Epiousios (ἐπιούσιος) is a Greek adjective used in the Lord's Prayer verse "Τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον" 'Give us today our epiousion bread'. Because the word is used nowhere else, its meaning is unclear. It is traditionally translated as "daily", but most modern scholars reject that interpretation.
Since it is a Koine Greek dis legomenon found only in the New Testament passages Matthew 6:11 and Luke 11:3, its interpretation relies upon morphological analysis and context. The traditional and most common English translation is daily, although most scholars today reject this in part because all other New Testament passages with the translation "daily" include the word hemeran (ἡμέρᾱν, 'day').
The difficulty in understanding epiousios goes at least as far back as AD 382. At that time, St. Jerome was commissioned by Pope Damasus I to renew and consolidate the various collections of biblical texts in the Vetus Latina ("Old Latin") then in use by the Church. Jerome accomplished this by going back to the original Greek of the New Testament and translating it into Latin; his translation came to be known as the Vulgate. In the identical contexts of Matthew and Luke—that is, reporting the Lord's Prayer—Jerome translated epiousios in two different ways: by morphological analysis as 'supersubstantial' (supersubstantialem) in Matthew 6:11, but retaining 'daily' (quotidianum) in Luke 11:3.
The modern Catholic Catechism holds that there are several ways of understanding epiousios, including the traditional 'daily', but most literally as 'supersubstantial' or 'superessential', based on its morphological components. Alternative theories are that—aside from the etymology of ousia, meaning 'substance'—it may be derived from either of the verbs einai (εἶναι), meaning "to be", or ienai (ἰέναι), meaning both "to come" and "to go".:172
Appearances and uniqueness
Τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον The bread of-us the epiousion give us today "Give us today our epiousion bread"
According to the Novum Testamentum Graece, a compendium source document for most current New Testament translations and a standard for related academic work, the word appears only in Matthew 6:11 and Luke 11:2 as part of the Lord's Prayer. This makes epiousios a hapax legomenon, that is, it appears only once. The Didache, a first- or early second-century guide to Christian discipleship, also quotes ἐπιούσιος verbatim from the Lord's Prayer (Matthew's wording) in 8:2.
In the twentieth century, one other use appeared to come to light. In an Egyptian papyrus dated to the 5th century CE, a shopping list, Sammelbuch 5224,20, a word transcribed as epiousios appears next to the names of several grocery items. This seems to indicate that it was used in the sense of "enough for today", "enough for tomorrow", or "necessary". However, after the papyrus containing the shopping list, missing for many years, was rediscovered at the Yale Beinecke Library in 1998, a re-examination found "elaiou" (oil), not "epiousios." (The original transcriber, A. H. Sayce, was apparently known to be a poor transcriber.) In addition, the document was reassessed to date from the first or second century CE, not the 5th century. Therefore, the use of epiousios seems indeed to occur nowhere else in ancient Greek literature besides Matthew, Luke, and The Didachē. Epiousei, used in Acts 7:26 to refer to the next day, may be a cognate word.
Translations and interpretations
There are several reasons that epiousios presents an exceptional translation challenge. The word appears nowhere else in other Ancient Greek texts, and so may have been coined by the authors of the Gospel. Jesus probably did not originally compose the prayer in Greek, but in his native language (either Aramaic language or Hebrew), but the consensus view is that the New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek. This implies the probability of language interpretation (i.e., spoken Aramaic to written Greek) at the outset of recording the Gospel. Thus, the meaning of any such word is often difficult to determine, because cross-references and comparisons with other usages are not possible, except by morphological analysis.
The most popular morphological analysis sees prefix epi- and a polysemantic word ousia even though that doesn't follow the standard Greek form of building compound words. Usually the iota at the end of epi would be dropped in the compound (compare, e. g., eponym).:88 This is not an absolute rule, however: Jean Carmignac has collected 26 compound words that violate it. Alternatively, the word may be analyzed as a feminine participle from two different verbs.
To sum up, both modern and ancient scholars have proposed several different translations for epiousios. Even Jerome, the most important translator of the Bible to Latin, translated this same word in the same context in two different ways. Today there is no consensus on the exact meaning. What follows is a review of the alternative translations.
Daily has long been the most common English translation of epiousios. It is the term used in the Tyndale Bible, the King James Version, and in the most popular modern English versions.:75 This rests on the analysis of epi as for and ousia as being; the word would mean "for the [day] being" with day being implicit.
This version is based on the Latin rendering of epiousios as quotidianum, rather than the alternative Latin translation of supersubstantialem. This quotidianum interpretation is first recorded in the works of Tertullian.:251 This was used in the Vetus Latina, a collective term for various "Old Latin" Bible translations prior to Jerome's Vulgate.
The Vulgate is a late fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible from its original languages, and was largely the work of St. Jerome. Jerome was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in the year 382 to revise the Vetus Latina version of the Gospels. In Luke 11:3, Jerome rendered epiousios, via what had become at that point tradition, as quotidianum, and yet in Matthew 6:11 he also rendered epiousios as supersubstantialem from its morphological components. The quotidianum translation remains in the Latin text of the Roman Catholic Mass, even though the same liturgy mainly references the Gospel of Matthew, which uses supersubstantialem for translating epiousios.:59
Some translators have proposed slight variations on daily as the most accurate. Richard Francis Weymouth, an English schoolmaster, translated it as "bread for today" in the Weymouth New Testament. Edgar J. Goodspeed in An American Translation used "bread for the day." Another option is to view epiousios as an allusion to Exodus 16:4 where God promises to provide a day's portion of manna every day. This verse could be an attempt to translate the Hebrew of "bread sufficient to the day" into Greek.:147
The word epiouse (επιούση) is found in Acts 7:26, 16:11, 20:15, 21:18 and 23:11. This word is typically taken to mean "the next" in the context of "the next day or night". It has been suggested that epiousios is a feminised version of epiouse.:20–21
Today, most scholars reject the translation of epiousios as meaning daily. The word daily only has a weak connection to any proposed etymologies for epiousios. Moreover, all other instances of "daily" in the English New Testament translate hemeran (ἡμέραν, "the day"), which does not appear in this usage. Because there are several other Greek words based on hemera that mean daily, no reason is apparent to use such an obscure word as epiousios. The daily translation also makes the term redundant, with "this day" already making clear the bread is for the current day.:59
In the Vulgate Jerome translated epiousios in Matthew 6:11 as supersubstantial, coining a new word not before seen in Latin. This came from the analysis of the prefix epi- as super and ousia in the sense of substance. The Catholic Church believes that this, or superessential, is the most literal English translation via Latin, which lacks a grammatical form for being, the literal translation of the Greek ousia, and so substance or essence are used instead.
This translation is used by some modern Bibles. In the Douay-Rheims Bible English translation of the Vulgate (Matthew 6:11) reads "give us this day our supersubstantial bread." The translation of supersubstantial bread has also been associated with the eucharist, as early as in the time of the Church Fathers:154 and later also by the Council of Trent (1551).
In 1979, the Nova Vulgata, also called the Neo-Vulgate, became the official Latin edition of the Bible published by the Holy See for use in the contemporary Roman rite. It is not an edition of the historical Vulgate, but a revision of the text intended to accord with modern critical Hebrew and Greek texts and produce a style closer to classical Latin. The Nova Vulgata retains the same correspondence-of-meaning for epiousios in the Lord's Prayer contained in the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke as in the Vulgate, i.e., supersubstantialem and quotidianum.
Today, the Roman Catholic Church instructs its faithful via the Catechism of the Catholic Church that there are several meanings to epiousios, and that "epi-ousios" is most literally translated as super-essential:
"Daily" (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken in a temporal sense, this word is a pedagogical repetition of "this day," to confirm us in trust "without reservation." Taken in the qualitative sense, it signifies what is necessary for life, and more broadly every good thing sufficient for subsistence. Taken literally (epi-ousios: "super-essential"), it refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the "medicine of immortality," without which we have no life within us. Finally in this connection, its heavenly meaning is evident: "this day" is the Day of the Lord, the day of the feast of the kingdom, anticipated in the Eucharist that is already the foretaste of the kingdom to come. For this reason it is fitting for the Eucharistic liturgy to be celebrated each day.
...epiousios... [is] an absolutely unique word. Etymologically..., epi- means "on top of" and -ousios means "substance" or "being". So it means suprasubstantial bread. Suprasubstantial bread: more-than-necessary bread. In the first Latin translation of the Lord's Prayer, done by Jerome it was..., panem supersubstantialem. Somewhere along the way it became "cotidianum, daily". Luther translated "daily" from the beginning: tägliches Brot. But in all languages that traditionally Eastern Christians use—Greek, Slavonic, and all the Arabic languages: Aramaic, Arabic—it doesn't say that; it just says a word that's similar to that.... How do they translate it [into those languages]? ...they claim that the best translation would be: "Give us today the bread of tomorrow". Give us today the bread of the coming age, the bread that when you eat it, you can never die. What is the food of the coming age? It's God himself, God's word, God's Son, God's lamb, God's bread, which we already have here on earth, on earth, before the second coming. So what we're really saying is, "Feed us today with the bread of the coming age", because we are taught by Jesus not to seek the bread that perishes, but the bread that, you eat it, you can never die.
This translation has often been connected to the eucharist. The bread necessary for existence is the communion bread of the Last Supper. That the gospel writers needed to create a new word indicates to Eugene LaVerdiere, the late Catholic American priest and Scripture scholar of the post-Vatican II era, that they are describing something new. Eating the communion bread at the Last Supper created the need for a new word for this new concept.:9
Supersubstantial was the dominant Latin translation of epiousios from Matthew for many centuries after Jerome, and influenced church ritual. It was the basis for the argument advanced by theologians such as Cyprian that communion must be eaten daily. That only bread is mentioned led to the practice of giving the laity only the bread and not the wine of the Eucharist. This verse was cited in arguments against the Utraquists. The translation was reconsidered with the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther originally kept supersubstantial but switched to daily by 1528.
Brant Pitre, a Catholic theologian at Notre Dame Seminary, observes that the supernatural translation for epiousios "despite being widely held among ancient Christians, receives virtually no support among modern exegetes....despite the fact that it is easily the most literal translation." Those rejecting this translation include some Roman Catholic Biblical scholars, such as Raymond E. Brown, Jean Carmignac, and Nicholas Ayo.
There is no known source word from Aramaic or Hebrew, the native languages of Jesus, that translates into the Greek word epiousios. In fact, there is no word in either of these languages that easily translates as supersubstantial, a unique translation for a unique Greek word.
M. Eugene Boring, a Protestant theologian at Texas Christian University, claims that the connection with the Eucharist is ahistoric because he thinks that the ritual only developed some time after the Gospel was written and that the author of Matthew does not seem to have any knowledge of or interest in the Eucharist. Craig Blomberg, also a Protestant New Testament scholar, agrees that these "concepts had yet to be introduced when Jesus gave his original prayer and therefore could not have been part of his original meaning.":131
Necessary for existence
Another interpretation is to link epiousios to the Greek word ousia meaning both the verb to be and the noun substance. Origen was the first writer to comment on the unusual word. A native Greek speaker writing a century and half after the Gospels were composed, he did not recognize the word and thought it was an original neologism. Origen thought "bread necessary for existence" was the most likely meaning, connecting it to the to be translation of ousia.
Philosopher Raïssa Maritain, wife of philosopher Jacques Maritain, comments that during her era of the 1940s this translation was found to be the most acceptable by modern scholars. Her own conclusion was stated as being in agreement with Theodore of Mopsuestia, that being the "bread we need." This was seen as vague enough to cover what was viewed as the three possible etymological meanings: (1) literal - the "bread of tomorrow or the bread of the present day," (2) analogical - the "bread we need in order to subsist," and (3) spiritual/mystical - the bread "which is above our substance" (i.e., supersubstantial).
Like daily, this translation also has the problem that there are well known Greek words that could have been used instead.
For the future
The "for the future" translation is today held by the majority of scholars.:175 Early supporters of this translation include Cyril of Alexandria and Peter of Laodicea by way of linking epiousios with the verb epienai, "of tomorrow.":217 According to Jewish theologian Herbert Basser, this translation was also considered (but eventually rejected) as a possibility by Jerome, who noted it as an aside in his commentary to Matthew that the Gospel of the Hebrews used ma[h]ar ("for tomorrow") in this verse.:185
Raymond E. Brown claims it is also indicated by early Bohairic and Sahidic sources. Referencing epiousei in Acts 7:26, the Lutheran theologian Albert Schweitzer, reintroduced this translation in modern times. A "for the future" reading leads to a cluster of related translations, including: "bread for tomorrow," "bread for the future," and "bread for the coming day."
Beyond the literal meaning, this translation can also be read in an eschatological context: "the petition for an anticipation of the world to come." Others see tomorrow being referenced to the end times and the bread that of the messianic feast.:32 Raymond Brown argues that all the other phrases of the Lord's Prayer are eschatological, so it would be incongruous for this phrase to be speaking prosaically about bread for eating. Eduard Schweizer, a Swiss New Testament scholar and theologian, disagrees. Humble bread was not traditionally presented as part of the messianic feast and the prosaic need for bread to survive would have been a universal sentiment of Jesus' followers.
According to the Catholic theologian Brant Pitre, a "for the future'" interpretation is "remarkably...now held by a majority of scholars," but that "the primary weakness of this view is its lack of support among ancient Christian interpreters, whose command of Greek was surely as good if not better than that of modern scholars.":175 He further states that 'supernatural' "translates (epiousios) as it stands as literally as possible." Moreover, "among ancient authors, the supernatural interpretation finds remarkably wide support, which strangely often goes unmentioned by modern studies." Pope Benedict XVI in his analysis wrote similarly on the same topic, stating "the fact is that the Fathers of the Church were practically unanimous in understanding the fourth petition of the Our Father (Lord's Prayer) as a Eucharistic petition.":153–153
The enigma of epiousios continues, however, as several logical and linguistic flaws exist in the analysis as being "for the future." Alongside the weak etymology regarding epienai, a "for the future" interpretation was rarely considered as proper by early writers, who are presumed to have had far more knowledge of Koiné Greek knowledge than any modern scholar. Also substantially undercutting the "for the future" interpretation, an adjectival form for "tomorrow" exists in ancient Greek, e.g., αὔριον in Matthew 6:34, and could easily have been used instead of the one-time-use ἐπιούσιον.
Yet another problem with a "for the future" translation is it also seems to contradict Matthew 6:31, where only a few verses later Jesus tells his followers not to worry about food, that God will take care of such needs. W.D. Davies, a Welsh Congregationalist scholar, and Dale Allison, an American New Testament scholar, however, don't see a contradiction. Matthew 6:34 tells one not to be anxious about such needs. That a pious person asks God in prayer for these needs to be filled, may rather be why there is no need to worry.
Doesn't run out
Kenneth E. Bailey, a professor of theology and linguistics, proposed "give us today the bread that doesn't run out" as the correct translation. The Syriac versions of the Bible were some of the first translations of the Gospels from the Greek into another language. Syriac is also close to Jesus' own Aramaic, and the translators close in time and language to Jesus should thus have had considerable insight into his original meanings. In Syriac epiousios is translated as anemo, meaning lasting or perpetual.:120
Lutheran scholar Douglas E. Oakman suggests "give us today bread in abundance" as another translation. He notes that in the contemporary literature ousia can mean substance, but it also has a concrete meaning of a large, substantial, estate. Thus as a cognate of the word periousiois, epiousios could refer to plentiful or abundant bread.:64
Oakman also notes contemporary sources that translate ousia as the royal or imperial estate and proposes that the verse could originally have meant "give us the royal bread ration for today."
That belongs to it
Davies and Allison state that the verse has also been translated as "give us this day the bread that belongs to it," though they concede that this expression is little recognized by modern scholars.
The Old Church Slavonic canon translates epiousios variously as well. For example, Codex Marianus translates it as насѫщьнъі (nasǫštĭnŭì, which appears to be a calque of epiousios with debatable semantics) in Luke 11:3 but наставъшааго дьне (nastavŭšaago dĭne, ‘for the coming day’) in Matthew 6:11, Sava's book agrees in the latter case, but has дьневьнъі (dĭnevĭnŭì, ‘daily’) in the former, while Codex Zographensis has надьневьнъі and настоѩшт… respectively.
New Church Slavonic bible has насꙋщный in both cases now, following 16th-century Ostrog Bible, and the dictionaries translate the New Church Slavonic word as ‘necessary for existence’ (note that the sense of the word likely changed in course of the time), from which derives Russian насущный.
Equivalent terms used in other languages
|Albanian||të përditëshme / të përditshme|
|اليوم (al-yawma)||of the day|
|كل يوم (kullu yawmin)||everyday|
|Aragonese||de cada diya||of each day|
|Asturian||de tolos díes||of all days|
|Basque||egun honetako||of this day||Elizen Arteko Biblia|
|eguneco / eguneko||of the day||Joanes Leizarraga / Elizen Arteko Biblia|
|Catalan||de cada dia||of each day|
|dat wij nodig hebben||that we need|||
|Estonian||igapäevast / igapäevane||daily|
|French||de ce jour||of this day|||
|dont nous avons besoin||that we need|||
|qu'il nous faut||that we lack|||
|de la journée||of the day|||
|pour jour||for the day|||
|de demain||of tomorrow|||
|Galician||de cada día||of each day|
|das wir brauchen||that we need|||
|Korean||일용할||of daily use|
|Latino sine flexione||quotidiano||quotidian|
|Latvian||dienišķo / dienišķu||daily|
|Lithuanian||kasdieninės / kasdienės||daily|
|Macedonian||насуштен / насушен|
|Portuguese||de cada dia||of each day|
|Romanian||cea de toate zilele|
|cea spre fiinţă|
|Russian||насущный||vital, essential, necessary, urgent|
|Sardinian||cutiddianu / cutiddianu||quotidian|
|Slovak||vozdajší / každodenný|
|Spanish||de cada día||of each day|||
|sustancial de cada día||substantial of each day|||
|för dagen som kommer||for the day that comes|||
|Syriac||ܝܘܡܢܐ (yawmānā)||present/of the day|
|Ukrainian||насущний / насущного||vital, essential, necessary, urgent|
|Valencian||de cada dia||of each day|
|Walloon||po nosse djournêye||for our day|
|Yiddish||טעגלעך (teglekh)/ יבער-יקערדיק(iber-ikerdik)||daily/super-essential|
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- Gotteslob, 1975
- Die Bibel: Altes und Neues Testament, 1981
- Studentmållagsbibelen, 1921
- In the Spanish version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as in the Orthodox Church.
- In the Russian Orthodox Church.
- Äldre version, 1917
- Modern version, 1981
- Nya testamentet, 1981
- M. Nijman and K. A. Worp. "ΕΠΙΟΥΣΙΟΣ in a documentary papyrus?". Novum Testamentum XLI (1999) 3 (July), p. 231-234.
- B.M. Metzger, "How Many Times Does ΕΠΙΟΥΣΙΟΣ Occur outside The Lord's Prayer?" ExpTimes 69 (1957–58) 52–54.