Our daily bread
May 24, 2014
Luke 11:3 says,
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
This is a simple petition for provision, as any child would expect from his father. There is, however, a problem in translating the word “daily.” It is the Greek word epiousios. To ascertain the meaning of words in any language, it is important to see how the word has been used in other writings. But this is the only place, out of all the Greek texts in existence, where the word appears.
Origen, the Greek scholar of the third century, who was perhaps the most influential and prolific Bible commentator of his day, believed that epiousios was coined by the gospel writers themselves. Though Greek was his native language, he did not know the meaning of the word, except to guess at its meaning by the context in Luke 11:3 and Matthew 6:11.
Dr. Bullinger says in his notes on Matthew 6:11 that it was “a word coined by our Lord and used only here and in Luke 11:3 by Him.”
Throughout the centuries, various commentators have differed in their views regarding this word. One school of thought, championed by Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386) and today by the NASB and the KJV, says it is a time word that means today, i.e., “daily.”
Others such as Jerome (347-420) claimed to have a Hebrew copy of a text known as The Gospel of the Hebrews, now lost, which read, “Give us our bread of tomorrow.” In this context, it might be interpreted to refer to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. By this line of thought, the communion table was seen as a present type of things to come.
Others in the early Church believed that epiousios had to do quantity, rather than time. With this view in mind, many wondered how much they should ask God to provide each day. Many concluded that they should ask God to provide just enough to live on each day. This was how Origen believed, and later Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, agreed with him. Kenneth Bailey tells us, “This is the way most Arabic speaking Christians in the Middle East pray today.” (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 120).
The Syriac Church thought that it was too harsh to ask only for just enough bread to keep men from starving. So they softened it to “the bread we need.” This is reflected in the Aramaic Bible, the Peshitta, as translated by George Lamsa, where Luke 11:3 reads,
3 Give us bread for our needs every day.
He translates Matthew 6:11 in similar fashion,
11 Give us bread for our needs from day to day.
There was also an earlier translation into Old Syriac, which is closely related to Aramaic. After the Aramaic Bible came out, the Syriac was largely discarded and unused. Two copies, however, were discovered many centuries later, one of which is in the British Museum. Kenneth Bailey comments on this, saying,
Jesus, of course, spoke Aramaic, and Syriac is closely related to Aramaic. Syriac Christians, as they translated the Gospels into Syriac, were therefore taking the words of Jesus out of Greek and returning them to a language very close to his native Aramaic. Most words are the same in these two languages and the Old Syriac translation of the Lord’s prayer reads: Lahmo ameno diyomo hab lan (lit. “Amen bread today give to us”).
Lahmo means “bread.” Ameno has the same root as the word amen, and in Syriac ameno is an adjective that means “lasting, never-ceasing, never-ending, or perpetual.” This Old Syriac second-century translation means, therefore, “Give us today the bread that doesn’t run out.” Does this provide the clue to the mysterious Greek word epiousios? I think it does. [Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 121]
Since Jesus spoke Aramaic—certainly when He was speaking to His disciples—it seems that Matthew was the inventor of the Greek word epiousios. His gospel was written first about 40 A.D. Luke’s gospel came out later in 74 A.D., according to the dating code in the Codex Washingtonensis, as interpreted by Lee Woodard in his book, First Century Gospels Found!
It appears, then, that Luke followed Matthew’s lead, using epiousios in The Lord’s Prayer.
Kenneth Bailey’s view also seems to hold the most merit, simply because the Old Syriac is so close to the Aramaic and came out in the second century. Then, too, I am partial to the word “amen,” because of its rich meaning in Hebrew thought. The idea of praying for “amen bread” coming from the lips of the great Amen of God (Jesus Christ in Revelation 3:14) gives enormous significance to this simple prayer for provision.
"Amen bread" in Old Syriac signified provision that would never cease. In Hebrew, amen is a bit different, but when combined with the Syriac idea, it seems to encompass the full scope of the prayer itself. Amen is a second witness, in this case implying a continual witness--unceasing bread. It would appear that Matthew found a need to coin a new Greek word to express a new combination of Hebrew and Aramaic (or Syriac) thought patterns.
Jesus often said “amen, amen,” which is normally translated “verily, verily” in the KJV. The full phrase is used 25 times in the book of John, which means the word amen is used 50 times, connecting it to Pentecost and Jubilee. It literally means “truth,” or “of a truth.” Hence, to eat “amen bread” given by God is to partake of His Truth each day. This was also the spiritual significance of the daily manna that fed the Israelites in the wilderness.
Likewise, amun is “faith.” Though it is pronounced differently from amen, it is spelled with the same three Hebrew letters. Faith and Truth are inseparable, because true faith believes truth. Faith in a lie is not true faith, though one may believe it with all his heart.
Asking for “amen bread,” then, is the equivalent of asking God to provide manna in the wilderness, a daily revelation of truth, which, when believed, builds faith. To me, this is the underlying purpose of this portion of The Lord’s Prayer. Along with the obvious need for physical bread, it is a petition that the life-giving flow of divine revelation may never cease.
This is part 4 of a mini-series titled "The Lord's Prayer." To view all parts, click the link below.
This is part 56 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones