Matthew 6:11 KJV – Give us this day our daily bread.
One would have thought that this is the one petition of the Lord’s Prayer about the meaning of which there could have been no possible doubt. It seems on the face of it to be the simplest and the most direct of them all. But it is the fact that many interpreters have offered many interpretations of it. Before we think of its simple and obvious meaning, let us look at some of the other explanations which have been offered.
(i) The bread has been identified with the bread of the Lord’s Supper. From the very beginning the Lord’s Prayer has been closely connected with the Lord’s Table. In the very first orders of service which we possess it is always laid down that the Lord’s Prayer should be prayed at the Lord’s Table, and some have taken this petition as a prayer to be granted the daily privilege of sitting at the Table of our Lord, and of eating the spiritual food which a man receives there.
(ii) The bread has been identified with the spiritual food of the word of God. We sometimes sing the hymn:
Break thou the bread of life,
Dear Lord, to me,
As thou didst break the loaves
Beside the sea.
Beyond the sacred page
I seek thee, Lord,
My spirit pants for thee,
O living word.”
So this petition has been taken to be a prayer for the true teaching, the true doctrine, the essential truth, which are in the scriptures and the word of God, and which are indeed food for a man’s mind and heart and soul.
(iii) The bread has been taken to stand for Jesus himself. Jesus called himself the bread of life ( John 6:33-35 ), and this has been taken to be a prayer that daily we may be fed on him who is the living bread. It was in that way that Matthew Arnold used the phrase, when he wrote his poem about the saint of God he met in the east end of London one suffocating day:
“‘Twas August, and the fierce sun overhead
Smote on the squalid streets of Bethnal Green,
And the pale weaver, through his windows seen,
In Spitalfields, look’d thrice dispirited.
I met a preacher there I knew and said:
‘Ill and o’er worked, how fare you in this scene?’
‘Bravely!’ said he, ‘for I of late have been
Much cheer’d with thoughts of Christ, the living bread.'”
So then this petition has been taken as a prayer that we too might be cheered and strengthened with Christ the living bread.
(iv) This petition has been taken in a purely Jewish sense. The bread has been taken to be the bread of the heavenly kingdom. Luke tells how one of the bystanders said to Jesus: “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God” ( Luke 14:15 ). The Jews had a strange yet vivid idea. They held that when the Messiah came, and when the golden age dawned, there would be what they called the Messianic banquet, at which the chosen ones of God would sit down. The slain bodies of the monsters Behemoth and Leviathan would provide the meat and the fish courses of the banquet. It would be a kind of reception feast given by God to his own people. So, then, this has been taken to be a petition for a place at the final Messianic banquet of the people of God.
Although we need not agree that any one of these explanations is the main meaning of this petition, we need not reject any of them as false. They all have their own truth and their own relevance.
The difficulty of interpreting this petition was increased by the fact that there was very considerable doubt as to the meaning of the word epiousios ( Greek #1967 ), which is the word which the Revised Standard Version translates “daily.” The extraordinary fact was that, until a short time ago, there was no other known occurrence of this word in the whole of Greek literature. Origen knew this, and indeed held that Matthew had invented the word. It was therefore not possible to be sure what it precisely meant. But not very long ago a papyrus fragment turned up with this word on it; and the papyrus fragment was actually a woman’s shopping list! And against an item on it was the word epiousios ( Greek #1967 ). It was a note to remind her to buy supplies of a certain food for the coming day. So, very simply, what this petition means is: “Give me the things we need to eat for this coming day. Help me to get the things I’ve got on my shopping list when I go out this morning. Give me the things we need to eat when the children come in from school, and the men folk come in from work. Grant that the table be not bare when we sit down together to-day.” This is a simple prayer that God will supply us with the things we need for the coming day.