What is “Daily Bread”? Are you sure?

An old friend of mine is now a youth pastor. On his blog, he requested some help with a Greek translation issue in the New Testament. He read in a book (Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book) that “daily” could be translated “fresh” – as in, “give us this day some fresh bread.” He wondered about that, and asked if anyone knew anything else about that translation.

This is actually quite a contentious issue. You’d think that “give us this day our daily bread” is a rather straight forward phrase, but it’s not and it’s likely that any understanding we have may be wrong. I’m going to post my original comment here (with some changes) and then add some additional comments to (hopefully) initiate some discussion:

The word (“epiousios”) translated “daily” appears only in Matt. 6:11 and Luke 11:3. And I’m not just including the New Testament in this – it doesn’t appear in any Greek literature of the period, any earlier period – and in later periods, only in citations from the Lord’s prayer (Bauer’s Lexicon says: “Origen was right. Found in our literature only . . . in the Lord’s Prayer.”) Nearly all the dictionaries and lexicons I looked at have something like “of uncertain meaning” tagged next to this word. However, here’s some things I found

1. Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (2nd edition – I wish I had a copy of the slightly more recent 3rd edition) spends quite a bit of detail discussing the possible roots of the word (there are around a dozen different good candidates/theories for the origin and possible meaning of the word).

Here are some possible meanings from Bauer (including my modest attempts at showing how that meaning would look in translation):

a. “necessary for existence.” (Today, give us the bread we need to live).
b. “for today” (Today, give us the bread we need today)
c. “for the following day” (Give us tomorrow’s bread today)
d. “the future” (Today, give us bread for the future)
e. “belongs to” (Give us the bread that belongs to today – or, Give us today’s bread)

2. Thayer’s Lexicon mostly agrees with Bauer’s (above) but there are a few other possible meanings not given in Bauer’s:
a. “ready at hand” (Today, give us the bread that is ready at hand)
b. “allowance” (Today, give us our allowance of bread)
c. sufficient food (Today, give us sufficient bread – or bread that suffices).

3. Liddell & Scott’s Greek/English Lexicon (which is focused on Classical Greek) says it means “for the coming day” and notes it only appears in the NT.

The disputes really fall over which Classical and Koine words are at the root of the evangelist’s neologism. There are half a dozen good candidates, though no real consensus. I could bore you with all the geeky linguistic details of the various possible roots, but I won’t. If you must know, then read any of the Lexicon’s I cite above.

To sum up: I told my friend “Today’s bread” is a possible translation. “Fresh bread” is something of a stretch, but works if you assume that “today’s bread” is also “fresh bread.” (of course, you know what happens when we assume . . . )

Or, in other words, “fresh” likely wasn’t the original, intended meaning, but if (if!) “today’s bread” is the correct translation, then “fresh” is maybe okay by implication.

My question for M* readers is this:

Are there any implications for knowing this? I treat it as sort of theological trivia, but given that it is the Lord’s Prayer, shouldn’t we try to figure out what Jesus was asking for? If he was asking for “today’s bread” or “tomorrow’s bread”, does that change what we should be asking for in our prayers?

Speculate away (informed comments from those more knowledgeable about Greek also welcome).

13 thoughts on “What is “Daily Bread”? Are you sure?

  1. Here is what I wrote in Footnotes:

    The word “daily” is a rendering of an obscure GR word, epiousios. This word is rare in secular GR, and its meaning here is uncertain. Some of the possibilities include: (1) “necessary for existence” (deriving from epi + ousia); (2) as a substantivizing of epi tēn ousan [hēmeran], meaning “for the current day, today”; (3) “for the following day” (in this sense perhaps equivalent to the LAT diaria, the daily ration of food given out for the following day (and the source of ENG diary); thus, one could render something like “give us today our daily portion”); and (4) “for the future,” understood in various senses, including an eschatological one, referring to bread for the coming kingdom and its feast.

  2. Kevin –

    Thanks for that. It’s nice to see the same information presented from a different viewpoint. That might make more sense to others than my ramblings.

    One question for you: the phrase “obscure GR word, epiousios. This word is rare in secular GR” – well, from what I read, it seems more correct to say the word is pretty much non-existent in secular Greek. The few times it might appear, most scholars seem to agree it isn’t really that word – either a similarly spelled word that was either incorrectly transcribed or identified incorrectly by scholars.

    I admit you are more knowledgeable about Greek than I am, Kevin, so I defer to your expertise if you have any further comments.

  3. Could it be a (complex) allusion to manna, which was a daily and fresh (because it spoiled if stored) bread? That would make the meaning quite profound.

  4. This is a fascinating discussion. This is what I love about the Bloggernacle. Ivan, thanks for this great post, and Kevin and BrianJ, thanks for interesting responses.

    A few points that may or may not be interesting:

    –NIV also translates it “daily bread.”
    –Proverb 30:8 (written in Hebrew, right?) says in the NIV translation, “but give me only my daily bread.” Meanwhile, the KJV translate the Hebrew in Proverbs 30:8 as “food convenient for me.”

    I tend to think the allusion to manna is worth exploring.

  5. Well, if we go with Bible translations, here are a few of interest:

    Matt 6:11 –

    NASB: Give us this day our daily bread.
    NCV: Give us the food we need for each day.
    Young’s Literal: Our appointed bread give us to-day
    Wycliffe’s: Give to us this day our each day’s bread;
    NLT: Give us today our food for the day; or Give us today our food for tomorrow.
    [Here’s my favorite:]
    The Message:Keep us alive with three square meals.

    As for Prov. 30:8 –

    NASB:Feed me with the food that is my portion
    Amplified: Feed me with the food that is needful for me
    NLT: Give me just enough to satisfy my needs
    NKJV: Feed me with the food allotted to me
    Young’s Literal: Cause me to eat the bread of my portion
    The Message: Give me enough food to live on, neither too much nor too little.

    (It should be noted the NLT and The Message are more paraphrases than translations).

    Perhaps Geoff is onto something – the Lord’s Prayer may be referencing Proverbs. But I don’t know Hebrew, so I have no idea what the term in Hebrew is.

  6. As much as I like the manna interpretation, I think the connection to Proverbs appears much stronger.

    Here’s the NET for Proverbs 30:7-9

    “Two things I ask from you; do not refuse me before I die: Remove falsehood and lies far from me; do not give me poverty or riches, feed me with my allotted portion of bread, lest I become satisfied and act deceptively and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I become poor and steal and demean the name of my God.”

    And the footnote for “allotted portion”:

    “The word khoq means “statute”; it is also used of a definite assignment in labor (Exod 5:14; Prov 31:15), or of a set portion of food (Gen 47:22). Here it refers to food that is the proper proportion for the speaker.”

    So while it’s not rich in the same way as the manna interpretation, I still appreciate the sentiment behind Prov 30:7-9. Thanks so much for sending me on this unexpected chase!

  7. BrianJ, I’m wondering if from the perspective of a 1000 BC Israelite, “set portion of food” still may have had some reference to manna. Remember that the manna would go bad if you hoarded it. You could only have a set portion for that day, and then two portions on the Sabbath. And of course manna was to remind them of Jehovah, who will provide the bread of life for them if they have faith. Everything points to the Savior!

  8. Geoff B: this is great: I’m arguing for your idea and you’re arguing for mine!

    The context of Proverb 30:7-9 just doesn’t insist on being related to manna. You could take out “bread” and insert “wages” and it would read the same.

  9. I am the friend of Ivan’s. Manna is what I was exploring, and its implications for daily bread. When the allusion to manna is tied in, the idea is that it is “just enough for today”, instead of food for everyday now through the future.

    It calls us deeper into a daily dependance on the lord to meet our needs etc.

  10. I know I am really late to this discussion, but based on the different options of translation that you have presented above, it is plain to me that all of them are helpful in that in examining their temporal and spiritual implications, all of theme seem to be in harmony with knowledge of the gospel.

  11. In Ron Mehl’s book, God Works The Night Shift, he talks about this subject, and I loved the translation he came up with. If you have the book of have access to it, its on page 162 at the bottom. I’ve been trying to confirm this, but here goes. A piece of papyrus was found by an archeologist that turned out to be a simple shopping list. After each thing that would go bad if kept over night, she wrote (in Greek) Just enough for the day. I don’t know what the original language was, I’d like to confirm this just for sake of curiosity.

  12. Ahh… sleepy, adding to above, meant to say that the Greek words for daily break (maybe just daily) were exactly the same as the grocery lists
    “just enough for the day”. According to Ron Mehl’s book.

Comments are closed.