Some denominations say the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:4) with the phrase, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” while others say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is a minor difference, to be sure, but it made me wonder about the original text and what word could be translated as both “debts” and “trespasses.”
Everyone understands that a debt is something owed. We are legally bound to repay our debts. This gets to the very heart of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. We are asking God to forgive us this great debt we owe Him in the same measure we forgive people who owe something to us. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? We may consider ourselves fiscally debt-free, but what about the debts of gratitude we owe, or the debt of respect we owe to those we prejudge?
Trespassing is understood as overstepping boundaries into someone else’s territory without permission. We trespass against God when we ignore His Word and attempt to live our lives without regard to Him, stepping into His territory of lordship. When it comes to trespassing against our neighbors, we may avoid tromping through their rose bushes to honor their private property, but have we stepped thoughtlessly on their feelings?
Do we want Our Lord to only forgive us in the same measure we apply to the people in our lives? Have we forgiven those who treat us with disrespect or hurt our feelings?
While both versions of this prayer give us pause to consider how we treat our fellows, they each give a slightly different perspective.
The original word used by the Gospel writers is better translated “sins” and reminds us that God expects us to treat one another with the same mercy, grace, and forgiveness He extends to us.