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Questions and Answers

Questions and Answers answers questions you may have about the Bible.

We have two questions this month. Mary Jane Chaignot addresses finding Bible sources that will work for you and the other deals with the difference between “debts” and “trespasses” in the Lord’s prayer.

What resources (besides BibleWise) should I be using to expand my horizons?

This is a frequently asked (and not easily answered) question for Bible scholars. The answer depends in large part on what kind of information you’re seeking. Are you looking for a one-volume Bible commentary that will give some measure of historical information and a guideline for each book? Are you interested in exploring a particular book in depth? Or maybe you want to really get into it and pursue an intense study of the whole Bible.

If you’re looking for a simple commentary, there are several choices. The Interpreter’s Bible has a one-volume commentary that was published in 1971. The Southern Baptists have published the Mercer Commentary on the Bible, which is considerably newer. And the Catholic scholars have updated The [New] Jerome Bible Commentary. I have not used this last one, but scholars have given it high ratings.

If you’re interested in exploring a specific book, I would suggest finding out if there is a seminary or bible college in your community. They will have dozens of books on each book of the Bible and might allow you, as an interested party, to use their library. That will also allow you to see which series appeals to your particular interests, as there are many to choose from.

If you want to do an intense study of the whole Bible, the New Interpreter’s Bible series is a good place to start and an excellent commentary. Published in the latter 1990’s, it comes in twelve volumes, which can often be found online for a reduced price. (Check out eBay, Amazon, Half-price Books,, to name just a few.) After that, your choices are limited only by your pocketbook. Many commentary series publish a separate book for each book in the Bible – at 60+ books, it can add up fast. Before you start investing in these, I would again encourage you to check out local libraries or seminary libraries to decide which ones appeal to you. Scholarship has changed a lot in the past 30 years, so be mindful of the copyright dates. Yet, some of the old classics have proven to be timeless (Matthew Henry – 1700’s; JA Alexander -- 1860’s; Lenski – 1930’s; Moffatt 1930-40’s; Barclay -- 1960’s). Newer series that you might want to check out would include Interpretation (Old and New Testaments), Pillar New Testament Commentaries, Sacra Pagina, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, The NIV Application Commentary (Old and New Testaments), The Abingdon New Testament Commentary, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, The New International Biblical Commentary (Old and New Testaments), and the Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Those of you familiar with The Researched Bible Guide will know that the back cover lists over 60 books in its bibliography. Additionally, Bible Study Seminars is looking to publish a Bible Study Guide within the next two years to help those wanting to do a more systematic study of the Bible.



I was recently asked at our VBS program a question about the Lord's Prayer that I was unsure how to answer. We were using a curriculum that taught the Lord's Prayer as it is in the King James Version of the Bible. One of the parents, however, said that the verse found in Matthew 6:12 should read trespasses and trespassers instead of debts and debtors. I have a King James Bible also that says debts and debtors but I can also recall hearing the Lord's Prayer with the trespasses and trespassers. I know that it boils down to forgiveness; however, what would explain the difference of terms used?

The historical answer seems to be derived from translations preferred by the Scots or the English. Apparently, John Wycliffe, in 1395, translated the Greek word dettis, or debts. In 1526, William Tyndale translated the same Greek word treaspases, or trespasses. The first Book of Common Prayer, published in 1549, had the word “trespasses.” That became the official Anglican version. [Several scholars attributed the difference back to the rivalry between the Scots and the English. Being that the Scots were more concerned about debts, they preferred to be forgiven a “debt.” On the other hand the English were more concerned about property and used the word “trespass” in the sense of not breaking the law. Put another way, the Scots would rather have been forgiven a debt than a trespass! But these tales are legendary and perhaps only of anecdotal value.] The Presbyterian and other reformed churches tend to use “debts.” The Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Methodists are more likely to say “trespasses.”

The Greek word in question is opheilema. It means a literal “debt” in the LXX and the New Testament in every instance except here in Matthew (6:12). Scholars, therefore, have concluded that all sin is a “debt” owed to God. This is given added weight in knowing that in rabbinical writings the Aramaic word hobo was used in the sense of sin as a moral debt. (Jesus spoke Aramaic.) It should also be pointed out that Luke, in his version of the Lord’s Prayer, used the word hamartia, meaning sins. “Sin” is “missing the mark” so “going astray” or “trespassing” captures the meaning quite well.

But even though the ancient words are virtually interchangeable, there might be a shade of difference in the English meaning of them. These words are spoken in the context of the phrase, “Forgive us our debts/trespasses, as we forgive…” Or “Forgive us our debts/trespasses as we have forgiven…” If we are asking to be forgiven for our trespasses, we are asking for forgiveness for something we have already done. Scholars refer to these as “faults of commission.” We are correct in asking to be pardoned for these. But, if we are asking for forgiveness for our debts, we are asking for forgiveness for something we have yet to do. These would be “faults of omission.” Imagine standing before a creditor and asking for forgiveness of all our debt. Yet, that is exactly what Jesus is saying here. We are asking God to forgive us for what we have failed to do; we have not paid him and we are asking the slate to be wiped clean. But these omissions do not have to be limited to the wrongs we have already done; they could also include all the good that we have failed to do. These would be all the missed opportunities, the moments we failed to be kind in word or deed – the myriad of times we could have made a difference, but didn’t. We are asking forgiveness for these too. It puts a whole new light on the second half of the petition, “…as we forgive our debtors/trespassers” or “…as we have forgiven our debtors/trespassers.”

In the long run, people will probably prefer to use whichever word they’ve been accustomed to using. Both words highlight just how unfathomable God’s mercy really is.


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