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.
  • Editor. The Cambridge Companion to the Apostle Paul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Ehrman, Bart D, editor and translator. The Apostolic Fathers. Volume 1. Loeb Classical Library. London: Harvard University Press, 2003. 

  • The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Sixth edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • The Triumph of ChristianityHow a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018.
  • Heaven and HellA History of the Afterlife. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020. 

Eire, Carlos. “Slaying the Dragon of the Dark Ages” (12.18.17). nytimes.com.

Eisenbaum, Pamela. Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle. New York: HarperOne, 2009.

Ellingworth, Paul. “Up or Down, Which Way Will We Go? Looking again at 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18.” The Bible Translator 64, no. 3 (2013): 227-231.

Elmer, Ian J. “The Pauline letters as community documents.” In Collecting Early Christian Letters: From the Apostle Paul to Late Antiquity. Edited by Bronwen Neil and Pauline Allen: 37-53. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Enslin, Morton S. “Once Again, Luke and Paul.” Zeischrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 61, no. 3-4 (1970): 253-271.

Esler, Philip F. “1 Thessalonians.” In The Oxford Bible Commentary: The Pauline Epistles. Edited by John Muddiman and John Barton: 216-234. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Fant, Clyde E. and Reddish, Mitchell G. A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Third edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003.

Foster, Paul. “Who Wrote 2 Thessalonians? A Fresh Look at an Old Problem.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 35, no. 2 (2012): 150-175.

Fox, Robin Lane. The Search for Alexander. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1980.

Fredriksen, Paula. From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.

  • Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.

Freeman, David Noel, editor. Anchor Bible Dictionary. 4 volumes. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Gabbert, Janice J. “Piracy in the Early Hellenistic Period: A Career Open to Talents.” Greece and Rome 33, no 2 (1986): 156-163.

Garber, Zev and Zuckerman, Bruce. “Why Do We Call the Holocaust “The Holocaust?” An Inquiry into the Psychology of Labels.” Modern Judaism 9, no. 2 (1989): 197-211.

Garroway, Joshua D. Paul’s Gentile-Jews: Neither Jew nor Gentile, but Both. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Geisler, Norman L. and Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004.

Gilliard, Frank D. “The Problem of the Antisemitic Comma between 1 Thessalonians 2.14 and 15.” New Testament Studies 35, no. 4 (1989): 481-502. 

Gillman, Florence, Beavis, Mary Ann, and Kim-Cragg, HyeRam. 1-2 Thessalonians. Wisdom Commentary. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2016.

González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day. Volume 1. Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1984. 

Goodacre, Mark. The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze. London: Continuum, 2001.

Green, Joel B. and McDonald, Lee Martin, editors. The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

Greenstein, Edward L.  Job: A New Translation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019.

Gruen, Erich S. Diaspora: Jews Amidst Greeks and Romans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002. 

Gupta, Nijay K. 1-2 Thessalonians. New Covenant Commentary Series. Electronic edition. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016.

Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary. Translated by Bernard Noble and Gerald Shinn. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971.

Harding, Mark. “Disputed and Undisputed Letters of Paul.” In The Pauline Canon. Stanley E. Porter, editor: 129-168. Leiden: Brill, 2004.

Harper, Kyle. “Porneia: The Making of a Christian Sexual Norm.” Journal of Biblical Literature 131, no. 2 (2011): 363-383.

Harrier, G.A. “Saul Who Also Is Called Paul.” Harvard Theological Review 33 no. 1 (1940): 19-33.

Harrill, J. Albert. Paul the Apostle: His Life and Legacy in Their Roman Context. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Harris, William V. Ancient Literacy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989. 

Hatina, Thomas R. “Rome and Its Provinces.” In The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts. Edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald: 557-570. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

Hawthorne, Gerald F. and Martin, Ralph P. Philippians. Revised edition. Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2004.

Hendriksen, William. “1-2 Thessalonians.” In Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews. New Testament Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007. 

Hendrix, Scott H. Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015. 

Hengel, Martin. The Pre-Christian Paul. Translated by John Bowden. London: SCM Press, 1991.

Isaac, Benjamin. “The Ancient Mediterranean and the Pre-Christian Era.” In Antisemitism: A History. Edited by Albert Lindemann and Richard S. Levy: 34-46. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Jensen, Matthew. “The (In)Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2.13-16: A Review of Arguments.” Currents in Biblical Research 18, no. 1 (2019): 59-79.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Acts of the Apostles. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992.

Jordan, William Chester. Europe in the High Middle Ages. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.

Klauck, Hans-Josef. The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions. Translated by Brian McNeil. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000.

  • Ancient Letters and the New Testament: A Guide to Context and Exegesis. Translated by Daniel P. Bailey. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2006. 

Ed Kessler. “The New Testament and Jewish-Christian Relations.” In The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Second edition. Edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler: 763-767. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Kershaw, Ian. To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949. New York: Viking, 2015.

Knight, Douglas A. and Levine, Amy-Jill. The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us. New York: HarperOne, 2011. 

Koester, Helmut. Introduction to the New Testament. Vol. 1 – History, Culture and Religion of the Hellenistic Age. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1987.

LaHaye, Tim. “Second Coming of Christ.” In The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. Edited by Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson: 349-352. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004.

LaHaye, Tim and Hinson, Ed, editors. The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004.

LaHaye, Tim and Jenkins, Jerry B. Left Behind. Electronic edition. Nashville, TN: Tyndale House Publishers, 1995. 

LaHaye, Tim and Mayhue, Richard. “Rapture.” In The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy: 309-316.

Laqueur, Walter. “In Place of a Preface.” In The Holocaust Encyclopedia. Edited by Walter Laqueur: xiii-xix. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.

  • Editor. The Holocaust Encyclopedia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.

Levine, Amy-Jill, and Brettler, Marc Zvi, editors. The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. 

Liddell, Henry George, Scott, Robert,  and Henry Stuart Jones, Henry A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. with revised supplement. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996. 

Lincoln, Andrew T.. “Ephesians.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Apostle Paul.: 133-140. 

Lindemann, Albert and Levy, Richard S., editors. Antisemitism: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Liverani, Mario. “Historical Overview.” In A Companion to the Ancient Near East. Edited by Daniel Snell: 3-19. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. 

Lorenz, Chris. “Scientific Historiography.” In A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography. Edited by Aviezer Tucker: 393-403. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009.

Loyd, Alan B. editor. A Companion to Ancient Egypt, vol. 1. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2010. 

Luckensmeyer, David. The Eschatology of First Thessalonians. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Gmb H & Co. KG, 2009. 

Luz, Ulrich. Matthew 1-7: A Commentary. Translated by James E. Crouch. Hermeneia Commentary Series. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007.

Malherbe, Abraham J. The Letters to the Thessalonians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

Malina, Bruce J. and Pilch, John J. Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006.

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

Marguerat, Daniel. The First Christian Historian: Writing the ‘Acts of the Apostles.’ Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Martin, Ralph P. 2 Corinthians. Word Biblical Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1986.

Mason, Steve. Josephus and the New Testament. Second edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.

McDowell, Josh and McDowell, Sean. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Updated and expanded. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2017.

McNeel, Jennifer Houston. Paul as Infant and Nursing Mother: Metaphor, Rhetoric, and Identity in 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8. Atlanta, GA: SBL Press, 2014.

Meeks, Wayne A. The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. Second edition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003. 

Meeks, Wayne A. and Fitzgerald, John T. editors. The Writings of St. Paul: A Norton Critical Edition. Second edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.

  • “Introduction.” In The Writings of St. Paul: A Norton Critical Edition: xiii-xxviii.

Merlin, Adele and Brettler, Marc Zvi, editors. The Jewish Study Bible. Second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. 

Metaxas, Eric. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. Electronic edition. New York: Viking, 2017.

Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text & Canon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.

  • A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, second edition. Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994.

Metzger, Bruce M. and Coogan, Michael D., editors. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Michael, Robert. Holy Hatred: Christianity, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Mitchell, Margaret M. “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus.” Journal of Biblical Literature 111, no. 4 (1992), 641-662.

  • “1 and 2 Thessalonians.” In The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul: 51-63.

Moreschini, Claudio and Norelli, Enrico. Early Greek and Latin Literature. Vol. 1 – From Paul to the Age of Constantine. Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005.

Morenz, Ludwig D. and Popko, Lutz. “The Second Intermediate Period and the New Kingdom.” In A Companion to Ancient Egypt. Volume 1: 101-119.

Morris, Leon. The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959.

Moss, Candida R. and Baden, Joel S. “1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 in Rabbinic Perspective.” New Testament Studies 58, no. 2: 199-212.

Muddiman, John, and Barton, John, editors. The Oxford Bible Commentary: The Pauline Epistles. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Nanos, Mark D. Reading Paul within Judaism. Collected Essays of Mark D. Nanos. Volume 1. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017.

Neil, Bronwen and Allen, Pauline, editors. Collecting Early Christian Letters: From the Apostle Paul to Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Newsom, Carol A, Ringe, Sharon H., and Lapsley, Jacqueline E., editors. Women’s Bible Commentary. Third edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.

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

Nichols, Stephen J. The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World. Wheaton: IL: Crossway Books, 2007.

Nickelsburg, George W.E. and VanderKam, James C.  1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2012.

Nickle, Keith F. The Synoptic Gospels: An Introduction. Revised and expanded. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Nielsen, K. “שָׂטָן.” In Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Volume 14: 73-78.

Nolland, John. Luke 1 – 9:20. Word Biblical Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1989.

Pao, David W. “Gospel within the Constraints of an Epistolary Form: Pauline Introductory Thanksgiving and Paul’s Theology of Thanksgiving.” In Paul and the Ancient Letter Form. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Sean A. Adams: 101-127. Leiden: Brill, 2010. 

Parsenios, George L. First, Second, and Third John. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014.

Parsons, Mikeal. Acts. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

Pascuzzi, Maria. “The Rhetorical Function of Invective, or Negative-Stereotyping.” In 1-2 Thessalonians: 71-72.

Patzia, Arthur G. The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text & Canon. Second edition. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011.

Pearson, Birger A. “1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation.” Harvard Theological Review 64 (1971): 79-94.

Pervo, Richard I. Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists. Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 2006.

  • Acts: A Commentary. Hermeneia Commentary Series. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009.

Pillar, Edward. Resurrection as Anti-Imperial Gospel: 1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10 in Context. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013.

  • “1 Thessalonians.” In The Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament: 573-582.

Porter, Stanley E. and Adams, Sean A, editors. Paul and the Ancient Letter Form. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

Porter, Stanley E., editor. The Pauline Canon. Leiden: Brill, 2004. 

  • “Paul and the Pauline Letter Collection.” In Paul and the Second Century: 19-36.

Price, Simon and Thonemann, Peter. The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

Oldridge, Darren. The Devil: A Very Short Introduction. Electronic edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Radnor, Karen and Robson, Eleanor. editors. The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. 

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

E. Randolph Richards, E. Randolph. “When is a Letter Not a Letter? Paul, Cicero, and Seneca as Letter Writers.” In Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: 86-94.

Roetzel, Calvin J. Paul: The Man and the Myth. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999.

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

Rollens, Sarah E. “Inventing Tradition in Thessalonica: The Appropriation of the Past in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 46, no. 3 (2016): 123-132. 

Rosenbaum, Robert A. The Penguin Encyclopedia of American History. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Rothstein, David. “1 Chronicles.” In The Jewish Study Bible: 1703-1763.

Sanders, E.P. Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters, and Thought. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015.

Sarri, Antonia. Material Aspects of the Letter Writing in the Graeco-Roman World: 500 BC – AD 300. Electronic edition. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2018.

Elizabeth Shaw, Derk Pereboom, and Gregg D. Caruso, editors. Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society: Challenging Retributive Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Schoedel, William R. Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch. Hermeneia Commentary Series. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1985.

Schowalter, Daniel N. “Silas.” In The Oxford Companion to the Bible: 694-695.

Schröter, Jens. From Jesus to the New Testament: Early Christian Theology and the Origin of the New Testament Canon. Translated by Wayne Coppins. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2013.

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Shellard, Barbara. New Light on Luke: Its Purpose, Sources and Literary Context. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

Shelton, Jo-Ann. As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History. Second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Skeat, T.C. “Was papyrus regarded as cheap or exepnsive in the ancient world?” Aegyptus 75, no. 1/2 (1995): 75-93.

Smith, Preserved. translator. Luther’s Correspondence and Other Contemporary Letters. Vol. 1 – 1507-1521. Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society, 1913.

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Stendahl, Krister. “Anti-Semitism.” In The Oxford Companion to the Bible: 32-34.

Stubbs, Monya. “1 Thessalonians.” In Women’s Bible Commentary: 588-591.

Swenson, Kristin. A Most Peculiar Book: The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Talbert, Charles. Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Revised edition. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005.

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

Taylor, Jonathan. “Tablets as Artefacts, Scribes as Artisans.” In The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture: 5-31.

Theissen, Gerd. The New Testament: A Literary History. Translated by Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2012.

Thiselton, Anthony C. 1 & 2 Thessalonians Through the Centuries. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2011.

Tucker, Aviezer editor. A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009. 

VanderKam, James C. Jubilees 1-21. Hermeneia Commentary Series. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2018.

Van der Toorn, Karel, Becking, Bob, and van der Horst, Pieter W., editors. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Second edition. Leiden: Brill, 1999.

Walker, Jr., William O. “Acts and the Pauline Corpus Reconsidered.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 24 (1985): 3-23.

  • Interpolations in the Pauline Letters. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

Waller, Bruce. “Beyond the Retributive System.” In Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society: Challenging Retributive Justice: 73-95.

Walters, Patricia. The Assumed Authorial Unity of Luke and Acts: A Reassessment of the Evidence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Ware, James P. “What No Other God Could Do: Life and Afterlife Among Paul and the Philosophers”: 122-133. 

Weatherly, Jon A. “The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2.13-16: Additional Evidence.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 42 (1991): 78-98.

Weima, Jeffrey A.D. Neglected Endings: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994.

  • Jeffrey A.D. Weima. “Sincerely Paul: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings.” In Paul and the Ancient Letter Form: 307-345.

White, L. Michael. Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite. New York: HarperOne, 2010.

Winger, Michael. “Paul and ἐγώ: Some Comments on Grammar and Style.” New Testament Studies 63 (2017): 23-37.

Winn Leith, Mary Joan. “Israel Among the Nations: The Persian Period.” In The Oxford History of the Biblical World: 276-316. 

Wilson, Mark. “Syria, Cilicia, and Cyprus.” In The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts: 490-500.

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.

Script for Amateur Exegesis – Season 2, Episode 8: “Avoid Porneia, Love One Another, and Live Quietly”

INTRODUCTION 

To open this episode of Amateur Exegesis, let’s begin with my translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. 

4 [1] Finally then,[1] 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[2] we gave to you through the Lord Jesus.[3]

[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[4] in holiness and honor, [5] not with passionate desire as the pagans[5]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.

As I noted in the last episode, ch. 4 marks the beginning of the letter body. What we find here is something scholars refer to as paraenesis, a word that means instruction or exhortation, often on topics related to moral behavior. These first twelve verses of the letter body can be broken down with this in mind. First, in vv. 1-2 we find the introduction to the entirety of the letter body.[6] Second, in vv. 3-8 we read exhortations on sexual behavior. Third, in vv. 9-12 we see exhortation on proper behavior toward both those within the community and those without. 

This section and what follows may feel like this is Paul finally getting down to business, but I would venture to say that this is a misread. As Abraham Malherbe points out, the apostle uses a paraenetic style throughout the letter, not only here in chs. 4-5.[7] Prior to the letter body, Paul has reminded the Thessalonians of their status as imitators and examples, the nature of the founding mission undertaken by Paul and his companions, the reality of socio-religious ostracism, the supernatural struggle preventing Paul’s return, and the value of good news for Paul’s soul in the form of a report from Timothy about the Thessalonians. Thus, Paul has been building and laying the groundwork all along for what we read in chs. 4-5. 

Verses 1-2

Paul begins in the introduction by encouraging them to continue and abound in walking and pleasing God. Twice he appeals to what they already know: in v. 1 he speaks of that which they “received” from the missionary band and in v. 2 he mentions the “directives” given to them “through the Lord Jesus.” This is the Pauline kerygma, a topic we covered in episode four. In the epistle of 1 Thessalonians, we only encounter a few of the elements of that kerygma: turning from idolatry to the worship of the god of Israel and to expect the soon return of this god’s son Jesus, a man killed and raised back to life. This was surely only the ground floor of Paul’s teachings to them. There was undoubtedly much more to it and in what follows in chs. 4-5 we will no doubt discover some of it. 

Verses 3-6

In v. 3, Paul opens up by explaining what God’s will entails: “your sanctification.” As its root, sanctification conveys the idea of holiness which itself suggests a kind of identity that is separate from others. But here it isn’t holiness as a state of being so much as it is an action.[8] In other words, sanctification for Paul is proactive rather than passive; it is something you do and not simply something you are or become. This is made abundantly clear in what follows: Paul employs five infinitives to explain what this sanctification entails.[9]

First, “to stay far from sexual immorality.” Some of you have may know the Greek word that underlies my translation of “sexual immorality” – porneia. It is the word from which we get the term “pornography.” Defining porneia is no easy task but at its root is the idea of sexual activity considered deviant by this or that ethical standard.[10] Because Paul was a Jew, his standard would have been that set forth in the Torah. But what about the Thessalonians? What would they have thought about porneia?

Florence Gillman notes that in the city of Thessalonica there were among the various cults two that “incorporated a strong phallic and sexual character” – the cults of Cabirus and Dionysus.[11] Dionysus, known to the Romans as Bacchus, was the son of Zeus and his cult was associated with ecstasy (i.e., personal transcendence), enthusiasm (i.e., being filled by the god), and mania (i.e., an “intoxicating madness”).[12] The playwright Euripides portrayed the cult to Dionysus in orgiastic terms,[13] claiming through the mouth of the Thebian king Pentheus that during meetings of the cult “women drink wine from full tankards, and then one after the other they all slink off into quiet corners in the arms of their sexual partners.”[14] And while there was some resistance to the proliferation of the cult by conservative Romans, it nevertheless remained popular among many in the Greco-Roman world.[15] Monya Stubbs notes that “Greco-Roman male privilege allowed sexual freedom for married men that was out of the question for married women.”[16] It is possible that prior to their conversion, some of the men in the Thessalonian community had enjoyed this privilege in the context of cults like that of Dionysus. “Porneia hardly raised an eyebrow,” writes Eugene Boring, “there was no ethos of public or peer pressure to discourage casual sex for men.”[17]

Porneia did, however, raise Paul’s eyebrow and in his view of things sex outside of the sanctity of marriage was forbidden. When a Corinthian believer began sleeping with his father’s wife, Paul was flabbergasted at both the boldness of the offending party but also the tolerance of the Corinthian community: “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one,” he writes in 1 Corinthians 5:11 (NRSV). So grievous was sexual sin to Paul, his converts were instructed to not even sit down to eat a meal with those who participated in it. 

In v. 4, Paul continues on this theme of sexual sanctity, using the second infinitive: “to know each of you how to control your own body in holiness and honor.” There is some difficulty in this verse: first, the word I have translated as “body” could refer to a wife and the word I have rendered “how to control” could mean “acquire.” Abraham Malherbe translates v. 4 as, “that each of you learn how to acquire his own wife in holiness and honor.”[18] Time does not permit an explanation as to why I don’t think this is the best way to understand what Paul is saying. Instead, I concur with the conclusion of Earl Richard when he writes that the idea is one of “sexual self-control, expressed especially as mastery of one’s body, for such a reading agrees with attested Greek idiom.”[19] What Paul seems to be calling for is self-restraint. Could they go back to the sexual behavior that once characterized their pagan lives? Sure. But back in 3:13, Paul told these believers of his veritable prayer that God would “strengthen [their hearts], blameless in holiness, in the presence of God and our father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” Thus, if Paul’s worldview is right and Jesus’ parousia was right around the corner, these Thessalonians had everything to lose and nothing to gain by abandoning Pauline kerygma. Their only option was self-restraint, to control their bodies “in holiness and honor.” 

Juxtaposed holy and honorable self-restraint is, per v. 5, pathei epithymias, or “passionate desire,” a trait connected to “the pagans who do not know God.” The first word of this phrase, pathos, is a rarity not only in the Pauline corpus but in the New Testament generally. In fact, it only appears in three places: here in 1 Thessalonians 4:5, in Romans 1:26, and in Colossians 3:5 (a Deutero-Pauline letter). Pathos is where we get words like “pathology” and “pathetic.” In the New Testament it is invariably connected with something negative. For example, in speaking of the failure of pagans to worship the god of Israel, the Creator, God paredōken autous…eis pathē atimias – “handed them over to shameful passions” (Romans 1:26, my translation). What does he mean by “shameful passions”? As the rest of vv. 26-27 suggest, Paul has in mind some kind of sexual activity, most likely homosexual behavior.[20] Thus, in the apostle’s mind, the rejection of the one true God led to sexual impropriety. 

This seems to be what is going on here in 1 Thessalonians 4:5. The will of God is, per Paul, that the Thessalonians abstain from porneia or sexual immorality. To that end, they are to control their bodies “in holiness and honor” as becoming gentile followers of the god of Israel and “not with passionate desire” as gentiles who do not follow God. In reasoning this way, Paul is following Jewish precedents. Maria Pascuzzi writes, 

Throughout Jewish literature, among the most popular topoi, or themes, used to slander non-Jews…were those related to sexual vice, which was associated with idolatry…. Jews profiled gentiles as hyper-sexualized, sexually deviant people, given to every manner of sexual excess and depravity. This was an effective strategy that functioned to underscore the distinction between Israel and all others and to showcase Jewish moral superiority.[21]

As I already noted, Paul’s worldview is thoroughly Jewish. Consequently, his morality is Jewish as well. Since sexual deviance was connected to pagan worship in the Jewish mind, Paul’s call to abandon porneia should be viewed in the light of Paul’s Jewish worldview in which, Pamela Eisenbaum observes, “idolatry is the sin that leads to all other sins.”[22]

Given the socio-religious context of the Thessalonians, in a city replete with idols and the potential for sexual immorality, and Paul’s apocalyptic worldview, complete with a Satan who tempts, Paul’s call to faithfulness makes good sense. At the end of the letter, he implores them to “be awake and sober” in light of the coming return of Jesus and the wrath upon the unbelieving world that will no doubt accompany it (5:7). He doesn’t want to see all the work that he and his missionary team did among the Thessalonians to become, in the words of 3:5, “unproductive.” As a further barrier to return to idolatry, Paul employs kinship language and instructs them “to not wrong and take advantage in this matter your brother and sister.” To what matter does he refer? In context, it is surely porneia.[23]Abraham Malherbe points out that the command to “not wrong and take advantage” of a fellow believer “fits well with ancient discussions of adultery” found in the works of authors like Dio Chrysostom and Epictetus.[24] Their sexuality should not be used “as a tool of power or exploitation.”[25]

To bolster his rhetoric, Paul adds a warning: “because an avenger is the Lord concerning all of this, as we warned you and emphatically testified.” The idea of the Lord as an avenger is influenced by the Jewish scriptures where the Lord is seen as the judge of the wicked. But the idea of divine recompense on iniquity is also in view in ch. 2 where Paul says in v. 16 that upon the Judeans who killed Jesus “has come the wrath of God to the end” which, as we discussed in episode six, may either be an example of a proleptic aorist or an allusion to recent events viewed through an apocalyptic worldview. Whatever the case may be, the phrase “wrath of God” conveys the idea of wrath from God and is in response to the perceived sins of the Judeans. If they cannot escape God’s anger despite being part of God’s covenant people, what makes these Thessalonians think that they could do so? Again, the exhortation to “stay away from sexual immorality” is about more than just stay away from sexual immorality; it’s about what happens if you don’t

In v. 7, Paul offers the grounds for his instruction on porneia: “For God did not call us for impurity but rather in sanctification.” “The reason…why Paul had spoken so emphatically about God’s vengeance is found in the nature of their call,” Malherbe writes.[26] God did not call the Thessalonians to live in debauchery. Instead, he called them to live a life of holiness. To that end, v. 8 reports that God had given them his holy spirit and, therefore, the one who rejects the words of Paul isn’t rejecting Paul so much as they are rejecting God. This is what he argued in ch. 2 where he says, in v. 13, that he was thankful that they had “received the word of God through hearing us” and “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.” And since, according to 1:4-5, their election as part of God’s family was demonstrated by the efficacy of the message among them, if the Thessalonians acted in a way contrary to Paul’s kerygma it would be a sign not of the failure of God but proof that God had not chosen them. There was a lot at stake for the Thessalonians if they returned to a life of idolatry and porneia

Verses 9-12 

Having urged them to flee sexual immorality and to live a life pleasing to God, Paul now turns in vv. 9-12 to how the Thessalonians should behave both toward one another and to those on the outside of the community.[27] In vv. 9-10, the apostle describes them as a community characterized by love, having been “taught by God” to do so. The word rendered “taught by God” is theodidaktoi, a word found only here in all of the New Testament and otherwise unattested before this epistle. In other words, this may have been a term that Paul coined.[28] Whatever the source of the term, it coheres with what Paul has been saying all along: his message isn’t his message but God’s. This also gives us another subject to add to the content of Pauline kerygma: the call to philadelphia – love of the brothers. This is something they have not only done well but have done for those even outside of the immediate vicinity of Thessalonica stretching to the larger region of Macedonia. Recall that in ch. 1 of the letter, Paul expressed his gratitude that the Thessalonians had become “an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (v. 7). As I noted in episode four, one of the reasons Paul likely chose large cities like Thessalonica in which to spread the gospel was their value as launching pads into neighboring areas. It’s possible, then, that the Thessalonians had begun their own mission endeavors.[29]

If love for one another is to be the behavior characteristic of believers toward those within the community, quietness is to be the behavior of believers towards those without. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly in the last few episodes, the Thessalonian likely faced socio-religious ostracism for their conversion from paganism to following Jesus. They had already rocked the boat, so-to-speak. Lest they draw any more unwanted attention, Paul urges them to “live quietly” and “mind [their] own affairs,” working “with [their] hands” as he had instructed. “Keep your heads down,” he tells them. Remember, according to 2:9 Paul had worked “night and day” so as not to burden the Thessalonians while he lived and preached among them. This was his way of showing the pagan Thessalonians that he cared for them. Now, he urges the same kind of behavior for the now converted Thessalonians but in this case it is in their native context as ex-pagans living among idol worshippers. By living quietly and working with their own hands, they appear to be self-sufficient. 

NEXT TIME

In the next episode we will turn our gaze toward one of the most misunderstood passages in all of the Pauline corpus: 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11. This section is no doubt familiar to virtually anyone who has spent time in an evangelical church since many believe it is a text that speaks of that mysterious event referred to as the Rapture. That is a topic we will explore next time on Amateur Exegesis.


[1] 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). 

[2] 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. 

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

[4] 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., 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], 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. 

[5] 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. 

[6] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 217.

[7] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 84-85.

[8] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 225.

[9] M. Eugene Boring, I & II Thessalonians, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 141.

[10] For an overview of porneia in classical Greek and New Testament usage, see Kyle Harper, “Porneia: The Making of a Christian Sexual Norm,” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 131, no. 2 (2011), 366-379.

[11] Florence M. Gillman, Mary Ann Beavis, and Hye-Ran Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, Wisdom Commentary (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2016), 69.

[12] Hans-Josef Klauck, The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions, Brian McNeil, translator (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 107. 

[13] Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, third edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 261.

[14] Euripides, The Bacchae, 221-224, quoted in Klauck, The Religious Context of Early Christianity, 111.

[15] Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 261-262.

[16] Monya Stubbs, “1 Thessalonians,” in Women’s Bible Commentary, third edition (Louisville, KY: The Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 590.

[17] Boring, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 145.

[18] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 224.

[19] Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 198. 

[20] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Word, Inc., 1988), 73-74.

[21] Maria Pascuzzi, “The Rhetorical Function of Invective, or Negative-Stereotyping,” in Gillman, Beavis, and Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, 71.

[22] Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 152. 

[23] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 147; cf. Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, 188.

[24] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 232.

[25] Edward Pillar, “1 Thessalonians,” in Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament, Margaret Aymer, Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, and David A. Sánchez, editors (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014), 579.

[26] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 233.

[27] Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 242.

[28] Boring, I & II Thessalonians, 149.

[29] Charles B. Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2001), 221.

Michael Jones and the Exodus: The Real Problem with Pop-Apologetics

A few weeks ago, Michael Jones (aka “Inspiring Philosophy”) published a documentary over at his YouTube channel entitled “Exodus Rediscovered.” The lengthy film was quintessentially Jones: it was well-produced, interesting to watch, and deeply flawed. I had been vaguely aware that the documentary was in the pipeline but paid little attention to the specific details. When it was finally published, I was tagged on Twitter asking my opinion of it. I muted the tweet since I honestly had no desire to get involved. However, a friend of mine on Twitter had watched it and found problems with it. He also alerted me to a review by Egyptologist David Falk that had been posted to Falk’s YouTube channel. You can watch that review here: 

Not long after Falk’s mildly scathing (is that a thing?) review, Jones took down his documentary and issued a statement over at his blog which you can read here. In it, he acknowledges the multiple flaws with his film and abandons the dating for an early exodus in favor of a later date. But at the end of his post, Jones writes this: 

I also want to be clear, I hold no grudges against early exodus date proponents (nor will I mention their names) who initially convinced me the Exodus best fits with the reign of Amenhotep II. It is very easy for people to hold resentment if they feel like they have been deceived. For example, many ex-Christians go around claiming all apologists are dishonest because, in their view, they feel apologists deceived them. I often encourage people to extend the principle of charity as much as possible and that is what I must do as well. I have no hard feelings for early date proponents who initially convinced me. It is better to believe they were advocating what they thought was true and right, not lying to me or themselves. 

While I am all for giving charity, the problem with so much of what passes for Christian apologetics deserves none. And while Jones’ action of taking down his discredited video is viewed by some as the model of Christian humility and the willingness to change one’s views in light of new evidence, for my part it seems like the symptom of a much larger problem, one that is inherent to the apologetic impulse.

If we lacked the biblical account of the exodus, could we come to the conclusion that a relatively large group of former Semitic slaves escaped Egypt, supernaturally thwarting Egyptian might, to arrive in the Levant unmolested based solely on archaeological and inscriptional evidence? I would venture to say that we could not. But it is precisely because we have biblical accounts of an exodus that have been coupled with particular views of divine inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy that the need to square the Pentateuchal narratives with the historical record arises. Apologists, therefore, are compelled to find in the data the proof they need to declare that the Bible got it right all along. In other words, they begin with their conclusion and try to find evidence to confirm it. This is pop-apologetics in a nutshell: it is defensive by its nature and of very limited value. 

Now, before the “but atheists” crowd jumps in, let me acknowledge that my unbelieving brethren do this too. I find this to be especially true of the Jesus Mythicist crowd. But here is the key difference between Christian apologists and atheists: the latter do not claim to be given a supernatural guide in the form of the Holy Spirit to spur them on to truth (cf. John 14:16-17). From where I’m standing, there’s no practical difference between an atheist who denies the existence of the Holy Spirit and a Christian who affirms it. Why would I want to become a Christian if it has no discernible, real world effect? For the fire insurance?

No thank you.