Someone once said to me, “None of us really has any original thoughts. Whatever we think and say and write, we have heard from someone else, or have read it somewhere.” If we look at Jesus in His humanity that is also true of Him and of this prayer He has composed. He got it from other sources—basically from two sources: from Jewish prayers, and from the Old Testament Scriptures.
We could also look at Jesus from the perspective of His divinity. In this light, we would say that all things originated from Him, including this prayer. It would be good for us to keep this in mind.
I would like to look at this prayer, however, from the perspective of His humanity, that having laid aside His divinity (Phil. 2:7), He had to study and learn like any other man. Therefore, we will consider now the two sources of this prayer mentioned above.
From Jewish Prayers
There is clear evidence in The Lord’s Prayer that Jesus was quite familiar with the Jewish prayers of His time. According to the Interpreters Bible, “Nearly every phrase is paralleled in the Kaddish and the Eighteen Benedictions”3 (which are Jewish prayers).
In Barnes Notes, Barnes gives us some of those parallels. For example, corresponding to the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread,” the Jews had a prayer like this: “The necessities of thy people are many, and their knowledge small, so that they do not know how to make known their wants: let it be thy good pleasure to give to each one what is necessary for his sustenance.”4
Likewise, in relation to the phrase, “And deliver us from evil,” the Jews prayed, “Be it thy good pleasure to free us from an evil man, and an evil event, from evil affections, from an evil companion and neighbor, from Satan.”5
As you can see, the phrases are similar; and since Jesus, being Jewish, no doubt was familiar with these prayers, His composition had to be influenced by them. The difference obviously is that the Jewish prayers are much longer.
Perhaps Jesus’ intention in composing a short prayer was so that anyone could memorize it and learn it quickly. Also, I think He meant it to be just an outline—so that each one praying by this prayer could fill it in with his own words. I don’t think Jesus wanted His disciples to be restricted in prayer as to always have to pray the same words. He wanted them to pray in their own words, so He gave them this short prayer outline as a guide.
From the Old Testament Scriptures
Besides learning from Jewish prayers, Jesus studied and became quite familiar with the Old Testament scriptures. His prayer shows this, for if you examine it you will see that each part can be cross-referenced to numerous Old Testament passages (I will bring this out later in our study). Therefore, we know that this prayer of His was not something strange or different from the scriptures. It supported the scriptures. In fact, it came from the scriptures. Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount just before He gave the Lord’s Prayer, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). Therefore, this Lord’s Prayer helps to fulfill the Old Testament scriptures.
So we see clearly from Jesus’ own words that He didn’t mean to compose something different, but He meant to reaffirm what was already written about prayer in the scriptures. He also meant to reaffirm the Old Testament traditions and prayers, which were based on the scriptures. John MacArthur points out in His book, Jesus Pattern of Prayer that “The Jews had a great heritage of genuine prayer.”6 Sadly, however, something went wrong along the way: Jewish prayer was corrupted and it became hypocritical (Matt. 6:2). Therefore in this prayer Jesus seeks to bring the Jews back to the scriptures and to the way they use to pray. And the prayer also points us back to the scriptures. It gives us a sound scriptural basis for our prayers.
3 George A. Buttrich, Editor. The Interpreters Bible (Abingdon Press, 1952), p. 309.
4 Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft.
6 John MacArthur, Jr., Jesus’ Pattern of Prayer, p. 18.