The quotation is from Wilhelm Martin Lebrecht De Wette's Kurze Erklärung der Evangeliums Matthäi, p. 224, commentary on Matthew 26:41.

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I think I have most of it figured out, except for the first clause.

Sie bedurften = they needed

des Wachens = the waking

für sich selbst = for themselves

  1. Why is »des Wachens« declined in the genitive case (or is it?)?

  2. What is the translation of the remainder of the sentence?

...des leiblichen und des geistlichen, des Gebetes

  • Welcome to German Language SE. Can you please quote the entire sentence and some context, if you think that it may be relevant. Also, please ensure that your question is not about multiple, separate issues (I cannot tell without the actual sentence).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 28 '16 at 8:41
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    I'm not sure that "waking" is the correct translation for "Wachen" here - at least in modern German that would be "Erwachen", almost exclusively - except when directly opposed to sleeping. I think that the other meanings ("to guard", "to watch",...) might also be appropriate.
    – Hulk
    Apr 28 '16 at 10:37
  • (but that is mostly because I don't know the English term well enough - perhaps it does imply the "watchfulness"-aspect?)
    – Hulk
    Apr 28 '16 at 10:41
  • "Wachen" should probably (hard to guess because of missing context) be translated here as "staying/being awake" (or even "alert") rather than "waking".
    – tofro
    Apr 28 '16 at 12:18

In the KJV the verse is

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

In the NIV it's

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

So, it's clear here that Wachen is watching, not waking.

The German Luther bible has

Wachet und betet, daß ihr nicht in Anfechtung fallet! Der Geist ist willig; aber das Fleisch ist schwach.

daß ihr nicht in Anfechtung fallet is a slightly different translation (from the original Greek) of damit ihr nicht in der Prüfung erliegt, which is added as a quote in italics in the comment.

So, this comment on the verse makes a bit more sense

Sie bedurften des Wachens für sich selbst

would indicate

They needed watching themselves

Then comes the

des leiblichen und geistigen

I actually take that to apply to the word selbst suggesting something like

They needed watching for their own Self, both the physical and spiritual

For that they needed lots of des Gebetes - prayers. Left as a dangling clause it seems to emphasise that over the watching.

Their physical self: don't let your eyes roam, you naughty apostels, and remain chaste. Their spiritual self: no falling back to old temple habits, now, never mind that Roman idolatry. What have the Romans ever done for us?

This makes sense when you read the whole comment, especially the bit with

Dieses ist besonders an Petrus wahr geworden

Which means

This is true especially in the case of Peter.

Who famously denied his lord/saviour/god 3 times.

So, if we put that all together, we arrive at something like

Their own Selves, both the physical and spiritual, needed a lot of watching and especially prayers. so that they wouldn't fall into temptation ... As we saw with Peter

Which finally comes down to a mild editorial jab at the apostels. Jesus had warned about temptation and what to do about it and it turned out his own main followers were in need of lots it.

As for the grammar: it's early 19th century, language changes.

  • A more thorough and informative answer. Thank you for taking the time. Apr 28 '16 at 17:00
  • "So, it's clear here that Wachen is watching, not waking." --- Hmm...I see that it can mean watching, but I wouldn't dismiss a sense of waking (being or staying awake) either, as that is related to the context of the verse; cp. Matt. 26:40. Jesus' comment occurs because the apostles fell asleep (were not awake) during their watch. Furthermore, see Luther's translation of 1 Thes. 5:10 where wachen is placed in antithesis to schlafen. Your thoughts? Apr 28 '16 at 17:15
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    Keep in mind that wake and watch are... I believe the word is cognate, i.e. etymologically closely related. We still speak of a wake as a watch over the dead for a newly deceased person. It's just that in this case, all translation, both English and German, chose the context of watch
    – user21173
    Apr 29 '16 at 0:17

Today, the originally referred bible text reads as

Wacht und betet, damit ihr nicht in Versuchung geratet. Der Geist ist willig, aber das Fleisch ist schwach.

So "wachen" is not so much to be understood as "stay awake", which would be the literal translation, but rather "stay alert and pray, so that you don't yield to temptation"

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