s adaptation of Hymes’s ethnographic framework. 14 Genre or type of event: “The notion of genre implies the possibility of identifying formal characteristics traditionally recognized... They may occur in (or as) different events.” 15 Topic or what people are talking about: this refers to the semantic study of the “lexical hierarchy of the language spoken by a group, including idioms and the content of any conventionalized utterances, for evidence and knowledge of what can be said.” 16 event, and speech situation, see Hymes, Foundations in Sociolinguistics, 51– 53, cf. 101.
12. Cf. Duranti, Linguistic Anthropology, 85; Philipsen and Coutu, “Ethnography of Speaking,” 355.
13. Since its formulation, Hymes’s framework has been widely cited and used by many sociolinguists.
14. See Hymes, Foundations in Sociolinguistics, 53–62; Hymes, “Ethnography of Speaking,” 110–24; Holmes, Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 365– 66; Ottenheimer, Anthropology of Language, 123–38.
15. Hymes, Foundations in Sociolinguistics, 61. Categories such as poem, myth, tale, proverb, riddle, curse, prayer, oration, lecture, commercial, form letter, editorial, phone call, conversation, business meeting, lesson, interview, blog, etc., are meant here.
16. Hymes, “Ethnography of Speaking,” 112; examples would be holidays, sport, sociolinguistics, politics, etc. The old rhetorical category of topoi can be included here as well.
ONG The Lord’s Prayer 103 Purpose or Function: the reason(s) for the talk: e.g., to plan an event, to catch up socially, to teach something, to persuade someone to help you.
Key or emotional tone: e.g., serious, jocular, sarcastic.
Participants: who is speaking and who is being spoken to; the characteristics of those present and their relationship: sex, age, social status, role, and role relationship: e.g., mother-daughter, teacher-pupil, TV interviewer, interviewee and audience.
Message form: a focus on the syntactic structure: e.g., “He prayed, saying ‘God heal him’” (quoting message form) versus “He prayed that he would get well” (reporting contents only). 17 Message content or specific details of what the communication is about: e.g., organizing a time for a football match, describing how a tap works, describing how to make rotis.
After a description of the speech event based on these components, the analysis of the speech event may proceed using the following guideline. Because there is no general rule as to the priority assigned to a particular component, any component may be taken as a starting point for analysis, from which all other components will be viewed in relation to it.18 It all depends on which component weighs the heaviest. This can be determined based on its function within a speech situation. Whereas for some speech events the rules of speaking may be heavily tied to the participants and setting19 or to the setting and message conHymes, Foundations in Sociolinguistics, 55. Message form also includes an identification of the code and/or channel: e.g. telephone, letter, email, language and language variety, non-verbal, etc.
18. Hymes, Foundations in Sociolinguistics, 63.
19. E.g., see the episode in Mark 14:32–42 for Jesus’ conversation with three groups of participants (the Eleven, the Three, and the Father) in three different but proximate places.