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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Commentary on 2 Thessalonians

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( 1:1–2 ) Prescript

This is the beginning of one long sentence ( 1:1–12 ). Rhetoricians would call this section the ‘exordium’. Letters in the ancient Mediterranean began with a prescript, comprising the names of the senders and the addressees and a brief greeting, in Greek typically chairei, ‘hail’. These verses constitute the prescript to 2 Thessalonians. The senders (Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy) and addressees (‘ekklēsia, the community’—‘church’ sounds a little anachronistic—‘of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’) are the same as in 1 Thessalonians, while the greeting has been Christianized (a practice possibly inaugurated by Paul) even further here by an additional reference to Jesus Christ as Lord and God as Father. v. 2 , by invoking upon the addressees grace (charis) and peace (eirēnē; Heb. šālôm) from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, comes close to putting them on an equal footing, unless we are meant to see God as patron and Jesus Christ as broker in accordance with common Mediterranean social patterns, that is, a mediator who gives clients access to the resources of a more powerful patron (Moxnes 1991: 248).

( 1:3–12 ) Thanksgiving and Encouragement

v. 3 , after the prescript, Paul often includes a thanksgiving for the good qualities of his addressees (Rom 1:8–10; 1 Cor 1:4–8; Phil 1:3–6 ; but not in Galatians, where Paul is too annoyed with his audience to engage in the usual courtesies!). Yet here he says ‘we must always give thanks to God’, rather than ‘we thank God’, which seems to some critics a rather more formal expression, even though he does go on to mention that their faith is growing and their love for one another increasing. The first person plural may reflect the fact that three persons are named as senders of the letter, or represent an example of the ‘epistolary plural’, where a single writer talks of himself or herself in the plural.

v. 4 , virtually all translations (including the NRSV) have ‘Paul’ saying something like ‘we ourselves boast’ among the communities (NRSV ‘churches’) of God concerning your steadfastness and faith in all persecutions (diōgmoi) and afflictions (thlipseis). But ‘boast’, which carries a negative connotation to modern ears, is a mistranslation. In a group-oriented culture dominated by honour as the pre-eminent virtue and always needing to be acknowledged by others, ‘Paul’ is saying that ‘we ourselves base our claim to honourp’ on the qualities mentioned. He can say this in relation to the relevant public (here ‘the communities of God’) either because he is intrinsically linked to the Thessalonians' endurance and faith as their progenitor, or because he is closely connected with the Thessalonian Christ-followers who now exhibit these qualities, or both. Also see 1 Thess 2:19; 2 Cor 9:2–3 . The presence of persecutions and oppressions among whatever group of Christ-followers for which 2 Thessalonians was originally destined provides either the motivation for, or reinforcement of, narratives of future deliverance of the sort prominent in the text.

v. 5 begins ‘This is evidence’ (endeigma). But to what stated previously does endeigma refer? Possibly to their faith and steadfastness while they suffer persecution and tribulation (Best 1972: 254–5), but it is more probable, given the tight interconnection of v. 4 , that it refers to the fact that Paul lays his claim to honour on these characteristics: ‘our claiming honour from your endurance and faith before the other communities (who did not demur) is a sure sign that God will also count you worthy’. The judgement Paul has in mind is the judgement of God at the end-time (usually, although not very helpfully, referred to as ‘eschatological’) commonly described in Israelite literature (1 Enoch 1:1–9; 2 Esd 7 .33–44; Apoc. Abr. 29.14–29; D. F. Russell 1964: 379–85). Without doubting their actual existence for the original audience of 2 Thessalonians, the troubles referred to in the text are capable of interpretation as the ‘woes’ before the end attested in other Israelite and Christian literature (Dan 12:1 ; 2 Apoc. Bar. 25.2–4; Mk 13:19, 24; Rev 7:14 ). Thus we see a merger of experience and religious tradition located in biblical and non-biblical Israelite literature typical of this text and other early Christian literature. It is likely, however, that Menken (1994: 85–7) is mistaken in seeing the current sufferings of the Thessalonians (which will absolve them from future judgement) as caused by their own sinfulness, since this conflicts with the good things said about them earlier in the text.

vv. 6–7a , the sentiment here represents a rather bald example of the law of revenge (lex talionis). Although modern European or North American readers might find this puzzling, in ancient Mediterranean culture serious insults, which desecrated one's honour, had to be avenged. Thus God will bring vengeance on those who have dishonoured his people (see Deut 32:35–6 ) and therefore slighted him as well. This is a fairly common biblical theme. In particular Isa 66:6 refers to ‘the voice of the LORD dealing retribution to his enemies’ and Aus (1976) has suggested that this section of Isaiah may have influenced this verse and what follows. ‘Rest’ (anesis) refers to the absence of tension and trial. The persecution and oppression mentioned in vv. 6–7 may be likened to the disturbance of traditional lifestyles suffered by North American Indians or Melanesians at the hands of European conquerors or colonists. In North America and Melanesia (in the South Pacific) millennial myths developed which described a coming convulsion in the cosmos when the white people would be swept away, so that the traditional lifestyles would be restored, the ancestors return, the game revisit the plains, or cargo be dropped on the people from the sky (see Esler 1994: 101–4, and literature cited there). The punishment for the oppressors and vindication of the oppressed in 2 Thessalonians reflects a somewhat similar social experience. v. 7b , the author now specifies when (or by what means) the events just mentioned will occur, literally: ‘at the revelation (apocalypsis) of Lord Jesus Christ from heaven with the angels of his power’. First-century Christ-followers thought Jesus had gone to heaven after his resurrection and that he would return from there (1 Thess 1:10; 4:16; 1 Cor 1:7; 1 Pet 1:7, 13 ). Such beliefs were fortified (if not stimulated) by Israelite traditions describing future vindicators of Israel, such as 1 Enoch 48:4–6 and Dan 7:13 . Normally Paul uses parousia of the future coming of Jesus, the sole use of apocalypsis in this regard being at 1 Cor 1:7 . The angels represent the heavenly host or court who accompany God when he comes in judgement (Zech 14:5 ; 1 Enoch 1.9), although the early Christ-movement attached them to Jesus (Mk 8:38; 13:27 ).

v. 8 , in flaming fire, Jesus will mete out vengeance (ekdikēsis) on those who do not know God and those who do not obey his gospel. The notion of fire as a feature of the vengeance God would inflict on his enemies originates in the OT (Isa 66:15–16 ) and here the theme is linked to the activities of Jesus. There seems no basis for seeking to distinguish those mentioned into two groups comprising Gentiles and Israelites. v. 9 , we now learn what the vengeance will consist of: ‘the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’. The punishment does not consist of total annihilation, but of exclusion from God and, importantly in an honour-driven society, from his exalted and powerful honour. This vision is very different from the tortured future in store for the wicked in later Christian texts. v. 10 further specifies the occasion for these events: ‘when he comes to be glorified [i.e. greatly honoured] by his saints’ etc., while also evoking the fate of the blessed as contrasted with that of those who will be punished. Honour is shared among groups and here his followers revel in the great things he has done. The notion of ‘the day (of judgement)’ is a common feature of Israelite end-time speculation (see Joel 2:1–2; Zech 9:16; Mal 3:1–2 ).

vv. 11–12 , ‘Paul’ informs the Thessalonians that he regularly prays for them, by asking God to make them worthy of his calling and powerfully fulfil every good resolution and work of faith. The object of all this is specified in v. 12 : ‘so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified [i.e. greatly honoured] in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ’. Although this situation has been described as ‘mutual glorification’ (Menken 1994: 94), it is possible to improve on such a designation. For here we have the typical Mediterranean phenomenon of sharing honour among the members of a group. If we understand God as father or patron, Jesus as broker, and the believers as clients, we have a fictive kinship arrangement in which Jesus honours (and is honoured in) them and they honour (and are honoured in) him.

The final statement, ‘according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ’, indicates a very close relationship between the two, if not necessarily equating Jesus with God (Best 1972: 272–3).

( 2:1–12 ) The End and the Man of Lawlessness

v. 1 , ‘Paul’ now moves on to what is called in epistolary nomenclature the ‘body’ of the letter, or in the language of rhetoric the partitio (covering vv. 1–2 ), with the probatio beginning at v. 3 . Paul begs them in connection with ‘the coming (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together (episynagōgē) to him’. In Hellenistic Greek the word parousia referred to the arrival of a high official at a city or town, to the accompaniment of elaborate greetings and celebrations. But the word came to be applied to the imminent arrival of Jesus from heaven (1 Thess 2:19; 3:13:4:15; 5:23; 1 Cor 15:23; Mt 24:27, 37, 39; Jas 5:7, 8 ). The notion of God gathering in his people is found in the OT, either from exile (Isa 27:13; 43:4–7; Jer 31:8 ) or for final salvation (2 Macc 2:7; Sir 36:10 ). In Psalms of Solomon 17.26 it is said that the Messiah will gather in the people. Modern parallels exist in the form of the individuals who focus and lead a millennial movement (Esler 1994: 99).

v. 2 , the content of Paul's entreaty is that his addressees should not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a prophetic utterance (‘a spirit’) or a word or letter ‘as though from us’, saying that ‘the day of the Lord is already here’. This is one of the most important verses in the letter. ‘A letter as though from us’ can mean either a forgery or a letter which he did write that is now being misinterpreted. If Paul had actually written 2 Thessalonians, he would have signally failed to address either alternative. For he neither denounces the letter as a forgery nor seeks directly to correct the misinterpretation. The statement is easier to interpret on the hypothesis of pseudonymity. Paul's letters were difficult and liable to be misunderstood (see 2 Pet 3:15–16 ). This could have been the fate of 1 Thess 4:13–5:11 . There were several statements in this passage that could have been used to support an argument that the day of the Lord had come. 2 Thess 2:2 makes good sense as an attempt by its author to counter a misinterpretation of 1 Thess 4:13–5:11 .

Barclay (1993: 526), who considers 2 Thessalonians authentic, canvasses earlier suggestions as to whether the ‘day of the Lord is here’ means: (1) a literal event—altering the structure of the universe, which is unlikely since no such event had occurred in the experience of the audience of 2 Thessalonians; (2) an internal and personal reality, entry into a new world, which remains a popular view, especially if linked to some kind of spiritualized or Gnostic understanding of the parousia; or (3) something which has not yet occurred but is imminent, an option that is now generally regarded as grammatically impossible. Barclay himself proposes a fourth alternative. It is possible to draw from 1 Thessalonians a distinction that Paul did not himself make between parousia ( 4:13–18 ) and the day of the Lord ( 5:1–11 ), the latter being associated with the sudden destruction of unbelievers. Perhaps the Thessalonians interpreted certain calamitous events in the early 50s of the first century as the sudden destruction of unbelievers, thus triggering a belief that ‘the day of the Lord’ had arrived. If one regards the letter as inauthentic and takes what is probably the more likely view that the parousia and the day of the Lord would have been understood by the recipients of 2 Thessalonians as referring to the same event, what meaning might one attach to ‘the day of the Lord is here’? One possibility is that people had appeared claiming to be Christ and that such claims were troubling the target audience of this letter (so Menken 1994: 100–1). Mk 13:6 (to be dated sometime shortly before or after 70 CE) provides a basis for this suggestion.

vv. 3–4 , Paul expresses concern that someone might deceive them. Deception prior to the end is also mentioned in the Markan apocalypse ( 13:5 ) and here seems to relate to the date of the parousia. The second clause in v. 3 opens with the words ‘because unless’, which begin the protasis of an anacoluthon, a sentence containing two conditions, which continues until the end of v. 4 without being rounded off with an apodosis, a statement of what will happen, presumably requiring something like ‘the parousia of the Lord will not occur’. The first condition required is the apostasy or rebellion (apostasia). The lack of specification as to who will apostasize and in what way suggests that the author could count on the original recipients of 2 Thessalonians knowing what was meant. For modern readers, however, both aspects are difficult. At a general level the word refers to the dramatic breakdown of the legal, moral, social, and even natural order which is predicted in certain Israelite and NT texts of the period before the end (Jub. 23:14–21; 2 Esd 5:1–13; 2 Tim 3:1–9; Jude 17–19 ). Yet uncertainty surrounds the issue of whom the apostasy will involve: Israelites, Christ-followers, Gentiles, or representatives from all three possible groups.

The second condition needing to be fulfilled is the revealing of ‘the lawless one’ (lit. the person of lawlessness: ho anthrōpos tēs anomias), immediately described as ‘the one destined for destruction’ (lit. the son of destruction). Expressions similar to these occur in the OT (Ps 89:23; Isa 57:4 ) and in the Qumran literature (1QS 9:16, 22 ; CD 6:15; 13:14 ). In Jn 17:12 Judas is called ‘a son of destruction’. It is then stated that he (the lawless one) ‘opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God’. While this figure plainly encapsulates the lawlessness (or the ‘sin’, if—as seems unlikely—the variant reading here is correct) which will characterize the apostasy preceding the End, it has not proved easy to identify him with any known character in Jewish or Christian literature. It is even unclear whether he is a human or super-natural figure, although we should be careful to avoid the modern tendency sharply to distinguish these realms. Elsewhere we find false false messiahs and prophets predicted for the time before the End (Mk 13:21–2 ) and presumably the person of lawlessness is somewhat similar. We must presume that in the millennial mythopoiesis (that is to say, the creation of myth, see Esler 1993: 186–7) which had already occurred in the community for which this letter was written the person of lawlessness had been allocated a central role. The details in v. 4 show how this mythopoiesis was able to draw upon existing aspects in Israelite tradition in describing how the lawless person would behave. He will be like Antiochus IV Epiphanes who tried to extirpate Israelite religion and identity (in the period 167–164 BCE), as described in 1 Macc 1:16–64 and Dan 11:36–7 , Pompey (who entered the temple in Jerusalem; see Pss Sol. 17:11–15 ) and Caligula who wanted to install statues of himself in the temple (Jos. J. W. 2.184–5).

v. 5 , ‘Paul’ asks if they do not remember that he used to tell them (i.e. on more than one occasion) of these things when he was still with them. This statement, loosely based on 1 Thess 3:4 , serves to provide an air of reality to the pseudonymous fiction. There is no mention in 1 Thessalonians of either the apostasy or the person of lawlessness. vv. 6–7 , the author affirms that ‘you know what is now restraining (katechon) him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness (anomia) is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains (katechōn) it is removed.’ These are extremely difficult verses (see Lietaert Peerbolte 1997; Powell 1997 ). The chief problems have to do with the movement from a restraining power or thing to a restraining person, with the person of lawlessness as the implied subject of restraint, and with the identity of the restrainer and the restraint. But even to translate the Greek using ‘that or who restrains’ means opting for one among several possibilities (others being ‘possess’ or ‘hold sway’). Possibly (see below), the original readers of this letter knew what or who was meant, although the expression does not occur elsewhere in Jewish or Christian writings dealing with the End. This phenomenon may have been an element of the mythopoiesis concerning the End with which they were familiar. The answer may simply be beyond us (Best 1972: 301). Yet one option worth mentioning, suggested by Strobel (1961: 98–116) and based on the possible influence of Hab 2:3 as interpreted in Jewish and Christian tradition, is that the restraining power is God's plan of salvation and the restraining person is God himself. Less likely is the idea that the power is the Roman empire and the person is the emperor himself, especially in view of the author's lack of interest in the political realm. Lietaert Peerbolte (1997 ), finally, makes the interesting suggestion that these words are deliberately obscure, allowing ‘Paul’—who has no answer for the delay of the parousia—to create the illusion among the readers of 2 Thessalonians that there is an answer of which the original Thessalonians were aware.

v. 8 , ‘then the lawless one (ho anomos) will be revealed, whom the Lord (Jesus) will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming.’ Whatever or whoever restrains the lawless person (an equivalent of ‘the person of lawlessness’ at v. 3 ), there is no doubt that it is Jesus who will kill him once he is revealed. The author's determination to make this point leads him to it before he has actually described the lawless one's revelation (in vv. 9–10 ). The manner of the killing, by ‘the breath of his mouth’, derives from Isa 11:4 (‘by the breath of his lips he will kill the impious’; LXX). vv. 9–10 , in a second relative clause the author describes the coming of the lawless one as taking place through Satan's activity with ‘all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing’. The picture of signs and wonders which will be worked by agents of evil before the End is reminiscent of Mk 13:22; Rev 13:14; 19:20 . vv. 11–12 , ‘For this reason’, presumably their failing to accept the love of the truth, God sends on them a power of delusion to make them believe in falsehood, ‘so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness (adikia) will be condemned’. Menken (1994: 117) points out that divine causality appears here to match the human causality of the preceding verse. There is an OT context for God inspiring false prophets in 1 Kings 22:23 and Ezek 14:9 , while an idea somewhat similar to what is said here occurs at Rom 1:18–32 .

( 2:13–17 ) Encouragement to Persevere

vv. 13–14 , quite suddenly ‘Paul’ changes tack, by launching into a second thanks-giving (following the precedent in 1 Thess 2:13 ). The reason for the thanks is that God has established the notional Thessalonian addressees (who stand for the original audience of this letter) as a differentiated and privileged group in the world, with a particular history and a glorious destiny (which links the thanks to the previous material about the End). They are ‘brothers [NRSV has “brothers and sisters”] beloved by the Lord’, whom God (as in OT traditions of divine election) chose ‘from the beginning [though the uncertain Gk. could also mean “as the first fruits”; NRSV] for salvation through sanctification (hagiasmos) by the Spirit and through belief in the truth’. God called them to this through ‘Paul's’ gospel, to obtain the exalted honour (doxa) of Jesus Christ. Such descriptions serve the fundamental purpose of delineating their identity, that is, providing answers to the always vital question ‘Who are we?’ The word ‘sanctification’ in particular serves to distinguish them and their present experience from the welter of idolatry and immorality implied as characteristic of the world outside the group. On the other hand, ‘salvation’ expresses the future goal of their existence; it is very common for people to tell themselves who they are in terms of their sense of where they are going (Esler 1998: 42, 175). In this heavily group-oriented culture, it is natural that the members of the group will share in the honour of their most honourable and honoured leader.

v. 15 , the author encourages them to stick resolutely to the traditions (paradoseis) which they have received by word of mouth (dia logou) or in a letter. It is likely that the original recipients of 2 Thessalonians would have interpreted the letter mentioned here as 1 Thessalonians. The oral proclamation referred to was presumably teaching they had already received with which ‘Paul’ concurred. We must imagine a situation, therefore, in which the author is saying in effect, ‘Just as the Thessalonians were told by Paul to rely on his earlier letter and the teaching given them in the community, so too must you’. vv. 16–17 , moving easily from thanks to intercession, ‘Paul’ now offers a prayer that Jesus Christ and the God ‘who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort (paraklēsis) and good hope’ might comfort (parakalein) and strengthen their hearts ‘in every good work and word’. The prominence of Jesus in this prayer indicates the fairly high Christology characteristic of the letter. ‘Good hope’ seems to derive from mystery cults as a way of referring to life after death (Best 1972: 321); mystery cults, such as those of Eleusis, offered their adherents a relation of intense communion, often ecstatic in nature, with a god.

( 3:1–5 ) Mutual Prayer

Many critics arguing for a rhetorical structure to the letter regard v. 1 as beginning its exhortatio. Epistolary theorists tend to see here the beginning of a series of moral admonitions (Jewett 1986: 224–5). vv. 1–2 , in a way somewhat similar to that of 1 Thess 5:25 , ‘Paul’ asks the adelphoi, literally ‘brothers’ but presumably also meant to include female members of the congregation (so perhaps ‘brethren’), to ‘pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified [i.e. “greatly honoured”] everywhere, just as it is among you, and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith’. If 2 Thessalonians is pseudonymous, such a sentiment conveys an aura of verisimilitude, but also serves to legitimate—that is, to explain and justify the existence and identity of—whatever community this letter was originally intended for. They would be reassured of the value of their faith and of the fact that their sharp differentiation from sinful and uncomprehending outsiders was just what Paul had indicated would be the lot of the Thessalonians. Yet a similar conclusion could be drawn if the letter is authentic, only now it would be the Thessalonians themselves for whom the point was being made. The hostile reception that Paul and his co-workers had received figures both in the clearly genuine correspondence (such as Rom 15:30–1; 2 Cor 1:8–11; and 1 Thess 2:2 ) and also in the deutero-Pauline writings, such as in 2 Tim 3:10–11; 4:16–18 ).

v. 3 , the author asserts the faithfulness of the Lord, who will strengthen and guard them from the evil one, and this quality stands in stark contrast to the lack of faith (and the evil associated with it) mentioned in the previous verse. It is noteworthy that although this statement is probably based on 1 Thess 5:24 , here the faithful one is the Lord (that is, Jesus Christ) and not God, which indicates the move to a higher Christology in 2 Thessalonians. v. 4 , now ‘Paul’ expresses his confidence in the Lord that they are following and will continue to follow his commands. In a pseudonymous letter this is a way of encouraging the target audience to adhere to the message associated with Paul. Specifics of the instruction will be provided in 3:6–12 . v. 5 , ‘Paul’ prays that the Lord may ‘direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ’. This prayer takes the audience to the source of their ability to carry out the instructions. It is probable that the author appeals to Christ's steadfastness to provide them with a role model during the current difficulties they are experiencing.

( 3:6–15 ) Warning against Loafers

v. 6 , ‘Paul’ commands the ‘Thessalonians’ to avoid every member of the congregation who is living ‘in a disorderly way’ (ataktōs) and not in accordance with the tradition (paradosis) they received from him. The word ataktōs appears again at v. 11 , where the author describes how certain of his addressees are behaving, and ‘Paul’ himself denies he behaved in such a way at v. 7 . It is reasonably clear from the associations of the word in vv. 6–15 that by ‘disorderly’ the author means ‘not in accordance with the discipline of working and supporting oneself’, thus behaving like a loafer (hence ‘living in idleness’ in the NRSV). Scholars have long explained this idleness as rooted in ‘eschatological’ excitement produced by a belief in the imminence of the parousia of Christ (see R. Russell 1988: 105–7). Several examples of millennialism in modern times, moreover, have revealed that a belief in the imminent or actual transformation of the world can produce, not surprisingly, a breakdown in belief in the need for everyday activities, such as work. Rejection of work and the usual social order can be associated with exaggerated behaviour and often a belief in a return to a Golden Age which preceded the current period and its tribulations (Jewett 1986: 173–5; Esler 1994: 101). In the unknown community for whom 2 Thessalonians was written it is likely that such attitudes had made an appearance and needed to be attacked. If Menken (1994: 130–3) is correct in assuming that underlying the order which ‘Paul’ would like to be restored is the rule of work that originated in the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Gen 3:17–19 , it is possible that those refusing to work were appealing to the alleged re-establishment of prelapsarian bliss to support their position.

R. Russell (1988) proposes a different view (which has been challenged recently by Romaniuk 1993 ), that this idleness has nothing to do with end-time excitement, but is a result of the urban poor finding support within the social networks of Christ-fearers and then giving up work. A similar view has more recently been presented by Jewett (1993), who proposes that the early Christ-movement was likely to have been located in the tenement houses of the non-élite, where the system of internal support would have been jeopardized by the refusal of some members to contribute.

vv. 7–8 , ‘Paul’ offers himself as a model for them, inasmuch as he did not exhibit the disorder of idleness when he was amongst them, but worked day and night so as not to be a burden on them by eating at their expense. Imitation of Paul is a reasonably common theme in the genuine Pauline epistles (1 Cor 4:16, 11:1; Phil 3:17; 1 Thess 1:6 ). v. 8b is closely based on 1 Thess 2:9 , and there are similar statements at 1 Cor 9:12; 15–18; 2 Cor 11:7–8; 12:13 . In these passages, however, Paul is seeking to allay any suspicion that he preached the gospel for personal profit, while in 2 Thessalonians the point is made to encourage the target audience to imitate him in this respect. v. 9 , the author notes he had a right to be supported by the congregation, even though he did not exercise it, in order to offer them a model for imitation, a theme introduced in v. 7 . v. 10 , by mentioning that he had previously told them in their presence that anyone unwilling to work should not be fed, ‘Paul’ makes explicit the precise nature of the disorder which has been implied hitherto—the fact that some members of the congregation are living off the others. There are parallels to this saying (which has been frequently cited out of its context ever since), in Prov 10:4; 12:11; 19:15 ; and Pseudo-Phocylides, Sentences, 153–4.

v. 11 , here again is a reference to disorder, now with an unequivocal core meaning brought to the surface in v. 10 , together with the disturbing news—expressed in a pun—that some of them are not busy at work (ergazomenous) but busybodies (periergazomenous). Presumably the author has in mind here some exaggerated type of behaviour of the sort common among millennial movements, but its precise nature remains unclear. Not only are they not working, but they are interfering with the work of others. v. 12 , ‘Paul’ follows up the statement in v. 11 with a direct exhortation to the trouble-makers here: ‘to do their work quietly and to earn their own living’ (lit. eat their own bread). The reference to quietness here suggests that their current state is one of loud activity or excitement, no doubt associated with the millennial belief that ‘the day of the Lord is already here’ ( 2:2 ).

( 3:13–18 ) Conclusion

vv. 13–16 , there is a great diversity of views among those advocating epistolary or rhetorical analyses of the letter as to where the divisions fall in these verses (Jewett 1986: 224–5). The first four verses (13–16) can either be connected with the previous section, which would mean ‘Paul’ wanted the ‘Thessalonians’ to do good to the disorderly and idle troublemakers, or, more likely, constitute a separate section at the end of the letter—beginning with a general exhortation to them to do good (v. 13 ). Those who do not are to be ostracized (although, as we see in the next verse, only to a limited extent) so that they may be put to shame (v. 14 ). Here we see the typical association in Mediterranean culture between honour and group-belonging. Nevertheless, such a person is not to be treated as an enemy, but admonished as a brother (v. 15 ). The person is socially separated as a form of discipline and for a limited time (subject no doubt to a change of behaviour on the malefactor's part). Exclusion from the community for various reasons and for a limited time was also practised at Qumran (see e.g. the CD 8:16–18 ). v. 16 , ‘Paul’ prays that the Lord will give them peace at all times and remain with them; in 1 Cor 14:33 Paul notes that God is a God of peace not disorder.

v. 17 , it was a practice in ancient letter-writing for an author to use a scribe and add a few words at the end in his own handwriting. Paul adopts this practice elsewhere in 1 Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; Col 4:18 (leaving aside the issue of whether Colossians is authentic or not). This device would only be effective as a proof of authenticity in relation to the original of the letter, since the difference in the two hands apparent there would disappear in subsequent copies. Although the author of 2 Thessalonians seems to claim—wrongly—that this was Paul's universal practice, Jewett's (1986: 6) conclusion that this itself indicates authenticity since otherwise the author would be casting doubt on other Pauline letters not bearing the addition is unwarranted if the letter were written before the collection of Paul's letters towards the end of the first century. On the other hand, 1 Thessalonians does not bear Paul's self-attestation and this strengthens Jewett's point if 2 Thessalonians was originally directed to Christ-followers who possessed 1 Thessalonians. The self-conscious (and unique) way in which the author draws attention to the practice in 3:17 by saying that ‘This is the mark’ (sēmeion, sign) is itself suspicious. v. 18 , the letter ends with a standard benediction.

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