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

Image of quotation on commentary regarding Matthew 26:41 (transcription follows)

V. 41. Sie bedurften des Wachens für sich selbst, des leiblichen und des geistlichen, des Gebetes. ἵναπειρασμόν] damit ihr nicht in der Prüfung erliegt, vgl. 6, 13. τὸ μὲν πνεῦμα κτλ.] πνεῦμα = νοῦς, ὁ ἔσω ἄνθρωπος Röm. 7, 22 f., der geistliche, sittliche Trieb; σάρξ die sinnliche Willkür, Röm. 7, 18. 25., vgl. LB. d. Sittenl. §. 11. 15. Dieses ist besonders an Petrus wahr geworden.

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

  • 1
    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
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 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
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 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
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 12:18

3 Answers 3


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. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 17:00
  • 1
    "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? Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 17:15
  • 1
    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
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 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"


The original text of Matthäus Evangelium is Septuagint Greek. It's likely that the original too was a translation from a now lost source.

Interlinear glosses are supplied by biblehub. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/26-41.htm

The de Wette translation up to ἵνα is trying to capture Greek grammar. He is clearly a Dutchman in name (born in Weimar, it's notable that Erfurt was Hansestadt in the middle ages) and he may have taken a rather methodical approach to the translation (“Seinen Lebensunterhalt verdiente er in Jena unter anderem durch Übersetzungen und durch die Mitarbeit an Schillers Journal.” de.WP)

grēgoreite kai proseukhesthe

Sie bedurften des Wachens für sich selbst, des leiblichen und des geistlichen, des Gebetes.

The Greek verbs are active present imperative and (middle / passive) present imperative.

lsj.gr yields results for both verbs: gregoreo a late form of ἐγείρω, proseuchomai a compound (πρός, εὔχομαι [Bailly abrégé]); the details are immensely confusing and it looks a lot like de Wette simply resorted to make stuff up.

Sie bedurften

This captures both 2nd person (honorific Sie) and a sense of imperative, not unlike English "you ought to", "you need".

That's an interesting problem because dürfen is apparently derived from a subjunctive (cf. DWDS/Pfeifer). Subjunctive is a polite circumscription of the imperative. German Konjunktiv, which seems to cover this usage (frequently würden sie "would you", "do you mind", Seien Sie or Sind Sie mal so nett "could you", "do me a favor"), is in most cases not morphologically distinct from indicative, often as preterite (Ich wollt ich wär ein Huhn).

This turn of words today appears an entirely stilted mangling of semantics. It's incomprehensible to me.

des Wachens

Transitive bedürfen commands the genitive case. The inflection of the article is remarkable because similar verbs command accusative (ambiguous, ich brauche das, archaising ich gebrauche des [e.g. Goethe]).

Following LSJ, “to be or become fully awake, watch” are possible translations to Gr. gregoreo. Nominalized Wachen from infinitive wachen is unremarkable and the meaning may include watch (as of Nachtwache "night watch", wachen "to guard"), but it feels too speculative to conclude anything from it at this point.

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

    Seems to be entirely conventional. Cf. Grimm: “der unterschied des partitiven gen. und des acc. ist wie sonst, ich bedarf des weines, etwas von dem wein, ich bedarf den wein, habe ihn überhaupt nöthig. oft aber tauschen beide casus gleichgültig.” (DWDS/DWB, empasis mine: the case is variable). See there also with following dasz or damit, with infinitive, with reflexive sich bedürfen.

    It may be notable that Ancient Greek ἵνα frequently appears with τόσ in command of the genitive, too. In fact, conj. dass is a plausible translation of ἵνα, and this is not well explained. We have similarly genitive wegen des, conj. indes, unterdessen, und es etc. See e.g. all in one phrase, including subjunctive: DWB bedürfen 7)

    doch also, dasz [.CONJ] jederzeit das eine theil davon zimlich lang für die wunden heraus lange [.SBJV], damit [.DEM-ADV], wann es sich bedarf [.COND-INDF-REFL-PTCP], du es leichtlich könnest widerumb heraus ziehen. [.INF] Würtz 346;


    The glosses are provisional. Case is indeed ambiguous in this instance.

    It may be helpful to assume that accusative casus was not available to de Wetten, leaving partitive genitive as the only option, assuming that Sie is an obscured accusative case, which be amended with an appropriate w-word (compare wan [Fischart, op.cit.], English he-who, Latin quam, quisquam etc.) since “ihr” in the citation is telling of a notable contras.

für sich selbst

The text does not warrant this adding. One might think of nimm dich in Acht "beware", pass auf dich auf “take care" and similar phrases. This isn't a common thing to say, # wachen Sie für sich selbst "watch yourself", not to mention substantive Selbst (contra possessive sich). A distributive "each other" is possible.

However, it is much more likely in my humble opinion that it tries to capture the mediopassive of the following verb, perhaps as a matter of confusion (cf. Dutch zich also “something indicates an unintended result with many (also intransitive) verbs”

des leiblichen und des geistlichen

This is a paranthetical and highly ambiguous. As paranthetical, it connects the two verbs to give them contrastive meaning. Clearly inflected as adverbs, leiblich and geistlichen belong to the respective verbs closest in context. Alternatively to be read as apposition, it implies that the second verb is part of an enumeration which specifies the first verb, to resolve the confusion.

  • Ancient Greek had a set topic-focus structure, so it is indeed plausible that grēgoreite is a call back to Matth. 24:41-43 (NIV)

    “Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

    “Therefore keep watch [Γρηγορεῖτε active present imperative], because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

    “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch [ἐγρηγόρησεν active indicative aorist] and would not have let his house be broken into.

    Thus Ellicot's commentary on Matth. 26:41: "The first word is eminently characteristic of our Lord's teaching at this period”. Except that Greek is of course not characteristic of the king of jews. Between קָם, (kam) and ע־ו־ר‎ (ʿ-w-r, he.WT) העיר, נעור, הִתְעוֹרֵר “wake, awaken, wake up” etc. I guess it's notable that ἐγείρω ~ part. -ορόων is matching the root structure to a tee. This may be coincidence, but German wartet is a suitable translation

    • cf. Sternwarte "observatory", En. warden, guard,

    • cp. Dutch and Low Saxon wachten “to wait”, reflexive, archaic zich wachten "oppassen”: Wacht u voor de hond! (“beware [you] of the dog”, “protect yourself from ...”).

    Warten and Wachen have different etymologies, of course. The Greek etymology on the other hand is supplied by Frisk (lsj.gr): "The perf. ἐγρήγορα resembles Skt. jā-gā́ra, Av. ǰa-gāra ‘I am awake’ from *h₁g(r)e-h₁gor- (-᾽γρ- from the aorist ἐγρέσθαι?).” However, cf. ὁράω “to look”, “One may compare Lat. verē-ri ‘observe scrupulously’, ‘venerate’, though with ablauting stemvowel.”

De Wetten did not have this available to him, anyway.

des Gebetes

“deponent middle”, “the Sept. for הִתְפַּלֵּל”, “the thing prayed for is indicated by a following ἵνα (see ἵνα, II:2b.): ἵνα is more common regarded as giving the aim of the twofold command preceding” [Thayer: προσεύχομαι].

Frisk accepts PIE *h₁eugʷʰ- with εύχομαι, Sanskrit óhate, Latin voveō (English avow), “offenbar ein alter Ausdruck der religiösen Sprache”, but the novel ending -εσθαι remains uncertain.

damit ihr nicht in der Prüfung erliegt

Nota Bene: peirasmon, “the Sept. for מַסָּה, an experiment, attempt, trial, proving; (Vulg. tentatio);” [LSJ] may be a separate problem. Since the Latin vulgate may also mean “trial” [L&S] it's not proof that de Wette was working from Greek and Hebrew. It is assumed instead, in this answer, that the scholarship genealogy extends so far, that the Greek may be assumed implicit in his work.

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