What’s the best translation for 1 Thessalonians 5:17?
Pray without ceasing.
Don’t cease praying.
The Greek is, ἀδιαλείπτως προσεύχεσθε. Short. Sweet. To the point.
What’s the point?
For ἀδιαλείπτως, lexicons have glosses like ‘unintermitting’, ‘incessant’, even ‘continuously’. ‘Incessant’, in English, means “to continue, seemingly without an interruption.” Is that what the sentence is saying?
If one searches for other places where the idea of unceasing prayer might occur, you’ll find the following three. There might be others I missed. If you find some, please comment with the reference.
- προσευχὴ δὲ ἦν ἐκτενῶς γινομένη ὑπὸ τῆς ἐκκλησίας πρὸς τὸν θεὸν περὶ αὐτοῦ
- but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.[KJV]
- But the church earnestly began to pray for him.[My translation]
Luke did not use ἀδιαλείπτως here. He used ἐκτενῶς, and I think it is more likely in the sense of ‘earnestly’ or ‘eagerly’ than’continually’.
- ὡς ἀδιαλείπτως μνείαν ὑμῶν ποιοῦμαι
- that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers[KJV]
- that I’ve never stopped thinking about you in my prayers.[My translation]
2 Timothy 1:3:
- ὡς ἀδιάλειπτον ἔχω τὴν περὶ σοῦ μνείαν ἐν ταῖς δεήσεσίν μου νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας
- that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;[KJV]
- that I haven’t stopped thinking about you in either my daytime or evening-time prayers.[My translation]
I think there’s an intensity inherent in the words ἀδιάλειπτος or ἀδιαλείπτως. That’s why I like the more verbose stating the positive by negating the negative (“have not stopped”).
I think translating 1 Thessalonians 5:17 with the words “without ceasing” carry the idea of “unending, continuous prayer” to the English mind. I think such an action is impossible and others think so, too. So, they interpret it to mean “be in a continual state of prayer”. However, that doesn’t seem to fit the other similar occurrences. So, I don’t think that is accurate. I think the sentence should be translated as:
- Don’t stop praying!
Short. Sweet. To the point. What do you think? And why?