Notes on St Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians
The Stature outside of the Church of St Paul Outside the Walls. This photo taken by Gerald Augustinus
St Paul Preaching in Athens Source.
Authorship: Virtually all scholars agree that this letter was written by Paul. In fact, the authorship was never seriously questioned except by F.C. Baur, who’s thesis was quickly rejected. There is some question as to how much input Paul’s companions had in the composition. The opening address clearly identifies Silvanus and Timothy, who had helped evangelize the city (2:1-16), as co-senders of the letter, other passages, however, clearly refer to Paul alone (5:25, 27). This has led some scholars to the conclusion that the opening address and the “we” sections of the letter are the result of a literary nicety on the part
of Paul to include his co-workers as co-senders of the work. Most scholars rightly (in my opinion, for what it’s worth) reject this and think T and S had an active hand in determining the content of the letter. Background: After Attending the Council of Jerusalem and fulfilling the task assigned to them, Paul and Barnabas decided to make a tour of the churches they had founded to see how they were doing. Barnabas wanted to take along his cousin, John Mark, who had deserted them during what is commonly called Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:13); but to this Paul objected, not wanting a repeat performance of that event. As a result of this, Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement and parted company, with Barnabas taking Mark and going to Cyprus, while Paul chose Silas (aka Silvanus) to accompany him through Syria and Cilicia to “strengthen the churches” (see Acts 15). They came to the region of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium, and there met Timothy, a young convert of Jewish and Greek ancestry. He was highly spoken of by the Christians who knew him and he must have impressed Paul, for the apostle asked him to accompany them on their missionary endeavor (Acts 16:1-5). They made their way through Asia Minor and came to Troas, where Paul had a vision that he should evangelize Macedonia, thus began the evangelization of Europe (Acts 16:6-15). They made their way into Philippi, “a leading city in the district of Macedonia and a Roman Colony.” While there, Paul healed a slave-girl of what Luke terms a “Python spirit,” meaning a demon that gave the girl oracular statements. The girl’s ability had been used by her owners to make money, and the fact that Paul had cured her did not sit well with them, as a result, something nearly like a riot started which resulted in Paul and his companions being beaten with rods and imprisoned. Paul, because he was a Roman citizen, and therefore protected by due process of Roman law, complained to the magistrates about this treatment, which led to the authorities seeking to placate him (Acts 16:16-40). After this, the group left Phillippi and proceeded to Amphipolis, Apollonia, and into Thessalonica, which had a very sizable Jewish population. How much time they spent in that city is unknown, but they did spend three Sabbaths in the Synagogue preaching and demonstrating that Jesus was the Messiah. Some Jews, and a large number of Greeks were converted. This infuriated some of the Jews who then employed certain men of dubious character to search out the missionaries. Unable to find them they grabbed some other Christians and dragged them before the magistrates, accusing them of causing a disturbance and rejecting the decrees of Caesar. The Christians were ordered to pay some kind of a fine and released. As a result of this, Paul and Silas (and presumably Timothy) left the city for Beroea, where they preached in the synagogue and converted many. However, some Jews from Thessalonica, hearing of this success, came to Beroea and began to make trouble; as a result, Paul was forced to go to Athens, leaving his companions behind, though telling them to join him as soon as possible(Acts 17:1-15). How much time Paul spent in Athens is unknown, but his stay was probably short. It appears he made an attempt at evangelizing the city but met with little success. From Athens he proceeded to Corinth where he began preaching in the synagogue. It was here that Silas and Timothy rejoined him and the three men spent a year and a half preaching in the city (Acts 17:16-18:11). It was during this stay in Corinth that word came to them about the persecution being suffered by the church in Thessalonica (Thess 2:14). Due to this report, Timothy was sent back to the city to strengthen them (1 Thess 3:1-5). He returned with a good report concerning them, and it is this report which occasioned the letter (1 Thess 3:6-8). Outline The letter is in three parts, with each part being sub-divided into three sections in concentric fashion. Part 1. 1:1-2:16
A1) Salutation and thanksgiving for the Thessalonians reception of the word (1:1-10) B) How the Missionaries acted among them (2:1-12) A2) Another thanksgiving for the Thessalonians reception of the word (2:13-16) Part 2 (2:17-3:13) A1) The missionaries wish to see their converts “face to face” (2:17-20) B) Timothy is sent to Thessalonica (3:1-8) A2) The missionaries pray that they might see their converts “face to face” (3:9-13) Part 3 (4:1-5:28) A1) Exhortations concerning right and holy conduct (4:1-12) B) The resurrection of the faithful and Christ’s second coming (4:13-5:11) A2) Exhortations concerning right order in the community (5:12-28) The Salutation 1:1 Read the text: According to the RSV –Douay-Rheims–Latin Vulgate–NAB Summary: Following the standard epistolary format of hellenistic times, the letter opens with an address consisting of three elements: 1. the senders; 2. the addressees; 3. a wish or blessing. This is then followed by a prayer of thanksgiving, which was also typical of ancient letters. The authors of the NT letters, and especially St Paul, often use these prayers (or blessings; see Eph 1:3-14) to indicate major themes or ideas dealt with and expressed in the body of the missive; therefore, readers should pay special attention to them. Calling to mind the church’s origin in Thessalonica, the prayer celebrates the three theological virtues so active among the people (2-3). This prayer is motivated by Paul’s (and his companions) knowledge of how the church was elected or chosen through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their mission (4-5). This knowledge is confirmed by the fact that, in spite of all the troubles and afflictions which came upon the people due to their acceptance of the gospel, they have not only remained faithful in imitation of the missionaries, but, like the missionaries, they have themselves become witnesses to the gospel as they await the return of the risen Jesus. NOTES: Vs 1 Paulos (Paul) and Silouanos (Silvanus,aka Silas) and Timotheos (Timothy) to the ekklesia (church; those called together; an assembly) of (i.e., made up of) the Thessalonians in (or “assembled by”) God the Father and Lord Jesus Christ: grace and peace to you. (Some texts add: “From God our father, and the Lord Jesus Christ) Paul is, of course, the Apostle Paul; an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11:1); a rigid Pharisee and one time persecutor of the Church (Phil 3:5-6). While on the road to Damascus, “breathing murderous hatred” and seeking to arrest and imprison Christians (Acts 9:1), he was converted by by the risen Christ himself, manifesting God’s mercy towards this one time blasphemer and persecutor of the Church of God (1 Tim 1:12-17). Coming to realize that he had been chosen from his mother’s womb
for the task to which he was called (Gal 1:15), he became the Church’s most zealous missionary by the grace of God (1 Cor 15:10). Silvanus is most certainly to be identified with Silas, who is mentioned in the Acts of Apostle. A Christian prophet, he appears to have been an influential member of the church in Jerusalem. Along with a certain Judas/Barsabbas, he was chosen by the twelve apostles to accompany Paul and Barnabas to the churches of Antioch to make known the decrees of the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:22-35). Having fulfilled this function Judas and Silas returned to Jerusalem, while Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch for a time, possibly to deal with some difficulties. after this they decided to go to Syria and Cilicia to deliver the council’s decision and strengthen the churches they had founded. However, a dispute arose between Paul and Barnabas and the two men parted company; as a result, Paul decided to choose Silas as his companion on the mission(Acts 15:36-41). (He must have sent word back to Jerusalem of what had transpired between him and Barnabas. Recall that Barnabas was from Jerusalem and provided a “Jerusalem connection” with the pagan-in-origin people who were predominant in the churches founded by Paul). Silvanus worked with Paul throughout much of the so-called second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-21:14), but disappears from Luke’s narrative after (18:5). Besides here, his name appears twice more in Paul’s letters; in the opening address of 2 Thess and in 2 Cor 1:19. He at some point joined up with St Peter in Rome, and may have acted as his amanuensis (1 Pt 5:12). Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim 1:5). He was probably a native of Lystra or Iconium, and may have been converted by the preaching of Paul and Barnabas on the so-called first missionary journey. Though young (1 Tim 4:12), and apparently rather timid (1 Cor 16;10), he was well spoken of and respected by the Christians of the two cities just mentioned, this no doubt helped determine Paul’s decision to ask Timothy to accompany him on the mission (Acts 16:1-5). With Silvanus, he remained at Beroea for some time after Paul was forced to leave the city(Acts 17:10-15), rejoining him at Corinth (Acts 18:5), where the three men spent a year and half evangelizing (Acts 18:11). It was during this period that Paul sent him back to Thessalonica to ascertain the situation which is dealt with in the letter we are examining (see 1 Thess 3:1-8). Later, he, along with a certain Erastus, was sent by Paul into Macedonia, apparently to prepare for further mission work (Acts 19:22). It is rather clear from Scripture that Timothy became Paul’s right-hand man. At some point and time he was sent by Paul back to Corinth to deal with some troubles that had arisen there (1 Cor 4:17). Apparently, a second visit by Timothy was planned (1 Cor 16:10), but we do not know if it ever happened. The Same can be said of a planned visit to Philippi (Phil 2:19). Finally, two letters in the Pauline corpus are addressed to him. The words which St Paul uses to describe Timothy are full of affection and respect, I’ve always considered it unfortunate that we do not know more about him. To the ekklesia (church) made up of Thessalonians… This is an odd way for Paul to describe the church, at least in comparison to his other letters; for Paul usually speaks of “the church of God” at such and such a place (see 1 Cor 1:2). Perhaps Paul speaks of the Church in this fashion here in order to emphasize the fact that one does not have to be a circumcised Jew to be a member of the people of God. Recall that this letter was written not long after the Jerusalem council. Ekklesia is a Greek term designating a group called together: 751 The word “Church” (Latin ecclesia, from the Greek ek-ka-lein, to “call out of”) means a convocation or an assembly. It designates the assemblies of the people, usually for a religious purpose. 139 Ekklesia is used frequently in the Greek Old Testament for the assembly of the Chosen People before God, above all for their assembly on Mount Sinai where Israel received the Law and was established by God as his holy people. 140 By calling itself “Church,” the first community of Christian believers recognized itself as heir to that assembly. In the Church, God is “calling together” his people from all the ends of
the earth. The equivalent Greek term Kyriake, from which the English word Church and the German Kirche are derived, means “what belongs to the Lord.” 752 In Christian usage, the word “church” designates the liturgical assembly, 141 but also the local community 142 or the whole universal community of believers. 143 These three meanings are inseparable. “The Church” is the People that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly. She draws her life from the word and the Body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ’s Body. (Cat. Cath. Ch.) The church is called together by God, through Christ, by the power of the Spirit at work in the Church’s ministry (see Col 1:3-8). Which is in (or “assembled by”) God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ… I accept Earl J. Richards view that the workhorse Greek dative en, which has many possible nuances, should be translated as “assembled by”. Grammatically and contextually, the dative could qualify any of the three parts of the salutation. It could relate to the missionaries, in which case it would be a witness to their authority “in” or “by” God. It could relate to the wish/blessing of grace and peace, denoting the origin of these gifts. In this regard it should be noted that in other letters Paul often speaks of the origin of the gifts as being “in” or “by God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (see 1 Cor 1:3). No such phrase occurs here except in a few manuscripts. Scholars consider the phrase a gloss, not original. Also, as Richards notes, in the other Pauline letters, the phrase is introduced with the preposition apo followed by a genitive. He takes the dative en here in an instrumental sense and translates “assembled by God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In doing this he sees the dative as related to the phrase “the church (ekklesia, assembly) of the Thessalonians”, thus emphasising the initiative of the Father and Christ in establishing the church in that city. The fact that the letter associates both the father and Christ in this, using the single cunjunctive kai (and) strongly suggests the divinity of Christ. grace and peace- Typically, letters written in Greek contained the wish charien (rejoice, have joy), but Paul replaces it with the related word charis, (grace). For Paul the word has the sense of “the saving will of God executed in Jesus Christ and communicated to men through him” (Dictionary of the Bible John L. McKenzie, S.J.). For more on grace, see here. And a more technical treatment here. See also these articles in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Peace reflects the Hebrew word shalom, meaning a total state of well being, especially in relation to God and Man. Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians receiving the word 1:2-10 Read Verses 2-3
RSV Douay-Rheims (hereafter DRB)
Notes: As he usually does in his letters, Paul opens the body with a prayer for his readers. Anyone wishing to study his letters would do well to pay special attention to these prayers, for Paul often uses them to bring up key themes he will treat of latter. Prayer was extremely important to St Paul. At the end of the letter (5:17) he will tell the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing, using the very same word he uses in verse 3; he insists that they give thanks in everything since this is God’s will in Christ Jesus. (see
5:17-18) . He also will request their prayers for him (5:25). The missionaries prayer is one of thanksgiving (eucharisteo, see vs 2 and 2:13), Eucharisteo, when used with the dative to Theo (to God), implies that thanks is being give for some unmerited gift. Paul and his companions give thanks to God for the Thessalonians, for they are the missionaries unmerited gift from God: “Our hope, joy, and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming” (2:19). What motivates their prayer, and is indeed part of its subject, is expressed in a threefold pattern : “Calling to mind (1) your work of faith, and (2) your labor of love, and (3) your steadfastness (endurance, constancy) of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the presence of our God and Father.” Work of faith means acting in accord with what one believes on the basis of God’s revealed will. The idea seems to be similar to the Pauline idea of “the obedience of faith. Faith is a total surrender and commitment to God (on which, see here). Labor of love- Love, or charity, is the expression of faith, and without it faith is dead:”If I have faith strong enough to move mountains, yet have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:3). “in Christ Jesus” writes Paul, only faith working through love counts for anything (Gal 5:17). Kopos (labor) expresses hard, strenuous activity, and Paul will use the word in 2:19 and 3:5 to describe his apostolic labors in Thessalonica. Recall that those labors were done in the face of oppression (see Act 16:16-17:10). Paul will focus on his own apostolic kopos in 2:1-12 in order to encourage his readers in their kopos of faith as they too face oppression because of the Gospel (2:13-14). He will also exhort them to respect and show special love to those who labor among them and are over then in the Lord and who admonish them (5:12-13) Part of the work of faith is not to be a burden on others, in imitation of the missionaries who were no burden on the Thessalonians (see 2:9). Latter in the letter, the recipients will be exhorted to work with their own hands so as not to burden others; this comes in the context of brotherly love (see 9-12). Endurance of hope- The Greek word hypomone means patiently enduring all circumstances. Like the phrase work of faith it seems to relate in this letter to the suffering of the Thessalonians. They patiently bear oppression and opposition caused by their adherence to the Gospel. This they do in hope of the coming of Christ who will judge their work of faith and labor of love. At the very beginning of this letter we find the three theological virtues in what Stanley B Morrow calls their “salvation history sequence” (see Col 1:4-5; for a different sequence see 1 Cor 13:13). At the end of this letter, and in the context of Christ’s second coming, Paul will once again mention the three virtues, portraying them as defenses against an unfavorable judgment that will come upon many on that day (5:8). Read Verse 4
Earl J Richard describes this as the ultimate reason for the prayer. The word “knowing” (DRB) or the phrase “for we know” (RSV) are not adequate translations of the word oida as it is used here, for the word is in this context a perfect participle active, denoting not simply knowledge, but certainty as well. This certainty is based upon what will be said in the verses that follow (5-7). The circumstances of the letter are important here, for the missionaries were not sure their new converts were holding up under persecution (3:5). Timothy’s return from Thessalonica with a good report (3:6-8) must have given Paul and Silvanus a great relief, and one can feel that relief as he reads the letter. Read Verses 5-6
Note how verse 5 focuses on the divine action in the work of the human missionaries. Without God’s power through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, the Church would have no real mission. The fact that power and the Holy Spirit were at work in the missionary endeavor to evangelize the city (Vs 5) is a prime reason for Paul’s certainty that the Thessaloninas were chosen by God. No doubt Paul has in mind here the fact that the Holy Spirit prevented him and his companions from preaching in the Roman province of Asia and the city of Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7), yet they received a vision to evangelize the province of Macedonia, of which, Thessalonica was the cheif city (Acts 16:9-10). Verse 6 is further reason for Paul’s certainty: the good response of the Thesaalonians to his preaching, even in the face of much opposition (Acts 17:1-9). Read Verses 7-10
The results of God’s action and the Thessalonians response is that they have become “imitators” of Paul and his companions. As already seen, they too, like like the missionaries, received the word in great affliction, but with the Spirit inspired joy of faith (vs 6). Not only that, but they have in some sense become evangelists themselves, for the word has sounded forth from them, as has their example of faith, defined as turning from idols to the living God and awaiting Christ’s return. How the Missionaries acted among them 2:1-12 As mentioned in the introductory post 1:1-2:16 has the following concentric structure: A1) Salutation and thanksgiving for the Thessalonians reception of the word (1:1-10) B) How the Missionaries acted among them (2:1-12) A2) Another thanksgiving for the Thessalonians reception of the word (2:13-16) It is often argued in relation to 1:1-2:16 in general, and 2:1-12 in particular, that Paul’s primary concern is defending himself against false accusations that his teaching is motivated by deceit, misconduct, and self-seeking. While not rejecting this, I think the primary reason is that Paul is seeking to encourage his readers who are themselves being calumniated. He is not so much defending himself as he is setting himself up as an example to be imitated. Imitated, not only as someone who has stood and held his ground in the face of persecution; but also as one who knows how to live and treat others in accordance with the will of God: 1:5-6, “And that our Good News came to you not only in word, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance. You know what kind of men we showed ourselves to be among you for your sake. You became imitators of us…” Also, compare 1:3, “remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope…” with 2:9, “For you remember, brothers, our labor and travail; for working night and day, that we might not burden any of you…” Here we see St Paul opening his letter with a reference to work and labor, associated with faith and love (1:3), then describing his own work and labor under the image of love (note the images of Father and nurses with children in the broader context, e.g., 1:7; 1:9). All of this prepares for the final section of the letter, 4:1-5-28. There St Paul exhorts the readers “as you learned from us how you ought to live and please God…you do so more and more…Concerning love of the brothers you have no need of anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught
by God to love one another…we exhort you to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly…and to work with your own hands…’ (see 4:1-12). And again: “Respect those who labor among you…esteem them very highly because of their work…” (see 5:1213). 2:1 For you yourselves know, brothers, our visit to you wasn’t in vain, cb(2,2);2:2 but having suffered before and been shamefully treated, as you know, at Philippi, we grew bold in our God to tell you the Good News of God in much conflict. cb(2,3);2:3 For our exhortation is not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in deception. (WEB Bible) Concerning the circumstances leading up to the evangelization of the city you may wish to re-read my introductory post, specifically what is found under the heading “Background.” 2:1 For you yourselves know, brothers, our visit to you wasn’t in vain… The conjunctive “for” links this passage up with the previous one (1:1-10), especially 1:9-10 where St Paul explicitly mentions the welcome he received from the Thessalonians. That their visit wasn’t in vain has already been clearly seen in the fact that the Thessalonians were chosen (1:4); became imitators of the evangelists, and received the word in affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1:6). They themselves became examples to be imitated by others (1:7-8). The result of St Paul’s visit can, however, be summed up as turning to God from idols, sto serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come (1:9-10). 2:2 But having suffered before and been shamefully treated…we grew bold in our God to tell you the Good News of God in much conflict… An amazing statement! “We grew bold in the face of suffering.” In Philippi, St Paul had healed a slave/servant girl of a demonic spirit which was the source of her ability to make oracular pronouncements. The demonic inspired ability had been a source of revenue to her master who, as a result, started a persecution of Paul and his companions. They were dragged by a mob to the civil authorities, were stripped and beaten with rods by those lawful authorities, then chained and imprisoned (see Acts 16:16-40). Paul was victimized by the paganism but in spite of this opposition he freed the Thessalonians from it. Such is the power of the grace of God. 2:3 For our exhortation is not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor deception. “Error” and “uncleanness” are preceded in the Greek text with the preposition ek, while “deception” is preceded by the preposition en; thus meaning: Our exhortation does not have its source in error, nor does it have its source in uncleanness so as to deceive you.” 2:4 But even as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, who tests our hearts. The Greek translated as “But even as” forms a contrast with the previous verse. The evangelists speak, not on the basis of error or uncleanness, nor to deceive, but because God has approved them and entrusted them with the gospel. The passive Greek verb dokimazo (approved) is, in Greek writing, a standard contrast to the verbal infinitive pisteuo. They were entrusted with the Good News, not because of anything in themselves, of themselves, but because God has approved them. Their ministry is the result of God’s grace. tests our hearts. The word test is dokimazo, the same word used for approved earlier in the verse. “Search” or “examine” would be a better translation. In this latter instance, dokimazo is a present participle. God not only approves of them, but continues to keep his eye on them, search and examine their hearts to see if they are remaining faithful to their mission. 2:5-6 For neither were we at any time found using words of flattery, as you know, nor a cloak of covetousness (God is witness), cb(2,6nor seeking glory from men (neither from you nor from others), when we might have claimed authority as apostles of Christ. cb(2,7); In the previous verse (4) St Paul insisted that they were not seeking to please men. Here he build upon that denial. The fact that he or his companions had not sought to flatter the Thessalonians is proof of this. Paul condemns
flattery of others as cheap self-seeking in Gal 4:17. A true preacher of the Gospel tells men what they need to hear (see 2 Tim 4:1-2), not what they want to hear (See 2 Tim 4:3). Likewise, he was not seeking riches (covetousness). In the ancient world flattery was often employed by preachers, gurus, and prophets of falsehood for their own financial gain. Paul condemns covetousness in Romans 1:29; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5. God is witness… Paul has repeatedly appealed to the Thessalonians knowledge of his conduct, now he appeals to God as witness, reminding us of what was said in verse 4. when we might have claimed authority as apostles of Christ Further proof that St Paul and his companions were not covetous. As ministers of the Gospel they had a right to live by the Gospel but didn’t do so (see 1 Cor 9:8-14). 2:7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children. A contrast with the preceding verses is introduced with the word but. Mothers don’t demand payment from the children they nurse 2:8 Even so, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not the Good News of God only, but also our own souls, because you had become very dear to us. The preaching of the Gospel isn’t just a job, it’s an act of love; a family affair, a giving of ones self completely, like a nursing mother. Thus: 2:9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and travail; for working night and day, that we might not burden any of you, we preached to you the Good News of God. Concerning work and labor see the introductory comments inset above. Labor and travail are maternal images continuing the theme of 2:7. Also continued here is the theme of 2:6-7. With rare exception (Phil 4:15-16), St Paul never accepted financial help for his ministry; rather, he supported himself as a tent maker (see acts 18:1-3 and 20:33-34). 2:10 You are witnesses with God, how holy, righteously, and blamelessly we behaved ourselves toward you who believe. Again St Paul calls on the two-fold witness of God and the Thessalonians. 2:11-12 As you know, we exhorted, comforted, and implored every one of you, as a father does his own children, cb(to the end that you should walk worthily of God, who calls you into his own Kingdom and glory. The opening as you know builds upon the previous verse. To the end shows what it is that motivates Paul’s emphasis on his conduct. As mentioned earlier, St Paul’s primary concern is not defending his actions against false accusations; rather, he wants his converts to imitate him, that they should walk worthily of God, who call them into his own Kingdom and glory. The call of the Thessalonians took place through the preaching of the Gospel, and its mention here reminds us of St Paul’s reference to how they were chosen in 1:4, when the Gospel came to them. The father/children image is an obvious compliment to the nursing mother/Paul in labor and travail theme in verse 7 and 9. Another thanksgiving for their reception of the word 2:13-16 Today we look at 1 Thess 2:13-16. These verses represent the end of part one of that Epistle, which, you may recall, had the following concentric structure: A1) Salutation and thanksgiving for the Thessalonians reception of the word (1:1-10) B) How the Missionaries acted among them (2:1-12) A2) Another thanksgiving for the Thessalonians reception of the word (2:13-16)
Text 2:13-16 13. And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received from us the word of God from hearing us, you accepted it no as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you that believe. 14. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus: for you also suffered the same thing from your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews; 15. Who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and pleased not God, and are adversaries to all men; 16. forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up the measure of their sins always: but wrath has come upon them at last. In the above outline it can be seen that the section labeled “A1″ (1:1-10) parallels that labeled “A2″ (2:13-16), which is the section we are currently examining. Highlighted text in the verses emphasize verbal and thematic parallels with 1:1-10. Verbal and thematic parallels between 2:13-16 and 1:1-10. The significance of the parallels will be treated in the next section of this post labeled “notes.” 13. And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received the word of God from hearing us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you that believe. We also thank God without ceasing draws a parallel to 1:2 which reads: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers”. That, when you received the word of God from hearing us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you that believe. parallels 1:5, which reads: “How our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, and in the Holy spirit, and in much assurance; even as you know what manner of men we showed ourselves towards you for your sake.” The two references to “the word of God” In 2:13 also parallels 1:8-”For from you has sounded forth the word of the Lord…“ 14. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus: for you also suffered the same thing from your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews, draws a parallel with 1:6-”And you became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” 15-16. Who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and pleased not God, and are adversaries to all men; 16. forbidding us to speak to the Gentilesf that they may be saved; to fill up the measure of their sins always: but wrath has come upon them at last. These verses parallel 1:1“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace.” They also parallel 1:3- “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and teadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father.” Finally, they parallel 1:8-”For from you has sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth; so that we need not say anything.” Notes: 1 Thess 2:13 And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received the word of God from hearing us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you that believe. Paul’s thanksgiving in 1 Thess 1:1-10, which he described as “constant” (1:2), had focused on “how
our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance” (1:5). Now Paul mentions that he prays and thanks God for the readers “without ceasing.” As Paul preached the Gospel to them he did so with power and with assurance (1:5). The ideas expressed in 2:13 are related to this, though the focus is no longer on Paul, but on his addressees. The word which had shown itself powerful in Paul’s preaching ministry has also shown its power in relation to those who heard it, for it “works in you who believe.” The word’s power in Paul’s ministry, and its work in believers, confirms for Paul that what the Thessalonians received when they heard the preaching, was the word of God, and not “the word of man.” 14. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus: for you also suffered the same thing from your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews Paul’s first reason for his thanksgiving had been motivated by the fact that the Thessalonians had received the word “as it is in truth, the word of God” which works in believers (vs 13). In verse 14 he gives a second reason: the suffering being experienced by them. From a worldly perspective, giving thanks for suffering would seem odd, but this verse recalls 1:6-”And you became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” The context of that passage shows that for Paul, when the Thessalonians received the word with affliction, it was a sign of their election, and that they were not a “second-string” church in comparison to “The churches of God that are in Judea.” In the New Testament, affliction (Greek: thlipsis) is related to the sufferings of the eschatological (end time) age. The Passion and Death of Jesus was his thlipseis (Col 1:24) and it inaugurated the end time. Those who bear up under this thlipsis (tribulation) are like the good soil on which the seed is sown, rather than like the seed sown on rocky soil. A man who is like rocky ground “receives the word with great joy, but he has no root and only lasts for a short time. When sown and some tribulation or suffering comes because of the word, he falls away.” (see Matt 13:20-21). Due to the nature of the Gospel, especially its moral demands, it will arouse hostility, and lead to persecution: “Then they will hand you over to persecution (thlipsis), and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name” (Matt 24:9). But because we know who Jesus is, and that such suffering is expected, we can, as odd as it seems, have peace: “I have told you this so that you may have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble (thlipsis), but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). Christians, and especially missionaries, are called upon to “fill up…that which is lacking of the afflictions (thlipseis) of Christ…for the sake of his body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24). This is part of the Christian’s vocation (see 1 Thess 3:3-4), for “it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships (thlipsis) to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). We are thus co-workers in Christ’s sufferings. Because Paul and his fellow missionaries have suffered so much (see 1 Thess 1:2; 2 Corinthians 11:21-28), because they are co-workers with Christ, by his grace (Rom 15:18), they can be imitated, for thy imitate the Lord. So too, the Thessalonians can be said to be imitating “the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus.” inasmuch as they have suffered at the hands of their own countrymen as the Lord had, and the Judean churches were. 15. Who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and pleased not God, and are adversaries to all men. Some scholars, in the name of “ecumenism” and on the pretext that this and the following verse have caused anti-semitism, seek to dismiss these verses from the letter, this in spite of the fact that no shred of textual evidence exists for them to do so! If one can excise a text from scripture so casually, merely because it has been abused, how many texts would survive excision? Earl Richards, in his commentary on 1 Thessalonians in the Sacra Pagina Series, claims that a concrete event narrated by Luke in Acts 17 (The Jewish opposition to Paul in Thessalonica) “has been taken up…and transformed, in a fit of passion, presumably, to condemn all Jews as actively conspiring, out of hatred of all non-Jews, against
the God-directed mission for the salvation of the Gentiles” (see pgs 123-124). But it should be noted that Paul nowhere speaks of all Jews being culpable, and his language, when considered sanely, cannot bear such a meaning. The Jews he is referring to are those who persecuted the churches in Judea (vs 14), killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, drove out St Paul from Thessalonica, and hinder the preaching of the Gospel. The very description of their actions qualify the meaning of “Jews” in the context, so by what right does Richards insinuate that all Jews are being described? This is nothing more than a cheap attempt to muddy the text in order to justify its cleansing. The fact is that verbally and thematically, verses 15 and 16 fit nicely into the overall context of part 1 of the letter (1:1-2:16). SOME Jews “killed the Lord Jesus” inasmuch as they conspired to get the Romans to do the actual deed. SOME likewise killed the prophets and drove out the missionaries and hindered the preaching of the Gospel to all men; in this they stand in marked contrast to the Thessalonians who “became imitators of the Lord” and of the missionaries when they “received the word in much affliction” (1 Thess 1:6); and who, after having received it, “sounded it forth throughout Macedonia and Achaia”, and indeed, everywhere (i.e. to all men. See 1 Thess 1:6-8). 16. forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up the measure of their sins always: but wrath has come upon them at last. The wording of vs 15 gives the sense of an accumulation of sin: “Who killed the Lord Jesus AND the prophets, AND drove us out, AND pleased not God, AND are contrary to all men” It is in these ways that they fill up the measure of their sins. To fill up the measure of sin is an Old Testament phrase (Gen 15:16; Dt 18:23; 2 Mc 6:12-15). ” God has fixed certain moments of history for the punishment of sin and the rewarding of good actions; it is a mark of divine displeasure when this chastisement is postponed (2 Mc 2:6-13). Jews who are hostile to Christ and persecute Christians are left to multiply their sins in view of divine vengence. Wrath has already come upon them: God’s avenging justice is already manifest in his failure to effect their conversion” (Jerome Biblical Commentary 48:18, pg 230). Earlier, in 1:10, Paul had written that Jesus delivers (present tense) us from the wrath to come (future tense). In 2:16 however, the wrath of God is present. The pagan Thessalonians who accepted the Gospel were delivered from God’s wrath by turning from idols and serving the living and true God (1:9); whereas the Jewish monotheists, who rejected the Gospel have essentially made themselves the equal of idolaters. See Romans 1:18-32 (Gentiles), along with Romans 2:1-29 (Jew and Gentile). Note how the themes of wrath and salvation are connected with how one responds to truth. Paul's desire to re-visit Thessaonica 2:17-20 (also contains an outline to the letter's second major section 2:17-3:130) Outline Part 2 (2:17-3:13) A1) The missionaries wish to see their converts “face to face” (2:17-20) B) Timothy is sent to Thessalonica (3:1-8) A2) The missionaries pray that they might see their converts “face to face” (3:9-13) Text: 2:17-20 17. But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a short season, in face (i.e., in person) not in heart, endeavored the more exceedingly to see your face with great desire: 18. Because we would have fain (i.e., happily) come unto you, I Paul once and again; but Satan hindered us. 19. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glory? are not even ye (i.e., is it not you) before our Lord Jesus at his coming?
20. For ye are our glory and our joy. Notes: 17. But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a short season. The Greek words hemeis de (literally “we but”, however in English translation: “but we”) is used in the New Testament to provide a linking contrast between two groups. Earl Richards, who, as I pointed out in my notes on 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 contends that verses 14-16 of that passage are an interpolation, insists that the phrase provides a contrast with the Thessalonian Christians mentioned in verse 13. It must be noted however, that merely changing focus from one group to another does not constitute a contrast, and that is precisely what hemeis de is meant to do. Richards would reconstruct the passage thus:
13. For this cause also we thank God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard from us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. 17. But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a short season, in face (i.e., in person) endeavored the more exceedingly to see your face with great desire: 18. Because we would have fain (i.e., happily) come unto you, I paul once and again; but Satan hindered us. 19. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glory? are not even ye (i.e., is it not you) before our Lord Jesus at his coming?
Where exactly is the contrast here? Isn’t the real contrast here between those Jews and Gentiles mentioned if verses 14-16 who opposed the preaching of the Gospel and the missionaries? This fits in well with the reference to Satan hindering the missionaries return; for Paul would certainly see opposition to the Gospel as Satanic (see 1 Thess 3:5). It’s obvious that the desire of the missionaries to return, and their eventual sending of Timothy back to Thessalonica, was motivated by the opposition the church is receiving there (see 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). The contrast is between the missionaries who desire to strengthen the faith of the Thessalonian Christians, and those who are trying to destroy it. 17. cont. Bereaved of you. The Greek word aporphanizo originally referred to an orphan, but the word came to also came to be applied to a parent who had lost a child. In light of 1 Thess 1:11-12 it is probably this second sense that is meant. 17 cont. in face not in heart, (we) endeavored the more exceedingly to see your face with great desire. “In face” is a translation of the Greek prosopon. To be present to someone is to see their face, for this reason the word came to denote personal presence. 18. Because we would have fain (i.e., happily) come unto you, I Paul once and again; but Satan hindered us. In light of 1 Thess 2:14-16, and 1 Thess 3:5, it seems likely that what hindered the missionaries was satanic opposition to the Gospel. 19-20. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glory? are not even ye (i.e., is it not you) before our Lord Jesus at his coming? 20. For ye are our glory and our joy. The word before is a translation of the Greek emprosthen, which means “presence.” The word is virtually synonymous with prosopon (face) used in verse 17. Paul’s reward at the second coming (presence) of Christ will be based upon how he has fulfilled his ministry (see Luke 12:42-48). His desire to see the “face” of the Thessalonians is motivated by his parent-like care and concern for them, but also by his hope of Salvation and eternal glory which will be given when Christ manifests his end-time presence (see 2 Timothy 4:6-8). Timothy's embassy to Thessalonica 3:1-8 text: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-8 1. Therefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left behind at Athens alone; 2. And sent Timothy, our brother and God’s co-worker in the Gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith;
3. That no man be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that this is to be our lot. 4. And truly, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction; even as it came to pass, as you know. 5. For this reason also, when I could no longer forbear, I sent that I might know your faith, lest by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. 6. But just at this moment Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always remember us kindly, and long to see us, even as we long to see you; 7. for this reason, brethren, we are comforted over you in all our distress and affliction through your faith: 8. for now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. Notes: 1. Therefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left behind at Athens alone. Therefore serves as a conjunctive, it links what is about to be said with the thoughts expressed in the previous passage (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20). The thought of that passage may be summarized as follows: (1) the missionaries are bereft of the Thessalonians. (2) That separation was due to opposition to the Gospel and the hindrance of Satan. (3) The missionaries joy and hope at the coming of Jesus is at stake. Thoughts that Satan (1 Thessalonians 2:18), the Tempter (1 Thessalonians 3:5) had jeopardized or destroyed the missionary labor done among the Thessalonians motivated the evangelists to send Timothy back to them (see vs 2). This action they deemed good, even though it meant a separation among themselves: we thought it good to be left behind at Athens alone. Note that the statement doesn’t just say “left behind,” but also employs the word “alone” for emphasis. The implication is that Timothy’s absence is a hardship for the other evangelists, but it is good for the sake of the Thessalonians, thus exhibiting the care and love of the missionaries towards their converts (see 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). 2. And sent Timothy, our brother and God’s co-worker in the Gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith. The term God’s co-worker is a translation of the Greek synergon tou theou found in some manuscripts and early Christian writers. Other manuscripts read “servant of God” (diakonon tou theou) or similar variants. As a rule, it is generally advisable to accept the more difficult reading, which has been done here. The idea is not un-pauline, as a comparison with 1 Corinthians 3:9 shows. God’s duly constituted ministers are his instruments (vessels), imbued with his power ( see Acts of Apostles 9:15; 2 Corinthians 4:7). They act on His behalf as he works through them (see 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 5:20). The purpose of Timothy’s embassy is to establish (sterizo=make stable, firm, strengthen) them in the faith, and to comfort (parakaleo=console, encourage, admonish) them. Essentially, he is to continue doing what the missionaries had begun among the Thessalonians (see the similar wording used in 1 Thessalonians 2:12). 3. That no man be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that this is to be our lot. The converts had received the word in great affliction (1 Thessalonians 1:6); and suffering (1 Thessalonians 2:14). Timothy is returning to them to “establish” them (vs 2), so that no man be moved by these afflictions. No doubt part of his mission was to remind them of the opposition which living out the Gospel brings (this is to be our lot). 4. And truly, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction; even as it came to pass, as you know. Builds upon the end of vs 3. 5. For this reason also, when I could no longer forbear, I sent that I might know your faith, lest by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. Verses 1-3 gave the
reasons why all the missionaries decided to send Timothy. This verse gives Paul’s specific concern that the tempter may have tempted them out of the faith, thus making the labor done among the Thessalonians vain. While there has been an emphasis on the possible havoc wreaked by opposition to the Gospel, here Paul is concerned with any means the tempter might have used to render the labor vain. The reference to the missionaries labor calls to mind the work they had done and its effects. Perhaps Paul is concerned that they had turned back to serving idols (1 Thessalonians 1:9); or that they had come to the conclusion that Paul had been preaching his own word (1 Thessalonians 2:13). For more on Satan’s temptations against the Gospel see 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 and Mark 4:13-15. 6. But just at this moment Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always remember us kindly, and long to see us, even as we long to see you. This single verse accounts for the joy which permeates this letter. The faith and love which the converts received and exhibited as a result of the Apostolic labor done among them remains firmly established. This was such good news that the letter appears to have been written immediately upon Timothy’s return. The reference to the kindly remembrance of the missionaries y the converts, and of their longing to see the missionaries again perhaps implies that the veracity and integrity of the evangelists was being called into question by the Gospel’s opponents (see 1 Thessalonians 2:3-9). 7. for this reason, brethren, we are comforted over you in all our distress and affliction through your faith: A masterful reversal! Paul shows himself to be adept at the use of rhetoric (in the good sense). Timothy had been sent to comfort the Thessalonians in their distress and affliction (vs 2), and the Thessalonian’s adherence to the faith now provides comfort to the missionaries who were distressed and afflicted concerning that adherence. 8 for now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. Recalls 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. Being assured of the love and affection of their converts towards them, the evangelists play upon their heartstrings, using that love and affection as a motive for the converts maintaining their standing in the Lord. Recalls the use of “establish” in verse 2. Paul again expresses his desire to visit Thessalonica 9:9-13 This section closes out part 2 of the letter 2:17-3:13. Part 2 opened with the missionaries talking about their desire to return to the Thessalonians who were described as the “joy” and “hope” of the Evangelists (1 Th 2:17-20). Now we will see that this part closes with another announcement of their desire to return to Thessalonica. It would e good for the reader to recall the outline to section 2: A1) The missionaries wish to see their converts “face to face” (2:17-20) B) Timothy is sent to Thessalonica (3:1-8) A2) The missionaries pray that they might see their converts “face to face” (3:9-13) Read: 1 Thess 3:9-13 Notes: 1 Th 3:9 For what thanksgiving can we render unto God for you, for all the joy wherewith we rejoice for your sakes before our God? The section opens with a rhetorical question which clearly recalls 1 Thess 1:2; 2:13. The question also starts with the Greek conjunctive gar, “for,” thus linking this section with what immediately precedes it (2:17-3:8). English translation cannot bring out adequately the meaning of the question, many people end up thinking that Paul is saying that he and his companions cannot even begin to give appropriate thanks to God for what he has done; but this is not
the meaning. The emphasis is on the joy the missionaries feel after having received the report of Timothy (vss3-8) concerning the situation in Thessalonica. Vs 9 cont. Joy. In 2:19 the missionaries had referred to their converts as their “hope and joy and crown of boasting in the presence of” Jesus “at his coming.” There the reference was eschatological (end time). Missionaries will be judged on how they have fulfilled their obligation to the Gospel and to those who believe in it (Luke 12:42-48). Paul and those with him had hoped that the Thessalonians mere maintaining their stand on the Gospel, thus showing the missionaries as good and faithful servants when Christ returned. Timothy’s news that they were indeed standing firm (vs 8) is cause for their present joy in hope of the coming return of Christ. 1 Th 3:10 Night and Day we pray exceedingly that we may see your face, and may perfect that which is lacking in your faith. Paul began and ended part 1 of the letter (1:1-2:16) with a reference to thanksgiving (1 Th 1:1-10; 2:13-16). His reference to thanksgiving in the previous verse, and his prayer in this section help to unify the letter, though the prayer he actually has in mind here is one of petition, the subject being that God may allow the missionaries to return to Thessalonica to continue what had been left undone. The reference to seeing the face of the converts calls to mind the opening section of part 2, namely 1 Thess 2:17-20 (see the outline above, and the outline of the whole letter HERE). Vs 10 cont. may perfect that which is lacking in your faith. The missionaries had laid the foundational message of the Gospel down but had been unable to build upon it, their desire is to rectify that situation through another visit to the city. The third part of the letter (4:1-5:28) seeks to present some of what is still lacking in the faith of the converts. 1 Th 3:11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you. In the previous verse Paul had spoken about the missionaries abundant prayer’s that they be able to return to their converts; here he writes out such a prayer . 1 Th 3:12 and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love towards one another, and towards all men, even as we also do towards you The Lord (i.e., Jesus) is asked to bestow a superabundance of faith and love upon the community which was already in possession of these virtues (see 1 Th 1:3; 3:6). In this life the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love can never be possessed to such a degree that we can exhaust them, there is always room for an increase, hence, in a certain sense, our faith will always be lacking because it can always be improved, extended, strengthened. Vs 12 cont. Towards one another and towards all men. Here St Paul is preparing for the final part of the letter (4:1-5:28), which will focus on moral conduct towards fellow Christians (1 Thess 4:1-10), and towards outsiders (1 Thess 4:11-12). Vs 12 cont. Even as we also do towards you Here Paul not only reassures the community of his and his companions love for their converts, but also subtly holds himself and the others up as an example for imitation (see 1 Thess 1:6). 1 Th 3:13 To the end He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones Paul is still preparing for the final part of the letter, where holiness of life in preparation for the coming of Christ will be a major subject. Grammatically, this verse is linked to the previous one. To be blameless in holiness entails acting in love towards one another and all men. Exhortation concerning right and holy conduct 4:1-12 1 Thess 4:1-12 is the first section to the third and final part of the letter. Like the previous two parts it has a concentric, parallel structure:
A1) Exhortations concerning right and holy conduct (4:1-12) B) The resurrection of the faithful and Christ’s second coming (4:13-5:11) A2) Exhortations concerning right order in the community (5:12-28) Read 1 Thess 4:1-12 1 Thess 4:1-2 We beseech and exhort you in the Lord. Here Paul appeals to his authority as an ambassador of Christ (see 2 Cor 5:18-20). The emphasis and urgency of the exhortation should be seen against the backdrop of the Lord’s second coming. vs 1 cont. (we exhort you) that, as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, even as you are so doing, you abound in doing so more and more “Walk” is a common metaphor for one’s moral life (see my notes on Psalm 1). The life of the man of God is conceived of as a religious pilgrimage towards final union with Him. The Thessalonians have already begun that journey and are here encouraged to keep at it with even greater commitment. That journey began when the missionaries came to their city preaching the word, which they “received in great affliction, with the joy which comes from the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:6). The word received used here and in 2:13 is paralambano, which is related to the word pradosis, tradition. Tradition is the handing on or receiving of a teaching delivered either orally, in writing, or by example, and Jesus is at their source, for he Handed on (paradidonai) and revealed what he had received from the Father (see Matt 11:25-27). The words in verse 2 for you know what charge we gave you through the Lord Jesus is likewise a reminder of the teaching they have received from the missionaries through Jesus.. But it was not merely through the preaching that they received from the missionaries how they ought to walk; they also received it by the example set by the missionaries (note the reference to imitation in 1:6, and see 1 Thess 2:1-12). The word abound calls to mind what Paul said in 3:12. 1 Thess 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you refrain from fornication The salvific will of God demands a response under grace on our part. We must embrace holiness. Fornication includes all forms of illicit sexual activity, but what St Paul has explicitly in mind in verses 4-8 is not entirely clear from the Greek text, as an examination of various translations 1 Thess 4:4-8 shows (see the NAB and the RSV texts, along with the footnote to the text in the NAB). 1 Thess 4:4-7 Peter Ellis, in his book SEVEN PAULINE LETTERS comments on the RSV translation: “In the Greek, the import of these words is much less clear. The RSV translates it as here but gives another translation-”How to control his own body”-in a footnote; and the NAB gives a third possible translation: “each of you guarding his member in sanctity.” The different translations flow from the ambiguity of the Greek, which uses the word “vessel,” a word that could mean “wife” as above, or “body” as in the RSV footnote, or “member” (a euphemism for sexual parts) as in the NAB. The NAB translation “member” would imply personal unchastity. The RSV translation “wife” would imply adultery. No certain solution is possible, but the context, especially in verse 6, would seem to favor the translation “wife,” and the nature of the immorality as adultery. Underlying such immorality, one may suspect a devil-may-care attitude toward sex in view of the fact that the end of the world was considered near.” The attitude may seem strange to us, but it is an idea exhibited often down through the centuries (i.e., some Gnostics and the Cathari). 1 Thess 4:8 Therefore he that rejects this rejects not man, but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you. Paul’s teaching on this matter is not his own and cannot be rejected without rejecting God and the Holy Spirit (and, obviously, Christ) see 1 Thess 1:5; 2:13. 1 Thess 4:9 But concerning love of the brothers you have no need that one write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another This recalls 1 Thess 3:12. Paul probably has in mind here the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:34. The Gospel of God delivered by the missionaries remains at work among them (1 Thess 2:13) and manifests itself in love.
1 Thess 4:10 for indeed you do it towards all the brothers that are in all Macedonia. But we exhort you, brothers, that you abound more and more. In 1 Thess 1:7 Paul had noted that the Thessalonians had become a model for believers throughout Macedonia, here we see that it manifested itself in love. Once again Paul uses the words exhort and abound as he had in 4:1 (and see 3:12). The necessity for sanctification and love in virtue of the Lord’s second coming cannot be over emphasized. The Lord’s return and its implications will be the subject of the second section of part 3 (see 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 and note especially the moral imperatives of 5:5-8, along with the focus on faith, hope, and love). 1 Thess 4:11-12 And that you aspire to be quiet, and tend to you own business, and to labor with your own hands as we instructed you. That you may walk (i.e., act) in a becoming way towards outsiders, being dependent on no one. The appeal to previous instruction is essentially an appeal to the traditions they had already received concerning the subjects of this verse. In their behavior they are to avoid instigating troubles among themselves and outsiders. Many scholars believe that what Paul has in mind here is the fact that some of the Thessalonians had given up working in order to better prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord. By doing this they were becoming a burden on others. By not working to earn their daily bread they were becoming dependent upon the charity of their fellow Christians and friends and relatives who were not members of the Church. They were also becoming busy bodies. Paul will have to deal with these issues again in 2 Thess 3:6-16. In 1 Thess 2:9 Paul explicitly mentions how the missionaries had labored among them so as not to be a burden. This example was not doubt intended as part of the instructions they had received. Resurrection and Second Coming 4:13-5:11 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 is the second section of the final part (i.e., 4:1-5:28) of the letter. It deals with the subjects of the resurrection and second coming. Because I’m pressed for time this morning I’ll comment on 4:13-18 and leave the remainder of the section (5:1-11) for another time. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 But we would not have you ignorant, brothers, concerning those who fall asleep, that you not grieve like the others who have no hope. Apparently Paul had given them instructions concerning the second coming and the resurrection of the dead but they were in confusion on a certain point: will the dead (Those who fell asleep) not see the glory of the coming of the Lord? Paul will emphatically assert that they will (vs 15), and that it is a matter of faith (vs 14: Since we believe that Jesus died and rose…). The living will not precede the dead in returning to the Lord, rather, the dead will precede the living in this matter; Paul is emphatic on this point (vs. 15 shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. The “shall not” is a double negative in Greek, giving emphasis). The apocalyptic imagery of verses 16-17 is often interpreted quite literally, but it should be noted that what Paul is here describing is basically the visit of a king to a city. Josephus give the following description of the Emperor Titus’s entry into Antioch (boldface type represents parallels with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17): “When the people of Antioch learned that Titus was coming to the city, their joy was such that they could not rest within the city walls until he came. Instead they went out to meet him, going a distance of more than thirty stadia. Not only the men went, but a multitude of women also, with the children, and when they saw Titus coming ,they stood on either side of the road saluting him with their hands raised. They brought him to the city with acclamations of all sorts, and while they applauded him, they did not cease to ask that the Jews be expelled from the city.” (Quoted in SEVEN PAULINE LETTERS by Peter F. Ellis).
For more on the over-literal interpretation of this passage see HERE. In 4:13-18 St Paul dealt with the status of the faithful departed at the coming of our Lord. In 5:1-11 he deals with the suddenness of that coming. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 The first verse echoes what was said in 1 Thess 4:9 concerning love. The two verses together show that the Thessalonians had received previous instructions concerning the subject treated here (as in 1 Thess 4:2 regarding holiness). Ironically, false teachings concerning the coming of Christ-possibly in letter form-caused the Thessalonians problems a latter time, causing Paul to write a second letter to the Church (see 2 Thess 2:1-2), wherein he more forcefully appeals to the traditional faith they received (2 Thess 2:5, 13-15). Like a thief in the night. It may seem odd that Paul is comparing the coming of Christ to the unexpected and terrifying discovery of a thief in one’s home in the dead of night, but the subject of verses 3&4 makes its usage clear. 1 Thess 5:3-5 A man who gets falling-down-drunk even though he know that a thief is going to break into his house deserves all the terror that event could have. Who in their right mind would not stay alert for such an event? But Christians know full well that Christ will come in judgment, therefore they ought to be prepared for the coming of Christ; a day of destruction upon the lax, but a day of salvation for those who are ready. There will be no terror for those who are the sons of the light and the day. The reference to sons calls to mind the image of motherhood and fatherhood Paul had applied to himself and his co-missionaries in relation to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 2:5-12). Notice that the imagery ends with the words “…we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” Children ought to imitate their holy parents for their own good. 1 Thess 5:6-7 The missionaries had toiled day and night among the Thessalonians (1 Thess 2:9), not sleeping on the job or seeking worldly comforts like lazy drunkards. Unfortunately, some of the Thessalonians, perhaps in a misguided attempt to prepare for the coming of Christ, had given up work (1 Thess 4:11), and become idle (1 Thess 5:14 see also 2 Thess 3:6-11). Not without reason does the Church insist on the sanctity of work (CCC 2427-2428). 1 Thess 5:8 Using military imagery, Paul once again makes reference to the theological virtues (see 1 Thess 1:3 note the reference to work and labor). Christianity is something we live by, not something we lounge in. As in the first usage, hope is mentioned last, giving us an “eschatological order” (i.e., endtime order) to the virtues. This ordering is explained by the following verses. 1 Thess 5:9-11 In 1 Thess 1:10 Paul had spoken of Jesus who “delivers us from the coming wrath.” There he had used the present tense in referring to deliverance, but the future tense in relation to wrath. The moral imperatives and warnings which litter this letter make it quite clear that we cannot presume our salvation as assured. Our current status as righteous is not our final deliverance; it it were, the moral exhortations and warnings would have no meaning, and one can leave the way of righteousness (2 Peter 2:20-22). Sleep in verse ten refers to the faithful departed. Paul had dealt with the status of those Christians who “sleep” in death in 1 Thess 4:13-18. In the present chapter, sleep had decidedly negative connotations. The dead in Christ (1 Thess 4:16 i.e., the faithful who have fallen asleep in death), will rise to new life, whereas those who take their rest now, not engaging in the “work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope” will essentially endure a second death (see Revelation 2:20, 20:13-15). It will, however, be a sleep without rest (revelation 14:11). It is this which sustains those who keep the commandments of God (Revelation 14:12).
Moral Exhortations 5:12-28 This post deals with the third and last section of the third and final part of Paul’s letter. The reader will recall that part three had the following concentric structure: A1) Exhortations concerning right and holy conduct (4:1-12) B) The resurrection of the faithful and Christ’s second coming (4:13-5:11) A2) Exhortations concerning right order in the community (5:12-28) 1 Thess 5:12-13 Note the parallels with 1 Thess 4:1 (especially clear in the RSV Translation). in 4:1 Paul had exhorted the Thessalonians to live in the manner which they had learned from him. Here he exhorts them to respect those who admonish them. Note the terms Paul uses to describe the leaders: (1) they labor (work) among the Thessalonians just as Paul and his companions had (1 Thess 2:9-12). What the Apostolic missionaries started, the established leaders of the church are to continue doing. We see here the beginnings of Apostolic Succession (CCC 860-862). (2) they are over the Thessalonians in the Lord. This is possibly intended to call to mind the images of motherhood and fatherhood which Paul had applied to himself and his companions in describing their labor among the Thessalonians. (3) They admonish the Thessalonians. Be at peace among yourselves. This could also read “be at peace with them,” i.e., the leaders. 1 Thess 5:14 in 1 Thess 1:6-7 Paul had noted how the Thessalonians had become his imitators. Here he suggests subtlety that they imitate their leaders by admonishing weaker member in the community. Note especially the reference to the idle. As I noted in my previous post on this letter, idleness was a particular problem with some of Thessalonians ( see my notes on 5:6-7). 1 Thess 5:15 Do good to one another and to all. See Paul’s exhortation not to transgress against a brother in 1 Thess 4:6, and see also 1 Thess 5:11. 1 Thess 5:16 See 1 Thess 1:6. 1 Thess 5:17-18 Recall that part 1 of the letter began and ended with a thanksgiving (see 1 Thess 1:1-10; 2:13-16). Note the emphasis on suffering and affliction in those passages. Had some of the Thessalonians given up praying and giving thanks “in all circumstances” (i.e., because of afflictions)? 1 Thess 5:19-22 In 1 Thess 4:8 Paul had warned that to disregard what he was teaching was to disregard God “Who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” Paul here is calling for spiritual discernment regarding prophecies. What is necessary for such discernment is fidelity to the traditional teaching; prophecies that contradict such teaching are to be rejected (see 2 Thess 2:1-15). 1 Thess 5:23-24 Spirit, Soul, Body “are not three elements that make up a human person. In the Semitic mind, the human person is a unity that can be viewed from three different points of view: one’s relation to God (spirit); one’s principle of life or vitality (the soul), a principle similar to that of all living beings; and one’s body” (Peter F. Ellis. SEVEN PAULINE LETTERS. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1982). By employing all three views Paul gives emphasis to the desire of his prayer: “May God keep you sound and blameless completely.” 1 Thess 5:25 The letter had begun with the missionaries noting how they prayed for the Thessalonians (1 Thess 1:2-3); and we’ve just seen another of their prayers in written form (vs 23); now the missionaries ask their converts to return the favor. Several of Paul’s letters make such a request, or at least acknowledge that others were praying for him (Rom 15:30-32; Phil 1:19; Eph 6:18-20). 1 Thess 5:26-28 the holy kiss was probably to be given at the liturgy, when the letter would be read to all the brethren. Concerning the holy kiss see Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12. Concerning the
public (almost certainly liturgical) reading of Paul’s letters and other Scripture see Col 4:16; 1 Tim 4:13; Rev 1:3; Luke 4:16-21; Acts 13:15;