Our Daily Bread: Already or Not Yet?

In Matthew 6.11, Jesus teaches us to pray for daily bread.  Scholars have taken this petition in the Lord’s prayer in a few different ways.  Since the Greek term epiousion is used only in the NT in the Lord’s Prayer, it isn’t easy to pin down the precise meaning.

One major interpretation is that this is, as it appears at first glance, a prayer that the Father would sustain his children with what they need for the day – no more, no less.  This is basically how the Heidelberg Catechism (Q/A 125), the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q/A 193), Luther’s Shorter Catechism, and Calvin’s Institutes (II.XX.44) treat this petition.  Of course, other commentators agree, such as D. A Carson, Lloyd-Jones, and even R.T. France, somewhat surprisingly.

Another interpretation is that this petition is primarily eschatological: it is the pilgrim prayer longing for the bread of the heavenly banquet.  Jeremias and Brown are two commentators who say this is an eschatological petition, that we look forward to that great wedding feast.  In his article “Pater Noster as an Eschatological Prayer” (Theological Studies 22 [1961], 175-208), Raymond Brown gives a nice explanation of the eschatological aspect of the petition.  He says “We may agree that the Christian community was marked with poverty; but we believe that in this need the Christians yearned, not for the bread of this world, but for God’s final intervention and for that bread which would be given at the heavenly table.”  Brown notes other verses in the Gospels concerning the heavenly banquet (Luke 6.21, 14.15, 22.29-30 and Matt. 8.11; cf. Rev. 7.16).  He also also lists other OT/NT themes, such as the bread of John 6, the manna in the wilderness, and the eschatology of the Eucharist.

Having looked at these, I’m not sure we need to say either/or.  Other petitions in the Lord’s Prayer have multiple inferences (i.e. your kingdom come means “may the gospel go out” and “may Christ return soon”) that are not contradictory.  I would say the same for this petition, give us this day.  It means 1) sustain us according to your will in this life and 2) may the great banquet day come soon!  These two go hand in hand with the previous petitions: your kingdom come, your will be done.

Ridderbos says it best: “The relationship between God’s [primarily future] kingdom and his providence also finds expression in the fact that Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for the preservation and needs of their earthly existence.  …But always, even with respect to the needs of the temporal life, it is dominated and supported by the gospel of the kingdom.”  Ridderbos says the prayer starts and ends with a bent towards the future, and the present needs are dominated by an other-worldly focus [The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: P&R, 1962), 267-269].

One additional note: many of the church fathers, when discussing epiousion, were close to #1 above, though some did talk about it in terms of the Eucharist, which “sort of” has to do with #2 above.  For an excellent article on the fathers and epiousion, see John Hennig, “Our Daily Bread,” Theological Studies 4 (1943), 445-454.

shane lems

sunnyside wa