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I recall, as a young child, having a number of superstitious assumptions. I remember being afraid of the dark, and at night, as I stood in my doorway, I believed that when I turned off the light switch I had to jump to my bed (for some reason thinking that I would be gobbled up by evil if my feet touched the ground in the darkness). Over time, though, I became less concerned about the dark and also about "evil." Even today, as an adult, I do not think much about evil powers or spirits. I may make a one-off comment about having an "unlucky day," but even then I tend to assume most aspects of life are under my control.

Of course, throughout history most peoples around the world have had a vivid sense of the power of evil, and they have found various ways to ward off evil and invoke blessings-whether by means of magic or religion. Christians have long prayed, "Deliver us from evil." I am not sure what most American Christians think as they utter these words; probably, like me, they don't put much thought into it at all. But for most ancient people (Christian or not), entreating a higher power to ward off evil would have been a common, daily concern. Among archaeological finds from ancient Egypt, we have today significant evidence that the last line of the LP, "deliver us from evil," was treated as a mantra or holy prayer for protection against malevolent spirits. Some of the Greek papyri scraps from ancient Egypt bear evidence of being folded so as to fit into a pocket, probably indicating that it was carried as a kind of amulet. Christians believed that their God was the God who safeguards his people.

There is a question about whether Matthew 6:13 should be treated as two separate petitions or as one petition ("lead us not to temptation") with a reinforcement ("but deliver us from evil"). It is most likely the latter, serving as a comprehensive prayer that God would protect and not expose to danger.


Originally published as a chapter in The Lord's Prayer. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon: Smyth & Helwys 2017.