The Greek text of 1 Tim. 2:1 according to the Textus Receptus (Estienne, 1550):
Παρακαλῶ οὖν πρῶτον πάντων ποιεῖσθαι δεήσεις προσευχάς ἐντεύξεις εὐχαριστίας ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀνθρώπων
The Greek words in question are (in the order in which they occur):
- δεήσεις (lemma: δέησις)
- προσευχάς (lemma: προσευχή)
- ἐντεύξεις (lemma: ἔντευξις)
- εὐχαριστίας (lemma: εὐχαριστία)
A summary of the following information is included at the end of the post for those who wish to skip the detailed information which follows.
The easiest of these words to discern is the Greek word εὐχαριστία. It is a noun referring to the state of "thankfulness," the act of "giving thanks," and later, to the Eucharist itself.1 It is related to the adjective εὐχάριστος, "thankful," as well as the verb εὐχαριστέω, "to give thanks."
However, with respect to the other three words, expositors vary in their understanding. In his Synonyms of the New Testament, §51, p. 177), Richard C. Trench wrote a detailed analysis of the words εὐχή, προσευχή, δέησις, ἔντευξις, εὐχαριστία, αἴτημα, ἱκετηρία, which I've included below.2
- I've added as many hyperlinks to Trench's sources as I could.
- Where no English translation of Trench's Greek and Latin citations can be found in the public domain, I've translated the Green and Latin to the best of my ability. However, where such English translations of Greek and Latin citations can be found in the public domain, I've included those for the sake of brevity along with the translator's name (if noted with the translation).
Four of these words occur together at 1 Tim. 2:1; on which Flacius Illyricus (Clavis Scripturae, p. 1063, Oratio) justly observes: "Quem vocum acervum procul dubio Paulus non temere congessit" ("...which multitude of words, without doubt, Paul compiled deliberately."). I propose to consider not these only, but the larger group of which they form a portion.
Εὐχή is found only once in the N. T. in the sense of a prayer (Jam. 5:15); twice besides in that of a vow (Acts 18:18; 21:23); compare Plato (Legg., §801a), εὐχαὶ παρὰ θεῶν αἰτήσεις εἰσίν ("εὐχαὶ are requests to gods"). On the distinction between it and προσευχή, between εὔχεσθαι and προσεύχεσθαι, there is a long discussion in Origen (De Oratione, Ch. 2-4), but of no great value, and not bringing out more than the obvious fact that in εὐχή and εὔχεσθαι the notion of the vow, of the dedicated thing, is more commonly found than that of prayer. A more interesting treatment of the words, and the difference between them, may be found in Gregory of Nyssa, De Oratione, Dominica Orationes, §2, ad init[io] ("from the beginning").
Προσευχή and δέησις often in the N. T. occur together (Phil. 4:6; Ephes. 6:18; 1 Tim. 2:1; 5:5), and not unfrequently in the Septuagint (Ps. 6:10; Dan. 9:21, 23; cf. 1 Macc. 7:37). There have been many, but for the most part not very successful, attempts to distinguish between them. (Hugo) Grotius, for instance, affirms that they are severally ‘precatio’ and ‘deprecatio’; that the first seeks to obtain good, the second to avert evil. Augustine, let me note by the way, in his treatment of the more important in this group of words (Epistle 149, §12–16; cf. Bishop Taylor, Preface to Apology for Set Forms of Liturgy, §31), which, though interesting, yields few definite results of value, observes that in his time this distinction between ‘precatio’ and ‘deprecatio’ had practically quite disappeared.
Theodoret, who had anticipated Grotius here, explains προσευχή as αἴτησις ἀγαθῶν ("a request of good things"), and δέησις as ὑπὲρ ἀπαλλαγῆς τινῶν λυπηρῶν ἰκετεία προφερομένη ("a supplication presented for the removal of certain evils"). He has here in this last definition the words of Aristotle (Rhetoric, §2.7.3) before him: δεήσεις εἰσὶν αἱ ὀρέξεις, καὶ τούτων μάλιστα αἱ μετὰ λύπης τοῦ μὴ γιγνομένου (J. H. Freese: "By needs I mean longings, especially for things the failure to obtain which is accompanied by pain"): compare Gregory of Nazianzus (Carmina Moralia), δέησιν οἴου τὴν αἴτησιν ἐνδεῶν ("While in need, [your] request is a δέησις").
But this distinction is altogether arbitrary; it neither lies in the words, nor is it borne out by usage. Better (John) Calvin, who makes προσευχή (== ‘precatio’), prayer in general, δέησις (== ‘rogatio’), prayer for particular benefits: "προσευχή omne genus orationis, δέησις ubi certum aliquid petitur; genus et species" ("Προσευχαὶ is the Greek word for every kind of prayer; and δεήσεις denotes those forms of petitions in which something definite is asked. In this way the two words agree with each other, as genus and species."). (Johann Albrecht) Bengel’s distinction amounts very nearly to the same thing: "δέησις (a δεῖ) est imploratio gratiae in necessitate quâdam speciali; προσευχή, oratio, exercetur quâlibet oblatione voluntatum et desideriorum erga Deum" ("δέησις (from δεῖ) is the imploring of grace in any special necessity: προσευχὴ, prayer, is exercised, when on any occasion we offer our wishes and desires to God.").
But Calvin and Bengel, bringing out one important point of distinction, have yet failed to bring out another—namely, that προσευχή is ‘res sacra’ ("a sacred word"), the word being restricted to sacred uses; it is always prayer to God; δέησις has no such restriction. (Karl Friedrich August) Fritzsche (pp. 372-373) (on Rom. 10:1) has not failed to urge this: ‘ἡ προσευχή et ἡ δέησις differunt ut precatio et rogatio. Προσεύχεσθαι et ἡ προσευχή verba sacra sunt; precamur enim Deum: δεῖσθαι, τὸ δέημα (Aristophanes, Acharnians, §1059) et ἡ δέησις tum in sacrâ tum in profanâ re usurpantur; nam et Deum rogare possumus et homines.’ (For a translation of Fritzsche's remark, see the "Summary" at the end of the post.) It is the same distinction as in our ‘prayer’ (though that has been too much brought down to mundane uses) and ‘petition,’ in the German ‘Gebet’ and ‘Bitte.’
Ἔντευξις occurs in the N. T. only at 1 Tim. 2:1; 4:5; (but ἐντυγχάνειν four or five times), and once in the Apocrypha (2 Macc. 4:8). ‘Intercession,’ by which the A. V. translates it, is not, as we now understand ‘intercession,’ a satisfactory rendering. For ἔντευξις does not necessarily mean what intercession at present commonly does mean—namely, prayer in relation to others (at 1 Tim. 4:5 such meaning is impossible); a pleading either for them or against them.3 Least of all does it mean exclusively the latter, a pleading against our enemies, as Theodoret, on Rom. 11:2, missing the fact that the ‘against’ lay there in the κατά, would imply, when he says: ἔντευξις ἐστὶ κατηγορία τῶν ἀδικούντων ("ἔντευξις is an accusation of the wrongdoers"); cf. Hesychius: δέησις εἰς ἐκδίκησιν ὑπέρ τινος ("a δέησις is for avenging on someone's behalf") (Rom. 8:34), κατά τινος ("against someone") (Rom. 11:2); but, as its connexion with ἐντυγχάνειν, to fall in with a person, to draw close to him so as to enter into familiar speech and communion with him (Plutarch, Conjugalia Praecepta, §13), implies, it is free familiar prayer, such as boldly draws near to God (Gen. 18:23; Wisd. 8:21; cf. Philo, Quod Deterius Potiori Insidiari Soleat, §92: ἐντεύξεις καὶ ἐκβοήσεις (Charles Yonge: "conversations with and cries"); Plutarch, Phocion, §17).
In justice, however, to our Translators, it must be observed that ‘intercession’ had not in their time that limited meaning of prayer for others which we now ascribe to it; see Jer. 27:18; 36:25. The Vulgate has ‘postulationes’; but Augustine, in a discussion on this group of words referred to already (Epistle 149, §12–16), prefers ‘interpellationes,’ as better bringing out the παῤῥησία, the freedom and boldness of access, which is involved in, and constitutes the fundamental idea of, the ἔντευξις—‘interpellare,’ to interrupt another in speaking, ever implying forwardness and freedom. Origen (De Oratione, §14) in like manner makes the boldness of approach to God, asking, it may be, some great thing (he instances Josh. 10:12), the fundamental notion of the ἔντευξις. It might mean indeed more than this, Plato using it of a possible encounter with pirates (Politic., §298d).
Εὐχαριστία, which our Translators have rendered ‘thankfulness’ (Acts 24:3); ‘giving of thanks’ (1 Cor. 14:16); ‘thanks’ (Rev. 4:9); ‘thanksgiving’ (Phil. 4:6), a somewhat rare word elsewhere, is frequent in sacred Greek. It would be out of place to dwell here on the special meaning which εὐχαριστία and ‘eucharist’ have acquired from the fact that in the Holy Communion the Church embodies her highest act of thanksgiving for the highest benefits which she has received of God. Regarded as one manner of prayer, it expresses that which ought never to be absent from any of our devotions (Phil. 4:6; Ephes. 5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18; 1 Tim. 2:1); namely, the grateful acknowledgment of past mercies, as distinguished from the earnest seeking of future. As such it may, and will, subsist in heaven (Rev. 4:9; 7:12); will indeed be larger, deeper, fuller there than here: for only there will the redeemed know how much they owe to their Lord; and this it will do, while all other forms of prayer, in the very nature of things, will have ceased in the entire possession and present fruition of the things prayed for.
(Trench next discusses Αἴτημα, but this has been omitted as this word is not relevant to the context of 1 Tim. 2:1.)
Ἱκετηρία, with ῥάβδος, or ἐλαία, or some such word understood, like ἱλαστήριον, θυσιαστήριον, δικαστήριον, and other words of the same termination (see (Christian) Lobeck, Pathologiae Sermonis Graeci, p. 281), was originally an adjective, but little by little obtained substantival power, and learned to go alone. It is explained by Plutarch (Theseus, §18): κλάδος ἀπὸ τῆς ἱερᾶς ἐλαίας ἐρίῳ λευκῷ κατεστεμμένος (Bernadotte Perrin: "This was a bough from the sacred olive-tree, wreathed with white wool.") (cf. Wyttenbach, Animadd. in Plutarch. vol. xiii. p. 89; and Wunder on Sophocles, Oedip. Rex, 3), the olive-branch bound round with white wool, held forth by the suppliant in token of the character which he bore (Aeschylus, Eumenides, §43-44; compare Virgil, Aeneid, §8.116: ‘Paciferaeque manu ramum praetendit olivae’ (John Dryden: "And he held a branch of olive in his hand"), and again §8.128: ‘Et vittâ comtos voluit praetendere ramos’ (John Dryden: "I bear these peaceful branches in my hand") and once more §11.101 (John Dryden: "A truce with olive branch in his hand"). A deprecatory letter, which Antiochus Epiphanes is said on his death-bed to have written to the Jews, is described (2 Macc. 9:18) as ἱκετηρίας τάξιν ἔχουσα (RSV: "in the form of a supplication"), and Agrippa designates one addressed to Caligula: γραφὴ ἣν ἀνθ᾽ ἱκετηρίας προτείνω (Charles Yonge: "...a writing...which I now here offer to you as my earnest petition.") (Philo, De Legatione ad Caium, §276). It is easy to trace the steps by which this, the symbol of supplication, came to signify the supplication itself. It does so on the only occasion when it occurs in the N. T. (Heb. 5:7), being there joined to δέησις, as it often is elsewhere (Job 41:3 [40:27 LXX.]; Polybius, Histories, §3.112.8).
Thus much on the distinction between these words; although, when all has been said, it will still to a great extent remain true that they will often set forth, not different kinds of prayer, but prayer contemplated from different sides and under different aspects.
Witsius (Exercitationes in Orationem Dominicam, §1, p. 2): "Mihi sic videtur, unam eandemque rem diversis nominibus designari pro diversis quos habet aspectibus. Preces nostrae δεήσεις vocantur, quatenus iis nostram apud Deum testamur egestatem, nam δέεσθαι indigere est; προσευχαί, quatenus vota nostra continent; αἰτήματα, quatenus exponunt petitiones et desideria; ἐντεύξεις, quatenus non timide et diffidenter, sed familiariter, Deus se a nobis adiri patitur; ἔντευξις enim est colloquium et congressus familiaris: εὐχαριστίαν gratiarum actionem esse pro acceptis jam beneficiis, notius est quam ut moneri oportuit"
which is translated (by Rev. William Pringle) as,
"My opinion is, that the various names express one and the same thing, viewed under various aspects. Our prayers are called δεήσεις, so far as by them we declared to God our need, for δέεσθαι is to be in need. They are προσευχαί, as they contain our wishes. They are αἰτήματα, as they express petitions and desires. They are ἐντεύξεις, as we are permitted by God to approach Him, not with timidty and diffidence, but in a familiar manner. For ἔντευξις is a familiar conversion and interview. That εὐχαριστίαν is thanksgiving for benefits already received, is hardly necessary to be mentioned."
On the Hebrew correlatives to the several words of this group, see Vitringa, De Synagogâ, §3.2.13.
- προσευχάς (lemma: προσευχή)
- δεήσεις (lemma: δέησις)
Trent: It is the same distinction as in our 'prayer' (though that has been too much brought down to mundane uses) and 'petition.'
Fritzsche: ἡ προσευχή and ἡ δέησις differ so that [ἡ προσευχή ] is "prayer" and ἡ δέησις is "petition; request." [The verb] προσεύχεσθαι and [the noun] ἡ προσευχή are sacred words. That is to say, we are praying to God. While [the verb] δεῖσθαι, [the noun] τὸ δέημα, and [the noun] ἡ δέησις are applied to a sacred and a profane thing, because we can petition both God and men.
- ἐντεύξεις (lemma: ἔντευξις)
Trent: as its connexion with ἐντυγχάνειν, to fall in with a person, to draw close to him so as to enter into familiar speech and communion with him...implies, it is free familiar prayer, such as boldly draws near to God.
- εὐχαριστίας (lemma: εὐχαριστία)
Trent: Regarded as one manner of prayer, it expresses that which ought never to be absent from any of our devotions...; namely, the grateful acknowledgment of past mercies, as distinguished from the earnest seeking of future.
Or, as Witsius beautifully summarizes:
My opinion is, that the various names express one and the same thing, viewed under various aspects. Our prayers are called δεήσεις, so far as by them we declared to God our need, for δέεσθαι is to be in need. They are προσευχαί, as they contain our wishes. They are αἰτήματα, as they express petitions and desires. They are ἐντεύξεις, as we are permitted by God to approach Him, not with timidty and diffidence, but in a familiar manner. For ἔντευξις is a familiar conversion and interview. That εὐχαριστίαν is thanksgiving for benefits already received, is hardly necessary to be mentioned.
1 BDAG, 417; Thayer, 264
2 There is a time when we must submit to the knowledge of our predecessors who have already answered such questions as these. In this case, rather than endeavor to submit my own thoughts, I choose to rely on Trench's expertise on this subject.
3 The rendering of δι᾽ ἐντεύξεως, 2 Macc. 4:8, ‘by intercession,’ can scarcely be correct. It expresses more probably the fact of a confidential interview face to face between Jason and Antiochus.
Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Thayer, Joseph Henry. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. New York: American Book Company, 1889.