1 Timothy 2.8: what are we to pray for, first of all?

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; [1 Timothy 2:8, ESV]

Βούλομαι οὖν προσεύχεσθαι τοὺς ἄνδρας ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ ἐπαίροντας ὁσίους χεῖρας χωρὶς ὀργῆς καὶ διαλογισμοῦ. [Nestle-Aland 28th ed.]

In 1 Timothy 2 verse 8, Paul instructs the men of Ephesus to pray, but he does not tell them what to pray for. The little Greek word οὖν, however, gives us the clue we need. In classical Greek, it was a particle of ‘retrospective reference’, which is to say that it recalled attention to something which has been said previously. By New Testament times, it could signify inference from what had been said previously, but it was also used to indicate continuation, or the resumption of the main theme.

[ref]J. W. Donaldson, ‘A Complete Greek Grammar’, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Deighton, 1862), p. 571.

In general,  οὖν was better rendered as ‘accordingly’, ‘as was said’, or ‘to proceed’, than as ‘therefore’:Donaldson, ‘Grammar’, pp. 596-7.

According to BDAG (Bauer-Danker), it was widely used as an inferential particle by New Testament times, to signify that what it introduced was the result of, or an inference from, what preceded, in which case ‘therefore’ or ‘consequently’ could be an appropriate translation:

But it was also used to mark the continuation of a narrative, and in particular could serve to resume a subject after an interruption:

BDF (Blass-Debrunner-Funk) also point to this resumptive use of οὖν to indicate a return to the main theme after parenthetical remarks:F. Blass, A. Debrunner ‘A Greek Grammar of the New Testament’, trans. and revised by Robert A. Funk (Cambridge: University Press, 1961) pp 235.


What then is Paul referring back to, or from where is he resuming his discussion? He has just said in verse 7 that he has been appointed as a herald, an apostle, and a teacher of the nations:

For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. [NRSV]

εἰς ὃ ἐτέθην ἐγὼ κῆρυξ καὶ ἀπόστολος, ἀλήθειαν λέγω οὐ ψεύδομαι, διδάσκαλος ἐθνῶν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀληθείᾳ.

It is possible to see a direct inference from verse 7 to verse 8, as Calvin did for example:

but, given the resumptive power of οὖν, it seems more straightforward to see its primary function here as being to connect the exhortation to prayer of verse 8 back to that of verse 1-2a:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, … [ESV]

Παρακαλῶ οὖν πρῶτον πάντων ποιεῖσθαι δεήσεις προσευχὰς ἐντεύξεις εὐχαριστίας ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀνθρώπων, (2) ὑπὲρ βασιλέων καὶ πάντων τῶν ἐν ὑπεροχῇ ὄντων, … [NA 28]

Prayer was to be made for all people, and especially for secular leaders, so it is this, first of all, to which men are called in verse 8. But to what end is our prayer to be directed?

The purpose of the prayer

The immediate purpose of the prayer is stated in verse 2b:

so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity [NASB]

ἵνα ἤρεμον καὶ ἡσύχιον βίον διάγωμεν ἐν πάσῃ εὐσεβείᾳ καὶ σεμνότητι. [NA 28]

The attainment of peace and good order may be the object of the prayer for ‘kings and all in high position’ more specifically, since it is these have the responsibility for maintaining it. But it is probably an intended result also of the prayer for all people, whether through the restraint of evil, or through salvation leading to righteousness.

The following verses disclose a deeper and stronger purpose for the prayer. It is said to be pleasing to God, because He desires all people to be saved:

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [ESV]

τοῦτο καλὸν καὶ ἀπόδεκτον ἐνώπιον τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν θεοῦ, (4) ὃς πάντας ἀνθρώπους θέλει σωθῆναι καὶ εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν ἀληθείας ἐλθεῖν. [NA28]

How does the prayer lead to the salvation of sinners? It could be through the maintenance of peace and good order, facilitating the proclamation of the gospel. But if the apostle has this in mind, he does not say so explicitly. It seems safer and simpler to assume that intercession for the lost is being exhorted because it is effective in moving the heart of God to convict sinners of sin by His Holy Spirit, and to draw them to the Lord Jesus and save them.

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. [NKJV]

οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν [NA28]

Hallelujah, our prayers are powerful, brothers and sisters, and our first duty as Christians is to pray that those afar off, without hope in this world, with no share in the blessed and holy covenant of grace and peace which we enjoy and live by, would be brought near, and be reconciled to God through the blood of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Andrew Chapman

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