"Pray Without Ceasing"

What does that mean? How can one do that?

"Pray without ceasing"

I Thessalonians 5:17

Where's the Shortest Verse in the Bible

This passage seems to dangle somewhere between a daunting task, and impossible hyperbole. An interesting, or non-interesting note: some claim that the verse, “Jesus wept”, John 15:51, is the shortest verse in the Bible. That may be true for the English translations. However technically in the Greek text, John 15:51 is a verb, an article, and a noun; while I Thessalonians 5:17 here is comprised of merely an adverb and a verb. So technically this is the shortest verse in the entire Bible. That bit of boring trivia won't cost any extra, it's on the house.

Please Pass the Greek

But don't be fooled by its brevity. It may consist of only two Greek words, but it is pregnant with meaning. Paul paints an unforgettable picture of an essential element for walking in victory. As always, we are bound by rules of grammar, and certain principles of interpretation in order to arrive at a correct application. Here, we will attempt to limit our language analysis to making a very brief reference to the etymology of the adverb, and the examination of verb's voice, tense, and mood.

For the Greek students, the verb “proseuchesthe” is the 2 p. pl. present – middle - imperative of “proseuchomai”. The Apostle Paul was never careless or haphazard in his word usage. Remember, “...all scripture is given by inspiration of God (God breathed), and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God might be perfect (complete), thoroughly (completely) furnished unto all good works....”, II Timothy 3:16, 17.

Here Paul uses the middle voice. Simply put, that means the subject (you the reader) participates in the act and the result of the action (prayer). The basic application of the present tense here means your prayer is to be a perpetual activity. Finally, the Imperative mood means this is an essential command or authoritative order, and not just an option, recommendation, or suggestion.

There are two other considerations here. First, Paul is the only one to use this adverb. Second, as we will see, its meaning is specific and unambiguous. Again, it is an “order” to be “continuously” carried out.

Addressing the middle voice is too important to pass over. Yet it is difficult to describe since we have no equivalent in English. The simplest explanation is the one used by the old scholars Dana and Mantey. The middle voice means the subject both produces the action and participates in its result(s). One of the best illustrations of this rule of grammar is found describing a “direct middle voice” action by Judas. “...and having gone forth, he hanged himself....”, Matthew 27:5. We see that Judas both produced the action, and participated in its result. Paul is stating here that when you produce this action of “perpetual prayer” as prescribed, you directly participate in its assured result.

The Pharisee's Pharisee

Remember, Paul once described himself as a “Pharisee's Pharisee”. He was a scholar. He would have learned to teach like the legendary Rabbi's taught. First century Rabbi's used four teaching methods. A good student will understand those methods, and know when they are being used. Otherwise, they can overlook a lot of gold nuggets, and even miss the core meaning of a writing entirely.

One of these teaching methods was called “remez”. It involves hinting at something. Jesus used it frequently, as did Paul. This is another reason we know Jesus was also a scholar, just like Paul. Using remez, we've seen where Jesus and Paul would quote a verse, but actually be making a point about a surrounding verse or verses.

In the above referenced scriptures in Matthew 21, when Jesus cleansed the Temple, he healed the blind and lame who came to Him. Then the children burst forth ecstatically proclaiming “...Hosanna to the Son of David....” It seems inferred that the leaders demanded Jesus stop them immediately. Jesus quoted from Psalm 8:2a “...out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise....”. But He didn't quote the second half. Why? Because He was using remez. His main point was found in Psalm 8:2b; in order that the enemy and the avenger be silenced!

Likewise, Paul's use of this word “adialeiptos” was deliberate. Paul was hinting at something. In effect, it was much the same as “...he who hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches....” where Jesus was hinting at something vastly greater than having "an ear".

Medicine and Praying

To enhance the force of his command, Paul resorted to this imagery. This is a rare Greek word “adialeiptos”, translated “without ceasing”. Here is the only place the word appears in the entire New Testament. You will see that Paul intended to paint an unmistakable picture in the first century reader's mind they couldn't forget. He desired to convey more than merely a command to do a specific act incessantly, and without intermission. He did not want his order to be interpreted subjectively, so he got specific. This was a “term of art” in Greek medicine. It was used to diagnose a specific medical condition. 

This word evolved from ancient Egyptian medicine. It is not uncommon for any contemporary language to borrow, or transliterate technical words from an ancient language. In American law, most of our present legal terms of art evolved from Latin, French, and Old English. Many of our medical terms today evolved from ancient Greek and Latin. This is also true in other sciences. Likewise, many 1st century Greek medical terms of art evolved from ancient Egyptian medicine. So Paul deliberately used the word “Adialeiptos” here to make his point clear, it was that important! Again, the word was used to describe an ancient medical condition. Today we refer to that condition as a “Hacking Cough”. So when a 1st century Greek speaking believer heard the word "Adialeiptos", they knew that could only mean a "Hacking Cough".

Paul gave us this standing “Order” to pray; to do so “Perpetually”, and "Without Intermission"; and he attached “this rare adverb that is a medical term of art” (the only New Testament writer to use this word). He used the “Middle Voice” to demonstrate the actor's assured participation in the result. So it would behoove us to obey that command. Paul was well educated, always chose his words deliberately, knowing that his words carried Apostolic Authority. So what he writes is backed up by all the resources of heaven. The first century legal status of the Apostle was well established in Roman history, Rabbinic writings, and Ante Nicene literature. To sum up the way these sources cogently define the Apostle's legal authority is, As the Man Himself. Whatever Paul wrote was as binding as if Jesus Christ had written it.

The Expanded Translation

Professor Kenneth Wuest was one of the foremost authorities in New Testament Greek in my lifetime. In the “Preface” of his “New Testament an Expanded Translation” (which I highly recommend) he gave examples of why an expanded translation can be helpful. On page viii of the Preface, Wuest gives an example comparing Romans 12:2 in the King James Version (KJV) to his expanded translation. To translate the (KJV) single word “transform” from that verse, Wuest used no less than twenty-three words. He found that necessary to translate it sufficiently that a layman could appreciate its richness and full meaning. While Hebrew is a pictorial language, Greek is a highly technical language. I like to divide Koine' Greek (New Testament Greek) words into three categories. All Koine' Greek words will obviously have a technical meaning. Some will also represent a biblical concept. And a smaller group will represent an entire biblical doctrine. So expanding some words can be very helpful, even essential; as long as the teacher strictly adheres to the proper principles of interpretation, “...rightly dividing the word of truth....”

Wuest, interprets this passage in his expanded translation simply as, “Pray unceasingly”.

My personal expanded translation of what Paul is actually saying here is as follows, “...I command you to remain in a perpetual prayerful state, continually praying with the frequency of a hacking cough, and anticipate that you will receive and participate in its assured result....”

Participating in the Results

This has become a way of life for my wife and me. Even when we buy groceries, drive the highways, study The Word, or visit others, we try to maintain a level of prayer. It's like two simultaneous levels of consciousness. I call it the “double level”. The one level can be disturbed and distracted easily. So it must be protected. This requires work in order to become a faith practice. When we present our study on “Body, Soul, and Spirit”, this state of being will become more clear.

For example when we shop for food. When I pick up a can of vegetables I hold it in my hand prayerfully. I pause and wait for a response, a feeling to manifest. If I get no feeling, or if it doesn't feel right, I put it back on the shelf and pick up another can. I do that until I find one that passes the test and feels right. When I'm in a hurry and ignore those unctions, I usually regret it. The Spirit of the Living God abides in me, and that Spirit in me knows whether there is “salmonella” in that can, or “e coli” in that package of meat. You may think this is bondage, New Age stuff, or an unnecessary waste of time. But I view being deathly ill as a greater bondage and waste of time. It's more like having inside information, and listening to it.

NOTE:  I would caution anyone against assigning any spiritual gift manifested through me to anyone but the Holy Spirit. Some have not heeded that warning and blasphemed the Holy Spirit, and repentance was no longer available to them.

What's it Worth to Know His Voice

This not only protects me, it continually trains me to “KNOW HIS VOICE” better and better.

Jesus said, “...My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me....” John 10:27. There is a lot of inference going on in that verse. In order for His sheep to hear His voice, first He must be speaking to them, and second, they must be listening to Him. It is a simple formula Jesus gave here, “Speaking + listening = hearing”. He also stated in this same chapter that His sheep will not follow any other voice. So His sheep are not going to be listening to ungodly voices like gossip, maligning, judging, talk radio and television, immoral programming, ungodly music, or false teaching.

For me, it feels much safer whether buying food for my family, or buying big ticket items like cars, houses, and other investments, when I know the Omniscient Shepherd's voice is guiding me.

You may ask, “is Paul is directing us to pray 24/7?” Yes and no. Obviously, no one could sustain a 24/7 schedule of nothing but audible prayer, indefinitely. Paul is teaching us to develop this practice of “double levels” as a way of life, rather than another rule, or some mechanical formula for spirituality. Paul is instructing us to remain in a “prayerful state of mind”. Brother Branham used to teach us that just like there are radio waves flying everywhere throughout space, washing over us and through us. We can't hear it with our natural ears. But tune a receiver to the right frequency and oyu can hear everything being broadcast. Then he would explain how that is analagous to the Voice of the Lord. He is always speaking, but we are not always tuned in to His frequency. This is a lifestyle that will teach us God's personal language to communicate with us; His Voice. So get to know His Voice, and you will knwo the difference between His Voice and the othr fella's voice. With practice, it can be achieved. Just like devotional Bible study, it is a matter of learning a new habit which may take some time. Practice truly does make perfect. In view of the spiritual forces we must overcome in these “Last Days”, both habits are well worth forming.



- GERRY PHILLIPS - 1955-2015