The Misplaced Comma in The Lord’s Prayer

Mandy and I have been a diad Bible study for over six years. Well, we started as a quad, but one woman got sick and dropped out. After the third person moved over an hour away, Mandy and I sacrificed by driving to Wyomissing, stuffing our faces full of rolls and cinnamon butter at Texas Roadhouse, and then meeting our third at Barnes & Noble, where we could also—wait for it—shop for books. When the third decided we weren’t worth the trip, we happily settled in as a diad duo.

We both love books (it’s still hard for me to comprehend that some people don’t), so we chose to study The Good and Beautiful God after I met its author, James Bryan Smith, at a writer’s conference. The books’ subtitle—Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows—begged us to examine our ideas about God and “match [them] up with what Jesus himself reveals about God.” It then asked us to apply some of what Jesus knew about God to our lives through “soul training,” having us practice various spiritual disciplines.

One of those disciplines was to recite the 23rd Psalm both at bedtime and again first thing in the morning. “By letting the images wash over your mind, you imbed this true narrative [about an exceedingly generous God] into your soul. Your mind and body will begin to be shaped by the words.”

I believe it was Mandy who decided to add the Lord’s Prayer to this practice because it gave a New Testament/Jesus’s words perspective as well. I’ve been keeping up the practice of reciting both as I lie in bed at night ever since.

Most of the time when we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we say this:

Our Father Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

That’s the way most of our Bibles break up the text as well.

As I’ve learned more, though, about God’s desire to bring his kingdom here to earth through our lives, our love and our servanthood, I’ve come to believe that comma after “done” is in the wrong place. Yes, I know the third and fourth lines as is make a nice singsongy rhyme—”Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

But that leaves “on earth as it is in heaven” as a phrase that makes little sense. What “on earth”?

I’ve determined we need to move that comma after “earth.”

“Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” God wants—and so we should want—his will to be done on earth. The “as it is in heaven” part simply tells us we should be striving here on earth to replicate the way God’s will is carried out in heaven—lovingly, immediately, completely.

What is God’s will?

Jesus himself summed it up for a religious leader:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This should lead to “lov[ing] your neighbor as yourself.”

Or as Micah the prophet expressed it to the Jews:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Love. Loving others with God’s love. Seeking their well-being through justice and mercy. Leading them to know the God who loves us. That’s what we should be working at together—lovingly, immediately, completely.

When I move the comma, I am reminded that God’s will being done on earth requires my action—and yours. Yes, God’s Spirit and power are certainly involved, but, for some reason I cannot comprehend, God has decided to use you and me rather than do the work himself.

Are we purposefully, deliberately living our days so God’s will is being done on earth?

When I move the comma, it sets me up to remember my God-given mission. It reminds me to act on it. Now. It’s my hope that we can work together to bring his will being done on earth to fulfillment.

4 thoughts on “The Misplaced Comma in The Lord’s Prayer”

  1. Great post. That misplaced comma has been a concern of mine for some time. It doesn’t seem to be there in the King James and New King James translations. However, the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer does have the comma, and that book is surprisingly influential on worship in other denominations. In Elizabethan English, things like grammar, punctuation and even spelling were often at the discretion of the writer. So I wonder if that comma was placed there by church leaders for the sake of liturgical worship, to make the prayer flow a little better poetically, and it just caught on. Today, most of the modern English translations use the comma. A while ago, I began offering the prayer without the dang comma and that’s the way my wife and I have taught it to our kids. When I lead the prayer at church, I push right through that comma as thought it doesn’t exist.

    • Thanks, Brad, for taking time to comment. I’m glad to know I am not the only one this bothers! I do think it like was for the rhyming quality of “Your kingdom come, your will be done” in helping people memorize it. But I fear we really lose the point!


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