Mark 11:24 ESV: Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Mark 11:24 KJV: Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

Mark 11:24 NKJV: Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

Why does the KJV use the word desire in this verse instead of ask?

I have checked my UBS5, which lists no variants for this phrase. My edition of Stephanus' Textus Receptus does not have any relevant differences.

Are there other variations that did have a work which could be translated desire? Or has the word desire changed meaning somehow, so that it used to be a good translation of αἰτέω (ask)? Or is there some uncommon sense of αἰτέω which does mean desire, in which case, why would the translators prefer that interpretation?

2 Answers 2


When looking at slightly odd renderings in the KJV (and there are some fascinating ones), it is worth checking on its influences for any clues.

And the case of Mark 11:24, along with its parallel in Matthew 21:22, is an odd one: while, as OP notes, Mk 11:24 has "desire" where "ask" is expected, Mt 21:22 does, indeed, have "ask":

Mt 21 22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer...
(TR) και παντα οσα αν αιτησητε εν τη προσευχη
Mk 11 24 What things soever ye desire, when ye pray...
(TR) παντα οσα αν προσευχομενοι αιτεισθε

It remains a bit speculative, but I think the KJV can be explained on the following bases:

  1. Translation tradition

    The pattern for the Matt//Mark parallel observed in the KJV is the same as in the 1560 Geneva Bible (so, roughly fifty years before the KJV):

    geneva bible mark

    At a basic level, then, the KJV translators are just following precedent. And the usage of "desire" is very much in tune with the way the word could be used at the time; cf. the OED entry (q.v. "desire" v., #5):


    The question then shifts: why did the Geneva Bible phrase it this way?

  2. Exegetical tradition

    And the answer to that question ("why 'desire' in the Geneva Bible?") might have to do with the way the passage was understood at the time. E.g., John Calvin comments on this passage:

    Christ does not give a loose rein to the wishes of men, that they should desire any thing at their pleasure, when he places prayer after the rule of faith; for in this way the Spirit must of necessity hold all our affections by the bridle of the word of God, and bring them into obedience. Christ demands a firm and undoubting confidence of obtaining an answer; and whence does the human mind obtain that confidence but from the word of God? We now see then that Christ promises nothing to his disciples, unless they keep themselves within the limits of the good pleasure of God.

    There is a clear concern to distance "demand" from "desire" here, with the latter under the influence of divine nudging.

  3. Language/sytnax

    That still leaves the slight problem of why translate one way in Matthew, and another way in Mark. Here, there is some illumination from the Greek, or rather the history of its analysis:

    • Matt = αἰτήσητε = Aorist Active Subjunctive 2 pl
    • Mark = αἰτεῖσθε = Present Middle Indicative 2 pl

    As BDAG notes (as does the αἰτέω entry in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 192), older grammarians found a difference between the active and middle forms of the verb; this, however, is discounted by modern exegetes:

    to ask for, with a claim on receipt of an answer, ask, ask for, demand (without any real distinction betw. act. and mid.: the distinc. betw. act. [‘ask’ outright] and mid. [‘ask’ as a loan] found by ancient grammarians has only very limited validity for our lit. [B-D-F §316, 2; Mlt. 160f].

    Gustav Stählin, author of the TDNT entry, notes that older scholars found a nuance in the middle form, "to ask beseechingly", and it is quite possible that the Matt/Mark distinction in both Geneva Bible and KJV is ultimately to be found in this now out-moded analysis.


The literal Greek is "whatsoever praying [οσα αν προσευχομενοι] you ask [αιτεισθε]"

The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that word "desire" could convey the meaning of "ask for" or "request" in the 17th century (and still can). Examples of this usage that it provides are:

a1375 William of Palerne (1867) l. 4583, I desired þis damisele..to haue hire to þi broþer..ac hire moder in no maner hire nold me graunte.

1754 Earl of Chatham Lett. to Nephew (1804) iv. 21 If you are forced to desire farther information.. do it with proper apologies.

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