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Here is the KJV translation of first part of Matthew 26:45:

45 Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest:

Compare to the ESV:

45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on.

The interlinear seems to indicate that Jesus was telling the disciples to "sleep later on" (closer to what the ESV has). This does not seem to match with my reading of the KJV translation of "sleep on now" (which to me is saying that the disciples can go ahead and sleep in the current moment). Did "sleep on now" mean something different in 1611 than it does to an English speaker today?

3 Answers 3

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It seems to be not so much a question of how to translate the verb "sleep", but the adverb λοιπόν "the remaining, the rest", in its basic meaning.

λοιπόν is usually tricky and the dictionaries (BDAG) suggest a possible colloquial construction here, taking the words as a question: Still asleep and resting? with a mild tone of criticism.

Or λοιπόν could be taken as "in the future, after this, later", λοιπόν being taken as "the rest of the night" (KJV) or "later on (at another time)" (ESV) Taking the verbs as imperatives.

The context, verse 46, helps a bit: "Get up! Let's go."

The ESV works in a context of verse 46. The KJV is difficult to grasp, unless you are correct in wondering if not 400 year old English might come across differently today, than was originally intended.

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The only difference in Greek Interlinears for this verse lies in the literal English translation. The Greek text is the same in all of them, so this is a matter of how to interpret the words. Interlinears put it all in the present tense in the literal translation immediately below the Greek, thus:

"Then he is coming toward the disciples and is saying to them, You are sleeping leftover (thing) and you are resting; look! has drawn near the hour and the Son of the man is being given over into hands of sinners." (from a 1948 reprint of Westcott & Hort's Greek text of the N.T.)

However, this other literal translation immediately below the Greek reads:

"Then he comes to the disciples and says to them: Sleep ye now and rest; behold has drawn near the hour and the Son of man is betrayed into [the] hands of sinners." (from a 1984 reprint of the Nestle Greek text by Alfred Marshall.)

Given that both texts read exactly the same in the Greek, it's clear that other considerations have a bearing. The previous verses show a downward progression of the disciples' failure to stay awake for an hour while Jesus prays at this most crucial juncture of his entire ministry. This is the third time he has found them asleep instead of supportively keeping watch while he prayed in agony. Previously, he had exhorted them:

"What" (or "So" in the Greek) Could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation, for the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak." (vss. 40-41 A.V.)

The third time, however, it's too much and it's too late. He may, or may not, have been exasperated with them, but he certainly cannot speak with any sympathy for them. As stated in this commentary:

"When he came the third time, he left them to be alarmed with the approaching danger (v.45,46); Sleep on now and take your rest. This is spoken ironically; 'Now sleep if you can; sleep if you dare'." (Matthew Henry's Commentary p1398, 3rd column)

There are other (if rare) examples of irony in the Bible. This one is in a prophecy to do with the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas the betrayer at this very time. It is the value God's people priced the Good Shepherd at - 30 pieces of silver, which was the price of a slave among the Israelites in ancient times, when that prophecy was given. The NIV Study Bible footnote mentions this, and says that was "a way of indicating a trifling amount. 'handsome price' - irony and sarcasm."

Jesus knew that prophecy in Zechariah 11:4-13 and the similar one in Jeremiah 19:1-13, and that Judas had been paid 30 pieces of silver, which he would later throw into the temple (Matthew 26:14-15 & 27:3-10). The irony in that prophecy about "the handsome price" is reflected in Jesus' final response to the disciples inability to stay awake. That is what Matthew 26:45 indicates because Jesus immediately follows it with, "Rise, let us go. Here comes my betrayer" (vs. 46).

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To answer your question I mention three different translation routes and add my comments at the end of each.

  1. 10 versions out of 28 on Bible Hub make this into a question: "Are you sleeping and resting?" They are NIV; NKJB; NASB; BereanS.B.; Amplified Bible + 5 more.

If the disciples were sleeping then they might not hear Jesus' question. Jesus might be talking to himself. If an ordinary person sees people lying down with their eyes shut they might not say "Are you sleeping?" They might just think it. However discounting these possibilities, Jesus might have asked this question to wake them up and challenge them. Earlier he had said "watch with me" Mat 26:38.

  1. ESV and Berean L.B. put "Sleep and take your rest later on."

These have a sense of - don't sleep now, there will be time for that later on. [Possibly when eternal rest comes, I speculate]. Right now we are in this troubled world and people are coming with swords etc:

  1. KJB; ASV; Douay-Rheims and ERV have "Sleep on now and take your rest",or, "You might as well keep on sleeping and resting." ISV

This group appear to me to be weak in meaning from the point of view that they seem to be encouraging the disciples to sleep at a time when in the next instant we have "Rise, let us go! See my betrayer is approaching."

This answer stops at outlining translation differences and my comments. To pursue why such differences exist you could edit your question to include that arena.

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