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.

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