Introduction to Thessalonians 1 & 2

thessalonians_

I’m starting a quick series looking at 1 & 2 Thessalonians over the next few weeks. I have an intro for y’all this week, then a few weeks of commentary, followed by a review of the commentaries (see links below). Hope you enjoy and/or find it helpful.

The books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians were written to the Christians of the Macedonian city of of what is today Thessaloniki. Formerly known as Thessalonica, the city was named after Alexander the Great’s half-sister and served as the capital of Macedonia.  Often when we read books of the Bible, the places are too old and far away for us to make a connection, but they city is only still around today but is actually the second largest city in Greece and an important center of the region.

The church was established as part of Paul’s missionary journey as described in Acts 16-18 and the letters were likely written sometime in the early 50’s AD. There is no series denial of attribution to Paul for Second Thess, though there are a few who question First. There are early attestments from church fathers and each have been considered cannon until the 19th Century and rise of German Higher Criticism. Certainly, no Evangelical or academic Christian scholar doubt either today.

One interesting thing I came across while studying these letters is the arguments of which letter came first. It is important to remember that even though they are referred to as ‘first’ and ‘second’, when the Bible was put together, the Epistles were not ordered chronologically; they are ordered by length. Wannamaker (NIGNT) argues that ‘second’ was actually written first based on the reference in ‘first’ to a previous letter. In his theory, ‘second’ is written while Paul is in Athens and Timothy delivers it, which is the reference to his visit in ‘first’. Much of the rest of his reasoning boils down to the lack of evidence to consider ‘first’ to be written first. Wannamaker is not the first to make this argument, and spends time with those who argue against it, but appears to be in the minority of modern scholarship. Of the commentaries listed below, only Green (Pillar) interacts at any length.

While neither the Gospel message nor the pastoral instruction and advice are lessened or lost by the order of the letters, certain interpretations could change or be influenced depending on whether you find a particular point ot be a follow up. Wannamaker certainly appeals to ‘first’ to be written second as a reason for his side on some of the trickery passages to interpret; likewise Green refutes some interpretations. As for me, I find the arguments for ‘second’ be the original letter more convincing, and particularly think that comes out in the references to the second coming in each letter. The fact that ‘first’ is longer, but hits the same topics, just with more detail, appears to me to show a clarification that can logically only come later.

The letters both cover similar topics and are both relatively short. ‘First’ is only five chapters while ‘second’ clocks in with three. Major themes in each include the second coming, work/idleness, and suffering/perseverance. Of course each open with long greetings and ends with encouragement/blessing/benediction. ‘First’ also includes notes on Timothy report from his visit (possibly when he delivered ‘second’), Paul’s longing to see them again, and a few other instructions.

 

Commentaries Used:
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)

Daily Bible Reading Plans

I’ve been meaning to write a post about Bible Reading Plans and the pro’s/con’s of the M’Cheyne plan I used last year. Then I saw this video from Southern Seminary, and Dr. Whitney, author of Spiritual Disciplines, hit most of the broader points about reading plans.

I appreciate that he points out that there is no requirement to read the Bible, either daily or in a year, or to even read the whole Bible. We don’t want to be Pharisees,heaping requirements of behavior on people, especially ones that are not in the Bible. That being said, I think it is a good practice for every Christian to do something daily. I’m a big fan of those quick Daily Devotionals, my favorite so far is Utmost for His Highest, that usually have a short verse or part of a verse and then a brief commentary or pastoral message. The problem with those, is that you will not get the whole scope of the Bible. It will be mostly Gospels and Letters, with some Genesis, maybe Samuel (for the story of David) or some Jonah, and the Psalms.

For that reason, I think it is a worthwhile goal for every Christian to read the entirety of scripture, at least once. You could just open the Bible and get moving, but, honestly, you probably will not. It is hard, especially once you leave Exodus. You just feel bogged down. There are so many dates, genealogies, and then there is the repetitiveness. If you set out 15-20 minutes a day, you’ll start to feel like, ‘what did I just read?’ or ‘didn’t I read that a week ago?’. This is especially true in Kings, where the writer actually finishes a chapter or section with, ‘aren’t all these things written in Chronicles?’. You are sitting there thinking, ‘yeah man, I feel the same way.’

Thus the value in reading plans. As Dr. Whitney points out, there are multiple plans to follow, a lot of pre-made Bibles that are broken into that plan, and ones that have you reading different things. I know there is an ESV One Year Bible plan that starts in Genesis and Matthew. Another point about reading straight through, the OT books are long. Really long. You see the extent of this when you have the mixed up plans. You’ll read two Gospels and a couple of letters before you finish First and Second Samuel.

He also points out that you should look for a plan that has some ‘flex’, I’d slightly disagree and say, look for a plan that has days of the year in it. As in, a February 5th reading, a March 1st, etc. That was something I liked about the M’Cheyne plan. Also, the plan is a few hundred years old, so to know you are reading the same thing other Christians are today is pretty cool, but also the same thing someone in England read on February 5th, 1818, really connects you to the history and continuity of the church. I guess you’d have to endeavor to try to read the Bible a few times, to make up for the days you did miss. I suppose this is my plan. I’ve tried for two years so far, am not trying this year, might try next year, but certainly will try again two or three years in the future.

The biggest downside to the M’Cheyne plan, it is long. It isn’t just the whole Bible. It is the whole Old Testament, but it is the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, twice. That sounds cool at first, but it gets long. I am a fairly quick reader, but it would take me 15 minutes easy, or longer, to do the daily reading. If you are a slow reader, this is not the plan for you. Unless you are just looking for a challenge, and can devote substantial time to it. I’d recommend the ESV One Year, or the Two year reading plan over the M’Cheyne. Especially the two year if you are a little slower at reading, or if the thought is too intimidating. Alternatively, the Book of Common Prayer has a daily reading plan, and it is actually spread out over three years. So, you are looking at something more like five minutes a day. You can find this plan online, in emails, on apps, pretty much everywhere except a pre-made Bible laid out in that order. Which is a downside to me.

Finally, though I enjoyed reading all parts of the Bible, because the reading was so long and so heavy, I felt it diminished my desire to read and study deeper certain parts of the Bible. I typically go deeper and look into commentaries and try to write some thoughts on scripture, but to add that to the M’Cheyne plan and to a Daily Devotional, just did not work for me. I was worn out, basically on Bible reading overload.

So that’s it, hopefully some helpful tips. I’d highly recommend every Christian try getting through the whole Bible at least once; but you have to have a plan of attack. Likewise, you need to be realistic about how, and how much you will read.

2018 is Here

It is 2018 already, well, it is the 2nd now, but I was eating and watching football all day yesterday, so I didn’t post anything. Most importantly from yesterday, Georgia won and is heading to the National Championship game next Monday here in Atlanta.

I’ll have a few post later this week or next specifically about this site, but for now Phil has the December 2017 Biblical Studies Carnival up over at his Reading Acts and my buddy David has his annual book ranking up over at his This Mortal Life.

Finally, I’ve posted a few times over the past couple of years about receiving hand me down books from my mom’s dad’s dad, who was a Church of Christ preacher, but yesterday I stopped by my other Granddad’s house. He and my grandmother are moving to assisted living/memory care tomorrow and he wanted to grab a few of his books. Along with a full volume of Matthew Henry’s commentary, I also noticed this.

20180101_165317.jpg

On the left is The New Bible Commentary Revised edition. This commentary was published in the 50’s and revised and republished in the 70’s. It was revised, I believe, again in the 90’s and then totally revamped in the ’21st Century Edition’ in 2008, which is the one on the right (my copy). My granddad is an avid reader and taught Sunday School for something like 60 years, which he took seriously enough to buy multiple commentaries. It was cool to see I had chosen on of the same ones he used for decades, but more than 40 years after he purchased his.

 

Sermon on the Mount – Those Who are Persecuted

Matthew 5:10-12

Verse 10 is the final of the eight beatitudes, then you kind of have verses 11 & 12, just hanging out there. These two verses continue with the theme of persecution, but there is a transition happening here. Grammatically, He switches from using the third person to the second (blessed are those vs. you). Some have argued that these act as a transition section to the upcoming ‘salt & light’ teaching, and I think that makes the most sense. I think Christ is talking more broadly to the crowd and then narrows in to His disciples. Something like, ‘speaking of persecution, it will happen to you, my close followers. Also, you will be as salt and light.’

However, for my purposes, I’m lumping all the persecution in together and then move on to Salt and Light next week. One a side note, in the ‘fun with reading commentaries’ category, D.A. Carson says that it makes sense that Christ will follow peacemaking with persecution, while John Stott, says that it is a strange succeeding point. I’m actually inclined to disagree with both, as I don’t see as much of a connection. Peacemaking is us intervening with two other parties, while persecution is someone else’s reaction to us. I don’t seem them as countervailing actions. Anyway, back on topic.

V10

This might be the most straight forward and easy to comprehend of the beatitudes. For one, it isn’t dependent on us, other people need to act in this instance. So, what is ‘righteousness sake?’ One thing it isn’t, is for being a member of the church, that would be anachronistic to the hearers of the message. As it is the last of the beatitudes, I view is taking up any of the preceding beatitudes. Of course, later on in the Sermon, Christ will expound on a number of laws and even more so in later parable (such as loving your neighbor) that are necessary for righteousness.

Interestingly, the promise of this brings us right back to verse 5:3, where we started. As we discussed, poor in spirit can be seen as knowing you are spiritually bankrupt, which is essentially the opposite of self-righteousness. Now, it is for true righteousness, the promise to come is the same.

V11

This verse becomes much more specific relative to the prior verse. We move from ‘those’ to ‘you’, the disciples, and from ‘righteousness sake’ to ‘because of Me.’ This moves from an inference that something could happen to almost the expectation that something will happen. This should have been somewhat startling to the disciples, remember, this was quite early in Christ’s ministry (the beginning actually). As Jews, they would have some idea of religious persecution in the broad sense, but now they are being told that be doing something specific (following Christ), persecution will happen. People will revile you and say false things about you. With the benefit of hindsight, they should have seen maybe Christ was not the type of Messiah they were expecting.

V12

If the persecution comment wasn’t surprising enough, the statement comparing them to the Prophets should have put them over the top. On the one hand, they are told the reward is great, on the other, they can expect some of the same treatment they knew the prophets had received. Also, to put them on the level of the prophets tells us about who they thought Christ was. The prophets were those that spoke for God, often with direct revelation from Him to the world. If them following Christ meant they would be giving the word of God, then clearly they saw Christ for who he was.

Follow along in the series – Intro, The Poor in Spirit & Those Who Mourn, The Meek and Those Who Hunger & Thirst, The Merciful, Pure in Heart, and Peacemakers.

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary

Sermon on the Mount – the Merciful, Pure in Heart, and Peacemakers

The past few post I’ve covered the first four beatitudes, which relate to how we respond to God. Today, I’ll move on to Matthew 5:7-9, which relate to how we respond to others.

V7

What does it mean to be merciful? Well, it sounds simple, but it is one who shows mercy. Sure, sounds good, so what is mercy? The Greek word is eleos and is the stand new testament word for mercy, or sometimes compassion. This is in response to pain, misery, and brokenness of others. The word is both used for our reaction to others and God’s reaction to us. The word being used for merciful has an active sense, so we are actively responding to people, we are showing people mercy and compassion.

So, in some ways, this one is fairly simple – show mercy and mercy will be shown to you. Maybe the questions is obvious, but who is showing you mercy? We know that just because you show mercy or kindness to people does not mean that people will show it to you. The answer, as has been to the doer of all the second clauses of the beatitudes, is God. The tense used for ‘be shown mercy’ has a future active sense, leading one translator to make up the word ‘mercied’, which I like as a way to understand this verse. This continues the eschatological theme of the Sermon on Mount. That in our knowledge of God grace and mercy to use in the end, out of gratitude and obedience, we show others mercy and compassion today.

V8

Both verse 7 and 9 are very much continuation of the promises of the Old Testament, but this is probable the most direct of the three. There is almost nothing to comment on. We are supposed to love God with all our…heart. The Psalms call out to God, asking for Him to create in us a clean (leading to pure) heart. One commentator defined the pure heart as one of ‘inner moral purity and single mindedness,’ the single mindedness being in devotion to God.

What do we receive for this pure devotion? To see the face of God. This is the ultimate sense of blessing in the Old Testament, the ultimate way of experiencing the Glory of God. Remember that this is exactly what Moses requested of God, thought even he was only allowed to see God has He passed by.

The most direct connection is Psalm 24:6 – the generation of those whom seek him, will see the face of the God of Jacob.

V9

What exactly is a peacemaker? McKnight says it is one with ‘active entrance into warring parties, to make reconciliation. In Psalm 34:14(?) we are told to turn away from evil, seek peace pursue it. Being sons of God has two distinct meanings in this context. First, there is the obvious, that as a son(child) there would be an inheritance which of course brings us back to the overall eschatological sense of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically as it related to the Kingdom of God. The second, less obvious to modern readers is in the Hebrew, ‘to be called sons,’ has the meaning of sharing the characteristics of a father, in this case, God the Father, though Jesus Christ the Son.

There is a reason Christ is called the Prince of Peace. He is the ultimate reconciler, between us and God. Paul says in Colossian’s 1:20, ‘and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’

What a great place to end our quick look into these three beatitudes. If you are thinking, aren’t there eight, you only did four earlier. We will look next week at the final one, those persecuted, and look at their connection to the following two verses.

Follow along in the series – Intro, The Poor in Spirit & Those Who Mourn, The Meek and Those Who Hunger & Thirst

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary

Sermon on the Mount – The Meek and Those Who Hunger & Thirst

Matthew 5:3-6

Las week, I only made it through verses 3 & 4, so this week I’ll wrap up the first section of the Beatitudes and go through verses 5 & 6. So, let’s jump right in.

V5
Who are the meek? This isn’t a word used often in modern English. Discussing this passage with my study group, we could only come up with that Christmas song where they call Jesus meek and mild. The Greek word is praus, which can mean – humble, gentle, considerate, courteous, long suffering, and free from malice. Barclay calls meek being ‘angry at the right time and never at the wrong time’, and according to Aristotle, meekness is being ‘angry on the right occasion, for the right people, for the right amount, and for the right length of time’.

Maybe because they are homonyms, but I think most people just go straight to associating meekness with weakness. I think quite probably gets in there a good bit to. Other Biblical references include Moses being called meek in Numbers, and both James and Peter writing about meekness as a way to act and receive the Word.

How we see who the meek are in this verse is influenced by how we understand the blessing. The reward for being meek is inheriting the earth. The word translated can mean either earth (as in the physical aspect) or land. This has a pretty clear meaning to Israel, but what about today? Similar to those who mourn, you can double dip into eschatological meanings here. For Jews, it is the Messianic Kingdom, for Christians it is the second coming – think inheriting the new Earth. Considering the likelihood that the mourning is the broken world with the blessing being the new Earth, I view the meek as the longsuffering and humble. Combining the two verses, and we should read each in light of the other, that means we mourning the brokenness of the world, but in humility of our own sin, and of course we may live our whole lives in the world, not seeing the restoration, making us long suffering. The blessing for this combined affliction is the same, we will be comforted when we inherit (as heirs to the Kingdom) the new Earth after the second coming, resurrection, final judgement, and restoration of all things.

V6
This is another phrase that is hard to understand in modern American life, hunger for me means something drastically different than to the original hearer/reader (or the majority of Christians over the past 2000 years, or any number of hundreds of millions elsewhere in the world today). I’ll eat breakfast around 6:00, then get to work and get moving and around 11:00 someone will mention lunch, and I’ll think, ‘man, I haven’t eaten since breakfast, I’m starving.’ Compare this to even my grandparents who were growing up before ‘three meals a day’ was even a concept. Or to the original hearer/reader, where there were likely days when on food was consumed. That is real hunger.

Likewise, thirst is a difficult concept. For one, there is no running water, indoor plumbing, etc. You have to go to a well. Now, I live in what was formally a malarial swamp (if you’ve ever wondered why the CDC is in Atlanta…), but the context hear is a desert. The well can run dry and it may not rain for months. I have some neighbors that moved here from LA about a year ago and one of the things they said they enjoyed here was listening to thunderstorms. They tell me that it may rain once, and then not again for a month or so, and that is pretty much the expected outcome. So, this concept is a bit lost on me, as even in our level 3 drought years, we still receive about 30 inches or so of rain. However, I do know you can last weeks without food, but only days without water.

This is a long intro to two commonly used words, but it is helpful for context. The picture here is someone who hasn’t eaten in a week and had no water in a day or two. It is someone who will soon die if they do not find food and water. This is the level to which we should seek righteousness. This is a theme throughout Christ’s ministry, later He will tell us to ‘First, seek the Kingdom and its righteousness”. So we know that He isn’t talking, if you have time, or when it is convenient for you, but seek it as if it is the drop of water that will keep you alive.

Finally, what is the blessing? They will receive it. The BEC translates the promise as, they will be filled. This takes us back to the point from last week about being poor in spirit. We need to empty ourselves to be filled. Those who seek Christ and His righteousness will find it, and He will give it to them. They will be covered in Christ’s righteousness, and it is through Christ that we will one day enter the Kingdom or inherit the new Earth.

That wraps up the section of the Beatitudes about how we relate to God, next week I’ll move into the section about how we relate to each other.

Follow along in the series – Intro, The Poor in Spirit & Those Who Mourn.

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary

Intro to Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5-7

This passage is one of the most well-known, while at the same time, it isn’t known very well. That is to say, if you mention Sermon on the Mount to most (church) people, they will know what you are talking about, but following up with any question – when/where/why, or what is in it, what is he saying, and I don’t think you’d get much of a reaction. There are number of ‘famous’ passages within it – the beatitudes (blessed are…) and the Lord’s Prayer probably being the most known, but there are other passages such as His words on Lust/Adultery and Hate/Murder. Really, the simplest way to state it is that the Sermon is a collection of all of the teachings of Jesus found in Matthew, which are not parables.

What exactly was the Sermon? I’m torn on whether I want to get into some of the deeper academic disputes. Was he actually on a mountain? If so, which one? Where there any in the area? Some commentators break this down a bit and say well, it was probably just a hillside, and in kind of a red-neck way, say that the translation could read the sermon up in the hills. Some people were also concerned that it doesn’t align with Luke’s sermon on the plain, and wonder if the Mount is really more of a plateau, but I think all that is beyond what I want to look at and discuss.

For me, there are a few things that matter, one is Jesus probably gave this sermon or message a number of times. It wasn’t uncommon for itinerate teachers (Rabbis) to go around to different towns and villages repeating their message. Luke focused on only a few ‘blesseds’ whereas Matthew had more and left off the ‘woes’. I also think that is why he puts it at the beginning of the his Gospel.

Finally, there is significance to placing it at the Mount (whether it was actually the first instance or not). Matthew is written for a mostly Jewish audience, and they would have seen the connection between Jesus giving the sermon (expanding and explaining the law) and Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the original Law (the 10 commandments). If that wasn’t clear, Jesus Himself draws the connection when He later explains lust and adultery, and hate and murder.

The entire intro Matthew gives us is just two verses (5:1-2), which basically says, people were around, so Jesus started His sermon.

Next week I’ll start going through the beatitudes, but for now, what is exactly are beatitudes? We get with word from the Latin word Beatus which means blessed, which is obviously taken form the start of each verse – ‘blessed are…’. So, what does blessed mean? There are two words typically used in the Greek – Makarious and Ealogetos. The latter is word used when someone is blessed by God that most people think of when they hear bless. The word used is actually the former, it means more something of along the lines of happiness, fortunate, or even congratulate (as the tense is accusative).

This is one reason for wide array of translations for the word, but it makes the sense of the phrase confusing in the English. He isn’t saying that God will bless those who are poor in spirit, He is saying something more along the lines of consider fortunate those who are poor in spirit (on famous sermon even used the translation ‘congratulate those…).

I hope that helps as a basic introduction, next week I’ll started on the Beatitudes and hopefully continue you on through the whole sermon.

 

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary