Reviews of

The Lord’s Prayer

In C. Clifton Black, Lord's Prayer, Matthew, Nathan Charles Ridlehoover, Westminster John Knox on November 27, 2019 at 4:00 pm


2019.11.16 | C. Clifton Black. The Lord’s Prayer. Interpretation. Louisville: WJK, 2018. ISBN: 978-0664234898.

Review by Charles Nathan Ridlehoover, Columbia International Seminary.

C. Clifton Black has been the Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary since 1999. Black’s previous appointments include Southern Methodist University, the University of Rochester, and Duke University. Black’s treatment of the Lord’s Prayer is the newest volume in the Interpretation supplement series. These volumes are designed to supplement the regular commentaries by examining more specific texts that have played an important role in the faith and life of the Christian community.

In the following volume, Clifton Black provides a wealth of resources for the inquiring pray-er of the Lord’s Prayer. His volume has come about during a miniature renaissance of Lord’s Prayer studies. Impressive volumes include: Nijay Gupta’s commentary in the Smyth and Helwys series, the newly translated English translation of Gerhard Lohfink’s The Our Father, and Jeffrey Gibson’s The Disciple’s Prayer. Other treatments that are not primarily about the Lord’s Prayer, but give significant insights include Jonathan Pennington’s The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing and Jack Lundbom’s Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Notwithstanding these valuable commentaries, Black has carved out his own space and provided an indispensable volume in its own right. Unique among his treatment is Black’s description of the intent and efficacy of the Lord’s Prayer as “the education of human wanting.”

To evidence the Prayer’s educational value, Black begins his treatment of the Lord’s Prayer with attention to the forest before examining the respective trees. The forest consists of what he titles “Part 1: Getting our Bearings.” He lays out the landscape by examining the motif of prayer throughout Greco-Roman religions, the Hebrew Bible and emergent Judaism, and Second Temple Judaism (Ch. 1) before turning to the individual Gospel accounts (Ch. 2). Students of the Gospels and prayer will find chapter 2 particularly helpful because of its attention to the various word studies. Black tabulates and locates all of the various words that fall within the category of “prayer language” for respective Gospel and then shows how those words function within the narrative of each book.

In Parts 2–4, Black turns his attention to the trees. In these sections, he analyzes each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. The Parts are split into “The First Table,” “The Second Table,” and the “Doxology and Conclusion.” The nomenclature is indicative of Black’s pairing of the Ten Commandments with the two halves of the Lord’s Prayer. As the first four commandments concern God, so the first three petitions refer to that which is worthy of God. The remaining commandments pair with the second half of the Prayer with their focus on humanity and human need. In Part 2 (“The First Table”), Black analyzes the invocation (Ch. 3), the consecrated Name (Ch. 4), and kingdom and will (Ch. 5). In Part 3 (“The Second Table”), attention is given to bread (Ch. 6), debts and forgiveness (Ch. 7), and rescue from ultimate danger and evil (Ch. 8). The final part deals with the doxology and its rightful place alongside the prayer (Ch. 9) and some pastoral concerns for implementation of the prayer (Ch. 10). The order of the content within each chapter is dictated by the petition’s nuances. This editorial decision for those curious about ongoing discussions concerning each petition is advantageous for further studies. Another interpretive choice made by Black is to interpret the petitions by what precedes and proceeds. In other words, our understanding of “hallowing the name” is enhanced by attention to the invocation (“our Father in heaven”) and the kingdom petition.

The appendices include prayers of the synagogue in the postbiblical era, an analysis of the Lord’s Prayer in the Didache, and an overview of the Lord’s Prayer in Christian thought. The final section on Lord’s Prayer scholarship gives an important listing of those in the history of interpretation. The listing ranges from early church fathers to reformers to modern theologians. I was excited to see attention given to Ernst Lohmeyer. Lohmeyer still has one of the most thorough investigations of the structure of the Lord’s Prayer to date.

In evaluating the commentary, I was first struck by the pithy introductions. The beginning of each chapter is customized with quotes. At times, the quotes are from bible scholars and theologians, and at other times, they are from far different places. Consider this quote from Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was not a Christian but understood aspects of the Christian message: “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread” (pg. 141). Black is also sensitive to the literary style and theological concerns of each of the Evangelists. Specifically, he states that the whole of Matthew and its Sermon on the Mount are commentaries on the prayer’s petitions (pg. 35). I agree, as I have written extensively on the subject in my forthcoming The Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel. It is these sorts of insights that give Black’s work distinctive notes and evidence his exegetical prowess.

The book is well-researched, but at times, the sources do not fit the point being made. Black asserts that “Matthew and Luke reflect the essence of the Prayer that Jesus taught his disciples” and validates this point by appealing to Bandstra’s article “The Original Form of the Lord’s Prayer.” A closer look at Bandstra reveals that the article is more concerned with the manuscript evidence behind the two prayers, specifically detailing and weighing the arguments for the inclusion/exclusion of the doxology. Yet one cannot deny other places in the book where the research is unparalleled. Black has an uncanny knack to bring together loads of varying opinions into clear and concise sections. Examples include the brilliant chart on page 121 detailing “The Timing of the Kingdom of God in the Jesus Tradition.” Another highly complex interpretive quandary is how to understand ἐπιούσιος in the bread petition. In seven pages, Black tackles each of the alternatives with an illuminating and even-handed conclusion He favors a few that combines several of the options. I am more convinced by Colin Hemer’s specificity regarding the matter (“for the day to come”), but absolute certainty is outside of our reach.

Minor squabbles with the book include the decision to group together petitions 2 and 3 and petitions 6 and 7. While the petitions may be thematically parallel, the wording draws significant parallels with specific passages in Matthew which warrant separate treatments. Black also opts for a 1x3x3 understanding of the Prayer’s structure. Roland Meynet and David Wenham have argued persuasively for a chiastic structure which acknowledges seven petitions instead of six. These problems are idiosyncratic and should not detract from the overall value of the book. Students of the Lord’s Prayer, whether beginning or advanced, can glean something from this book and perhaps learn a new lesson from a Prayer that will educate their human wants.

Charles Nathan Ridlehoover
Columbia International Seminary
nathan.ridlehoover [at]


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