Is the Doxology From the Lord’s Prayer Authentic?

The Lord's Prayer

QUESTION:  In an AC3 small group we were discussing the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer and noting that modern translations put it in the footnotes.  Three problems I have with this.  I checked out a site defending the KJV and they think the phrase is authentic.  Could you comment on that?  Also, I’ve had instances of saying the Lord’s Prayer during a time I sensed dark spiritual forces and when I got to the doxology God unleashed real spiritual power and a stronghold was broken.  Third, I’ve heard the early Roman Catholics were super controlling and might have twisted the Word to their liking for religious purposes.

RESPONSE: Thanks for your question and I appreciate the sentimental attachment to the whole prayer as you memorized it and used it throughout your Christian life.

This dispute about the doxology (Matthew 6:13) is about whether it was original with Matthew or added later by a scribe or copyist.  Scribes and copyists of the Biblical writings did, in fact, make errors (we have no promise that these would all be inspired as the original authors were!).

  • Some were intentional errors, where they took a phrase from another gospel (for example) and inserted it into the one they were copying because it was a parallel passage.  (Like one copyist inserted Matt 6:13b into Luke 11:4 so that the two accounts of the Lord’s Prayer would match better.)
  • Sometimes the errors were simply mistakes, slips of the pen, omissions of whole lines or spelling errors (in fact this is the vast majority of them).
  • Other times they are honorific, and therefore “pious errors” like when the copyist adds titles to Jesus (Lord or Christ) or God when just a simple name was in the original (Eph 3:14).
  • Other times a note is made in a margin of a copy which functioned as a clarification or commentary, but a later copyist would see fit to insert the non-inspired note into the main body (1 John 5:7).

But you might ask, how do we know which reading to consider original if there is more than one reading?  This can be very difficult with all the variants.  But because there are so many hundreds of copies, they can also be cross referenced thoroughly and checked against each other (one of the benefits of having so many copies!).  Inauthentic readings show themselves by this kind of document cross referencing.  If you have a 100 renderings of a text and 90 agree, you have a clue that the other 10 probably follow a scribal error.

But there are two other textual principles that help us discern the original reading.

  • One is age of the copy.  

The older is usually preferred as more reliable.  Why?  Basically, the telephone game idea is applied.  The longer a chain of communication goes along in an informal matter (and remember there’s no printing press, it’s all hand transcribed copying for most of Church history) the larger the chance of message degradation.  Thankfully, the Bible has the oldest copies compared to time of writing of ANY ancient work!

  • The second principle is brevity.  

Although this article makes the case that lines are often omitted by pure oversight, generally if there’s intentional changes, an editor is going to add material, not take material away.  Why?  Because the received tradition was considered so sacred.  That’s why pious errors almost always add – the scribe is not evil, trying to destroy the message, he is devout and trying to make the message clearer.  Thus, the kinds of errors I mentioned above are common – adding titles, adding verses to harmonize similar accounts etc.

What this means is that we should prefer the older and the shorter renditions of the text as more authentic.  Are these principles foolproof?  No.  But in principle and in many other contexts, these filters, “earlier” and “shorter” have proven to be sound ways of weeding through multiple accounts that have discrepancies to find the original reading.

The article you cite, defending the doxology, admits that it is not found in the earliest two manuscripts.  So they have to argue against the commonly accepted textual principles of Earlier and Shorter.  Their theory is that the doxology was simply skipped by the copyists of the two oldest manuscripts we have.  While it’s true, whole lines are sometimes skipped, when this happens scholars can see it is usually inadvertent.  Usually because two lines look similar, beginning or ending with the same word, and so as a scribe moves from original to copy, he mistakenly skips a whole line in between.  The context usually shows such inadvertent omissions for what they are: Oversight.

To maintain that the doxology is original, you have to believe that it was omitted by accident.  Since there’s nothing theologically interesting that hangs on the doxology, no theological agenda can be inferred for leaving it out.  But there’s also no parallel structure in the lines of the text that suggests why a scribe could conceivably overlook the line by mistake.  And it’s hard to imagine the exact same omission happening to two independent manuscripts that also happen to be the oldest ones.  And it’s hard to imagine why, if it’s original, that most of the earliest Church Fathers do not include it when they quote the passage.This is why we shouldn’t put any stock in suggesting intentional corruption from church leadership. If the image of the Catholic Church as big powerful institution, ready and able to change the Word for its own purpose ever reflected reality, it most certainly does not apply in this time period.  When the oldest copies of Matthew were being written, the Church was mostly underground and decentralized.  There was no conspiracy possible, because too many copies were being written, and no means of control over them.  That’s partly why they vary so much!

So, I think it’s unwise to jettison the sound principles of Earlier and Shorter simply to defend a version of the Bible translated in the 1600’s.  I love the KJV’s simplicity and beauty, but Christians who love the truth more, should want to know what Matthew actually wrote and defend that, not any version of that, no matter how cherished for sentimental reasons.

The website you cited is committed to defending the whole the King James Bible, every one of its renderings.  But this bias to protect King James’ translation at all costs and at every point, compromises objective scholarship.  For example, the doxology is just one instance of the KJV relying on documents that break the earlier/shorter rules.  The most highly disputed reading in the KJV is 1 John 5:7.  The so called “Johannine Comma” is basically a direct reference to the Trinity.  Which would be cool, but it’s not in any manuscript of 1st John made before the 12th century.

This is such a late variant that almost no scholars, believing or skeptical, think John wrote that phrase.  To defend this late addition as authentic proves that their bias for a specific version of the Bible has overruled their love for the Bible.  And that gives us reason to question why they’re arguing against accepted principles (Earlier and Shorter) anywhere else, like with the doxology in Matt 6.

Their blanket policy of defending the KJV begins to equate the King James Version of the Bible with Holy Spirit inspiration, which is very dangerous indeed.  In other words, it puts the level of authority for King James and his translation team on par with the Apostle Paul or Peter himself!  Why then cannot I claim this same level of authority to pick and choose the copies I deem favorable, and come up with RST – Rick’s Standard Translation?!  No, we need objective, logically sound, common principles that apply to textual criticism regardless of our rooting interest for this or that translation.

Of course, no one faults the KJV for passing on some non-authentic additions to the text.  They were working with the best text they had.  And not a single case of interpolation that the KJV passes on, affects Christian doctrine.  The Lord’s Prayer for example, teaches nothing different with or without the doxology.  It simply adds force to the call to honor the Father when we pray, which the prayer already included with “Our Father… hallowed be thy name…”

Also, using the doxology in public is not heretical or anything like that, so long as we know it was likely not original with Jesus – and yet using it can unite us, not so much with Jesus, but with the millions of Christians in the Church over the centuries who prayed Jesus prayer and from early on (from the 5th century) often added this line to express our wonder and praise in response to his instruction.

As for your personal sense of spiritual power in the doxology, you may have discerned spiritual power for all sorts of reasons.  First, is your faith in Jesus. The spiritual power inside of communion and baptism, for example, is not the magic of the rite, but the faith the person brings to the rite which God responds to in grace and power. Remember, Jesus just warned us in the sermon (Matthew 6:7) about praying repetitive phrases thinking they somehow make you heard or blessed by the magic or amount of words.

Second, the phrase itself is actually scripture, even if it wasn’t part of Jesus teaching here originally. See, the doxology sounds allot like a prayer from David:

“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.  Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.  Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.  Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name”.

1 Chronicles 29:10-13

Sound familiar?  Read the bolded phrases in reverse order.  You are praying scripture, when you pray the doxology, it’s just probably not what Jesus originally taught in Matthew 6. Like I said earlier, the scribes were devout Christians and many of their errors were inserting other scripture into scripture.

So the bare facts about the doxology in the Lord’s Prayer are these:  the oldest copies do not have it and neither do the oldest church fathers who comment on the passage. But if it feels right and powerful, that’s probably because it is a rough summary of David’s beautiful and powerful prayer from another part of God’s powerful Word.