(NIV) Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer…
Sometimes–not always, but sometimes–a word study is a fruitful way to dig meaning from a verse. I believe this to be the case with Colossians 4:2.
“Devote yourselves” to prayer is used by the NIV, NAU, and NET, as opposed to the “continue steadfastly” of the older KJV and newer ESV. The NKJV approaches the NIV and NET with “continue earnestly.”
Why do I prefer “devote yourselves” over “continue steadfastly”?
I believe this translation better captures the author Paul, a passionate, loving Christian who does nothing halfway.
1. Devotion speaks of passionate love.
- a lover for his or her mate
- an artist for their art
- an athlete who endures much suffering for their sport or skill (dancers, gymnasts, mountain bikers, long distance hikers and so on)
- a father or mother for their child
- some children for their parents
- a writer for their writing
- a photographer for their photography
- a pastor for his flock
- a missionary for his sheep
- Christ for His church
- Father God for the world
2. Grammar: “Devote yourselves” already implies the present active imperative (an ongoing command) form of the Greek verb.
- One cannot practice devotion without ongoing (steadfast) endurance.
- The ESV on the other hand must pack into “continue steadfastly” the full force of the main verb (for which see below), leaving out all the beautiful connotations of devotion.
3. While steadfastness is a virtue, the connotations of “continue steadfastly” do not capture Paul’s passionate intent of eager, energetic enthusiasm, but rather–
- an endurance of duty not necessarily accompanied by joy and faith of fulfillment
- it leaves out many of the positive connotations of “devote yourselves”
4. The meaning and other biblical uses of the Greek word itself.
A Look at the Greek Behind “devote yourselves”
The Greek form of the English “devote yourselves” is προσκαρτερεῖτε (pros-kar-te-ree-tay). Grammatically it is a command for ongoing action. There is a prefix προσ (pros), and the command form built from the base word καρτερέω (kar-te-ray-oh), which comes from an adjective meaning “strong,” which in turn comes from the noun κράτος (kra-tohss), meaning strength.
κράτος (kra-tohss) appears in Greek (the Septuagint translation) Old Testament verses which speak of strength or might.
Psalm 62:11 …power belongs to God…
(Septuagint) Job 12:16 With him are strength and power: he has knowledge and understanding.
(Septuagint) Isaiah 22:21 and I will put on him thy robe, and I will grant him thy crown with power…
We see this word κράτος (kra-tohss) in the New Testament in verses such as:
(ESV) Luke 1:51 He has shown strength with his arm…
(ESV) Colossians 1:11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,
(NET) 1 Timothy 6:16 He alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see. To him be honor and eternal power!
(NET) Revelation 5:13 Then I heard every creature– in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them– singing: “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!”
The prefix προσ (pros) generally means a motion toward someone or something. It can also mean attachment to something in space or time. It can further mean a reference to something, where the thing is the verb that follows it. The concept of “continuing,” in some of the English translations (KJV, NKJV, and ESV), while certainly in agreement with the present imperative (ongoing command) form of the verb, derives more from the prefix προσ (pros) than the verb tense.
So, an expanded translation of Τῇ προσευχῇ προσκαρτερεῖτε (tee pros-ev-khee pros-kar-te-ree-tay), in addition to 1) devote yourselves to prayer (NIV) , 2) continue earnestly in prayer (NKJV), and 3) continue steadfastly in prayer (ESV), might be the following:
1) apply your strength fixedly in prayer, 2) always apply your full strength mightily and powerfully in prayer.
Paul says the Colossians should always stand ready to give themselves fully and powerfully to prayer. They should never hold any part of themselves back when they are praying. They should give prayer all they’ve got. He asks that while they are doing this to include himself and his ministry in their prayers, so that God would open doors for him and his friends to tell others the good news of Jesus Christ.
What about me? Do I pray for God’s Kingdom according to Paul’s command to the Colossians?