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γρηγορειτε και προσευχεσθε ινα μη εισελθητε εις πειρασμον [TR, undisputed]

Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation [Matthew 26:41 KJV]

One could add punctuation and say 'Watch, and pray that ye enter not into temptation' meaning that watchfulness will prevent temptation combined with a specific prayer that requests temptation should not arise. That is to say the exhortation to pray conveys an exhortation to specifically pray about temptation.

Alternatively, one could suggest that Jesus' words convey that watchfulness and prayer, in themselves, will prevent temptation arising. That is to say the act of prayer itself (whatever its specific content) is, in itself, a means of preventing temptation.

Does the grammar favour either of these two meanings ?


The parallel section in Mark is exactly the same Greek wording. The KJV, however, adds a comma and translates ινα as 'lest', which, although it is agreeable to Thayer (ινα = to the intent that), does add more meaning than the Matthew translation.

Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation [Mark 14:38 KJV]


Should we envisage the content of the prayer being, for example 'lead us not into temptation' or does the very act of praying (about anything) prevent temptation arising ?

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    Nice observation and great question (+1). – Tiago Martins Peres 李大仁 May 20 at 15:26
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    +1 Great question as usual :) – Tony Chan May 20 at 16:54
  • For clarification - I expect that, by 'prayer' you mean the type of New Testament prayers Jesus, the apostles and the disciples engaged in - as recorded in the Bible. But these days many people assume that mantra-like repetitions of phrases, with or without using prayer beads, amounts to prayer. Can you clarify what superstitious rituals that some take to be prayer are excluded from this word 'prayer' in your question? – Anne May 20 at 17:42
  • @Anne Some might interpret 'prayer' to mean what you describe. But that is an interpretation. I am simply asking about the meaning of the Greek text. It is an hermeneutic question. – Nigel J May 20 at 18:44
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Watchfulness or vigilance (γρηγόρησις) is inextricably linked with prayer, hence Col. 4:2: «τῇ προσευχῇ προσκαρτερεῖτε γρηγοροῦντες ἐν αὐτῇ...» (“Continue in prayer, watching in it...”).1 Vigilance occurs in prayer. Hence, “so that you do not enter into temptation” expresses the purpose (as indicated by the conjunction ἵνα) of both γρηγορεῖτε καὶ προσεύχεσθε (“watch and pray”).2

Joseph Henry Thayer on ἵνα,3

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Furthermore, the conjunction “that” following “pray” is translated from ἵνα, not ὅτι. The latter is often used to introduce subsequent speech (e.g., what one would utter during a prayer); the former is not.

Joseph Henry Thayer on ὅτι,4

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In summary,

  1. Vigilance occurs in prayer, hence the two are inextricably linked.
  2. ἵνα (present) expresses purpose.
  3. ὅτι (not present) introduces speech.

Footnotes

        1 Notice the circumstantial participle γρηγοροῦντες which indicates the attendant circumstance of vigilance occurring while praying.
        2 cf. 1 Cor. 14:13: “Let him...pray, so that he may interpret.”
         3 Thayer, p. 302, ἵνα, II., 1.
         4 Thayer, p. 458, ὅτι, I., 1.

References

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.

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Let me quote 1 John 3:5, 6, 9 -

But you know that Christ appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who remains in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has seen Him or known Him. ... Anyone born of God refuses to practice sin, because God’s seed abides in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

For some useful background see Are 1 John 1:8 and 1 John 3:9 contradictory?

The essential, regular, and genuine Christian discipline of "constant" prayer (1 Thess 5:17) means that the Christian has their focus on Christ (Heb 12:2, 3, Col 3:1-4) and is being transformed into His likeness (2 Cor 3:18).

Thus, prayer is part of the essential spiritual armor of the Christian to keep the person from sin.

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