Commentary on Luke 11:1-13
There are two versions of the Lord’s prayer. The shorter version is in Luke 11:1-4, and the longer version is in Matthew 6:9-13. The two versions share the same contexts but are addressed to different ethnicities. The evangelist Luke wrote his gospel to the Gentile Christians who did not learn to pray like their Jewish counterparts. He set the Lord’s prayer in a catechetical context.1 Luke’s introduction explains the reason behind Jesus introducing the Lord’s prayer. Jesus was praying, and one of his disciples asked him to teach them to pray like John taught his disciples (verse 3). Like Luke, Matthew set the prayer in a catechetical context. His purpose is not to teach his audience, the Jewish Christians, how to pray but to reform their prayer2 and place it within the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-6).
The Lord’s prayer is a Jewish prayer in its structure and content. There are parallel phrases between the Lord’s prayer and the prayer Amidah (which means standing) or the Shemoney Esreh (which means eighteen) of Jewish liturgy. Observant Jews pray the Amidah three times a day. The basic structure of this prayer was well-established in Jesus’ time, and the final form was canonized a century after Christ.3 For example, “Hallowed be thy name” relates to the third Amidah blessing: “Thou art holy and Thy Name is holy…We will sanctify thy name in the world, as thy sanctifiers in the heavens above.”4 “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us,” relates to the fourth Amidah: “Our Father, Our King, forgive and pardon all our sins.”5
The Twelve Apostles’ teaching or Didache instructs Christians to pray the Lord’s prayer three times a day. It also adds the doxology at the end of the prayer, “for Thine is the power and the glory forever…Pray this three times each day.”6 Since the early Church Fathers’ time, Christians recited the Lord’s prayer during the liturgy, especially before Holy Communion.
The primary purpose of the prayer
The primary purpose of Jesus’ teaching on prayer is the fatherhood of God. The pericope of Luke 11:1-13 concentrates on the father-child relationship. God is rarely addressed as a father in Jewish prayers. The cases that mention God as a father are related to the election and adoption of Israel. “Is not [the Lord] your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” (Deuteronomy 32:6; see also Isaiah 63:16). Jesus teaches his disciples to approach God as they approach their fathers. Calling God our Father connotes personal relationships.
Luke’s Gentile Christian audience’s experience with their fathers differs from their Jewish counterparts. The fathers in the Greco-Roman culture enjoyed complete control over their children and grandchildren. For example, a father decides whether his newborn child will be raised in the family, sold, or killed.7 Luke introduces the Gentiles to God, who is generous, loving, and attentive to God’s children’s needs. Luke changes his audience’s perspective on fatherhood by presenting God as “the Father who cares for his children and acts redemptively on their behalf.”8 The father-child relationship is based on the confidence of the child. This relationship is centered on love, not fear. God the Father in the New Testament is a personal, intimate, sacred, and trusted authority.
Jesus invites his disciples to be brave in approaching God, who is already close to them. Jesus supports his teaching with two parables: the parable of the insistent friend (11:5-8), which is not found in Matthew, and the parable of invitation to ask (11:9-13). The common theme between the parable of the insistent friend and the Lord’s prayer is the concept of prayer and repeated references to bread. This parable encourages the disciples to persist in their supplication to God. What motivates a person in need to appeal to his friend at night to give him a loaf of bread is their friendship. One does not hesitate to ask a close friend for help in a challenging situation. However, the bond that connects the disciples with God is more vital than friendship; it is a familial and intimate relationship. This relationship invites the believers to persist in prayer.
The second parable, the invitation to ask, concentrates on the answer to prayer. This parable is found in Matthew. Jesus invites his listeners to put themselves in the parent’s situation and imagine how to respond to their children’s request for food. Jesus continues his teaching on prayer by highlighting the responsibilities of the listeners praying. In challenging times, the disciples need to initiate, ask, search, and knock on the doors asking for help (verse 9). The bottom line is that God answers their prayer.
To explain his point further, Jesus gives his audience an example from their interaction with their children. When children ask their parents for food, they do not provide them with a snake or a scorpion to harm them. Instead, parents give their children something to nourish them. Francois Bovon comments on verses 11-12, “There is a common human heritage that is good; an attitude of spontaneity and naturalness, characterized by propriety, decency, and generosity.”9 Jesus invites his audience to compare earthly fathers with the heavenly Father, maintaining “that God, whose goodness far exceeds even that of those human fathers who would never answer their children’s requests with malice, can likewise be counted on never to give harmful gifts.”10 Jesus stresses the superiority of God’s fatherhood. Our God the Father gives an even better gift to God’s children: the Holy Spirit. By referring to the Holy Spirit, Luke prepares his audience for his second volume, the book of Acts, where the Holy Spirit anoints the disciples.
Luke encourages his Gentile Christian audience to be persistent in their prayer. He also encourages his disciples to have a father-child relationship with God. The foundation of this relationship is generosity and confidence. God the Father will never answer their requests with malice but with love and compassion.
- Francois Bovon, et al. Luke 2: A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 9:51-19:27. ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2013), 81.
- Rachel Levine, “The Lord’s Prayer and the Amidah: A Comparative Analysis,” Bible Scholars. n.d., accessed May 7, 2022, https://www.biblescholars.org/2013/05/the-lords-prayer-and-the-amidah.html.
- “Shemoneh Esreh – Biblical Cyclopedia,” Mcclintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia. n.d., accessed May 7, 2022, https://www.biblicalcyclopedia.com/S/shemoneh-esreh.html.
- “Didache. The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (translation Roberts-Donaldson,” accessed May 6, 2022, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html.
- Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997), 438.
- Bovon, Luke 2, 106.
- Green, 450.