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1 Thess 5:17 - How is "pray without ceasing" possible?

(Garth D. Wiebe, originally written March 2015, updated July 2017, some very minor edits January 2020)

Most people are familiar with 1 Thess 5:17

"Pray without ceasing." (KJV)
Does this make sense? Should we be in "prayer" 24/7/365, as "prayer" is defined in English?

Let's first look at the word for "without ceasing."

αδιαλειπτως (Strong's G89, "adialeiptOs"), is a combination of α (Strong's G1, "a"), which is the negative particle meaning "without," just like the English prefix, δια (Strong's G1223, "dia"), which is the preposition/prefix "through," and λειπω (Strong's G3007, also LSJ #64294, "leipo"), which is a verb that means to quit/lack/leave/forsake/abandon.

The verb λειπω is in the following places:

Luke 18:22 "...still one thing you are lacking. Sell everything..."
Tit 1:5 "...that you should be amending what is lacking..."
Tit 3:13 "...that nothing may be lacking..."
James 1:4 "that you may be...lacking nothing..."
James 1:5 "...if any of you is lacking wisdom..."
James 2:15 "...if a brother or sister should be...lacking nourishment..."
The prepostion/prefix δια adds a sense of continuance, persistence, thoroughness, or permanence to the "lack." διαλειπω (LSJ #25995, "dialeipo," found in other classical literature) means to leave an interval or gap between, suspend, interrupt.

The particle/prefix α negates it.

The -ως ending makes it an adverb.

So the combination is literally "without-through-quitting-ly" or "un-intermittently."

Besides 1 Thess 5:17, in the New Testament the adverb αδιαλειπτως is also in:

Rom 1:9 " αδιαλειπτως I am making recollection of you always upon the prayers (προσευχων, "pros-euchon") of me.

1 Thess 1:3 "αδιαλειπτως remembering of-you(plural) the work of-the faith and the toil of-the love and the endurance of the expectation of the Lord of-us..."

1 Thess 2:13 "...and we are thanking to-the God αδιαλειπτως..."
The same thing as an adjective (with the -ος, etc., ending), αδιαλειπτος (Strong's G88, "adialeiptos"), is also in

Rom 9:2 "that sorrow to-me is great and αδιαλειπτος pain to-the heart of me"

2 Tim 1:3 " I am having αδιαλειπτον remembrance concerning you..."
So you can see that the sense is something that does not quit/cease, or is without a gap in interval, or is un-intermittent.

Coming back around to "praying," 1 Thess 5:17 says,

"προσευχεσθε αδιαλειπτως"
"proseuchesthe adialeiptos"
"Toward-wish/will/vow without-ceasing."
Here's the thing: The command, at face value, is "without ceasing," "without a gap," or "un-intermittently." That would mean 24/7/365. If this was English "praying," then that would mean no eating, no sleeping, no talking (except to God), and, well, you see the dilemma. The "without ceasing" aspect just solidifies the dilemma. What do we do?

Here's the solution: From my main article, What is "prayer" according to the scriptures?, you know that προσευχη is fundamentally a "toward-vow." Since it is in the middle voice, we understand that 1 Thess 5:17's use of the word means that you vow toward something such as to enter into that vow. Now you will see that there is no problem with this verse. You make the vow and declaration toward something and then then don't cease from that vow, don't change your mind, don't forsake it, don't abandon it, don't back off from that declaration or intent made in faith. Here you see that the actual Koine Greek definition of the word makes sense, whereas the more limited English, traditional meaning is impossible.

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