Change in wording of The Lord's Prayer


What is the history for the change from

‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’


‘Forgive us out trespasses’

When I was a kid , the word was sin.


Our (Catholic) official bible version in current use is the New American Bible.

The Lord’s prayer appears in two Gospels : Chapter 11 of the Gospel according to Luke ; and Chapter 6 of the Gospel according to Matthew.

In Chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel. chapter 6 the NAB renders the passage

and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.

In Chapter 11 of Luke’s Gospel the NAB still renders the passage

and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church , OTOH uses the word “trespasses”.


“Trespasses” seems to have had its origins in some early versions of the Bible and in the Book of Common Prayer. From the article Which Word is Right in the Lord’s Prayer — Trespasses or Debtors?

1395 Wycliff made the first English translation of the Bible. He used debtors.
1526 The Tyndale translation followed and he used trespasses.
1549 Book of Common Prayer still used trespasses.
1611 And with the King James Bible we are back to debtors.

I ran out of time , so , still haven’t found the explanation of how “trespasses” found it’s way into our liturgy, and how long ago. Maybe someone else can chime in on that one.


I am not sure which is the official bible for Australia. I will check on Friday.

Thanks for all that, NeedImprovement. :slight_smile:


I don’t know the history for the change, but debts and debtors is a more accurate translation as the Greek is opheiletes rather than paraptoma (trespass) or amartano (sin).

There is a way in which debt and trespass is related. When a landlord is owed money for rent, the tenant is technically trespassing by remaining on the premises.

However I imagine the wording got changed in its flavour because a vast majority of Westerners over the last 2 centuries managed to get into a position of owning their own property and were therefore unable to relate to the debt concept. So rather than owing debt to a landlord (lord is a rich aristocrat), they could own their own property where others could then trespass upon that property, and therefore relate to the concept towards God which is being presented.

I’m just guessing of course. But it is a very interesting question.


I particularly like your explanation. I also choose to think of trespasses in terms of being on or against a person or even God’s right way to be treated or acted toward, if that makes sense. In a way, we have trespassed into evil where we do not belong… thoughts?
Pax et bonum,


Trespassing is about keeping one’s approach to boundaries healthy or unhealthy.

What has always worried me more is the change from “them that” (in my evidently BCP-influenced childhood) to “those who” (when I am around Catholic churches)!

I recently read somewhere with alarm that Catholic leaders until recently tried to forbid Catholics from adding “For thine is … ever & ever” or even being present when it is added.


Me too.



What I find notable about the definitions of “trespass” at , is that each time they appear to relate it to a “sin” or an “offense” , they also
classify it as archaic.(highlights mine)



  1. Enter someone’s land or property without permission:
    ‘there is no excuse for trespassing on railway property’
    (synonyms: enter without permission, intrude on, encroach on, invade, infringe, impinge on)

1.1 (trespass on) Make unfair claims on or take advantage of (something):
‘she really must not trespass on his hospitality’
(synonyms: take advantage of, impose on, make use of, play on, exploit, abuse, make unfair claims on)

  1. (trespass against) archaic, literary Commit an offence against (a person or a set of rules):
    ‘a man who had trespassed against Judaic law’
    (synonyms: wrong, do wrong to, cause harm to)


  1. Law [mass noun] Entry to a person’s land or property without permission:
    ‘the defendants were guilty of trespass’
    [count noun] ‘a mass trespass on the moor’
    (synonyms: unlawful entry, intrusion, encroachment, invasion, infringement, impingement)
    View synonyms
    2.* archaic*, literary A **sin **or offence . . .

Middle English (in trespass): from Old French trespasser pass over, trespass, trespas ‘passing across’, from medieval Latin transpassare (see trans-, pass).



In this article , the author makes reference to Matthew 5:23–24, Mark 11:25, and Matthew 6:14 , citing , "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. . . " However all these references in the NAB now render the word “trespasses” as “transgressions”.

So if you didn’t think we already had enough choices , now we have to forgive and ask to have forgiven our debts, our sins, our* trespasses* and our* transgressions* . . .:doh2:

Personally , I’ll probably go with this reliable definition for now :

To offend or go against the will of someone. In the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses,” God is asked to have mercy on us according to our mercy toward others. Literally, “to trespass” means to invade the rights of another without his or her consent; hence an act of injustice.


And until we can get some cold hard evidence on how “trespasses” came into the Our Father, or IOW until such time as we have a solid answer to -

I’m going to have to continue trust my own private, twisted, personal theory (maybe more of a suspicion) , which is :

Given that the western world and most of the free world operates on a basis of business/commerce and banking , and that most of us, in one way or another are currently engaged/active in this credit-based system : At the time it was proposed that “forgive us our debts” become the accepted format of the fifth petition contained in the Our Father , all the bankers and businessmen and entrepreneurs in the world , simply lost it. . . Some of them began to convulse so badly at the thought of writing off everybody’s debts that they began to shake their cerebral screws loose ; the end result being that they all got PRANG instead of* praying*.

So we were forced to settle on the word “trespasses” , because it is less likely to directly induce wallet spasms.


The Oxford Dictionaries’ web site cited gives a very cut-down view of words these days. Use an edition printed in the year dot!

I very much like Needimprovement’s “Prang” theory I must say!


I believe this is just an English translation issue, not a worldwide Catholic translation issue, no? How is it rendered in other languages? Perhaps the English word “debt” in common use has a narrower meaning (banks, loans…) compared to the word used for debt in the original Greek.


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