Give Us This Day Our Epiousiosian Bread


Give Us This Day Our Epiousiosian Bread

Diarmard McCulloch, in his book Christianity (@89), argues that the Lord’s Prayer is actually an invocation of the imminence of God’s Kingdom on earth, based on an ancient Greek word epiousios:

Jesus’s preoccupation with the imminent kingdom is clear … also in “The Lord’s Prayer” which he taught his followers and which is embedded in different versions in both versions of the Sermon anthology.  The prayer moves straight from addressing the Father in Heaven to the plea “Thy kingdom come”.  It is also shown to belong to the earliest strata of the Gospel material even in its Greek form, because one of its petitions includes an adjective whose meaning has baffled Christians ever since: ‘epiousios’, a very rare word indeed in Greek.  The puzzling character of the word is not apparent in its common English translation, which suggests a very ordinary request, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. Yet epiousios does not mean ‘daily’, but something like ‘of extra substance’, or at a stretch ‘for the morrow’. The first Roman Catholic attempt to translate ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ into English from the Latin Vulgate in the late sixteenth century courageously recognized this problem, but also sidestepped it simply by borrowing a Latin word as “supersubstantial”; not surprisingly, ‘give us this day our supersubstantial bread’ never caught on as a popular phrase in the prayer.  If we can assign any meaning to epiousios, it may point to the new time of the coming kingdom: there must be a new provision when God’s people are hungry in this new time – yet the provision for the morrow must come now, because the kingdom is about to arrive.

(emphasis in original)

I have a lot of trouble parsing the last few lines from “If we can assign any meaning…” [suggestions?] but the way I read it is: this part of the prayer could be paraphrased:

“Give us tomorrow’s bread today”

[since we’re hungry now and tomorrow, once thy kingdom comes, we won’t need bread anymore]

4 Responses to “Give Us This Day Our Epiousiosian Bread”


  1. 1 nosuchthingasastraightline 1 October 2011 at 2:04 am

    I just read this same passage in McCulloch’s book. It seems to me, given Jesus’s emphasis on the spiritual world (the kingdom of heaven) that epiousiosian bread is “spiritual bread,” i.e. something spiritual that is as essential as bread is to the physical. I’m not sure how people get “tomorrow’s” from “supersubstantial, ” especially given that Christ elsewhere advised his followers not to worry about what they’ll eat the next day.

    • 2 brendanscott 4 October 2011 at 11:24 pm

      But what would that mean? That there is such a supersubstantial bread that we should have today?

      Looking at the rest of the prayer it certainly seems out of place. Before it the prayer is invoking God and asking for His coming. After it, the prayer is asking to prepare the speaker for that coming. Some translations put it in a sentence to itself, however the next line in Greek starts with καὶ (which Google Translate translates as “and”) so presumably it ought to be read as part of the material which follows it?

      For all the translations of it you’ll ever need:
      http://scripturetext.com/matthew/6-11.htm
      (which on their transliteration comes out as: the bread our the sustenance give to us now)

      Strong’s concordances translate epiousios here:
      http://concordances.org/greek/1967.htm

      On your interpretation, it is something like give us this day our spiritual sustenance [and do other stuff which will prepare us for Your coming]?

      Re tomorrow: apparently because one way to interpret it is as related to ἐπιοῦσα: “the next day”
      http://concordances.org/greek/1966.htm

  2. 3 nosuchthingasastraightline 5 October 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Doesn’t spiritual sustenance seem right in line with the theme of the coming kingdom?

    Thanks for those interesting links!

  3. 4 Greg Stultz 9 January 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Food for thought…

    From NTRF.org (a house church promulgation ministry)

    “Give us today our daily bread.” Is this Eschatological? The key to understanding this verse is the word “daily” (6:11); from epiousios (1967), a word of uncertain meaning. It appears to mean “tomorrow” or “the coming day.” It is as if Jesus were instructing us to pray, “The bread of the coming day, give us today.” In the previous verse we were asking for God’s kingdom to come to earth. When Jesus comes back, the wedding banquet of the Lamb will commence (Re 19). It could be that verses 10 and 11 are closely linked. We are in essence asking for Jesus to come back and that the bread of the coming feast be eaten today. In other words, “Lord, Thy kingdom come, and let the feast of the coming kingdom begin today!” The famous church leader Athanasius called it “the bread of the world to come” (Godet, Commentary on Luke, p. 314). From NTRF.org


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