1 Thessalonians 1
It is kind of funny. Every commentary begins with an explanation that greetings were common in antiquity. Immediately I have two thoughts. First, while very liberal Christians or Atheist may dispute Pauline authorship, I don’t think anyone disputes that it was written in an ancient form. Second, how is that different? Do we not start letters with introductions now? Granted mine typically start with “Y’all” or “Dear Jackass,” (reason 873 I could never have been an Apostle). I guess you have to start you commentary somewhere, look what I just did. Not much to say about the intro, other than Paul merges Christian and Jewish themes by writing ‘grace and peace’. Most Greek letters would say ‘greetings’, which is similar to the work for Grace, so it was a little play on words, and of course Jews often began/ended letters with ‘peace’ (shalom).
The remainder of the chapter is a long, heartfelt thanksgiving which also (per Green) points out all that Paul will later discuss in the letter itself – how the Gospel came to them and their conversion, the character of the messengers, the results of the conversions, the suffering all endured, their mission, and finally, their final hope).
In verses 2-3 they tell the Thessalonians of how they pray for them often and remember the work they have done. In v.4 the another reason for thanks comes as they know that the Thessalonians are among those called by God. With v.5 Paul points out that the gospel came as word from him to the Thessalonians, but was also confirmed and strengthened with the Holy Spirit.
Verses 6-10, shows the Thessalonians becoming ‘imitators’ of Paul (along with Timothy and Silas) as well as the Lord, which lead to them becoming models to other Christian communities in the area (Macedonia and Achaia, and beyond), so that now others further away report back to Paul the behavior of the Thessalonians.
We can also note that in v. 6 Paul says they did all this in ‘much affliction’ and v. 10 shows us a direct and clear belief in the resurrection of Christ, through the power of God, and the coming judgement.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Chapter 2 starts off with a reference back to the thanksgiving of chapter 1, why was it not in vain? Because the Gospel spread through Thessalonica and they are now examples to all in the region. Paul is thankful it was not in vain, as he had already suffered in Philippi and were ‘shamefully treated’ but they dared to speak regardless.
Verses 3-6 are something of an apologetic. Paul is laying out what their message and actions were not. The message does not come from error or impure motives with an attempt to deceive (v. 3), nor did they come with flattery or greed (v.5) or seek glory and position among the people (v.6). Why? What is the point of all this? It is important to remember that in the ancient near east and classical culture, there was nothing unique in what Paul (Timothy & Silas) were doing. There were many traveling preachers (like Jesus himself) and philosophers who went from town to town speaking their thoughts and beliefs in front of crowds. Now, these people need to eat, so they need money, and some made more than others, and if I were doing this, I’d certainly try flattery. We see how affected that is today with the Prosperity Gospel. However, the seek neither money nor position, though they could as Apostles (Paul writes in Timothy 5:17 that Elders are worthy of double honor, especially those who preach/teach).
So what did they do instead? Verses 7-12 say they did not make demands (or become a burden) but were like a mother caring for children and shared themselves as well as the Gospel (v. 7 & 8) and they they worked day and night (v. 9) and, like a father to his children, exhorted them to walk in a manner worth of God (v. 10 & 11). It is interesting in a literary sense that Paul compares himself to both a mother (actually, trophos, a wet nurse, but a feminine and motherly act, nonetheless) and a father. The overall point being, they did not act like the typical traveling speaker, but instead worked and lived among the Thessalonian, helping, encouraging, and teaching them.
*There is an odd textual variant of note here in verse 7 as well. Paul says they were ‘gentle’ (per ESV, NASB, HSCB & KJV) among them. Now, if you are (for some reason) using my notes along with your Bible, you might possibly see the word infants (or perhaps children; NIV, NET, & NLT) instead. The word in question is different by only one letter – epioi (gentile) and nepioi (infant). Manuscript evidence seems to indicate the reading of infant, but gentile seems to make more sense here – a woman can act gently during nursing, but if you’ve ever seen an infant eat, it can be pretty savage, which doesn’t seem to fit the point he is trying to make. The commentaries seemed split as to the correct reading, but the explanation I feel best about is that there was a scibal error that added the n, and that text happened to be copied more than the other and here we are. It doesn’t change anything major about his overall feelings and actions, but it is a good reminder that the Bible wasn’t handed to us by Christ himself.
That’s it for this week, I’ll try to do better next time.
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)