The Disciples' Prayer
The Prayer Jesus Taught in Its Historical Setting
- ISBN: 9781451490251
- Published By: Fortress Press
- Published: June 2019
The so-called “Lord’s Prayer” has been the subject of numerous books and essays spanning the history of the Church. Jeffrey B. Gibson’s The Disciples’ Prayer: The Prayer Jesus Taught in Its Historical Setting is a recent entry in the lengthy line of studies by Gibson consisting of six chapters. This work also includes a conclusion and an appendix, which is titled “Was John the Baptist the Author of the Disciples’ Prayer?”
Gibson’s aim is laid out clearly in the Introduction when he writes “[w]hen we pray the prayer Jesus taught ‘us’ to pray, are we really praying it as Jesus intended us to pray it? Is what we ask for when we petition God to let his name ‘be hallowed’ and his kingdom ‘come,’ and for bread and forgiveness and for not being led into ‘temptation,’ really what Jesus thought and meant those he told to recite his words to be asking for?” (xii). The remainder of the volume answers those questions.
In chapter 1, Gibson examines the text of the Lord’s Prayer—in both its Greek and English forms. He also considers the best title for the Prayer is probably “The Disciple’s Prayer.” This leads to the second chapter’s discussion of the meaning of the various petitions in the Prayer. In chapter 3 Gibson’s interest turns to a consideration of what type of prayer that the Disciples’ Prayer is. Here, the question of the Prayer’s “nature” is more fully investigated, particularly in connection with other Jewish prayers from antiquity. Chapter 4 then engages readers with the more technical matters of the Sitz im Leben (setting in life or original situation) of the Prayer, especially in terms of other prayers within the Gospels. What does a comparison with these other prayers teach us about the meaning of the Prayer itself? That is the thematic question addressed here.
The fifth chapter looks at the possibility that the Prayer is an eschatologically driven theological pericope. Here, readers familiar with the work of Johannes Weiss will sense the spirit of Weiss hovering overhead. Gibson seems, in some parts, to be channeling Weiss nearly perfectly.
The sixth and final chapter focuses its attention solely on the “Temptation Petition.” Here, Gibson intriguingly notes, among other things, that “[i]ndeed, the whole scholarly notion, rampant in New Testament studies since Johannes Weiss’s “(re)discovery” of “apocalyptic,” that Jews expected any kind of cosmic catastrophe—let alone the imminent end of the world—as part of the outworking of any divinely grounded hope for Israel, may be a false one, since it may be based in an overly literal reading, and misunderstanding of the nature, of “apocalyptic” texts” (138).
The conclusion brilliantly summarizes the work and lists—in bullet points—the facts established, Gibson believes, by his study.
The question we have to ask ourselves, though, is if Gibson has proven his case. The answer is: yes, he has, and quite well, but none of this is new, or revolutionary, or “a bomb that has fallen on the playground of the theologians.” Gibson’s study is a very fine example of the scholarly enterprise as summary of research, and readers will surely benefit from a reading of it.
Yet it does not surprise or astonish with new insights or discoveries—and that is not a criticism. Sometimes the best service that a scholar can do is to distill a concept down to its core facts, certainly an aspect of biblical inquiry. Gibson’s The Disciples’ Prayer has done just that, and Gibson deserves our appreciation for it.
Jim West is Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College, Hong Kong.
Jim WestDate Of Review:October 22, 2019