Epiousios (Koine Greek: επιούσιος) is a highly unique ancient Greek word, such that it is used only in the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer as an adjective that qualifies the accompanying word "bread." Recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 6:11) and the Gospel of Luke (Luke 11:3), the word epiousios is not found anywhere else in the original scriptures of the Bible, nor anywhere else in all of ancient Greek literature. The meaning of any such word is often difficult to determine, as cross-references and comparisons with other usages aren't possible except by linguistic parsing of the word's components.
By tradition, the most common English language translation is daily, though most scholars today reject this. While epiousios is often substituted by the word "daily," all other New Testament translations from the Greek into "daily" otherwise reference hemeran (ἡμέραν, "the day"), which does not appear in this usage.
There are several reasons as to why 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. Another challenge is that Jesus would either have spoken his native Aramaic language or Hebrew, and the consensus view is that the language of the New Testament was originally written in a form of Koine Greek, implying the strong possibility of interpretation (i.e., spoken-Aramaic to written-Greek) at the outset of recording the Gospel.
The Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination by far, holds the view in its Catechism that there are several ways of understanding epiousios, including the traditional daily, but that it is most literally translated via linguistic parsing as supersubstantial or superessential. Alternative theories are that—aside from the etymology of ousia, meaning substance—it may be either derived from the verb to be or from the word verb ienai, meaning both to come and to go.
Per 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."
Appearances and uniqueness
In the original Greek, the word is in an adjectival form, epiousion – here from Matthew – and is the only adjective in the Lord's Prayer:
- Τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον
- (Interlinear: "The -- bread -- of-us -- - -- epiousion -- give -- us -- today")
Per Novum Testamentum Graece, a compendium source document for most current New Testament translations and the standard for related academic work, the word appears in both the original Gospels of Matthew and Luke as part of the Lord's Prayer. The Didache, a first or second century guide to Christian discipleship, also quotes ἐπιούσιον from Matthew verbatim in 8:2.
The word epiousios is only found in the two versions of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew and Luke, and does not exist anywhere else in known ancient Greek literature. This makes epiousios a hapax legomenon – a Greek phrase meaning 'a word used only once'.
It was only in the twentieth century that a single additional use of the word seemed to be discovered. The document in which it was found is a 5th-century CE shopping list, identified as Sammelbuch 5224,20. The word epiousios is written 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, the papyrus containing the shopping list went missing for many years, until it was discovered in 1998 at the Yale Beinecke Library. The original transcriber, A. H. Sayce, was apparently known as a poor transcriber, and re-examination of the papyrus found "elaiou" (oil) but not "epiousios". Furthermore, the document was reassessed to date from the first or second century CE. Therefore, there seems indeed to be no other occurrence of the word in Greek literature. Epiousei used in Acts 7:26 to refer to the next day may be a related word.
Translations and interpretations
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 an exact translation, and without more information there can be linguistic theories but no absolute proof.
Daily has long been the most common English rendering for epiousios based on tradition, if not actual translation. It is the term used in the Tyndale Bible, the King James Version, and in the most popular modern versions. The linguistic parsing behind this interpretation is that epi can mean for and ousia can mean being, and the word could be read as "for the [day] being" with day an injected assumption by the translator.
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. This was used in the Vetus Latina, a collective term for various "Old Latin" Bible translations and interpretations of the original Greek prior to the invention of the printing press and bound books as they are known today.
The Vulgate is a late fourth-century Latin translation of the original-language Biblical scripture, and is largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in the year 382 to revise the Vetus Latina. In Luke, Jerome interpreted epiousios, via what had become at that point tradition, as quotidianum, and yet he also translated epiousios in Matthew as supersubstantialem via linguistic parsing. While since Vatican II the Catholic Church celebrates the liturgical Mass in the local language, not Latin, the cotidianum translation remains in the Latin text of the Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass, even though the same liturgy mainly references the Gospel of Matthew, which uses supersubstantialem for translating epiousios.
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 link the word 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 daily bread sufficient to the day into Greek.
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, the word day in Greek is hemera, which does not appear in this usage. There are also several other Greek words based on hemera that mean daily, which gives no reason 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. Moreover, all other New Testament chapter and verse translations of scripture from their original Greek phrase into "daily" otherwise reference hemeran (ἡμέραν, "the day"), which does not appear in this usage.
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 linguistic parsing of the prefix epi- meaning super and the substance definition of ousia. The Catholic Church believes that this, or superessential, is the most literal translation.
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 and later also by the Council of Trent (1551).
In 1979, the Nova Vulgata (Nova Vulgata Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio), 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 cotidianum.
Today, the Roman Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination by far, 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."
In the Catholic Church, the Magisterium is the authority to lay down what is the authentic teaching of the Church, which since Pius XII's Divino afflante Spiritu has included an embrace of Biblical Criticism.
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, a deceased 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 needed a new word for this new concept.
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 laity only getting bread communion, with this verse cited in arguments against the Utraquists. The translation was reconsidered with the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther originally kept supersubstantial but switch 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, Leonardo Boff 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 kind, there is no word in either of these languages that easily translates as supersubstantial, a unique translation for a unique word. Catholic theologican Leonardo Boff once stated that Jerome's translation of epi- as super was incorrect, as he felt it should be translated as concerning as can be seen in words such as epinephes (cloudy) and epidorpios (stewed).
M. Eugene Boring, a Protestant theologian at Texas Christian University, claims that the connection with the eucharist is ahistoric as the ritual only developed some time after the Gospel was written and the author of Matthew does not seem to have any knowledge of or interest in the rituals of the eucharist. Craig Blomberg, 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."
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 had been assembled, 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.
One problem with the epi + ouisa theory is it does not follow the standard Greek form of building compound words. Usually the iota at the end of epi would be dropped in the compound. This is not an absolute rule, and Jean Carmignac has collected 26 compound words that violate it. Like daily, this translation also has the problem that there are well known Greek words that could have been used instead.
For the future
Another translation widely considered possible that epiousios is related to the verb ienai, meaning both to come and to go. Epiousei used in Acts 7:26 to refer to the next day may be a related word. There is no known adjective meaning for tomorrow in contemporary works, and it is thus possible that a writer was forced to coin a new word to preserve the desired structure of the verse. One problem is that the -ios suffix is usually added to nouns not adjectives.
This leads to a cluster of related translations including: "bread for tomorrow," "bread for the future," and "bread for the coming day." This translation is also advanced as a possibility by Jerome who notes that the Gospel of the Hebrews used ma[h]ar ("for tomorrow") in this verse. Other early supporters of this translation are Cyril of Alexandria and Peter of Laodicea. It is also indicated by early Bohairic and Sahidic translations. Albert Schweitzer reintroduced this translation in modern times and most scholars today believe this is the most plausible origin of epiousios.
Beyond the literal meaning, this translation can also be read in an eschatological context, with the tomorrow being referenced being the end times and the bread that of the messianic feast. A prominent advocate for this interpretation is Roman Catholic scholar Raymond E. Brown. He argues that all the other verses of the Lord's Prayer are eschatological, so it would be incongruous for this verse 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.
This is one translation by modern scholars, with linguistic links as well in both Greek and Aramaic, but one flaw is that it was rarely considered by early writers with far more Koine Greek knowledge than any modern scholar. Another problem with this 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, 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, an Episcopal 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.
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 by connection with the word periousiois, epiousios could refer to plentiful or abundant bread.
Oakman also notes contemporary sources that translate ousia as the royal or imperial estate, and the verse could also originally have meant "give us the royal bread ration for today."
That belongs to it
Davies and Allison note that the verse has also been translated as "give us this day the bread that belongs to it," though they note that this expression is little recognized by modern scholars.
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- Brant Pitre (23 November 2015). Jesus and the Last Supper. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 172. ISBN 978-1-4674-4404-0.
- William David Davies; Dale C. Allison (Jr.) (1988). Matthew. Clark. p. 608.
- https://books.google.com/books?id=bWxeCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA172&lpg=PA172&dq=brant+pitre+epiousios+%22jesus+and+the+last+supper%22&source=bl&ots=ORlXWQbpng&sig=TYndXio9V13h5m-l-dlNd5finJE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjIn4vE3ezPAhUQ7mMKHbnCAnEQ6AEIOTAE#v=onepage&q=brant%20pitre%20epiousios%20%22jesus%20and%20the%20last%20supper%22&f=false page 175
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