For Bible Study Nerds

Matthew 6:9-13 is one of the most famous biblical texts of all time. Known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” it records Jesus’ specific instructions for how to pray.

It’s important to notice that, immediately before giving this text, Christ warned his followers to avoid “babbling like pagans” when they prayed (see Matthew 6:7-8). Pagans at that time viewed prayer as something like a business contract that had the sole purpose of earning favor from whichever deity was its object. As a result, Greeks peppered their prayers with all types of honorifics and titles, hoping to flatter their way into heavenly favor. Other pagan prayers did the same, and also reminded the deity of all the ways the pray-er had kept his end of the blessing bargain by making sacrifices and/or defending the reputation of the so-called god.

Jesus dismissed this approach to prayer as worthless and insulting. Instead he offered a prayer structure based on an intimate, family relationship with our Heavenly Father. Many people today call this a “model prayer,” because it demonstrates key elements of prayer for us. In Jesus’ day, though, his disciples would have known it as an “Index Prayer.”

Index Prayers were common in ancient Judaism, something a rabbi would use to teach people to practice praying. These were what we might call “directed prayers,” delivered in outline form. For instance, a rabbi would “gather together a number of short sentences, each of which suggested an item for prayer.” The intent was that a person following an Index Prayer would start with one of those statements, then “enlarge upon it, drawing out some of its implications and applications.” They were not to simply memorize and recite each line, but to use each line as a catalyst for deeper, more personal times with God. That’s the kind of “Index Prayer” that Jesus gave in Matthew 6:9-13, and it has proved a timeless model for Christ followers ever since.


Works Cited:

[BBC, 62; APB, 92]



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