Amateur Hour w/the Amateur Exegete: Episode #2 – Who Is Jesus? A Christadelphian Perspective w/Kameron Mazurek

Who is Jesus? For many Christians, he is both Son of God and God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. But not all Christians think this, including Kameron Mazurek. Mazurek is a Christadelphian and in this episode of Amateur Hour we talk about his background and beliefs, particularly his view of the claim that Jesus is a divine being on equal footing with God.

Amateur Hour w/the Amateur Exegete: Episode #1 – The Trouble with Inerrancy (w/the Non-Alchemist)

Is the Bible free from error? If it isn’t, what does this mean for some version of Christian belief? And what exactly would an error look like anyway? My friend the Non-Alchemist and I touch on these questions and more in our conversation in this inaugural episode of ‘Amateur Hour w/the Amateur Exegete.’

Book Review: The First Biography of Jesus by Helen Bond

Author: Helen K. Bond

Book: The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel

Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Year: 2020

Page Count: 360 pages

Price: $42.99 (hardcover)

I. Introduction

Pick up most any commentary on the Gospel of Mark and you’ll find in the introductory section discussions of things like authorship, date, composition, sources, structure, and more. You’ll also likely find a discussion of the Gospel’s genre, though this section is often very short. For example, in Robert Guelich’s commentary on the first eight chapters of Mark, he devotes only four pages to the subject of genre, concluding that the canonical Gospels “belong to the broad category of Hellenistic biography.”[1] Similarly, Craig Evans commentary, which picks up where Guelich’s commentary ends, includes only four pages of discussion on Markan genre.[2] Adela Yarbro Collins’ contribution in the Hermeneia series does fare better as she talks about genre for nearly thirty pages.[3] Joel Marcus’s two-volume set for the Anchor Yale Bible, by contrast, only offers readers half a dozen pages on the subject.[4]

The decision to not have lengthy discussions on Markan genres is understandable but unfortunate. When we read a book, it helps to know what kind of book it is. We read science textbooks very differently than we read romance novels. Understand a work’s literary context helps us look for techniques that are common to the genre, thereby giving us some aid with which to interpret it. But a drawback of many commentaries on the Gospel of Mark is the lack of real interaction with the subject of genre, especially ancient bioi or biography.[5] It is one thing to talk about it in the introduction; it is a whole different thing to use it as a tool with which to understand the Markan text.

This is why Helen Bond’s book The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel is so important. It is one of those few works that takes the issue of genre so seriously that it becomes a lens through which to interpret the Gospel. In the review that follows, I’ll offer a summary of the work and then provide a brief analysis of it, zeroing in on Bond’s discussion of the death of Jesus.

II. Summary

Following the introduction (pp. 1-14) in which she laments the “disappointingly meager” results from scholarly classification of the canonical Gospels as bioi (p. 2) and offers readers an overview of FBJ (pp. 11-14), Bond presents in ch. 1 (pp. 15-37) what amounts to a reception history of the view of the Gospels as ancient biography, particularly the Gospel of Mark. Meandering throughout time and scholarship, she keenly observes that the “strongest piece of evidence that Mark was indeed read as bios…comes from the way in which his work was received and expanded by Matthew and Luke” (p.18). Today, the “dominant scholarly position” is that what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote “are best understood as ancient bioi” (p. 35). In ch. 2 (pp. 38-77), Bond answers the question, “So what?” She begins by tracing the origins of the bios genre, the “first stirrings” of which can be detected in the writings of Hellenistic historians like Herodotus (p. 39). She also notes the ways in which ancient biographers would weave in important themes surrounding the moral lives of their subjects (pp. 46-51), their corresponding character (pp. 51-56), the ways in which their deaths factored into the overall portrait of the person (pp. 56-66), and more. “In broad terms,” she writes, “Mark has most in common with Greek lives of philosophers, especially those (the majority) that hold up their subject as a model to be imitated” (p. 76). Chapter three (pp. 78-120) commences a discussion of Mark’s role in the process of writing his Gospel. Bond goes into some detail on what his level of education may have been as well as what that education may have looked like, concluding that while the Evangelist’s “literary abilities” should not be overhyped, Mark nevertheless “was clearly a competent and reasonably skilled writer who was perfectly able to convey his ideas in the literary form of bios” (p. 89). She also examines Mark’s intended audience, the structure of the Gospel, and more. In ch. 4 (pp. 121-166), the author discusses the characterization of Jesus in the Markan text. She notes that Mark’s “preferred method of characterization is to present a series of anecdotes and to allow his audience to reach their own conclusions” (p. 123). Bond discusses the all-important subject of Jesus’ identity, rendered in titular form through monikers like “son of God,” “Christ,” “son of man,” and more (pp. 142-150). She also notes Mark’s apprehension of giving his readers a physical description of Jesus. “If Mark did know what Jesus looked like, he clearly did not think that it was of any relevance to his audience,” she observes (p. 166). “Other Characters” is the title of ch. 5 (pp. 167-221) and in it Bond discusses Markan intercalation (pp. 171-178) as well as the significance of particular characters like King Herod (pp. 178-186), the Twelve (pp. 190-199), and others. She also discusses “minor” characters that are sprinkled throughout Mark’s narrative like Bartimaeus (pp. 211-212), the woman who anoints Jesus before his death (pp. 212-213), and more. In ch. 6 (pp. 222-252), the author zeroes in on the death of the Markan Gospel’s protagonist, noting “how Mark emphasized Jesus’s earlier teaching on self-denial and shame so that, paradoxically, a shameful exit [i.e., crucifixion] formed the only fitting end to his biography” (p. 224). Bond also looks at the empty-tomb narrative of Mark 16, observing the apologetic nature of the story (p. 247) as well as how the idea of Jesus’ resurrection fits into both Greco-Roman and Jewish matrices (p. 249). To close the volume, Bond offers some “final reflections” (pp. 253-258) on Mark’s biography of Jesus. She concludes her tome by noting that the other canonical Gospels – Matthew’s, Luke’s, and John’s – were all in one way or another inspired by the work of Mark. And so, she writes, “Whether we like it or not, the story of Jesus is Mark’s story of Jesus” (p. 258).

III. Analysis

Readers of the Gospel of Mark know that to rightly understand it one must appreciate the historical context in which it was written. It is a product of its own time. But often ignored is the literary context of the Markan text, a subject that Bond emphasizes in FBJ. As she notes, many commentaries pay lip-service to the bioi theme but few put it to work in understanding the Gospel itself. But once you are aware of the relationship between Mark’s Gospel and ancient bioi you simply cannot unsee it.

Take, for example, the death of Jesus. If we did not have any of the canonical Gospels and possessed only, say, the Pauline epistles, what details would we glean about Jesus’ death from them? We would know, for example, that beforehand he shared a meal with his disciples before he was handed over (1 Corinthians 11:23),[6] though by whom and to whom we do not know. We would also know that Jesus died by crucifixion (1 Corinthians 1:23). We would know that he was buried (1 Corinthians 15:4). But that’s about it. Though the Gospels may be “passion narratives with extended introductions,”[7] virtually nothing of what they tell us about the end of Jesus’ life is reflected in Paul’s letters. Yet somehow in the decade or so after Paul exits the world stage, we have a bios complete with a rather detailed and elaborate account of Paul’s savior. How did this happen? “The cross itself was a given,” Bond writes, “but almost all of the details could have been written up differently” (p. 226).

Some scholars appeal to the existence of a “pre-Markan Passion Narrative,” often in a bid to show how two seemingly unrelated Gospels like Mark’s and John’s could both have so much overlap.[8] However, Bond has no use for such a speculative source, arguing earlier in the volume that “[t]he more we see [Mark] as a creative biographer, rather than simply a transmitter of existing traditions, the more hopeless the task of identifying pre-Markan material becomes” (p. 110, author’s emphasis). Thus, while Bond is confident the Markan author was aware of various traditions surrounding the meaning of Jesus’ death, he goes a very specific route, one in which Jesus’ death is depicted as “the very opposite of a ‘good death’” (p. 227) the kind of death that points to the nobility of the protagonist. Whereas ancient authors would depict their heroes dying with “calm, courageous, dignified acceptance of [their] fate” (p. 62), Jesus’ death is anything but this. For example, he not only pleads with God for it not to happen (Mark 14:36) but he cries out in agonizing abandonment, lamenting that even God has forsaken him to death before giving up the ghost (Mark 15:34-37). “Jesus’ cry of desolation signifies a bad death, a wretched and miserable exit, fully in keeping with his servile execution on a Roman cross,” Bond writes (p. 230).

Yet all is not lost for Mark and his hero’s seemingly sad ending. As Bond observes, the Evangelist has been dropping hints that Jesus’ death on a cross would be the ending to his story. While in the first half of the Gospel the protagonist is depicted as a demon-exorcising, disease-destroying son of God, in ch. 10 he teaches his followers that to follow him isn’t to wield absolute power and lord it over others. Instead, to enter God’s kingdom they must be like children (Mark 10:15) and sell all that they have to give to the poor (Mark 10:21, 28-31). Moreover, to enjoy Jesus’ eschatological favor requires that one be willing to participate in a baptism of suffering (Mark 10:39) and to be servant to all just as he is (Mark 10:41-45). Thus, juxtaposed the image of a powerful healer and exorcist with God’s stamp of approval is this notion that to be truly great in God’s kingdom is to not use power as a means to subjugate the weak. A few chapters earlier, Jesus defines what it means to be his follower: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

Therefore, consonant with ancient authors’ frequent depictions of philosophers as living and dying consistent with their beliefs, Mark portrays Jesus as coming to his end consistent with his teachings. Bond writes that “Mark emphasized Jesus’s earlier teaching on self-denial and shame so that, paradoxically, a shameful exit formed the only fitting end to his biography” (p. 224). Within this narrative world, the centurion’s declaration of Jesus’ divine sonship (Mark 15:39) is taken by Bond to be an indication that the Roman soldier “recognizes Jesus’ shameful death for what it ‘truly’ is (alēthōs): a perfect expression of his teaching and the means by which humans are to enter into a new relationship with God” (p. 246). She goes on to note that given the centurion’s status as a representative of a force hostile to Jesus (i.e., the Roman Empire), Mark’s deployment of the centurion in the scene complete with the declaration is the Gospel author’s use of a trope that was common in literature depicting martyrdom in which the executioner is moved by the death of the one he stands responsible for killing (p. 246).

IV. Conclusion

Once viewed through the lens of ancient literature generally and bios in particular, Mark’s Gospel begins to take on new dimensions. For readers unfamiliar with bioi generally, Bond’s work fills the gap and can provide them not only with high quality scholarship but an excellent bibliographic resource. This is a book that I’ll not only be recommending to those interested in the literary context of the Gospel of Mark, but I will be revisiting it myself with regularity.


[1] Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, Word Biblical Commentary Series (Nashville: Word, Inc., 1989), xxii.

[2] Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, Word Biblical Commentary Series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers., 2001), lxiv-lxvii. Guelich died before he was able to complete what would have been a two-volume series on the Gospel of Mark. Evans plans to contribute a new volume covering the first half of Mark for the Word Biblical Commentary series for the near future.

[3] Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary, Hermeneia Commentary Series (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007), 15-43.

[4] Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 64-69.

[5] One commentary that does provide an excellent and accessible way to read the Gospel of Mark as a work of ancient literature is Mary Ann Beavis’ contribution on the Gospel in the Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011).

[6] Paul uses the verb paredideto which suggests a chain of custody. Some English translations render paredideto as “betrayed” in keeping with its use in the Gospel accounts wherein Jesus is “betrayed” by Judas Iscariot (e.g., Mark 14:44). However, Paul routinely uses paradidōmi to mean “to hand over” and to my knowledge never uses it to signify betrayal. To read the Gospel accounts into Paul is necessarily backward and I can see no good reason to think that Paul’s use of paredideto in 1 Corinthians 11:23 should be translated as “betrayed.” Instead, it seems this use here is in keeping with its use in Romans 4:25 – “who was handed over [hos paredothē] to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (NRSV). See Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 436.

[7] Martin Kähler, The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic, Biblical Christ, translated by Carl E. Braaten (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), 80n11.

[8] For an overview of this hypothetical source, see Marion L. Soards, “Appendix IX: The Question of a Premarcan Passion Narrative,” in Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave – A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels, vol. 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 1492-1524.

Musings on Mark: A Promising New Series on the Gospel of Mark

Over on Twitter, I was recently followed by @bibleautopsy. It must have slipped under my radar because I didn’t look into their profile, nor did I follow back. But after I saw a tweet in which they tagged Joshua Bowen, I wanted to see what their website bibleautopsy.com was all about. I’m glad I did. Their aim is expressed on their home page: “Dissecting the Bible in a secular and academic way – removing the scales of inerrancy and fundamentalism.” Now that’s a mission I can get behind

There are only three posts up on the site, all written by Micah Bartlett, and all having to do with the Gospel of Mark. The first has to do with historical context: Who wrote it? How does it relate to the other so-called Synoptic Gospels? What was the historical situation in which it was composed? The answers given are fairly standard among critical scholars and offer those not as familiar with Markan scholarship a way to dip their toes into the broader ocean of the literature on the Gospel. The second post covers the layout and structure of the book, following the work of R.T. France and his commentary. France saw Mark as a three-act drama and his commentary reflects that understanding.[1] Bartlett also brings up the messianic secret as well as the Gospel’s abrupt ending. In the third and most recent post, we read of unique features of the Markan text. There is a discussion of Markan Christology (with which I have a few quibbles), the naked youth of Mark 14:51-52, and the Passion account.

I’m looking forward to future posts from Bartlett as he performs an autopsy on the Bible. Though I have to admit, with its focus on critical scholarship, it feels more like an exorcism. The demons of fundamentalism are forced to flee as the text is investigated closely. In any event, I am pleased to commend this site to my readers.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 11-15. It should be noted that France was careful to not attribute to Mark this scheme of a drama in three acts but to observe that “any structure we [as readers] discern is a matter of our reading of the text, not of Mark’s direction” (p. 13). France was, of course, not denying structure in Mark generally but only that such structures are more often than not in the eye of the beholder and to some degree arbitrary.

Conversation with Jackson Wheat on Stephen Meyer’s Book ‘Darwin’s Doubt’

I had the distinct privilege of being invited to discuss Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt over at Jackson Wheat’s YouTube channel. I had recently finished reading Meyer’s book and along the way had DM’d Wheat with various questions about the science behind it. As usual, Wheat was kind enough to answer my questions and provide feedback. He then invited me onto his channel to discuss the book and to get my impressions of it. Talk about outside of my wheelhouse! I’m quite openly an amateur in biblical studies, a subject about which I’ve read and written on extensively. But evolutionary biology? I’m less than a novice!

So, for what it’s worth, my conversation can be found below. And if you haven’t already subscribed to Wheat’s channel, you should go ahead and fix that now.

Amateur Exegesis – Season Two Bibliography

Producing this season of Amateur Exegesis was more than just recording and editing audio. A ton of research when into every episode. And if you only listened to the episode, you were only getting the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Go back and look at the scripts that I posted for each episode and you’ll see scores of footnotes with references to dozens of volumes. In this post, you will find a bibliography for all the volumes – commentaries, monographs, journal articles, etc. – that I used in my research and writing for this season. My aim in posting the bibliography is so that those listeners who want to dig dipper can peruse the list of works below and perhaps find something worth reading. So, have a look and thank you for being a part of Amateur Exegesis


PRIMARY SOURCES

Canonical New Testament

As I noted in episode two, the translation of 1 Thessalonians I used throughout this season was my own based upon Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012). Additionally, I referred to two other Greek texts in episode seven: 

  • Jongkind, Dirk, editor. The Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017.
  • H KAINH ΔIAΘHKH. London: Trinitarian Bible Society, 2000. This Greek text is that which underlies the King James Version.

For other New Testament texts, my English translation of choice was the New Revised Standard Version. However, in certain episodes I quoted from other translations like the English Standard Version, the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version.

Jewish Scriptures 

For the Hebrew Bible, I depended solely on the translation found in the New Revised Standard Version. When quoting from the LXX I used either my own translation based upon Septuaginta, revised edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006), or the following:

  • Penner, Ken M. The Lexham English Septuagint. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019.

Apocryphal Texts and Dead Sea Scrolls

For all but two apocryphal texts, I quoted from the New Revised Standard Version. In episode seven I quoted from two other texts not typically found in collected works of Jewish apocrypha: Jubilees and 1 Enoch. The translation of Jubilees appears in the excellent The Jewish Annotated Apocrypha. Edited by Jonathan Klawans and Lawrence M. Wills. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. The translation of 1 Enoch comes from 1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation. Edited by George W.E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2012. Quotations from the Dead Sea Scrolls came from The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition. Volume 1 – 1Q1-4Q273. Edited by Florentino García Martínez and Elbert J.C. Tigchelaar. Leiden: Brill, 1997. 

Christian Texts

In various episodes I quoted from Christian texts from without the New Testament. Here are some of the translations I used. 

  • Elliot, J.K., editor. The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Literature in an English Translation Based on M.R. James. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Holmes, Michael W., translator. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Third edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. 
  • McDonald, Sister Mary Francis, translator. Lactantius: The Minor Works. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Press of America Press, 1965.

In addition to these, I used translations of the so-called ante-Nicene fathers found in volumes edited by Philip Schaff.  

Non-Christian Texts

It’s impossible to talk about the background of ancient letter writing and the New Testament without actually quoting from ancient letters and other relevant writings. Here are some of the volumes I referenced.

  • Aurelius, Marcus. The Emperor’s Handbook: A New Translation of the Meditations. Translated by C. Scot Hicks and David V. Hicks. New York: Scribner, 2002. 
  • Beckman, Gary. Hittite Diplomatic Texts. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1996.
  • Herodotus. The Histories. Translated by Tom Holland. New York: Penguin Books, 2013.
  • Josephus, Flavius. The New Completed Works of Josephus. Revised and expanded edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999. 
  • Muir, John. Life and Letters in the Ancient Greek World. London: Routledge, 2009. 
  • Pliny the Elder. The Natural History. London: Taylor and Francis, 1855.
  • Plutarch. Moralia, vol. 4. Translated by Frank Cole Babbitt. London and Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library: 1936.
  • Soranus. Gynecology. Translated by Owsei Temkin. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1956.
  • Strabo. Geography, vol. 3. Translated by Horace Leonard Jones. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954.

SECONDARY SOURCES

Achtemeier, Paul J.  1 Peter. Hermeneia Commentary Series. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Adams, Sean A. “Paul’s Letter Opening and Greek Epistolography: A Matter of Relationship.” In Paul and the Ancient Letter Form, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Sean A. Adams: 33-55. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

Alexander, Loveday. The Preface to Luke’s Gospel: Literary Conventions and Social Context in Luke 1.1-4 and Acts 1.1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Alter, Robert. The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. Vol. 3 – The Writings. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2019.

Ascough, Richard S. Paul’s Macedonian Associations: The Social Context of Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003. 

  • “A Question of Death: Paul’s Community-Building Language in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.” Journal of Biblical Literature 23, no. 3 (2004): 509-530.

Avalos, Hector Ignacio. “Satan.” In The Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan: 678-679. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. 

Aune, David E., editor. The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2010.

Aymer, Margaret. “Acts of the Apostles.” In Women’s Bible Commentary. Third edition. Edited by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley: 536-546. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.

Aymer, Margaret, Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs, and Sánchez, David A. editors. The Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014. 

Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950.

Barton, John. The Theology of the Book of Amos. Old Testament Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 

Bassler, Joulette. “Paul and His Letters.” In The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament. Edited by David E. Aune: 373-397. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2010. 

  • Navigating Paul: An Introduction to Key Theological Concepts. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015.

Baur, Ferdinand C. Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ: His Life and Works, His Epistles and Teachings – Two Volumes in One. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003. Bauer’s work was originally published between 1873-1875.

Beller, Steven. Antisemitism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Bertschmann, Dorothea H. “’What Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger’: Paul and Epictetus on Suffering.” In Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: Reading the Apostle in Greco-Roman Context, edited by Joseph R. Dodson and David E. Briones:  9-20. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019.

Best, Ernest. The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. New York: Harper, 1972. 

Bird, Michael F. and Dodson, Joseph R. editors. Paul and the Second Century. London: T&T Clark, 2011. 

Bollók, János. “The description of Paul in the Acta Pauli.” In The Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla. Edited by Jan N. Bremmer: 1-15. Kampen, the Netherlands: Kok Pharos Publishing Co., 1996.

Bond, Helen. The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2019. 

Borg, Marcus J. Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written. New York: HarperOne, 2012.

Borg, Marcus J. and Crossan, John Dominic. The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Vision Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon. New York: HarperOne, 2009.

Boring, M. Eugene. I & II Thessalonians: A Commentary. The New Testament Library. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015.

Botterwick, G. Johannes, Ringgren, Helmer, and Fabry, Heinz-Josef, editors. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Volume 14. Translated by Douglas W. Stott. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.

Brand, Miryam T. “Evil and Sin.” In The Jewish Annotated Apocrypha, 645-649. 

Bremmer, Jan. N., editor. The Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla. Kampen, the Netherlands: Kok Pharos Publishing Co., 1996.

Brooks, James A. and Winbery, Carlton L. Syntax of New Testament Greek. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979.

Brown, Alexandra R. “Paul and the Parousia.” In The Return of Jesus in Early Christianity. Edited by John T. Carroll: 47-76. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.

Bruce, F.F. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1982.

  • The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary. Third edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

Cadbury, Henry J. “Lexical Notes on Luke-Acts I.” Journal of Biblical Literature 44, no. 3/4 (1925): 214-227.

Carroll, James. Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews – A History. Boston: Mariner Books, 2001.

Carroll, John T., editor. The Return of Jesus in Early Christianity. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000. 

Carson, D.A. and Moo, Douglas J. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 

Ceccarelli, Paola. Ancient Greek Letter Writing: A Cultural History (600 BC – 150 BC). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 

Chamberlain, William Douglas. An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1941.

Clines, David J. A. Job 1-20. Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1989.

Cobb, Christy. Slavery, Gender, Truth, and Power in Luke-Acts and Other Ancient Narratives. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan, 2019.

Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. Second edition. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Conzelmann, Hans. Acts of the Apostles. Hermeneia Commentary Series. Translated by James Limburg, A. Thomas Kraabel, and Donald H. Juel. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1987.

Coogan, Michael D, editor. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

  • The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures. Third edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. 

Corbett, Christopher. Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express. New York: Broadway Books, 2003.

Cousar, Charles B. Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001.

Danker, Frederick W., Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Referred to as “BDAG” in citations.

Day, P.L. “Satan.” In Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Second edition. Edited by Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst: 726-730. Leiden: Brill, 1999. 

De Boer, Martinus C. Paul, Theologian of God’s Apocalypse: Essays on Paul and Apocalyptic. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2020. 

De Jonge, Marinus. “Messiah.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by David Noel Freeman: 4:777-778. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Dodson, Joseph R. and Briones, David E., editors. Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: Reading the Apostle in Greco-Roman Context. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019.

Doering, Lutz. Ancient Jewish Letters and the Beginnings of Christian Epistolography. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012.

Donfried, Karl P. “Paul and Judaism: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 as a Test Case.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 38, issue 3 (1984): 242-253. 

  • “The Cults of Thessalonica and the Thessalonian Correspondence.” New Testament Studies 31 no. 3 (1985): 336-356.

Dunn, James D. G. Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1988.

  • The Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.
  • The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.
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Nanos, Mark D. Reading Paul within Judaism. Collected Essays of Mark D. Nanos. Volume 1. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017.

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Nicholl, Colin R. From Hope to Despair: Situating 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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Richard, Earl J. First and Second Thessalonians. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007.

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  • The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context. Fifth edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox press, 2009. 

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  • Matthew. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010. 

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The First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians – Amateur Exegete Version

INTRODUCTION

In preparation for this season of Amateur Exegesis, I spent a considerable amount of time in my Greek New Testament. When I took Greek in college, one of the tools I used to help me translate texts was a parsing chart, and so for this season I went verse-by-verse, word-by-word through the Greek text of 1 Thessalonians and used a chart to create my own translation. Initially, I had planned to use the New Revised Standard Version as my base text for the podcast episodes themselves but soon thought listeners might be interested in hearing my translation of the text, not only to gauge my style but also so that they could compare how I translated Paul’s two-thousand year old words with how the common English translations of the modern era render his verbiage.

Below you will find my complete translation of 1 Thessalonians based upon the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek text. The translation is broken up into sections that are named for the corresponding episode of the podcast wherein I discuss the passage. Mine is not a perfect translation; I am but an amateur exegete. However, I have tried to do my best to be faithful to what I think Paul was trying to communicate. I must admit that I fell in love with this letter. Immersing myself into its conceptual world was at times an intense experience. How easily we forget that Paul wrote to real people about real problems they were facing. I hope that you too shared in that experience throughout this season of the podcast.


DEAR THESSALONIANS (1:1)

1 [1] Paul and[1] Silvanus[2] and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians[3] in God the father and the Lord Jesus Christ; grace to you all and peace.[4]

TURNED TO GOD FROM IDOLS (1:2-10)

[2] We give thanks to God always for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers unceasingly, [3] recalling before God and our father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ; [4] knowing, brothers and sisters beloved by God, your election, [5] because our gospel did not come to you in word only but rather[5] in power and in the holy spirit and complete certainty,[6] just as you all know what kind of persons we were with you for you.[7] [6] And you yourselves[8] became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in great distress with joy from the holy spirit, [7] and thus you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. [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, so that we have no need to say anything. [9] For they themselves about us report what sort of visit we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, [10] and to await his son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the coming wrath. 

THE MISSION TO THESSALONICA (2:1-12)

2 [1] For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, our visit to you has not been unproductive, [2] rather,[9]having faced suffering and shameful treatment in Philippi (as you know), we had courage in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in great agony.[10] 

[3] For our appeal was made not from error,[11] nor from an ulterior motive,[12] nor with trickery,[13] [4] rather[14] just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, thus we speak, not as pleasing people but God, the one who examines our hearts. [5] For it was never with flattering words that we came (just as you know) nor with a pretext for greed (God is witness), [6] nor did we seek the praise of people, not from you or from anyone else.  [7] Though able to throw our weight around[15] as Christ’s apostles, we instead came into your midst with gentleness, as a nurse who cares for her own children, [8] Thus caring greatly for you, we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but even our own souls, because of how beloved[16] to us you became. [9] For you remember, brothers and sisters, our labor and hardship: night and day we worked so as to not burden any of you while we preached to you the gospel of God. [10] You are witnesses and God how holy and righteous and blameless to you believers we were, [11] just as you know, how with each one of you we were as a father with his own children,  [12] exhorting you and encouraging and urging that you walk worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 

YEA, HATH PAUL SAID? (2:13-16)

[13] And for this reason also we ourselves give thanks to God unceasingly: that having received the word of God through hearing us, you accepted it not as the word of people[17] but rather[18] as what it truly is – the word of God which is working in you believers. [14] For you yourselves became imitators, brothers and sisters, of the churches of God that are in Judea in Christ Jesus, because[19] you suffered from your own[20] the same things as they from the Judeans[21] [15][22] who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God, and oppose all people, [16] hindering us from speaking to the gentiles so that they might be saved and so filling up the measure of their sins. But upon them has come the wrath of God to the end.[23]

THE END OF THE PROEM (2:17-3:13)

[17] But we, brothers and sisters, having been separated[24] from you for a short time – in person, not in heart – all the more we did our best your face to see with great longing. [18] Subsequently, we were determined to come to you, indeed I Paul time and again, but Satan hindered us. [19] For what is our hope and joy and crown of exultation – is it not even you? – in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? [20] For you yourselves are our glory and joy! 

[1] Therefore, being unable to bear it any longer, we gladly were left behind in Athens alone [2] and we sent Timothy, our brother and coworker of God in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen you and exhort you about your faith, [3] so that no one may be shaken in these distresses, for you yourselves know that to this we are fated. [4] For even when with you we were, we told you beforehand that you were to soon face distress, as indeed it has happened, and you know. [5] For this reason, when I was no longer able to endure this, I sent to find out about your faith, lest tempted you the tempter had and unproductive our work became.

[6] But now Timothy has returned to us from you and delivered good news to us about your faith and love and that you remember us fondly at all times, longing to see us just as we you. [7] For this reason we were very encouraged, brothers and sisters, about you in all our anguish and distress on account of your faith, [8] because now we live if you stand firm in the Lord. [9] For what thanksgiving can we render to God for you for all the joy with which we rejoice on your account in the presence of our God, [10] night and day earnestly praying to see your face and to supply what lacks for your faith?  

[11] Now may our God and father himself and our Lord Jesus Christ direct our way to you. [12] As for you, may the Lord increase and overflow love for one another and for all just as even we for you. [13] to strengthen your hearts, blameless in holiness, in the presence of God and our father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.

AVOID PORNEIA, LOVE ONE ANOTHER, AND LIVE QUIETLY (4:1-12)

4  [1] Finally then,[25] brothers and sisters, we ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that just as you received from us how you should walk and please God (as you are doing) that you should abound all the more. [2] For you know what directives[26] we gave to you through the Lord Jesus.[27]

[3] For this is the will of God, your sanctification: to stay far from sexual immorality, [4] to know each of you to control your own body[28] in holiness and honor, [5] not with passionate desire as the pagans[29] who do not know God, [6] to not wrong and take advantage in this matter your brother or sister, because an avenger is the Lord concerning all of this, as we warned you and emphatically testified. [7] For God did not call us for impurity but rather in sanctification. [8] Thus, the one who rejects this rejects not a human but instead God who gives his holy spirit to you.

[9] Now concerning the love for brothers and sisters, you have no need for us to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another, [10] for indeed you are doing this for all the brothers and sisters in the whole of Macedonia. We exhort you, brothers and sisters, to abound all the more, [11] and to endeavor to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, [12] in order that you may walk respectably towards those without and may have need of nothing.

THE LORD’S DAY, A THIEF’S NIGHT (4:13-5:11)

[13] Now, we do not wish for you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you do not grieve as the rest who do not have hope. [14] For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so then also through Jesus God will bring with him those who are asleep.[30] [15] For this to you we say by word of the Lord, that we the living who remain at the coming of the Lord will in no way[31] precede those who are asleep, [16] because the Lord himself with a command – with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God – will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first; [17] then we, the living who remain, together with them will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so always with the Lord we will be. [18] So then, exhort one another with these words.

5 [1] Now, concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for us to write to you, [2] for you yourselves know well[32] that the day of the Lord as a thief by night so comes. [3] Whenever they say, “Peace and security!” then suddenly upon them descends destruction, like the labor pains of a pregnant woman, and they in no way will escape. [4] But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness such that the day will as a thief surprise you, [5] for you all are sons of light and sons of day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. [6] So then let us not sleep as the rest but instead let us be awake and sober. [7] For those who sleep do so[33] at night and those who get drunk do so at night;[34] [8] but since we are of the day, let us be sober, clad in the breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of the hope of salvation, [9] because God has not destined us for wrath but rather to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, [10] the one who died for us so that, whether we are awake or we are asleep, together with him we might live. [11] Therefore, exhort one another and build up, one by one, just as even you are doing.

CLOSING THE LETTER (5:12-28)

[12] Now, we request of you, brothers and sisters, to recognize[35] those who labor among you and care for you in the Lord and instruct you, [13] and regard them with great respect in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. [14] Now, we exhort you, brothers and sisters, to instruct the undisciplined, encourage the faint of heart, help the weak, be patient with all. [15] See to it that no one renders to anyone evil for evil, but instead always pursue the good for one another and for all. 

[16] Always rejoice, [17] unceasingly pray, [18] in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. [19] The spirit do not extinguish, [20] prophecies do not despise, [21] but everything evaluate: to the good hold fast, [22] from all instances of worthlessness keep away. 

[23] Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and may your entire spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

[24] The one who is faithful to you, he also will perform it.

[25] Brothers and sisters, pray for us.

[26] Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.

[27] I urge you in the Lord to read this epistle to all the brothers and sisters.

[28] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.


[1] Many modern translations (e.g. ESV, NIV, NRSV) make use of the comma to render the list of senders, and that is perfectly acceptable English. Ancient Greek didn’t have the comma but employed the conjunction kai (“and”) and my translation (like the NASB) renders the Greek text word-for-word to reflect that. Earl Richard (First and Second Thessalonians, Sacra Pagina [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007], 37, 39-40) translates kai with the conjunction “also,” arguing that Paul, though the sole author of the letter, nevertheless wishes to convey the sentiment and importance of his coworkers Silvanus and Timothy. 

[2] “Silvanus” is in all likelihood the “Silas” of the book of Acts, Silvanus being the Latinized form. 

[3] Normally, when Paul addresses a church, he refers to it by its geographic location, not its citizenry. For example, the epistle to Galatian believers is addressed not to “the Galatians” but rather to “the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2). Similarly, the epistle to Roman believers isn’t addressed “to the Romans” but rather to “all those in Rome beloved of God” (Romans 1:7).  

[4] In some manuscripts (e.g. א) we read “grace to you all and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

[5] “But rather” renders the phrase alla kai. The NRSV renders the phrase “but also,” a perfectly acceptable translation. However, I think the contrast is strong between “in word only” and “in power, etc.” Thus, I have chosen to render alla kai with “but rather” to highlight that contrast. 

[6] “Complete certainty” renders the phrase plērophoria pollē. The substantive plērophoria is rare in the NT, appearing only here and in Colossians 2:2, Hebrews 6:11, and Hebrews 10:22. It is related to the verb plērophoreō which is used by Paul to speak of one who is completely convinced of the truth of something (e.g. Romans 4:21, 14:5). BDAG offers for plērophoria the definition a “state of complete certainty.” Similarly, LSJ offers a definition “fulness of assurance, certainty.” 

[7] “With you for you” renders literally the Greek phrase hymin di’ hymas. The NRSV takes a more dynamic approach, rendering it “among you for your sake.” The sense, of course, is that Paul is speaking of the missionary team’s personal presence among the Thessalonians and how it played out with them. 

[8] By using the construction hymōn…egenēthēte, Paul is placing emphasis on Thessalonians becoming imitators of Paul and the Lord. 

[9] The Greek text reads alla, often rendered with the word “but.” However, Paul intends to create contrast between that which was without profit and that which was, e.g. the preaching of the gospel to the Thessalonians. 

[10] I have chosen to transliterate rather than translate the underlying Greek word agōni. 

[11] The Greek noun planēs, a word from which the substantive planētēs (“planet”) derives, refers to wandering from a path. It is frequently used in a metaphorical sense, i.e. to wander from the path of truth (BDAG, s.v. “πλάνη”), i.e. error. 

[12] Here Paul employs akatharsias which refers to some kind of impurity. It seems clear from Paul’s usage here that he has in mind the notion of an impure motive, and akatharsia is used by various ancient authors to refer to an ulterior motive (BDAG, s.v. akatharsia; cf. Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000], 140.) 

[13] In his commentary on 1 Thessalonians, M. Eugene Boring (I & II Thessalonians: A Commentary, The New Testament Library [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, 77) renders the prepositional phrase en dolō with the words “some sort of trickery.” I think this is a fitting way to render dolō here and have followed his example. 

[14] Greek, alla. Paul is creating a strong contrast.

[15] The Greek phrase dynamenoi en barei is variously translated. For example, the NRSV renders it as “though we might have made demands.” I find more compelling Boring’s suggestion (I & II Thessalonians, 78) that the idea is one of throwing one’s weight around. Here in v. 7, Paul is emphasizing that while the missionaries had the ability to do as they wanted because they were Christ’s apostles, they were instead gentle with the Thessalonians. 

[16] See 1 Thessalonians 1:4. 

[17] Or, “You accepted it not as the word of mere humans.” Paul’s emphasis is on the contrast between his message being derived from God and the idea that it is derived from mere humans. 

[18] “But rather” renders the single conjunction alla

[19] The Greek word hoti, here translated as “because,” should not be thought of as a causal connection but rather a qualification of how the Thessalonians imitated their Judean counterparts. That is, they became imitators in the way that they themselves suffered as Judean Jesus-followers suffered.

[20] The noun tōn idiōn refers to their fellow countrymen, other Thessalonians or Macedonians, e.g. other gentiles. 

[21] Many translations render tōn Ioudaiōn as “the Jews,” a perfectly acceptable way of rendering it. However, my translation is intended to highlight the regional nature of the issue, specific to Paul’s own circumstances. It isn’t “the Jews” generally but specifically those who resided in Judea and, more specifically, those who he accuses of killing Jesus, killing the prophets, driving Paul out, etc.

[22] The verse divisions are unfortunate. Paul isn’t denigrating “the Jews” but rather a specific subset who he accuses of killing Jesus, etc. The way the verses in this section appear, however, can cause some confusion as to what exactly Paul is doing. Moreover, the punctuation used in Greek texts like that of NA28 heightens this sense of disconnect, suggesting that Paul is merely listing rather than qualifying. 

[23] There is considerable debate over how to translate eis telos (“to the end”) and to what it refers. I have chosen a more literal translation to leave some ambiguity, though I have an opinion as to what Paul is referring here. 

[24] The Greek participle translated “separated” is aporphanisthentes and means something like “orphaned.” Boring (I & II Thessalonians, 109) notes that the verb can be used to describe children deprived of parents or parents deprived of children.

[25] The Greek phrase translated “finally then” is loipon oun” and is a rare construction, appearing in the NT only here. Scholars are divided over whether loipon oun has a temporal meaning (i.e., we are approach the end of the material Paul wishes to cover) or should be understood inferentially (i.e. this next section flows necessarily from what has been said previously). 

[26] The choice of “directives” to render parangelias is influenced by Earl Richard’s translation of the word in his commentary (First and Second Thessalonians, Sacra Pagina [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007], 180-181). As he points out, parangelia suggests orders given by a superior to a subordinate. 

[27] That is, using the authority of the Lord Jesus. 

[28] The Greek word skeuos, here rendered “body,” is commonly used to refer to a vessel of some kind, e.g. storage containers, luggage, military equipment, etc. (LSJ, s.v. “σκεῦος”). Some scholars understand skeuos to refer to one’s wife (e.g. Malherbe, 226-228) but this seems to be highly interpretive. It is certainly possible that Paul is referring to controlling (or, alternatively, acquiring) a wife but he could have easily said so using gynē instead. 

[29] My choice of “pagan” instead of “gentile” (NRSV) is influenced by Paula Fredriksen’s view that the word “pagan,” for all its trouble,” better renders ta ethne than does “gentile” due to the latter’s religiously “neutral” connotations (Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017], 34). While “gentile” denotes a non-Jew, ta ethne emphasizes religious commitments of non-Jews, the primary one being that they worship deities other than the god of Israel. 

[30] The second half of this verse is fraught with difficulty. The main problem is with how the prepositional phrase dia tou Iēsou works in the clause. As the verse stands written, the phrase appears immediately after the participial tous koimēthentas (“those who sleep”), suggesting a translation of “those who sleep through Jesus.” F.F. Bruce (1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary [Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1982] 97-98) believed that connecting dia tou Iēsou to tous koimēthentas was the best way of reading the verse since it balanced the sentence. On this reading, then, dia tou Iēsou speaks to the status of those who have died, i.e. that they were believers in Jesus. However, it is also possible that the prepositional phrase belongs to axei (“he will bring”). As David Luckensmeyer (The Eschatology of First Thessalonians [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co. KG, 2009], 223), observes, whenever Paul uses dia with Jesus, Christ, or Lord, he always uses it with the sense of instrumentality (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:9, Romans 5:9, 1 Corinthians 15:21, etc.). And so, while “there is no grammatical argument which rules out either option,” Luckensmeyer finds that “the preponderance of evidence regarding Paul’s use of [dia] with Jesus, Christ and Lord makes the second option [e.g. instrumentality] far more compelling.” Malherbe (The Letters to the Thessalonians, 266) agrees, writing that it “is more natural to read dia tou Iēsou with axei and to understand it as a genitive of instrument or agent. This is in keeping with Paul’s use of dia with Christ.” Consequently, my translation reflects the position of scholars like Luckensmeyer and Malherbe rather than the view of Bruce.  

[31] Paul uses a double negative, ou mē

[32] The word I have translated as “well” is the adverb akribōs which conveys the idea of precision and accuracy. Here it modifies the verb oidate and so describes the quality of their knowledge about the coming day of the Lord, i.e. they are well acquainted with the notion that it comes as a thief by night. 

[33] Or, “those who sleep sleep at night.”

[34] Or, “those who get drunk get drunk at night.” 

[35] The verb Paul uses, here translated as “to recognize,” is eidenai, an infinitival form of oida (“I know”). Literally, Paul is asking the Thessalonians “to know” those among them who labor, care, and instruct. But, as Eugene Boring points out (I & II Thessalonians, 187), the Thessalonian congregation was in all likelihood small and so the issue cannot be one of acquaintance. Instead, Paul is asking that they give these leaders the recognition due them for their work of ministry among them. See also Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 310.

Script for Amateur Exegesis – Season 2, Episode 10: “Closing the Letter”

INTRODUCTION

“Sincerely.” “Love.” Yours truly.” These are some of the ways in which we close letters and emails today. Often as we come to the end of a letter, we offer pleasantries and summarize the main point of our missive. During my evangelical days, I would sign letters with phrases like “in Christ” or “with you for the gospel” along with my name and what was my favorite passage from the Bible – Proverbs 3:5, 6. It was my way of trying to saturate what I had written with the good news of Jesus Christ and to point my addressee to God. 

In episode two, we looked at the anatomy of ancient letters. One of the three major sections of a letter is the letter closing which Jeffrey Weima referred to as “the ‘Rodney Daingerfield’ section” since it quite often “doesn’t get any respect.”[1] Today we will briefly consider the letter closing and what leads up to in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28. 

Welcome to the final episode of this season of Amateur Exegesis

1 THESSALONIANS 5:12-28 

Let’s begin with my translation of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28.

[12] Now, we request of you, brothers and sisters, to recognize[2] those who labor among you and care for you in the Lord and instruct you, [13] and regard them with great respect in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. [14] Now, we exhort you, brothers and sisters, to instruct the undisciplined, encourage the faint of heart, help the weak, be patient with all. [15] See to it that no one renders to anyone evil for evil, but instead always pursue the good for one another and for all. 

[16] Always rejoice, [17] unceasingly pray, [18] in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. [19] The spirit do not extinguish, [20] prophecies do not despise, [21] but everything evaluate: to the good hold fast, [22] from all instances of worthlessness keep away. 

[23] Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and may your entire spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

[24] The one who is faithful to you, he also will perform it.

[25] Brothers and sisters, pray for us.

[26] Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.

[27] I urge you in the Lord to read this epistle to all the brothers and sisters.

[28] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Recognize Those Who Labor and Be Patient with All (5:12-15)

In modern churches, you’ll find an array of titles for leadership. In the Baptist church in which I grew up, we had the pastor, an assistant pastor, and numerous deacons. In Presbyterianism, you’ve got the lead elder, sometimes referred to as the pastor or teaching elder,” and various other elders that make up what’s called “the Session,” in addition to deacons. Christian communities have always had leadership. But have they always had titles? On the evidence of 1 Thessalonians, it would seem not. Nowhere in the letter do we read of “elders” or “deacons.” 

That there were leaders in Paul’s churches should almost go without saying. In the apostle’s absence, someone had to lead. But who? In other epistles, Paul mentions various leaders that make up his communities. For example, to the church in Corinth he wrote, 

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:27-31, NRSV)

What is noteworthy here is that while there is some degree of formalization implied in this list of roles, it is God who does the appointing, not people. Moreover, as Wayne Meeks writes, these roles are conceived of as gifts from God.[3]“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12:7. 

Yet this is a far cry from the more formal hierarchy of leadership roles found in Christian churches of the late first and early second centuries CE. For example, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, Ignatius mentions Onesimus, describing him as “a man of inexpressible love who is also your earthly bishop” (Ephesians 1:3).[4] Similarly, in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians, there is great concern for the qualifications of presbyters (Philippians 6.1). But Paul, writing in the 50s and 60s CE, isn’t worried at all about these things? Instead, he is content to allow leadership to be more organic and less structured. “Paul saw the life of new congregations as led by the Spirit,” Eugene Boring writes, “given to each member and active in the congregation as a whole.”[5] And while Paul isn’t exactly the paragon of gender equality, it is possible that within Pauline communities that women had prominent roles in leadership. Given the prominence of Thessalonica generally and references to women in Paul’s other letters, Florence Gillman suggests that there is the possibility that “some elite women were among the group’s leaders.”[6]

The leadership in Thessalonica, not characterized by titles, is instead described by what they do: they are “those who labor among [them] and care for [them] in the Lord and instruct [them].” These three actions are in the underlying Greek text a series of participles and there is some debate as to how they relate to one another. One option is that they are simply three different actions; another is that the second and third participles further qualify the first.[7] Whatever the case may be, we should not read this as three separate groups of leaders, some who labor, others who care, and still others who instruct. The leadership in Thessalonica does all three. 

It is these leaders that the Thessalonians are “to recognize,” or more literally, “to know” since the underlying Greek infinitive is from oida: “I know.” In a large congregation, such instructions would make sense: Paul would be saying, “Get acquainted with those who labor among you.” But the Thessalonica congregation was not large. How big was it? It is impossible know for certain, but it was no megachurch. By the 60s CE, there were hundreds of Jewish and gentile Jesus followers throughout the world.[8] But this was after a considerable amount of time had passed between the death of Jesus in the 30s and the era of Paul. And given that Paul is writing to the Thessalonians within months of the founding of the community,[9] there was likely not many converts to speak of. So, when Paul exhorts the Thessalonians “to know” their leaders, he doesn’t mean, “Get acquainted,” but rather, “Recognize them.” And how are they to do this? Per v. 13, they are to “regard them with great respect in love because of their work.” The goal is “peace among” the members of the community. 

In v. 14, Paul turns his attention away from leadership and on to those within the community that need some kind of assistance: “instruct the undisciplined, encourage the faint of heart, help the weak, be patient with all,” he tells them. By “undisciplined,” Paul may be referring to those within the community who, in the words of F.F. Bruce, are “playing truant” – they “neglect their daily duty and live in idleness, at the expense of others.”[10] While this is certainly possible, Abraham Malherbe notes that the apostle would have had at his disposal other words to describe idlers: instead of using ataktōs (“undisciplined”) he could have used argoi, (“those who do not work”) or aproktoi (“those who do nothing”). But the apostle does not use these terms because, Malherbe observes, ataktōs was a matter of the will and therefore by his use of the term Paul “alludes to the character trait that was responsible for their social conduct.”[11] In other words, it is not merely the unwillingness to work but an entire disposition to which Paul offers strong exhortation. This group in the Thessalonian community was unwilling to submit to the social norms that Paul had laid down for his ex-pagan churches and so he urges the entire congregation to take action. His warning was “one against ‘breaking faith with God’ and violating the state of peace which should exist between brothers and sisters and even toward those outside,” Earl Richard writes.[12]

The next group Paul addresses are the “faint of heart” which the community is exhorted to “encourage.” Paul doesn’t explain why there are those among them that are faint hearted, but it would be no difficult matter to speculate. In the previous episode we looked at 4:13-18 and saw that there were those in the Thessalonian church who were grieving over loved ones that they had recently lost. Additionally, since this community of faith would have faced socio-religious ostracism, this too could explain why some in the congregation were faint-hearted.[13] Whatever the cause, the solution is clear: encouragement from their family in Christ. 

The third and final group the apostle addresses is “the weak” which the Thessalonians are to “help.” But what kind of weakness is in view? It could certainly refer to physical weakness.[14] Malherbe thinks that Paul has in mind weakness of a religious, moral, and intellectual nature.[15] Again, given what Paul has said prior in this letter, it would not be unexpected that some in the community would begin to buckle under the weight of the “distresses” they faced. He doesn’t want to simply abandon them to the wolves, so to speak, but rather he urges the community to rally around them and offer aid. They are a family after all, and it is to all they are to exercise patience. 

In v. 15, Paul rejects the eye-for-an-eye principle of justice that was so common in antiquity and even today. “Whether human or rat or chimpanzee, when we suffer harm we feel a powerful desire to strike back,” writes philosopher Bruce Waller.[16] This desire, Waller goes on to note, doesn’t necessarily mean we strike back at the one who wronged us but virtually anyone will do. Violence begets violence, as it were, and given the Thessalonians’ social situation, the risk of damage to the community itself would only increase if Paul’s policy was one of revenge. “The whole community is summoned to guard against…individualistic quid pro quo behavior that disrupts community and forces people to take sides,” Eugene Boring notes.[17] The apostle rejects such an attitude in favor of something closer to the Golden Rule: “always pursue the good for one another and for all.” 

Rejoice, Pray, and Give Thanks (5:16-18)

In vv. 16-18, Paul issues three imperatives: “rejoice,” “pray,” and “give thanks.” These three separate imperatives are no doubt connected. The idea of rejoicing is nothing new: in 1:6 Paul reminded his readers that they had “received the word in great distress with joy from the holy spirit.” Joy, then, was foundational to the Thessalonians’ conversion from idolatry to the worship of the god of Israel. Here the verb “rejoice” is coupled with the word “always” or “at all times.” The Thessalonians, then, “are exhorted to have joy…as their demeanor and normal attitude,” Earl Richard suggests.[18] The command to “unceasingly pray” recalls Paul’s mention of prayer in 1:2 in which he mentioned them “unceasingly in [his] prayers.” Finally, telling them to “in everything give thanks” reminds the readers again of 1:2 where he tells the Thessalonians, “We give thanks to God always for all of you.” Thus, in many respects the closing of the letter is a reflection of the beginning. More specifically, Paul set the example in the letter’s proem and now essentially commands them to follow that example. 

But that isn’t all. Eugene Boring writes, 

To a congregation grieving over the deaths of some of its members and coming to terms with internal tensions, the call for constant joy, prayer, and thanksgiving regardless of the situation is in sharp contrast to the philosophical ataraxia (ataraxy), the cool resignation with which the Stoic instructed people to respond to tragedy.[19]

Just as they were to “not grieve as the rest who do not have hope” (4:13), so too they are to rejoice, pray, and give thanks even when things appeared to be at their worst. This is part of the preparation for the day of the Lord, the day upon which they would “obtain salvation through [their] Lord Jesus Christ” (5:9). Attached to the final imperative are the words “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The apostle has rooted rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving in God’s will for the community’s life.[20]

The Spirit of Prophecy (5:19-22) 

Beginning with v. 19, Paul begins final instructions to the Thessalonians which specifically target prophetic speech in the community. In the last episode, in discussing the phrase “by word of the Lord” in 4:15, I mentioned the distinct possibility that this “word” is prophetic speech appropriated by Paul for use in his epistle. That prophesying was part of the Thessalonian community’s religious life is all but certain. “The Thessalonians were familiar with spiritual phenomena prior to their conversion,” writes Eugene Boring. “Glossolalia, oracles, and prophecies were well known in Greco-Roman religion.”[21] Here the focus is on prophetic speech as Paul uses parallelism to communicate its importance in the community: “The spirit do not extinguish, prophecies do not despise.” 

The spirit in this context is undoubtedly God’s spirit. Earlier in the letter, the apostle reminded the Thessalonians that it was “with joy from the holy spirit” that they had “received the word in great distress” (1:6). The spirit of God, then, served an important function in Pauline communities. The connection between God’s spirit and prophetic speech suggests that Paul believed that upon conversion the Thessalonians were given a portion of the spirit, enabling them to do the work of ministry including prophesying. Paula Fredriksen notes that had Paul witnessed this himself it would have convinced him that his beliefs were true: the End was right around the corner and the mission to the gentiles must continue. Consequently, he travelled to other cities in and around the Mediterranean to do what he had done in Thessalonica. “Through the god-congested cities of Roman antiquity, these assemblies of Christ were establishing beachheads of the Kingdom,” Fredriksen writes.[22]

Paul’s prohibition against extinguishing the spirit/despising prophecies comes with a command: “everything evaluate.” That is, evaluate all prophetic speech. To that which is “good,” they are to “hold fast”; from that which is “worthless,” they are to “keep away.” Boring lists a number of criteria used in both Israel’s history and the early church to determine the value of prophetic speech.[23] Was the prophetic speech validated by way of accompanying miracles? Was it accurate? Was it only good news? Was it from a trusted messenger? And so on. The central concern for Paul was its use in the community: if it builds it up then keep it; if it doesn’t then discard it.[24]

The Letter Closing (5:23-28) 

With v. 23, we come to the letter’s closing that includes a prayer in vv. 23-24, a request in v. 25, a greeting in v. 26, a command to read the letter before the entire congregation in v. 27, and a benediction in v. 28.[25] Some of these elements might seem strange to modern readers. For example, in v. 26 Paul writes, “Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.” In the United States, this would seem bizarre, even if we weren’t in the era of COVID. But for Paul this was not an uncommon method of greeting, especially among family members.[26] And what were the Thessalonians if not a family? Paul has not only referred to them as “brothers and sisters” numerous times in the letter, but he has spoken of himself as a nursing mother and exhorting father. This “kiss” is the marker of inclusion, a visual and tactile reminder that this is an eschatological family. 

The letter’s closing also picks up on important themes found elsewhere in the letter. In his work Neglected Endings: The Significance of Pauline Letter Closings, Jeffrey Weima notes three links between the letter closing and the rest of the epistle. In v. 23 there is the theme of sanctification, a topic discussed in 4:3-8. Also in v. 23 is the recurring theme of the parousia. Third, there is concern to comfort the Thessalonians in their distresses found in v. 24.[27] Paul is therefore abbreviating all he has said before in this letter which, v. 27 tells us, he wanted to be read to everyone in the community. 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF 1 THESSALONIANS

With the words “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” in v. 28, Paul’s letter to this Macedonian community comes to an end, and so does this season of Amateur Exegesis. But before we close, let’s reflect on what we’ve talked about in the previous nine episodes. In the first episode, we looked at letter writing in the ancient world. We considered not only how letters got from sender to receiver but also with what materials they were written. In episode two, we examined the prescript of the letter found in the very first verse. We briefly looked at the characters of Silvanus and Timothy and did some background research on Thessalonica. The apostle Paul himself we saved for episode three, thinking through the problems with understanding Paul as well as beginning an overview of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. Episode four commenced a multi-part look at the proem, beginning with 1:2-10 and digging back into the Acts of the Apostles to look at its version of Paul’s career. In episode five, we turned our attention to 2:1-12 and its portrayal of the initial mission. We also thought through the problems with using the book of Acts in reconstructing Paul’s life and missionary service. When we got to episode six, we faced the problem of a possible interpolation in the letter – 2:13-16. We considered accusations of anti-Semitism as well as the way the Bible has sometimes been used to denigrate others. Episode seven saw the end of the proem in 2:17-3:12. We talked about Paul’s apocalyptic eschatology and the way it shaped how he saw his life’s work. In episode eight we looked at the first major section of the letter body, a discussion by Paul of porneia and his desire for the Thessalonians to live quiet lives devoted to God. In episode nine, we went in some depth on 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11 with its discussion of the return of Jesus and the day of the Lord. And that brings us to today’s episode with its discussion of the final verses of the letter. 

Why does any of this matter? Why should we care about the letter of 1 Thessalonians? For many people, the answer is that we shouldn’t. I’m an atheist and I know plenty of atheists who see little else in the Bible than something to mock and deride. For them, it seems like a waste of time to carefully parse out the text and read it with an eye to understand it in its own context. So, maybe a better question to ask in light of my own non-religious commitments is this: why do I care? Here are two reasons. 

The first is historical. As I’ve mentioned a few times this season, the consensus among scholars is that this letter from Paul is the earliest extant letter by the apostle in our possession. Consequently, it gives us a glimpse into Paul’s mind at a relatively early stage when compared to the other undisputed letters. In our examination of the letter this season, we saw how affectionately he spoke to his readers, expressing to them how he longed to see them, that he was concerned for their faith, and he was overjoyed at finding out they were okay. The letter of 1 Thessalonians bring some color to someone who is often otherwise viewed in black-and-white. Paul becomes more and more human the more we read him, and, in my opinion, no letter of Paul shows this like 1 Thessalonians does. Though pissed-off-Paul in the letter to the Galatians may give it a run for its money. 

The second reason is personal. Not only do many of the people I care about love the Bible but so do I. Though I no longer see it as an inspired and infallible word from a god, I nevertheless have a deep affection for it. Some it is easily explained: I grew up with it and it has always been a part of my life. Some of that affection isn’t so easily explained. I’ve read many books in my life, so why has the Bible stuck with me more than the rest? When I look at 1 Thessalonians, I feel a connection to it. Its deep-seated and will likely stay with me till the day I die. I’m glad. 

So listener, I hope that this season of the podcast has been enlightening and helpful. Some of the episodes were very long and all of them were longer than anything that appeared in the first season. I can be longwinded or, as my mother puts it, I like to hear myself talk. But I do hope that you found something to think about in these ten episodes. If you have, please leave a review on iTunes or shoot me an email to let me know. 

This is Ben, the Amateur Exegete. Thank you for joining me on this second season of Amateur Exegesis.


[1] Jeffrey A.D. Weima, “Sincerely, Paul: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings,” in Paul and the Ancient Letter Form, Stanley E. Porter and Sean A. Adams, editors (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 307. 

[2] The verb Paul uses, here translated as “to recognize,” is eidenai, an infinitival form of oida (“I know”). Literally, Paul is asking the Thessalonians “to know” those among them who labor, care, and instruct. But, as Eugene Boring points out (I & II Thessalonians, The New Testament Library [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015], 187), the Thessalonian congregation was in all likelihood small and so the issue cannot be one of acquaintance. Instead, Paul is asking that they give these leaders the recognition due them for their work of ministry among them. See also Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 310.

[3] Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul, second edition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003),135.

[4] Translation taken from The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, third edition, Michael W. Holmes, translator (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007).

[5] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 192.

[6] Florence Gillman, Mary Ann Beavis, and HyeRan Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, Wisdom Commentary (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2016), 93. 

[7] See the discussion in Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 311.

[8] Bart D. Ehrman, The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018), 289.

[9] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 72. Malherbe argues this on the basis of the timeline of the Acts of the Apostles. While I’ve already noted in previous episodes how problematic Acts is for reconstructing the history of the early Christian movement, I mention Malherbe’s work only to emphasize that there is a way to understand the epistle as being one written not long after the founding mission. Indeed, reading the letter itself, particularly ch. 3, lends itself well to such an understanding.

[10] F.F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1982), 122.

[11] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 317.

[12] Earl J. Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007), 277.

[13] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 193.

[14] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 193.

[15] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 318. 

[16] Bruce N. Waller, “Beyond the Retributive System,” in Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society: Challenging Retributive Justice, Elizabeth Shaw, Derk Pereboom, and Gregg D. Caruso, editors (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 73.

[17] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 194.

[18] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 278. 

[19] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 194; cf. James P. Ware, “What No Other God Could Do: Life and Afterlife Among Paul and the Philosophers,” in Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: Reading the Apostle in Greco-Roman Context, Joseph R. Dodson and David E. Briones, editors (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 132.

[20] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 278.

[21] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 195.

[22] Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 165.

[23] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 198-199.

[24] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 334. 

[25] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 336.

[26] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 341.

[27] Jeffrey A.D. Weima, Neglected Endings: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 176-184.

Script for Amateur Exegesis – Season 2, Episode 9: “The Lord’s Day, A Thief’s Night”

INTRODUCTION

One of the many books I read as a teenager was one written about the end of the world. It was a work of fiction, albeit one based upon a particular reading of certain biblical texts. In the opening chapter of the book, one of the main characters, an airline pilot, is flying over the Atlantic Ocean on his way to Heathrow Airport when he decides to put the vessel on autopilot, hand the reins over to his first officer, and head back to flirt with one of the flight attendants on board. As he approaches her, he expects there to be a brief, intimate liaison, but that expectation is shattered when she whispers to him, “People are missing.” She begins to explain that all across the flight multiple people have vanished, leaving behind only their clothes. When the pilot finally lands, he goes home only to find that his wife, who had just recently become a Christian, and their son have vanished as well. He has been left behind. In fact, that’s the title of the book: Left Behind.[1] In the course of the story it is revealed that the missing all have one thing in common: they had all trusted Jesus as their savior. Now, those who remained would face the darkest time in human history – the Tribulation.

Left Behind (as well as numerous sequels and even a few movies, including one starring Nicholas Cage) was the brainchild of dispensationalist Tim LaHaye and novelist Jerry Jenkins. The colorful plot follows a timeline that evangelicals like LaHaye saw in how the Bible portrayed future events. For LaHaye and his ilk, the return of Jesus was a two-phase affair.[2] The first phase – the one that gets the eschatological clock ticking – is the “Rapture,” an idea derived from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In LaHaye’s view, what is described in those six verses isn’t the return of Jesus to reign on earth but rather his gathering of his people, both living and dead, so that he can take them up to heaven before all hell is loosed on earth for the seven-year tribulation. At the end of those seven years comes the day of the Lord, an event discussed in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. On that day, Jesus returns with all the saints to establish his kingdom on earth. 

Dispensationalism is today a sinking ship, popular only among particular segments of evangelicalism. One of its many problems is its tendency to divide biblical texts where no division is warranted. In LaHaye’s understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 5:1-11, Paul is referring to two different events. But as we will see in today’s episode, this could not be farther from the truth. 

Welcome to the penultimate episode of this season of Amateur Exegesis

1 THESSALONIANS 4:13 – 5:11

Before we begin a look at today’s passage, allow me to read to you from my translation of it, based on the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek text.

[13] Now, we do not wish for you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you do not grieve as the rest who do not have hope. [14] For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so then also through Jesus God will bring with him those who are asleep.[3] [15] For this to you we say by word of the Lord, that we the living who remain at the coming of the Lord will in no way[4]precede those who are asleep, [16] because the Lord himself with a command – with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God – will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first; [17] then we, the living who remain, together with them will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so always with the Lord we will be. [18] So then, exhort one another with these words.

5 [1] Now, concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for us to write to you, [2] for you yourselves know well[5] that the day of the Lord as a thief by night so comes. [3] Whenever they say, “Peace and security!” then suddenly upon them descends destruction, like the labor pains of a pregnant woman, and they in no way will escape. [4] But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness such that the day will as a thief surprise you, [5] for you all are sons of light and sons of day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. [6] So then let us not sleep as the rest but instead let us be awake and sober. [7] For those who sleep do so[6] at night and those who get drunk do so at night;[7] [8] but since we are of the day, let us be sober, clad in the breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of the hope of salvation, [9] because God has not destined us for wrath but rather to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, [10] the one who died for us so that, whether we are awake or we are asleep, together with him we might live. [11] Therefore, exhort one another and build up, one by one, just as even you are doing.

The Sleep of Death (4:13)

Paul is initially concerned with the knowledge of the Thessalonian community. He doesn’t wish for them “to be ignorant,” per v. 13. Elsewhere in the letter, Paul had appealed to what they knew and remembered: Paul and the missionary team’s exemplary behavior in 1:5, the productiveness of the initial mission in 2:1, the “shameful treatment” Paul underwent in Philippi in 2:2, that Paul did not use flattering words in his preaching in 2:5, the apostle’s “labor and hardship” which was intended not to burden the Thessalonians in 2:9, and more. Now, Paul, using what is sometimes referred to as a “disclosure formula,”[8] presents information to these ex-pagan Jesus followers. But information about what? 

He employs a prepositional phrase: “concerning those who are asleep.” Most listeners are familiar enough with this text that they know that sleeping is only a euphemism for death. F.F. Bruce notes that such usage was “commonplace in antiquity,” found in both Jewish and pagan literature.[9] But sleeping on some level suggests an awakening at some point in the future. Consider, for example, the story of Jesus’ raising to life the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, in Mark 5. Though still alive when the request to heal her is made (Mark 5:23), by the time Jesus reaches Jairus’ home the girl has died (v. 35). Outside the home, the Markan text records, Jesus “saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly” (v. 38). But Jesus doesn’t understand their turmoil: “Why do you make a commotion and weep?” he asks them. “The child is not dead but sleeping” (v. 39). Though their response to him is one of laughter (v. 40), Jesus demonstrates his divinely endowed power by taking the girl’s lifeless hand and returning her to the land of the living (vv. 41-42): “Talitha cum,” he says in Aramaic – “Little girl, get up!” Joel Marcus notes that in this intercalated pericope, there may be a message for the community to which Mark was writing his biography of Jesus. He writes that 

Jesus’ eschatologically ironic statement that the girl is only sleeping is greeted by the professional mourners, the experts on death, with derision (5:40a). They know full well that the girl is dead and that dead people don’t come back to life! This skepticism may mirror that of some in the Markan environment, perhaps even that of some prospective followers of Jesus (cf. 9:10). The early Christians’ belief in the resurrection induced puzzlement in their contemporaries, since many people were inclined to doubt life after death, and those who accepted it generally looked forward to the immortality of the soul rather than the resurrection of the body….[10]

Jesus’ choice of the metaphor of sleep for the girl’s death directly anticipates the girl’s resurrection a few verses later. Here in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, something similar is happening: Paul is using the metaphor to anticipate the resurrection he will discuss beginning in v. 14. Thus, as Colin Nicholl writes, the apostle’s euphemism “is a significant, if subtle, affirmation of Paul’s main point in 4:13-18, that deceased Christians will rise from the dead to be with Christ at his parousia.”[11]

Paul’s exhortation here is with a stated purpose: “so that you do not grieve as the rest who do not have hope.” Two questions immediately come to mind: why are they grieving and who are “the rest who do not have hope”? The first question has a superficially simple answer: they are grieving because of those that have recently died or, in Pauline terms, fallen “asleep.” But why would this be so distressing? There are a few possibilities. It could be that the Thessalonians were taken by surprise that any in their community had died before the coming of Jesus. Recall that in 1:9-10 Paul wrote that these pagan Thessalonians had abandoned idolatry for the god of Israel, and they were also waiting this god’s “son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the coming wrath.” This was part of Paul’s kerygma, the message he preached to them during his initial visit. Implicit in it is the idea that this deliverance would happen soon. Because of this, Eugene Boring posits that some in Thessalonica misunderstood what Paul had been saying. He writes that “it could be that they had understood from Paul’s preaching that the Parousia was so near that they all expected to experience it, and then were shocked at the deaths of some of their group, which called into question their whole new symbolic universe.”[12] Another related possibility is that this misunderstanding didn’t lead to them questioning Paul’s teaching per se but rather, as Joulette Bassler suggests, it created in them “the concern that those who have died before Christ returns will miss out on the glorious events of his return.”[13] Bassler points out that in some ancient texts death becomes a barrier to eschatological joy. For example, in 4 Ezra 13, in a vision wherein Ezra witnesses the destruction of a multitude who try to make war against God’s agent (cf. v. 25-26), he decries what he has witnessed, saying,

For as I consider it in my mind, alas for those who will be left in those days! And still more, alas for those who are not left! For those who are not left will be sad because they understand the things that are reserved for the last days, but cannot attain them. But alas for those also who are left, and for that very reason! For they shall see great dangers and much distress, as these dreams show. Yet it is better to come into these things, though incurring peril, than to pass from the world like a cloud, and not to see what will happen in the last days (4 Ezra 13:16-20, NRSV). 

Such grief may have led them to “a paralyzing despair or a denial of hope” in the resurrection.[14] Whatever the case may be, such grief was problematic for Paul and is directly connected to our second question: who are “the rest who do not have hope”? 

Philip Esler notes that the apostle’s usage of hope is intended “to differentiate Christ-followers from other groups,” though this undoubtedly results in some stereotyping.[15] While it is clear that some believed in some kind of afterlife, this was not ubiquitous. Philosophical schools like the Epicureans denied the existence of an afterlife altogether.[16] Even the Stoics were not exactly settled on the existence of the afterlife. The Roman emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius wrote, “If the universe is composed only of diverse atoms, death is dispersion; if the universe is really one unified whole, death is extinction or transfiguration” (Meditations 7.32).[17] In ancient Greek literature like the Iliad and Odyssey, the afterlife is nothing to look forward to since the dead are depicted as shadowy figures with no real life to speak of.[18] Death was not necessarily something to look forward to. “The pagan world was without real hope,” writes William Hendricksen. “The Iliad ends with funeral-rites!”[19]

Paul, then, has in view gentiles when he speaks of “the rest who do not have hope.” But what about their grieving makes it so problematic? What is it about not having hope that is so troublesome to Paul? One possibility is that pagan grieving often involved pagan cults. Florence Gillman notes that in some cults weeping was prominently figured, like the cult of Isis. Often, funerary rituals related to these cults included women whose role was that of mourner and it was with loud wailing that they would weep. “It is likely that Paul’s observance of the manner of grieving by [hoi loipo– i.e., “the rest”] coupled with his belief in the resurrection of the dead caused him to form strong opinions about funeral customs,” Gillman writes.[20]

Another possibility involves ancient voluntary associations in which, Richard Ascough notes, rituals surrounding death and burial “figured prominently in the collective lives of their members.”[21] In many such associations, death was a time to celebrate a member who had recently passed. But these Thessalonians were not part of any of those associations. So, what happened when their members died? What was their status? Were they no longer part of the community? Ascough writes, “The Thessalonians’ cessation of the forum of funerary epigraphy and commemoration, resulting from Paul’s preaching, is perceived by them to indicate that any member who dies is no longer part of the association. For the Thessalonians, the dead no longer have hope for the salvation found in Jesus’ return.”[22] Paul, therefore, writes to dispel this myth, doing so by speaking of them with language that indicates their continued membership in the community, like the phrase “the dead in Christ” found in v. 16. 

If…Then (4:14)

Why should the Thessalonians “not grieve as the rest who do not have hope”? To answer that question, Paul uses a conditional sentence. The protasis is fairly straightforward: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose.” Here Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the foundation of their hope: Jesus’ death and resurrection, a fundamental aspect of Pauline kerygma as we saw in 1:9-10.[23] Some scholars have suggested that here Paul is appropriating an early creed: his use of the first-person plural “we believe,” the mention of Jesus without the titles often associated with him like “Lord,” and more may point in that direction.[24] Regardless, for the apostle the ground of his response to the Thessalonians and therefore the ground of their hope is to be found in Jesus’ own death and resurrection which, for Paul, constitutes “a sure historical foundation.”[25] But why would this stir hope? In his commentary on the epistle, Eugene Boring mentions three “dimensions” of early ideas about Jesus’ return that are part and parcel of Paul’s apocalyptic eschatology and thus instructive here.[26]

First, the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the general resurrection. In Jewish apocalyptic thought, there weren’t multiple resurrections that would happen sporadically throughout history. Instead, there would be a single resurrection. This is illustrated clearly by the book of Daniel: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt,” we read in Daniel 12:2 (NRSV). This single resurrection would happen at the end of time when God would finally right the world. But Paul and other early followers of Jesus came to believe Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead. This presents a problem because if Jesus had been raised to life then why hadn’t everyone been raised, and why hadn’t God brought an end to this evil age? To reconcile these issues, Paul conceived of the single end-time resurrection as being in two stages. The first stage is the resurrection of Jesus, described in 1 Corinthians 15:20 and 23 as “the first fruits” (NRSV). The metaphor is agricultural, describing the earliest yield of a harvest. The second stage is the resurrection of everyone else, the full harvest. With this single, two-stage resurrection complete, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:24 that “[t]hen comes the end, when [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” As I mentioned in episode 7, in cosmological apocalyptic eschatology there is the idea that the current age is overrun with demonic powers and it is only God who can rescue humanity from their rule. This God does through Jesus, the one who died and God raised. Thus, as Martinus C. de Boer writes, 

The death and resurrection of Christ has inaugurated a unified apocalyptic drama that reaches its conclusion at the Parousia/the End (1 Cor 15:20-26). The Apocalypse of God in Jesus Christ covers events from the initial sending of the Son and his Spirit into the world to the transfer of Christ’s messianic sovereignty to God at the End (1 Cor 15:23-28).[27]

The second dimension that Boring mentions is related: Jesus’ resurrection and the general resurrection are tied together. He writes that “the resurrection event that began with Jesus will be completed, and the full harvest will fulfill the pledge signified by the firstfruits.”[28] Because it is Jesus as God’s agent who “inaugurated” this “apocalyptic drama” (to borrow de Boer’s words), Jesus will also factor importantly in the general resurrection to come. 

The third and final dimension is that for Jesus’ followers to participate in the general resurrection is to participate in Jesus’ own resurrection. This is what Paul brings out in the apodosis, the “then” clause, of the conditional sentence: “so then also through Jesus God will bring with him those who are asleep.” However, as straightforward as the protasis was, the apodosis is a bit messier. 

Setting aside the nature of the syntactical relationship between the protasis and apodosis, a topic a bit too technical to get into here,[29] there are a couple of “grammatical ambiguities” that affect interpretation.[30] The first is illustrated well by comparing two English versions of the apodosis. Let’s begin with my translation of it: “so then also through Jesus God will bring with him those who are asleep.” Now, here’s the King James Version: “even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” Can you hear the difference? In my translation, “through Jesus” is connected to God’s activity of bringing “with him those who are asleep.” In the King James Version, the Greek phrase I’ve rendered “through Jesus” is translated “in Jesus” and connected to the ones who have fallen asleep (i.e., died). Now, you may be thinking that the issue has to do with the word order in the Greek texts underlying the translations. After all, I’m using the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek text and the translators of the King James Bible were using a version of the Textus Receptus. But that isn’t the problem. Except for a couple of words that are spelled slightly different, the two underlying Greek versions are identical. Importantly, the word order is the exact same. So, what gives? Why have I connected “through Jesus” to God’s activity but the King James translators connected it to the dead? Who screwed up? The answer is that both translations are a possibility since, as Charles Cousar notes, a strict reading of the word order in the Greek text allows for the translation found in the King James Bible while the text’s ambiguity allows for a translation like my own.[31]

The Greek phrase rendered “through Jesus” or “in Jesus” is the preposition dia plus the genitive tou Iēsou. In both the Textus Receptus and the Nestle-Aland text, dia tou Iēsou appears immediately after the accusative participle rendered in my translation as “those who are asleep.” It would therefore be quite natural to render these words together as “those who are asleep through Jesus.” In fact, F.F. Bruce defends this very view, contending in his commentary that since the resurrection of believers happens with Jesus then it only makes sense that the death of believers happens through him as well, providing balance.[32] It’s a relatively strong argument to make but I’m not convinced that this is what Paul means. 

David Luckensmeyer in his work on eschatology in 1 Thessalonians notes that not only does Paul often use the preposition dia (“through”) to express the idea of agency,[33] but when he couples dia with either “Jesus,” “Christ,” or “Lord,” then, in the words of Luckensmeyer “this is exclusively the case.”[34] Since the genitive dia tou Iēsou appears right before the apodosis’ main verb axei (“he will bring”), Paul seems to be saying that God, the subject of axei, is using Jesus as his agent through whom he “will bring with him those who are asleep.” Thus, while Luckensmeyer rightly acknowledges that no grammatical argument can definitively rule out one option or the other, “the preponderance of evidence regarding Paul’s use of [dia] with Jesus, Christ and Lord makes [a genitive of agency] far more compelling.”[35] I am in total agreement with this assessment. 

The second issue has to do with the phrase “with him.” Does the pronoun refer to God or to Jesus? For some commentators, the pronoun must refer to Jesus. After all, isn’t it Jesus who they await from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:10)? And doesn’t the rest of this passage refer to Jesus when it speaks of “the coming of the Lord” (v. 15)? Thus, “with him” surely refers to Jesus.[36] This is a possibility. But as Abraham Malherbe points out, the imagery Paul is using stems from the Jewish prophets who describe God’s gathering of his people together.[37] The phrase “will bring with him” means that those who are asleep “are both raised and brought into God’s presence.”[38] And who does this action? Ultimately, it is God who does so. Yes, it is done “through Jesus,” God’s agent, but it is still God who is ultimately behind it.[39]

A “word of the Lord” (4:15-17)

In vv. 15-17, Paul explains in a bit more detail why the Thessalonians should have hope that their dead have not been forgotten or otherwise abandoned. He begins in v. 15 by appealing to a “word of the Lord.” But what exactly is a “word of the Lord”? A number of possibilities have been raised by commentators. Perhaps it refers to a tradition that also stands behind the Synoptic Gospels. Maybe it is an agraphon, a saying of Jesus that could be found among some in the early Jesus movement but didn’t end up in any of the Gospels. Could it be Paul’s own teaching original to him, based on his authority as an apostle of the risen Lord? Is it an oracle from a Christian prophet that has been appropriated by Paul in his words of comfort to the Thessalonians?[40] All of these options have their pros and cons, though some are far more plausible than others. For example, as appealing as it might be to think that this is an agraphon, Abraham Malherbe observes that as a hypothesis to explain what Paul means it is worthless: “While possible,” he writes, “the hypothesis cannot be verified and ultimately contributes little to the exegesis of 1 Thess 4:15-17.”[41] Eugene Boring’s view is the final suggestion, namely that Paul is basing his teaching on an oracle delivered by a Christian prophet. He notes that “word of the Lord” constitutes “a very common phrase for prophetic revelation in the LXX” and is found in Paul seven times. Furthermore, in ch. 5 of this epistle, Paul refers to “charismatic prophets” whose message Paul tells the Thessalonians in vv. 21-22 they are to “evaluate,” holding to the good and rejecting the bad.[42] Taken together, it is possible Paul is thinking of a prophetic revelation, though one given to someone else and then put to work in comforting the Thessalonian community. 

The exact content of this “word” is not clear. It could be that it constitutes all of the rest of vv. 15-17. It could be that it only encompasses vv. 16-17 and v. 15 acts as a kind of summary. Or it could be that vv. 16-17 are Paul’s commentary on the word which is actually found in the rest of v. 15.  It is a complicated question about which we cannot go into detail here.[43] What we can say is that whatever this “word” comprises, Paul employs it pastorally and, therefore, to understand it we don’t necessarily need to figure out all the ins and outs of what it constituted. We simply need to appreciate its rhetorical function in the letter itself, a topic we will get to when we discuss v. 18. 

So, whether Paul is summarizing the word or appealing directly to it, he starts by saying in v. 15, “[W]e the living who remain at the coming of the Lord will in no way precede those who are asleep.” As simple as this all may seem, there is still much to unpack. First, Paul uses the pronoun hēmeis (“we”) and attaches it to two participles, rendered in my translation as “the living who remain.” Though doubted by some,[44] for many commentators this is a sign that here in Paul’s earliest surviving epistle the apostle expected to be part of the generation that saw Jesus’ return. “Paul himself expects to live to see Christ’s triumphant return and the coming of the Kingdom,” Paula Fredriksen writes.[45] This, of course, doesn’t mean Paul was an extreme optimist, discounting altogether that he might not make it. Later in the letter, in 5:10, Paul writes as if it is possible that he and the Thessalonians may all die before the End. Nevertheless, he’s hopeful and appears to believe that he will lay his eyes on Jesus before he dies. That is, Jesus’ coming was for Paul to happen very soon.

I’ve mentioned Jesus’ parousia, his “coming,” in earlier episodes. Now would be a good time to briefly discuss the word and what it means here in 1 Thessalonians. Fundamentally, it refers to an arrival such that the one arriving is present.[46] For example, in his letter to the Philippians Paul expresses his eagerness to see them, writing, “in order that your boasting in Christ Jesus may abound by my coming [i.e., parousia] again to you” (Philippians 1:26, my translation). It is also used to describe the arrival of dignitaries, such as the Roman emperor.[47] While some have seen in Paul’s use of parousia a bid by the apostle to secretly undermine Roman imperialism,[48] on balance it is far simpler to see the use of the term in Pauline thought as cohering with the apostle’s general apocalyptic outlook.[49]For Paul, Jesus is God’s eschatological agent, the one who, per Galatians 4:4-5, was sent “when the fullness of time had come…to redeem those who were under the law” (NRSV). It was this Jesus who, per Philippians 2:8-9, “became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” and was then “highly exalted” by God (NRSV).[50] He is in heaven now with God the Father (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). At the right time, God will send Jesus from heaven to deliver his people from coming wrath. 

But did this include the dead? That is the central question: were they at a disadvantage? As I already mentioned, in some strands of apocalyptic thinking, the dead were at a disadvantage because they would not be present for the events at the end of this age. In the Thessalonian context, Earl Richard contends, the perceived advantage that the living had over the dead “consisted in the living being able to welcome the returning Lord, going on ahead, and being assumed bodily with him prior to the final, general resurrection.”[51] But Paul’s response to this is emphatic: “[W]e the living…will in no way precede those who are asleep,” he writes. The apostle employs a double negative, ou mē, which I have rendered as “in no way.” With it, Richard observes, Paul is offering “a deliberate challenge to a traditional apocalyptic view that the generation of the end-time will be more blessed than those who have already died.”[52] Will the dead miss out on eschatological joy? “No way!” is Paul’s retort. Will only those who are living at the time of the parousia greet the returning Christ? “No way!” Paul replies. “The dead,” writes Joulette Bassler, “are at no disadvantage whatsoever.”[53] But how? They’re dead, aren’t they? The answer comes in vv. 16-17.  

In vv. 13-15, Paul uses the metaphor of “sleep” to talk about death. And what do you do to wake up those who sleep? Well, you make a lot of noise.[54] This is precisely what v. 16 describes: “the Lord himself with a command – with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God – will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first.” But this isn’t a divine alarm clock. As Martinus de Boer notes, this is the imagery of war.[55] Paul uses three prepositional phrases to help describe the character of the Lord’s descent: en keleusmati (“with a command”), en phōnē archangelou (“with the voice of an archangel”), and kai en salpingi theou (“and with the trumpet of God”). Abraham Malherbe notes that each of these are “military sounds.”[56] But these aren’t three distinct sounds. Rather, based on Paul’s wording in the underlying Greek text, both “with the voice of an archangel” and “with the trumpet of God” further explain what is meant by “with a command.”[57]  It would be beyond Paul’s point to try to go into depth and parse what each prepositional phrase means. What we can say is that Paul is borrowing from common apocalyptic stock imagery to tell us something about the parousia:[58] it will be, in the words of Nijay Gupta, “public, visible, and loud!”[59] And it is with this command that “the dead in Christ will rise first.” 

It must be remembered that what Paul describes here isn’t for the sake of describing it but is intended to ease the pain of his readers. This is what makes what he says at the beginning of v. 16 all the more significant. If we compare Paul’s words with what we find in the Synoptic tradition, we notice some overlap. For example, in Mark 13:27 the elect are gathered together as they are here in 1 Thessalonians 4. And in Matthew 24:31, Jesus mentions “a loud trumpet call” that accompanies the end. And in Luke 21:28, Jesus tells his disciples to “raise [their] heads” since their “redemption” was coming from the sky above them. But what sets Paul’s version apart from the Synoptics is the beginning of v. 16: hoti autos ho kyrios – “because he the Lord,” or, as in my translation, “because the Lord himself.” That is, in Paul’s scheme, Jesus is directly involved and there are no intermediaries.[60] It is “the Lord himself and no deputy,” writes F.F. Bruce.[61] Influencing Paul may have been the wording of Isaiah 63:9 LXX: “Neither an elder nor an angelos but autos kyrios [“the Lord himself”] saved them because he loved them and spared them; he himself redeemed them and took hold of them and exalted them for all days forever” (my translation). Since for Paul Jesus is a kyrios, a lord, this text would have fit naturally in his view of the impending apocalypse. And with it he is able to purchase comfort for the Thessalonians. Not only are the dead not forgotten by God, but it is Jesus himself who will come to wake them up so that they may participate in his coming. 

Once “the dead in Christ” are raised, Paul says that it is “living who remain” who are next to go, and he includes himself in this group. The verb Paul uses to describe their ascent to Jesus is from harpazō, a term that suggests a violent seizing or snatching. In the Vulgate, Paul’s harpagēsometha becomes the Latin rapiemur, the word from which “rapture” is derived. Thus, the Left Behind crowd that I mentioned in the introduction is no doubt correct that Paul speaks of “the rapture,” though how it fits into Paul’s eschatology and how it fits into theirs appears to be two separate things.[62] Earl Richard notes that harpazō was a relatively popular term used in apocalyptic literature to describe a journey to heaven, either upon death or in a vision.[63] In 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul relates a story about someone he knew who had fourteen years prior been “caught up [harpagenta] to the third heaven”[64] where they “heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat” (v. 4). Here in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Richard writes, the apostle’s use of harpazō “represents Paul’s attempt, by means of apocalyptic imagery, to describe the indescribable fate of the elect, their sudden translation into the heavenly sphere on that great and terrible day of the Lord.”[65]

But there is another dimension to this. Remember, Paul is trying to comfort and reassure his Thessalonian audience. In that context, the use of harpazō is not unexpected since, as Abraham Malherbe points out, the verb was often used in the Greco-Roman consolation tradition.[66] Epitaphs and letters would speak of death snatching away their loved ones from the world of the living. But here Paul has turned the term on its head, using it to describe the snatching of the living away from death. “In a neat twist,” Malherbe writes, “Paul uses the conventional language of grief to comfort.”[67] This is seen quite clearly in the apostle’s emphasis that the living who remain “together with [the dead in Christ] will be caught up.” The underlying language conveys a sense of community,[68] one that had been ravaged by death but thanks to the returning Lord is now restored.

Paul continues by describing to where the living and dead will be caught up: “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” It is helpful to keep in mind that in ancient Jewish cosmology, “the air” was the realm between heaven above and earth below.[69] The living dwell on the earth, the dead “under” it (cf. Philippians 2:10), and Jesus far above it in heaven. While we scoff at such a simplistic view of the world as modern people, Paul wasn’t a modern person and his language, Philip Esler writes, “presupposes a first-century cosmology.”[70] Thus, when Jesus returns, he is descending from heaven while the quick and the dead ascend up from the earth and they all meet somewhere in between – “in the air.” But why clouds? Those familiar with the Hebrew Bible know that clouds are often associated with appearances of divine beings: “The LORD is king!” writes the psalmist in Psalm 97:1-2, “Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne” (NRSV). In the book of Daniel, the “one like a son of man” appears before the Ancient One with “the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13). Clouds, then, are part of that stock apocalyptic imagery from which Paul draws. But here it is with yet another twist: Paul doesn’t associate the clouds with the descent of the Lord but with the ascent of the Thessalonians to meet him.[71]

Having met their returning lord in the air, Paul comforts his readers by stating, “and so always with the Lord we will be.” But what do this mean? Attached to this question we could ask another: After this grand reunion in the air, then what? There are three possibilities, the discussion of which we should preface by saying that Paul never comes out to tell us what will happen next here in 1 Thessalonians. We shouldn’t be alarmed by this since letters are occasional by their very nature and are not exhaustive. And in this case, Paul is writing not to detail all that will happen in the Eschaton but rather to show the Thessalonians that their dead are in Christ and will also reap the blessings of Jesus’ parousia. Now, what happens after they meet Jesus in the air? 

The first possibility is that they all go back to heaven to be with Jesus there. This is the default position of the Left Behind crowd.[72] If this rapture is so that the Thessalonians avoid the impending wrath of God in the seven-year tribulation, then removing them so that they can be in heaven would make sense. In other words, on this view the rapture precedes the Eschaton by a number of years. 

The second possibility is that they all return to earth, at which time Jesus sets up his kingdom. This seems like a more likely possibility than the first option since, as Colin Nicholls points out, in other “eschatological contexts,” the word parousia speaks of Jesus’ return to earth, not a return to heaven.[73] Furthermore, in ch. 5, Paul refers to “the day of the Lord” (v. 2), and since “the Lord” in 4:13-18 is Jesus, it seems likely that there it refers to him as well. In other words, 4:13-18 and 5:1-11 go together. Given cosmological apocalyptic eschatology with its emphasis on righting this world’s evils, this option is appealing.

The final possibility is that the Thessalonians remain in the air with Jesus. At first, this option may seem silly. But as Candida Moss and Joel Baden note in their 2012 article “1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 in Rabbinic Perspective,” there were some strands of Judaism that taught that at the End “the righteous will fly up to the new eschatological Jerusalem, either in the seventh heaven or floating in the clouds.”[74] Thus, it is possible that Paul, had he been familiar with such traditions, may have believed that it was “in the air” that believers remained forever. “The impulse to come down firmly either on terrestrial or celestial ground neglects all the space in between,” Moss and Baden write.[75]

Comfort One Another (4:18)

That’s enough speculation. As noted, Paul’s intent isn’t to give us all the details we as modern readers are interested in but rather it is to comfort the Thessalonians in their hour of need. This point is made expressly in v. 18: “So then, exhort one another with these words.” Here then is the rub and part of the reason Paul had prior to this pericope emphasized his own character and kerygma, noting in ch. 2 that his “appeal was made not from error, nor from an ulterior motive, nor with trickery” (2:3) but were instead from God. “And for this reason also we ourselves give thanks to God unceasingly: that having received the word of God through hearing us, you accepted it not as the word of people but rather as what it truly is – the word of God, which is working in you believers,” the apostle writes in 2:13. “Since it is words that Paul offers to resolve the Thessalonians’ theological problems,” Margaret Mitchell observes, “we can appreciate why so much of the earlier part of the letter was spent defending the truthfulness of his word.”[76] All that Paul has said before in this pericope should be interpreted in light of his overarching goal to provide relief for the Thessalonians.

The Lord’s Day, A Thief’s Night (5:1-3)

Sometimes the chapter and verse divisions found in modern editions of the Greek text and their corresponding English translations can be quite unfortunate. The beginning of ch. 5 is such a case. While it is true that there is a change in topic, indicated by the construction peri de (“now concerning”), it is not much more than variation on a theme. “While in 4:13-18 [Paul] had focused on the believers’ concern about those who had already died, in 5:1-11 Paul considers the situation of the living at the Parousia,” Florence Gilman notes in her commentary.[77] He opens this section by referring to “the times and the seasons” about which, the apostle said, “you have no need for us to write to you.” The two-word phrase “the times and the seasons” is a hendiadys.[78] That term may be unfamiliar to you but the phenomenon itself isn’t. For example, in the idiom “raining cats and dogs” the meaning is that it’s raining with intensity. If you’re the parent of a teenager, you’ve no doubt said to them at some point, “I’m sick and tired of your poor attitude.” In considering the meaning of a hendiadys, you don’t bother to parse out its constituent parts. Rather, they work together to communicate the idea. Here in v. 1, “the times and the seasons” appear to be a reference to the timing of the Day of the Lord that is mentioned in v. 2.[79] But as Paul notes at the end of the verse, Paul had “no need to write” to them about it. Why? 

According to v. 2, it is because they have already have knowledge about it: “for you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord as a thief by night so comes.” This is no doubt another item to include in the list of things that constituted Pauline kerygma. During Paul’s initial visit he had proclaimed the gospel which included the call to abandon idolatry, serve the true God, and to wait for God’s son from heaven who would rescue them from coming wrath (1:9-10). Evidently, though he had intimated its imminence, Paul had not given the Thessalonians a timetable. How could he? Instead, he stressed to them what he reiterates here: “the day of the Lord as a thief by night so comes.” 

With “day of the Lord,” the apostle is evoking the language of the Hebrew prophets mediated by the LXX. Hēmera kyriou (“day of the lord”) renders the Hebrew yōwm yhwh (“day of Yahweh”). How do the prophets characterize the day of Yahweh? According to the prophet Amos, the earliest writer to speak of the idea in the Hebrew Bible, the day of Yahweh is “darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it” (Amos 5:20, NRSV). John Barton noted that the prophet Amos likely contended with a “popular eschatology” that saw the day of Yahweh as a time to which the nation of Israel could look forward. “This was an eschatology that Amos rejected and reversed, predicting instead a day of disaster,” he writes.[80] Barton goes on to note that other prophetic texts pick up on this trope of the day of Yahweh as one of disaster. For example, God informs the prophet Ezekiel that the day of Yahweh “will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations” (Ezekiel 30:3, NRSV). The prophet Zephaniah depicts it as “a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements” (Zephaniah 1:15-16, NRSV). According to the prophets, then, the day of Yahweh looked good for neither God’s covenant people Israel nor for the gentiles. Paul’s use of “the day of the Lord” in his letter to the Thessalonians is therefore pregnant with meaning, literally. In v. 3, he compares the sudden destruction that befalls the world on the day of the Lord as “the labor pains of a pregnant woman,” destruction that they cannot escape. 

But when this day will come is unknown: it comes “as a thief by night,” Paul tells them. In his commentary, William Hendriksen observes that thieves do not announce when they will come to plunder a home: the thief “does not send a warning letter to this effect, ‘Tomorrow, at such and such a time, I’ll pay you a visit. Be sure to hide all your valuables,” Hendriksen quips.[81] While it is true that other NT texts use the metaphor of a thief, including Jesus in Matthew 24:43, this isn’t the source of Paul’s usage of it.[82] Moreover, as we’ll see when we discuss vv. 4-7, Paul’s “by night” remark plays into his exhortation of the Thessalonians in light of the uncertainty of the day of the Lord. 

The metaphor of “labor pains of a pregnant woman” also heightens the indeterminacy of the day of the Lord, and perhaps with greater effect. Today we have advanced medical equipment that can track a fetus’ development such that doctors can give women an exact date of when their child will be due. None of this was available in the ancient world. Instead, while ancient people knew that women were pregnant for around seven to ten months,[83] it was impossible to point to an exact date when birth was to be expected. Once labor pains hit, it was too late to prepare: the birth was nigh at hand! And while in Western societies, infant mortality rates are relatively low, childbirth in the ancient world could bring with it not only the death of the child but also the death of the mother.[84] Sudden destruction, indeed!

Sons of Light, Sons of Day (5:4-5)

But both metaphors – the thief who comes by night and the labor pains of a pregnant woman – are not a call to handwringing and anxiousness. One could prepare for their inevitability. In the case of labor, ancient authors mentioned a variety of things to have on hand for delivering a baby: oil, water, sponges, bandages, pillows, and more.[85] Paul doesn’t extend the labor metaphor any further than what we find in v. 3, but he does use the motif of night to contrast the attitude toward the day of the Lord that should be taken by the Thessalonian converts with that of the rest of the world that would be caught unawares. Beginning with v. 4 and continuing to v. 10 we find an “eschatological paraenesis,” as David Luckensmeyer dubs it.[86] Throughout this section we find a number of verbs in the subjunctive mood that “impart a forceful and sustained exhortation.”[87]

Paul begins by describing what the Thessalonians are not, likely for emphasis.[88] While Paul “renounces any attempt to calendarize” the day of the Lord,[89] he encourages his readers by noting that they “are not in darkness such that the day will as a thief surprise” them. According to v. 5, they are “sons of light and sons of day” and therefore “not of the night nor of darkness.” The binary of light and darkness, common among ancient and even modern religions, belongs to Paul’s apocalyptic worldview. Earl Richard writes, “Light and darkness imagery addresses the Pauline belief in two mutually exclusive spheres of power. Humans are under the sway of the power of light or darkness and produce its works.”[90] Richard goes on to note that many contemporaries of Paul used this light/darkness duality in their writings. For example, in the “Community Rule,” found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, we are told that the “Instructor” is to “teach all the sons of light about the nature of all the sons of man” and that “the sons of deceit,” who are controlled by the Angel of Darkness, “walk on paths of darkness” (1QS 3.13, 21).[91] This isn’t to say that Paul was influenced by the sect that produced the “Community Rule,” but that this was a motif common among apocalyptic thinkers. 

“So then let us….” (5:6-8)

In light of their nature as children of light and day, Paul issues a series of exhortations clothed as hortatory subjunctives.[92] Each revolves around the contrast between being awake and sober versus being asleep and drunk. Malherbe notes that the combination of being sober and awake could be found among moral philosophers like Plutarch and that here in 1 Thessalonians 5 the idea of being awake and sober forms another hendiadys.[93] At the end of v. 8, Paul couples soberness with “the breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of the hope of salvation.” In so doing, Paul has introduced another metaphor: the preparation of a soldier for battle.[94] But as Eugene Boring notes, the Thessalonians aren’t commanded to put on the armor; instead, they are described as having already been “clad in” it.[95] Paul is no doubt drawing this imagery from the biblical texts in which he was saturated.[96] For example, in Isaiah 59:17, Yahweh is described as one who “put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head” (NRSV). Similarly in the Wisdom of Solomon 5:18 we read that the Lord will arm “all creation to repel his enemies” by putting on armor that includes “righteousness as a breastplate” and “impartial justice as a helmet” (NRSV). Though the imagery is inspired by passages like these, here in 1 Thessalonians 5 it is surely a metaphor for Pauline kerygma as well as the Thessalonians’ response to it. In 1:3, Paul was thankful for the Thessalonians and in his prayers before God recalled their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” All of this was a direct result of the efficaciousness of Paul’s preaching among them, preaching that was accompanied by the power of the holy spirit (1:5). It was therefore upon their turning “to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1:9) that the Thessalonians became clothed in the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation. 

Not Destined for Wrath (5:9-11)

But if the day of the Lord is a day of destruction, what can the Thessalonians expect? In a word, salvation. Remember, the previous pericope with its discussion of the status of the dead in Christ at the parousia and the present pericope are not to be seen as discussing two separate events. Christ’s parousia happens on the day of the Lord. What Paul is emphasizing here is that because the Thessalonians are “sons of light and sons of day,” they are not going to be caught by surprise when that day comes, despite not knowing exactly when that would happen. Instead, as he said in the beginning of the letter, they await the return of Jesus because for them it means rescue from wrath (cf. 1:10). They are part of God’s eschatological family and it is for them that Jesus died “so that,” v. 10 says, “whether we are awake [i.e., are alive] or we are asleep [i.e., are dead], together with him we might live.” Or, as he said in 4:17, “and so always with the Lord we will be.” It is with all this in mind that the Thessalonians are to “exhort one another, and build up, one by one” as they had already been doing (v. 11).

CONCLUSION

In reading Paul’s words two-thousand years after the fact, it is easy to take for granted what he is saying to the Thessalonian congregation, interpreting it in light of all the history and theology that has taken place between then and now. But we cannot forget that Paul’s audience was comprised of real people with thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, rooted in a particular historical context. They had come to believe that Paul’s message was true, but with it were certain expectations and even fears. It isn’t hard to imagine Timothy reporting back to Paul the fears of a wife whose husband passed away just a few weeks prior to the envoy’s visit. Would he miss out on Jesus’ return? And if the day of the Lord was characterized by wrath, what would be the fate of this fledgling community in Thessalonica? Would they face God’s wrath too? Paul, like a nursing mother and exhorting father, encourages the Thessalonians and reassures them that they are part of God’s family. God will take care of his own. And as we will see in the next episode, the final episode of this season of Amateur Exegesis, there are those among them whose function it is to care and instruct them before the coming of Jesus. We will explore that and letter’s closing next time on Amateur Exegesis.


[1] Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind, electronic edition (Nashville, TN: Tyndale House Publishers, 1995).

[2] Tim LaHaye, “Second Coming of Christ,” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, editors (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004), 349-352.

[3] The second half of this verse is fraught with difficulty. The main problem is with how the prepositional phrase dia tou Iēsou works in the clause. As the verse stands written, the phrase appears immediately after the participial tous koimēthentas (“those who sleep”), suggesting a translation of “those who sleep through Jesus.” F.F. Bruce (1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary [Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1982] 97-98) believed that connecting dia tou Iēsou to tous koimēthentas was the best way of reading the verse since it balanced the sentence. On this reading, then, dia tou Iēsou speaks to the status of those who have died, i.e., that they were believers in Jesus. However, it is also possible that the prepositional phrase belongs to axei (“he will bring”). As David Luckensmeyer (The Eschatology of First Thessalonians [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co. KG, 2009], 223), observes, whenever Paul uses dia with Jesus, Christ, or Lord, he always uses it with the sense of instrumentality (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 5:9, Romans 5:9, 1 Corinthians 15:21, etc.). And so, while “there is no grammatical argument which rules out either option,” Luckensmeyer finds that “the preponderance of evidence regarding Paul’s use of [dia] with Jesus, Christ and Lord makes the second option [e.g., instrumentality] far more compelling.” Malherbe (The Letters to the Thessalonians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000], 266) agrees, writing that it “is more natural to read dia tou Iēsou with axei and to understand it as a genitive of instrument or agent. This is in keeping with Paul’s use of dia with Christ.” Consequently, my translation reflects the position of scholars like Luckensmeyer and Malherbe rather than the view of Bruce.  

[4] Paul uses a double negative, ou mē

[5] The word I have translated as “well” is the adverb akribōs which conveys the idea of precision and accuracy. Here it modifies the verb oidate and so describes the quality of their knowledge about the coming day of the Lord, i.e., they are well acquainted with the notion that it comes as a thief by night. 

[6] Or “those who sleep sleep at night.”

[7] Or “those who get drunk get drunk at night.” 

[8] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 212.

[9] F.F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 95-96.

[10] Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 371.

[11] Colin R. Nicholl, From Hope to Despair: Situation 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 23; cf. Marcus, Mark 1-8, 371-372.

[12] M. Eugene Boring, I & II Thessalonians, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 157.

[13] Joulette M. Bassler, Navigating Paul: An Introduction to Key Theological Concepts (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 89.

[14] Monya A. Stubbs, “1 Thessalonians,” in Women’s Bible Commentary, third edition, Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley, editors (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 591.

[15] Philip F. Esler, “1 Thessalonians,” in The Oxford Bible Commentary: The Pauline Epistles, John Muddiman and John Barton, editors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 230.

[16] See the discussion in Bart D. Ehrman, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020), 70-72; 

[17] Translation taken from The Emperor’s Handbook: A New Translation of the Meditations, C. Scot Hicks and David V. Hicks, translators (New York: Scribner, 2002).

[18] See the discussion in Ehrman, Heaven and Hell, 35-55.

[19] William Hendricksen, “1-2 Thessalonians,” William Hendrickson and Simon J. Kistemaker, Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews, New Testament Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007 [originally published in 1955]), 110.

[20] Florence M. Gillman, Mary Ann Beavis, and HyeRan Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, Wisdom Commentary (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2016), 79-80. Gillman highlights how Paul’s opposition to this form of grief would have negatively impacted women whose economic stability may have depended upon it. 

[21] Richard S. Ascough, “A Question of Death: Paul’s Community-Building Language in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18,” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 123, no. 3 (2004), 509. 

[22] Ascough, “A Question of Death: Paul’s Community-Building Language in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18,” 525. 

[23] Charles B. Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2001), 224.

[24] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 161-162; Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 225.

[25] Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959), 138. 

[26] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 162-163.

[27] Martinus C. de Boer, Paul, Theologian of God’s Apocalypse: Essays on Paul and Apocalyptic (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2020), 207-208.

[28] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 163.

[29] See the discussion in Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 265-266; Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 225-226; Nicholl, From Hope to Despair, 26.

[30] Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians, 225.

[31] Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians, 225.

[32] Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 98.

[33] See James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979), 24-26. 

[34] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 223.

[35] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 223.

[36] E.g., Hendriksen, “1-2 Thessalonians,” 113; Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, 140.

[37] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 266.

[38] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 224.

[39] Malherbe (The Letters to the Thessalonians, 266) mentions an analogous text in Matthew 24:31. There Jesus says that the Son of man uses angels to gather together the elect. So, is it the Son of man who gathers the elect or is it the angels? It is both: the Son of man uses the angels to do his bidding. Something similar is going on in 1 Thessalonians 4:14. God is using Jesus to gather his people. 

[40] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 164.

[41] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 267-268; cf. Nichols, From Hope to Despair, 38-41.

[42] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 164.

[43] See the discussion in Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 166-167; Nichols, From Hope to Despair, 32-33; Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 269.

[44] E.g., Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, 141-142.

[45] Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 132.

[46] BDAG, s.v. “παρουσία.”

[47] Florence M. Gillman, Mary Ann Beavis, and HyeRan Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, Wisdom Commentary Series (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2016), 77.

[48] E.g., Edward Pillar, Resurrection as Anti-Imperial Gospel: 1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10 in Context (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013).

[49] Alexandra R. Brown, “Paul and the Parousia,” in The Return of Jesus in Early Christianity, John T. Carroll, editor (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), 54-55. 

[50] Wayne Meeks (The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul, second edition [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003], 182) writes, “The dominant image of Jesus’ resurrection in pre-Pauline and Pauline Christianity seems to have been not the resuscitation of his corpse, as it is depicted in the passion narratives of the canonical gospels and Acts, but his exaltation and enthronement in heaven.” Meeks does not specifically appeal to this passage in Philippians but given that this passage, he so-called Carmen Christi, is generally understood to be pre-Pauline in some form or fashion, it reads in a way so as to fit in with the idea Meeks discusses.

[51] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 242.

[52] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 227.

[53] Bassler, Navigating Paul, 89.

[54] Nicholl, From Hope to Despair, 42.

[55] De Boer, Paul, Theologian of God’s Apocalypse, 214.

[56] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 274. 

[57] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 242-243.

[58] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 169.

[59] Nijay K. Gupta, 1-2 Thessalonians, New Covenant Commentary Series, electronic edition (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016), “The Hopeful Fate of the Christian Dead (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).”

[60] Ehrman, Heaven and Hell, 176-177.

[61] Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 100.

[62] For a discussion of the rapture in dispensational theology and its relationship to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, see Anthony C. Thiselton, 1 & 2 Thessalonians Through the Centuries (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2011), 143-145.

[63] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 246.

[64] That Paul is referring to himself is almost certain. See Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Word, Inc. 1986), 398. 

[65] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 246. 

[66] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 276.

[67] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 276.

[68] Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians, 226.

[69] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 247.

[70] Philip F. Esler, “1 Thessalonians,” 230.

[71] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 258. 

[72] Tim LaHaye and Richard Mayhue, “Rapture,” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, 309. 

[73] Nicholls, From Hope to Despair, 44; cf. Paul Ellingworth, “Up or Down, Which Way Will We Go? Looking again at 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18,” The Bible Translator, vol. 64, no. 3, 229-230.

[74] Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden, “1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 in Rabbinic Perspective,” New Testament Studies, vol. 58, no. 2, 208. 

[75] Moss and Baden, “1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 in Rabbinic Perspective,” 209. 

[76] Margaret M. Mitchell, “1 and 2 Thessalonians,” in The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, James D.G. Dunn, editor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 57. 

[77] Florence M. Gillman, Mary Ann Beavis, and HyeRan Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, 83. 

[78] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 288.

[79] Nichols, From Hope to Despair, 50.

[80] John Barton, The Theology of the Book of Amos, Old Testament Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 202-203.

[81] Hendriksen, “1 Thessalonians,” 122. 

[82] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 178.

[83] See Soranus, Gynecology, 2.1.

[84] For a helpful discussion of the import of this metaphor, see Gillman, Beavis, and Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, 89-91.

[85] Soranus, Gynecology, 2.2.

[86] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 295.

[87] Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, 295.

[88] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 293.

[89] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 179.

[90] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 263.

[91] Translation taken from The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition, Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar, editors, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1997)

[92] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 295.

[93] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 296.

[94] Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 52. 

[95] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 183.

[96] Philip F. Esler, “1 Thessalonians,” 231.