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Luke 11:1-13 Biblical Commentary:
LUKE 11:1. LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY
1 It happened, that when he finished praying in a certain place, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”
“It happened, that when he finished praying in a certain place” (v. 1a). This passage starts with Jesus at prayer. Luke makes frequent reference to Jesus’ prayers (see 3:21; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 10:21-22; 22:32, 41-42; 23:34, 46). In a previous chapter, Luke revealed the content of one of Jesus’ prayers (10:21-22). Here he tells us only that Jesus was praying.
“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples” (v. 1b). Jesus’ disciples want Jesus probably have in mind a set prayer for recitation, but they might also want instruction in prayer principles. Jesus gives them a set prayer, which also serves as a model for extemporaneous prayer—and also teaches them about the one to whom they pray, portraying God as a loving Father whom they can trust. Luke uses this prayer to introduce a section on prayer that also includes a parable (vv. 5-8) and a promise (9-13).
LUKE 11:2-4. WHEN YOU PRAY, SAY: OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN
2He said to them, “When you pray, say,
‘Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
3Give us day by day our daily bread.
4Forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
Bring us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”
This prayer has five petitions. The first two (v. 2) have to do with God. The last three (vv. 3-4) have to do with the fulfillment of our needs. Each of those three is plural (“give us—forgive us—Bring us“), emphasizing the community of faith of which we are part rather than our individual needs.
For those of us who know the ACTS acrostic (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) as a model for prayer, it is interesting that the first two petitions involve adoration and the last three supplication. There is no confession or thanksgiving.
Matthew’s version of this prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) includes seven petitions, including “your will be done” and “deliver us from the evil one.”
“Father” (pater) (v. 2a). In Aramaic, Jesus’ language, the word for father is abba—but Luke uses the Greek word, pater, which his predominately Gentile audience would better understand. Both are a far remove from the usual Jewish treatment of God’s name, which is YHWH or Yahweh. Jewish people are so concerned about possibly profaning God’s name that they instead use the word adonai, which means “my Lord” (Lockyer, 427).
The idea of God as Father has Old Testament roots. God instructed Nathan to tell David, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (2 Samuel 7:14). In a prayer, Isaiah said, “For you are our Father” (Isaiah 63:16). Through Jeremiah, God said to Israel, “You shall call me “My Father,” and shall not turn away from following me” (Jeremiah 3:19) and “for I am a father to Israel” (Jeremiah 31:9). Malachi said, “Don’t we all have one father? Hasn’t one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10).
With the exception of God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel, these Old Testament verses refer to God as Father of the Israelite people. Jesus continues that corporate emphasis in this prayer, teaching us to pray, “Give us“—”forgive us“—”Bring us“.
In spite of the Old Testament references to God as Father, however, it must shock the disciples to hear Jesus teach them to open their prayer with the word “Father.” That suggests a familiarity that most Jews would find troublesome.
“may your name be kept holy” (v. 2b). One of the Ten Commandments prohibits the wrongful use of God’s name (Exodus 20:7).
• Torah law prohibits swearing falsely by God’s name (Leviticus 19:12) or profaning God’s holy name (Leviticus 21:6; 22:2; 22:32).
• The Psalms include references to God’s holy name (30:4; 33:21; 97:12; 103:1; etc.)—God’s great and awesome name (99:3)—exalting God’s name (138:2)—and blessing God’s holy name (145:1, 21).
A person’s name is more than a label. The connection between self and name is so intimate as to be inseparable. A wise person values his or her good name and will go to great lengths to maintain it. Jesus teaches us to pray that God’s name be kept holy—that it be honored and unblemished. When we pray this prayer, it is important to remember that, as the Father’s children, our lives contribute to or detract from the holiness of the Father’s name. Our conduct and reputation honor the Father’s name or dishonor it.
“May your kingdom come” (v. 2c). This petition is closely tied to “may your name be kept holy.” God’s kingdom is the place where God’s name is revered and kept holy. When we allow God to be king in our lives, we revere God’s name and keep it holy. When we allow God to be king in our lives, we also make it possible for his kingdom to come within our own lives.
“Give us day by day our daily bread” (v. 3). Jesus teaches the disciples about prayer by reminding them of their proper relationship to God. The petition for daily bread is reminiscent of manna, which God gave daily and which could not be stored except for the Sabbath (Exodus 16). Manna reminded the Israelites of their daily dependence on God for the basic stuff of life, and bread serves the same function in a primitive, agricultural society, where hunger is never far removed. Now Jesus repeats the reminder in this request for daily bread.
In our affluent society, prayer for daily bread seems almost trivial. Our basic needs include so much more—electricity, automobiles, education, jobs, and medical care to name just a few. Some of us know what it means to go without an automobile or medical care, but few of us have experienced real hunger. Daily bread, in this prayer, represents what is essential for life. God is the source of life and everything that sustains life.
“Forgive us our sins” (v. 4a). In Matthew, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “forgive us our debts“ (opheilemata) (Matthew 6:12). In Luke, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “forgive us our sins“ (hamartias). “Sins are acts of rebellion against the authority of God over us. It is saying ‘no’ to God. The wrongdoings of person against person are not in the same class. They are in the class of debts” (Horn, 72). Jesus speaks of “sins” to talk about the ways that we offend God, but changes to “debts” to talk about offenses that we experience in relationship to other people (v. 4b).
“for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted (opheilonti) to us” (v. 4b). Jewish people know about forgiving debts. While the law prescribes an “eye for eye” (Exodus 21:23-24; Leviticus 24:19-20), it also requires debt forgiveness in the sabbatical and jubilee years (Leviticus 25:23-28; Deuteronomy 15:1-5).
A faithful child reflects the image and values of the father, so Jesus expects us to reflect the forgiving nature of God. How can the world learn of God’s forgiveness unless we manifest forgiveness in our lives? Jesus links the giving and receiving of forgiveness—if we expect God to forgive us, we must forgive one another.
“Bring us not into temptation” (v. 4c). Jesus experienced the trial of temptation in the wilderness (4:1-13). In another time of trial, Jesus will pray, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (22:42)—but the cup will not be removed. Christians frequently undergo trials. As he is writing this Gospel, Luke’s church is encountering persecution. Today, Christians are being persecuted and martyred for their faith in many parts of the world. We would do well to pray that God would spare us the trial.
We need God’s protection from the evil that would destroy us. That is not melodrama but reality. Read any newspaper, and you will see the pervasive reality of evil. Drugs enslave young people. Sexual appetites lead to violence against women and children. Greed leaves victims in its wake. It is quite appropriate for us to pray for deliverance from evil for our loved ones, our community, our nation, our world, and ourselves.
LUKE 11:5-8. YET, BECAUSE OF HIS PERSISTENCE, HE WILL GET UP
5He said to them, “Which of you, if you go to a friend at midnight, and tell him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him,’ 7and he from within will answer and say, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give it to you’? 8I tell you, although he will not rise and give it to him because he is his friend, yet because of his (Greek: autou) persistence (Greek: anaideian), he will get up and give him as many as he needs.”
“Which of you, if you go to a friend at midnight” (v. 5a). Traveling in the evening to avoid the heat of the afternoon, travelers might arrive late at night. Villagers, having no electricity, go to bed early and most families share a single room, so a late arrival would awaken a sleeping family.
“Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him” (v. 5b-6). Mid-eastern people take hospitality seriously. The traveler’s friend has an obligation to show hospitality—to provide an appropriate meal for the traveler. To fail in this obligation would bring shame on the host family. It would also bring shame on the village at large, because the obligation for hospitality falls on the whole village.
Obtaining bread for a famished traveler would be difficult at night. Bread is baked daily only in the quantity required for that day, and there is no store where one can purchase bread in the middle of the night. If the host has no bread, a neighbor is the only recourse. The host is well within his rights to ask the neighbor for help, because the community shares the responsibility for hospitality. If the host is obligated, so is the neighbor. It is unthinkable that the neighbor will refuse to help.
“Don’t bother me. The door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give it to you” (v. 7). Any parent can understand the neighbor’s reluctance. Who knows how long it will take to get the children settled again once they are awakened? However, the social expectations regarding hospitality are so strong that concern for sleeping children seems trivial by comparison (Nolland, 626).
“I tell you, although he will not rise and give it to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence (ten anaideian autou—the persistence of him), he will get up and give him as many as he needs” (v. 8). The interpretation of this parable hangs on these words—ten anaideian autou. There are two issues here: First, what does anaideian mean? Second, to whom does autou refer—the host or the neighbor?
• Ken Bailey says that anaideian had two meanings among Christians—shamelessness and persistence. However, in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version of the Old Testament as well as secular Greek literature, it had only one meaning—shamelessness.
• Bailey then seeks to say that autou (“his”) refers to the neighbor rather than the host. He says that it is the neighbor’s anaideian at work here rather than the host’s. In other words, it is the neighbor’s concern about being shamed rather than the host’s persistence that turns the tide (Bailey, Poet & Peasant, 125-133).
There is substantial (but not universal) agreement among scholars that anaideian has to do with shame rather than persistence here—or, perhaps, a combination of shame and persistence. There is less agreement about whether it is the host’s shameless asking or the neighbor’s concern about being shamed that is involved.
We should also note Ezekiel 36, where God expressed his displeasure with the Israelites who defiled their soil with their ways and deeds (v. 17). Nevertheless, God promised to redeem Israel, saying, “Therefore tell the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: I don’t do this for your sake, house of Israel, but for my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations, where you went” (v. 22).
God thus promises to cleanse the Israelites and to bring them into a land of their own and to give them prosperity. He says: “Then the nations that are left around you shall know that I, Yahweh, have built the ruined places, and planted that which was desolate: I, Yahweh, have spoken it, and I will do it” (v. 36).
In other words, God saves his people lest God’s name be brought to shame. This passage, which would be familiar to Luke’s readers, favors the interpretation that it is the neighbor’s concern about being shamed that saves the day.
However, the “ask…seek… knock” passage (vv. 9-13) that follows these verses sounds like a call for persistence.
The movement in this story is from lesser to greater. If the reluctant neighbor will provide what is needed, a loving God is even more dependable.
LUKE 11:9-13. KEEP ASKING, AND IT WILL BE GIVEN YOU
9“I tell you, keep asking, and it will be given you. Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened. 11“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he won’t give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12Or if he asks for an egg, he won’t give him a scorpion, will he? 13If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
Matthew’s version of these verses is found in Matthew 7:7-11. The two accounts are quite similar.
“Asking…seeking…knocking” (v. 9). The verbs are present tense, suggesting a continual asking, seeking, and knocking.
“For everyone who asks receives” (v. 10). Jesus seems to suggest that God will rubber-stamp every request, but our experience proves otherwise. Even Jesus prayed a prayer for deliverance, but was not delivered (22:42).
Keep in mind that Jesus has taught us to address God as Father. A loving Father listens to the child, but does not blindly endorse every request. To do so would please the child in the short-run, but would lead to trouble in the long-run. Instead, the loving Father provides what is needed, including limits and discipline. The reference to the Holy Spirit in verse 13 places a spiritual emphasis on asking and receiving.
“Which of you fathers?” (v. 11). Again, the movement is from lesser to greater. If earthly parents respond favorably to their children’s requests, we can depend on the heavenly Father to respond even more favorably.
“snake…fish…egg…scorpion” (vv. 11-12). “Water snakes were sometimes caught in the fishing nets. When rolled up the scorpion would resemble an egg” (Evans, 183).
“how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 13). Matthew 7:11 has Jesus promising good things to those who ask. Luke has Jesus promising the Holy Spirit.
Of course, the person who asks for bread might prefer bread to the gift of the Spirit. Our understanding of our needs is often shallow. The God who created us knows our frame and provides what is needed. That includes both the Spirit and our daily bread.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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