Matt 6:1-18

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Home > The New Testament > Matthew > Chapters 5-7 > Verses 6:1-18
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This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Matt 6:2: Trumpet. The reference to a trumpet here might have to do with what some scholars speculate was an ancient practice of sounding trumpets when generous gifts were made. Another view is that this was not an ancient practice, but a bit a faceitious statement that Jesus is making. Another view is that this might simply be an ironic expression to be taken as hyperbole or simply as a metaphor. Also, there may be a reference here to money-chests at the temple that were trumpet-shaped (the narrow neck presumably made it difficult for would-be thieves to steal donations).
  • Matt 6:2: Hypocrites. The Greek word hupokrites means "an actor" and in Jewish religious circles seemed to have the connotation of one who only pretends to do something righteous but is in fact unrighteous. See this blog post for more.
  • Matt 6:3: Let not they left hand know what thy right hand doeth. This seems to advocate not only giving that is not to be seen of others, but a giving that is unself-conscious and non-self-congratulatory.
  • Matt 6:5. There seems to be a fundamental tension between verse 5 and scriptures like D&C 23:6, where Joseph Knight is commanded to pray "vocally before the world" and, in the end, "in all places" (cf. D&C 19:28). This tension is felt only stronger with the following verse, when Jesus commands that prayer be offered only in one's closet and that only when the door has been shut! Perhaps less remotely, though not as directly, there is a tension between this commandment and what Jesus says at the beginning of this same sermon in Matt 5:16: "Let your light so shine before the world." The implication, in that verse, is that one is to perform one's good works before the whole world. In fact, when Jesus was visiting the Nephites, and after He had quoted this verse from Matt 5 exactly, He went on to clarify that the light to be set before the world was precisely prayer: "Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—-that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed" (3 Ne 18:24). Quite clearly, prayer is to be offered before the world, as made explicit in at least four passages elsewhere in scripture.
These four passages, taken over and against the present passage, suggest that there is some difficulty of interpretation here and not there (and there and there and there: four against one). In other words, there seems to be a sort of consensus that prayer can--and even should--be performed before the world. But this makes it rather difficult to know how to interpret the present passage. But then, perhaps interpretation is not quite so difficult: the tension is felt between the obvious message of the other passages and a rather narrow reading of this one. If the injunction to private prayer here is taken in the broader context of verses 1-18, then it is less a question of how one ought to pray than it is a question of what hypocrisy means (see verses 2, 5, and 16). In other words, these verses (1-18) should be understood first as a discourse on hypocrisy and only thereafter should verses 5-13 be understood as a shorter discourse on prayer. This amounts to saying that verses 5-13 are an application, of sorts, of the broader theme of hypocrisy. Or rather, since Jesus never announces that He desires to speak on the subject of hypocrisy specifically, the theme is only to be approached through a series of applications or instantiations of hypocritical action.
The broader passage (verses 1-18) might be taken up, in fact, within a still broader discourse: the theme of the sermon on the mount is the introduction of a radical new logic (what Paul Ricoeur calls a "logic of superabundance"), meant to outstrip the Law. This outstripping is plainly obvious throughout the last half of chapter 5, and it may be that the chapter break (a "late" addition, obviously) too easily disrupts for the reader the thematic continuity between chapters 5 and 6. The continuity, however, is there in the text, and the question of hypocrisy arises precisely as a facet or an aspect of the new and higher logic of the Christian life. The injunction especially to pray only in one's closet, to retreat from the world in speaking with God, is a manifestation of this new and higher logic: as radical and impossible as loving one's enemy, praying only within one's closet and in complete solitude is a sort of "regulative ideal," the spirit--not the letter--of which is the key. In other words, and in short, Jesus is not here laying down rules for prayer, but exploring the spirit--the Spirit--of the logic of Christian love through the task of prayer. Since the present verse is so profoundly negative ("thou shalt not"), the nature of the Spirit of Christian prayer can only be worked out in the commentary on the following verses (see verses 6-13).
  • Matt 6:6. One must explore in this verse especially the radical subjectivity at work in the Spirit of Christian prayer. A counter-text from the Old Testament might well open the possibility of interpreting this radical subjectivity clearly: Ezra 9:5-15. In that passage, Ezra has just learned of the intermarriage of the Judahites returning from captivity with the semi-Israelites who were left behind. In response, "having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God" (verse 5). Preparing to pray in response to the situation, Ezra makes--and according to the Law of Moses--rather a show of things. But the show marks the point: the prayer that follows is not for God but for the listeners. He begins his prayer poetically: "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God" (verse 6), after which he uses the language of court flattery, as in verse 8: "And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage." The prayer goes on and on in this same spirit, and Ezra never asks anything of the Lord, and certainly he never praises Him in the words of the Israelite liturgies (only in the language of court flattery--learned in Persia?). By the time Ezra concludes the prayer, all he seems to have accomplished is to make absolutely clear to his listeners that they cannot stand before God in their "sin": "O LORD God of Israel, thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this" (verse 15). As one reads this prayer carefully, it becomes quite obvious that the prayer is no prayer, that there is no praying, no petition and no exultation. It is, rather, a tool to accomplish particular "political" ends (inter-human ends). And in fact, recent biblical scholarship has increasingly seen reason to criticize Ezra's political agenda (a topic that can only be discussed at length in the commentary at the books of Ezra and Nehemiah).
What Jesus commands the people to do in this sermon stands in stark contrast to what Ezra does in his prayer: Jesus teaches the people to pray in a radically secret way: "enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray." It may well be that Jesus had Ezra's prayer (but certainly prayers just like it) in mind when He spoke the words of verse 5. The Spirit of Christian prayer is, over and against Ezra's prayer, one of radical subjectivity, of an incredibly individual relation to God. This individuality is heralded in the word "Father," which appears twice in this verse, and becomes focal at the beginning of the "Pater Noster" Jesus provides a few verses later. Of central significance is this radically subjective and individual relation to the Father in prayer, and it deserves some careful attention. Perhaps what most needs attention is how this radically subjective characterization of prayer, as taught by the Savior, changes all prayers, even those to be offered in public and "before the world" (see commentary at verse 5): if Jesus is not here offering "rules" for prayer, He is offering a radical reinterpretation (or restoring the true interpretation, as it shall be seen) of prayer, one that recasts prayer as a work to be done within the Christian logic of superabundance.
Hence, of radical subjectivity: the theme is not unique--and this must be noticed from the very start--to the New Testament. The radical subjectivity of secret prayer is a theme that runs through the texts of the Old Testament prophets. Perhaps it is most explicitly explored in the Book of Jonah, but it is implicitly present in a number of the prophet books (Habakkuk is also a good place to explore the meaning of radically subjective prayer). The starting point, of course, for any question of radical subjectivity is its origin, that is, how it is that a radical subjectivity comes into being in the first place. Two answers immediately present themselves, two answers that are, in the end, closely tied: there must be a naming of the subject, and the subject must be called. The two are closely tied in an obvious way: the naming is the calling, for the subject is called into radical subjectivity by a name. If Christian prayer, then, is marked by a radical subjectivity, it can only be understood as a response to a call, as a counter-naming: precisely because one is to "pray to thy Father which is in secret" (one must notice that He, too, is radically subjective--and that because of His name: Father), one has been called by the name of the Son, has been called as a son in the name of the Son.
Obviously these comments are quickly becoming an excursus, and it would be best to locate any further detail in commentary on a verse that more specifically deals with these themes. But it is necessary to recognize the underpinnings of the radical subjectivity which characterizes Christian prayer: as the Son to the Father, and hence, called by the name of the Son, as a son, one prays without hypocrisy.
  • Matt 6:9: Tension with verse 6? There is an obvious difficulty if this verse is read as following verse 6: if one is to pray entirely on one's own, apart from everyone else, and in one's very closet, why on earth is one to begin prayer with the word "Our"? The point should be obvious: prayer is at once a question of radical subjectivity and a question of community. There are at least two undeniable consequences of this juxtaposition: one's prayer, offered at a remove from all other individuals, is a sort of intercessory prayer on behalf of all sons, of all Israel; moreover, prayer is inevitably communal, but communal prayer should be so profoundly subjective, so profoundly personal, that even when it is spoken in community it is spoken as if one were in one's closet.
  • Matt 6:9: Hallowed be thy name. This phrase might be taken as a supplication for God to vindicate his own name (this is the approach Donald Hagner takes in the Word Biblical Commentary), or it might be taken as a supplication that others will reverence God's name (Leon Morris suggests this view in his book The Gospel According to Matthew, 1992). A third reading might be that Jesus is simply praising God's name, more of an acknowledgement that God's name should be hallowed and(/or) that Jesus, in the very act of stating this, is hallowing God's name. The ambiguity between these three readings might highlight the lack of clear separation between them: if God vindicates his own name, it would result in a reverencing of God's name. (See also Ezek 36:20-23]] for the importance of God's name being kept holy.)
  • Matt 6:9: Third person imperatives. The grammar in the first three requests of the Lord's prayer is 3rd person imperative (the requests switch to 2nd person imperative in verse 11). More than a mere supplication to God, it seems this request includes an implicit moral imperative: the realization of these three requests depends, at least in part, on the action of the one praying (Jesus in this case, but remember he is giving an example of how to pray). In this sense, prayer might be seen as not just a matter of requesting something from God, but as a step toward reconciling oneself with God's will, committing onself to the cause of that which is being prayed about.
  • Matt 6:11: Bread. Bread is often symbolic of of both temporal and spiritual needs. This verse seems to mark a shift away from more general, cosmic concerns to needs that are more specific and particular.
  • Matt 6:12. This verse seems to reiterate the notion of mercy mentioned explicitly in Matt 5:7. A more justice-oriented prayer is exemplified by Appollonius of Tyana who prayed: “Oh ye gods, give me the things which are owing to me.”
  • Matt 6:13: Evil. The Greek phrase translated as "deliver us from evil" in verse 13 could also be translated as "deliver us from the evil one" or "deliver us from the evildoer."
Primary sources delete the last line of the Lord's Prayer as recorded here, suggesting a later scribe inserted it: "...For thine is the kingdom...Amen." In many Bible translations other than the KJV this line is left out. It is certainly poetic, however, if you read the prayer without this line added, the continuity and power between our receiving the effects of the atonement in our lives and the relationship with our forgiving others is maintained.
  • Matt 6:13: Temptation. Temptation here likely refers not just to sin, but to trials of all kinds. Note the JST alters this to read "And suffer us not to be led into temptation."
  • Matt 6:14: Trespasses. Trespasses here seems parallel to the debts in verse 12. If we want to be forgiven by our Heavenly Father, we should forgive others for the wrongs they do to us. This suggests a link between our relationship with God and our relationship with others (cf. Matt 5:9, Matt 5:21-26).
  • Matt 6:14: Men. The Greek word translated as "men" in verses 14 and 15 is anthropos, which refers to humans in general.
  • Matt 6:14: Trespasses. The Greek word paraptoma, translated as "trespasses" in verses 14 and 15, can refer to any deviation from acceptable behavior, whether intentional or unintentional.
  • Matt 6:17. Usually when fasting, people put ashes on their head and walked shoeless, with torn clothing, and no greeting was given. This was all a consequence of the close connection between fasting and mourning (1 Sam 20:34; 2 Sam 1:12; Dan 10:2-3; Joel 2:12; Zech 7:5). This sort of fasting was so conspicuous that the Romans made it ridiculous by cruelly imitating it in their theaters. On the other hand, putting oil on the head and washing the face were reserved for joyous occasions.
  • Matt 6:18: Openly. Some manuscripts omit this word (cf. NAS, NIV).

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Why does the Book of Mormon not include any of the JST changes made to the Lord's Prayer as indicated in Matthew? And if the last line of the prayer was added by a scribe at a later date, why is it included in the Book of Mormon version?

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  • Matt 6:1-3. In General Conference from May 1983 Elder Monson discusses the blessings that come from anonymous giving in relation to verses 1 and 3 (Anonymous).


Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.

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