1 Thessalonians 1
PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*
|The Thessalonians' Faith and Example||Their Good Example||Thanksgiving||The Love and Faith of the Thessalonians||Thanksgiving and Congratulations|
* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Brief Definitions of Greek Grammatical Structure, Textual Criticism, and Glossary.
READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO VERSES 1-10
A. Verse 1 is a standard letter form of the first century. Paul made it uniquely Christian by substituting "grace" for the similar sounding Greek word "greetings" (charis vs. charein).
B. Verses 2-10 form one long thanksgiving prayer to God for the believers at Thessalonica:
1. Verses 2-5 form one sentence that describes Paul's evangelistic witness.
2. Verses 6-9 describe the Thessalonians' response.
C. The Trinity is revealed in vv. 2-5. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY at Galatians 4:4.
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:1
1Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
1:1 "Paul" Saul of Tarsus is first called Paul in Acts 13:9. It is probable that most Jews of the "diaspora" had a Hebrew name and a Greek name. If so, then Saul's parents gave him this name but why, then, does "Paul" suddenly appear in Acts 13? Possibly (1) others began to call him by this name or (2) he began to refer to himself by the term "little" or "least." The Greek name Paulos meant "little." Several theories have been advanced about the origin of his Greek name:
1. the second century tradition that Paul was short, fat, bald, bow-legged, bushy eye-browed, and had protruding eyes is a possible source of the name, deriving from a non-canonical book from Thessalonica called Paul and Thekla
2. passages where Paul calls himself the "the least of the saints" because he persecuted the Church as in Acts 9:1-2 (cf. I Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8; I Tim. 1:15)
Some have seen this "leastness" as the origin of the self-chosen title. However, in a book like Galatians, where he emphasized his independence and equality with the Jerusalem Twelve, this is somewhat unlikely (cf. II Cor. 11:5; 12:11; 15:10).
Notice there is no defense of Paul's apostleship in this introduction to the Thessalonian church. Of all of Paul's churches Thessalonica and Philippi were the most supportive.
▣ "Silvanus" This was his Roman name. He, like Paul, was a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 16:37). Luke always calls him "Silas." He was a gifted prophet and a respected member of the Jerusalem church like Barnabas (cf. Acts 15:22,27,32; I Pet. 5:12). He replaced Barnabas as Paul's companion on the second and third missionary journeys.
▣ "Timothy" He was Paul's convert from Lystra on his first missionary journey. Timothy became Paul's team member on the second journey (cf. Acts 16:1-3) replacing John Mark. For a fuller description cf. Introduction B. 3.
▣ "the Thessalonians" Acts 17:1-9 describes Paul's encounter with these people.
▣ "church" Ekklesia means "called out ones." It originally meant a town assembly in Greek society (cf. Acts 19:32). The Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint, uses it to translate the Hebrew qahal, meaning "congregation" (cf. Exod. 12:6; 16:3; Lev. 4:13; Num. 14:5; 20:6; Deut. 5:22; 9:10; 10:4; 18:16). The early church considered themselves the Messianic congregation of Israel. See Special Topic at Gal. 1:2.
▣ "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" God and Jesus are combined in a syntactical way by using one preposition to identify them both (cf. 3:11; 2 Thess. 1:2, 12; 2:16). This is one technique used by the NT authors to theologically assert the Deity of Christ. Another was to attribute OT titles and functions of YHWH to Jesus of Nazareth. See Special Topic following.
▣ "the Lord" God revealed His covenant name to Moses in Exod. 3:14—YHWH. The Jews later became afraid to pronounce this holy name, lest they take it in vain and break one of the Ten Commandments (cf. Exod. 20:7; Deut. 5:11). Therefore, they substituted another word when they read the Scriptures, Adon, which meant, "husband, owner, master, lord." This is the source of the English translation of YHWH: Lord.
Often when the NT authors called Jesus "Lord" (kurios), they were asserting the Deity of Jesus. This affirmation became the early church's baptismal creedal statement, "Jesus is Lord" (cf. Rom. 10:9-13; Phil. 2:6-11).
▣ "Jesus" This name means "YHWH saves" (cf. Matt. 1:21), equivalent to the OT name "Joshua." "Jesus" is derived from the Hebrew word for salvation (hosea) suffixed to the covenant name for God (YHWH).
▣ "Christ" This is a translation of the Hebrew term for "Anointed One" (mashiach). This refers to the special empowering and equipping by the Spirit for YHWH's assigned task. It is the Hebrew term for God's Special, Promised, Coming One, "Messiah" (cf. Luke 2:11,26; 3:15; 4:41; 9:20; 22:67; 23:2,35,39; 24:26,46).
▣ "Grace" Paul changed the secular greeting charein (greetings) to charis (grace), making it uniquely Christian and theologically primary. Grace always precedes peace.
▣ "peace" This reflects the Hebrew greeting shalom. The phrase "grace and peace" was possibly intended to combine traditional Greek and Hebrew greetings.
The King James Version adds a typical Pauline phrase "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" from 2 Thess. 1:1 after "peace." This phrase does not appear in the Greek uncial manuscripts B, F, or G. It does appear in the ancient uncial manuscripts א and A. A slightly modified form appears in manuscript D. It may be a scribal gloss from 2 Thess. 1:2. The UBS4 gives the shorter text without the additional phrase an "A"rating (certain).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:2-10
2We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, 4knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; 5for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. 9For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
1:2 "We" This refers to Paul, Silas and Timothy (the believing Jewish mission team). Paul used this plural pronoun more often in 1 Thessalonians than in any other letter. It is uncertain how this affected the process of writing the book. Paul often used scribes. Exactly how much freedom these scribes had is unknown.
▣ "give thanks to God" This is a present active indicative indicating continuous action. A spirit of thanksgiving characterizes the entire letter (cf. 2:13; 3:9). Paul had a wonderful relationship with this church as he did with the church at Philippi. Paul's opening prayers are not only culturally expected in Greek style, but often seem to outline his theological topics.
▣ "making mention of you" This is a present middle participle indicating a purposeful decision by Paul to continue to pray. The syntactical structure of Paul's prayer can be seen in the three dependent clauses: (1) making mention (v. 2); (2) constantly bearing in mind (v. 3); and (3) knowing (v. 4).
1:3 "constantly bearing in mind" This is a present active participle. This shows Paul's intense, abiding concern for these believers. He thought of and thanked God often for these converts, as he did for all the churches (cf. Rom. 1:9; Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3-4; Col. 1:9; II Tim. 1:3; Philemon v.4).
NASB, NRSV"your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope"
NKJV"your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope"
TEV"how you put your faith into practice, how your love made you work so hard, and how your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm"
NJB"your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope"
Each of these three phrases is in a grammatical construction that asserts that the work is produced by faith, the labor is produced by love, and the steadfastness is produced by hope. The focus is on active, faithful believers. Faith is always a response to God's initiating activity.
These characteristics form the basis of Paul's thanksgiving to God. In Eph. 2:8-10, grace and faith are related to good works. These three terms (faith, hope, and love) are often linked in the NT (cf. Rom. 5:2-5; I Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5-6; Col. 1:4-5; 1 Thess. 5:8; Heb. 6:10-12; 10:22-24; I Pet. 1:21-22). The order often differs. "Faith," in this context, does not refer to doctrine (cf. Jude 3 & 20), but to personal trust (cf. v. 8). See Special Topic at Gal. 3:6.
▣ "labor" "Labor" is a very intense word—Christianity is active not passive (cf. I Cor. 15:58).
▣ "steadfastness" This is not a passive concept either, but an active, voluntary, steadfast endurance in the face of trials (cf. Lk. 21:19; Rom. 5:3-4). It meant to see a need and then voluntarily help carry the load as long as needed (cf. 2 Thess. 1:4).
▣ "hope. . .in the presence of our God" This refers to the parousia or Second Coming, a major theme of this letter (cf. 1:10; 3:13; 4:13-5:11; 5:32; 2 Thess. 1:7,10). Notice that each chapter ends discussing this very subject. "Hope" does not have the connotation of a doubtful "maybe" or "could be" as in English, but rather the expectation of an event with an ambiguous time element. See Special Topic: Hope at Galatians 5:5.
1:4 "knowing" This is the third of three participles which relate to Paul's prayer in v. 2.
▣ "beloved by God" Literally "divinely loved ones." This perfect passive participle phrase is theologically linked to their election (cf. Eph. 1:4-5). It emphasizes believers continuing status as "loved ones." The agent of love is God. The adjective "beloved" (agapētos) is usually used of the Fathers's love for Jesus (cf. Matt. 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; Eph. 1:6). It comes to be used for those who trust Him by faith and are now also the beloved by the Father (cf. Rom. 1:7; Col. 3:12; 2 Thess. 2:13).
NASB"His choice of you"
NKJV"your election by God"
NRSV"that he has chosen you"
TEV"God. . .has chosen you"
NJB"that you have been chosen"
While no verb appears (just the noun phrase "the choice of you"), the agent of the action is God in Christ, which is expressed by the passive voice in the previous verb and with God specifically mentioned. This is asserting the theological necessity of God's initiating love and choice (cf. John 6:44,65). Paul knew they were chosen because they responded to the gospel! God's choice was confirmed by His powerful actions expressed in v. 5. Election is a call to holiness (cf. Eph. 1:4) and service (cf. Col. 3:12-14; II Pet. 1:2-11).
NASB, NKJV"did not come to you in word only"
NRSV"came to you not in word only"
TEV"not with words only"
NJB"it came to you not only as words"
More than just an abstract idea, the gospel changed their lives (cf. Romans 1:16; James 2:14-26). This must be true of gospel preaching today. Holiness, not only accurate doctrine, is the goal (cf. Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4). The gospel is (1) a person to welcome, (2) truths about that person to be believed, and (3) a life emulating that person to be lived! All three are crucial.
▣ "in power and in the Holy Spirit " There are three related things that confirmed God's choice:
1. gospel came in word
2. gospel came in power
3. gospel came in Holy Spirit
This refers to (1) what happened to the Thessalonian believers personally or (2) God's work through Paul (cf. Rom. 8:15-16). There was powerful confirmation of the truth and spiritual power of the gospel through Paul's preaching and teaching.
▣ "with full conviction" This "full assurance" (cf. Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11; 10:22) could refer to Paul's preaching or the Thessalonians' response to the gospel.
▣ "as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake" Paul is contrasting the way he and his mission team acted among the Thessalonians (cf. 2:7,10) compared to those mentioned in 2:3-6. Notice the differences in chapter 2:
amid much opposition
not from error
not from impurity
not by way of deceit
not men pleasers
not flattering speech
not for greed
not seeking glory
gentle as a nursing mother
having a fond affection
imparted the gospel and themselves
Paul is describing false teachers and trouble makers among the Jews (e.g., Acts 17:5).
1:6 "You also" This is an emphatic contrast to the "we" of vv. 2-5.
NASB, NRSV"You also became imitators of us and of the Lord"
NKJV"And you became followers of us and of the Lord"
TEV"You imitated us and the Lord"
NJB"and you were led to become imitators of us, and of the Lord"
"Imitators" comes into English as "mimic" (cf. the Greek term and concept are found in 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14; 2 Thess. 3:7,9; I Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Gal. 4:12; Phil. 3:17; 4:9). Christlikeness is God's goal for every believer (cf. Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4). The image of God in mankind is to be restored (cf. Lev. 11:44; 19:2; Matt. 5:48; Eph. 1:4; 5:1).
NASB, NKJV"having received the word"
NRSV"you received the word"
TEV"you received the message"
NJB"you took to the gospel"
This term has the connotation "to receive as a welcomed guest" (cf. Matt. 10: 40-41; 18:5) or "to receive a message" (cf. II Cor. 11:4; James 1:21). This is an aorist middle (deponent) participle. Humans must respond to God's offer of love in Christ's finished work by repentance and faith (cf. Mark 1:15; John 1:12, 3:16; Acts 3:16,19; 20:21; Rom. 10:9-13). Salvation is (1) a message (doctrinal truth); (2) a person (existential encounter); and (3) a life to live (v. 6). We receive the gospel message and befriend Jesus. We must trust completely in both. This results in a new life of faithfulness and holiness.
NASB"in much tribulation"
NKJV"in much affliction"
NRSV"in spite of persecution"
TEV"even though you suffered much"
NJB"the great opposition all round you"
This is literally "to press" (cf. John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Thess. 1:4,6). Becoming a Christian does not guarantee a lack of tension—on the contrary, it is quite the opposite (cf. Matt. 5:10-12; John 15:18-19; Rom. 8:17; I Pet. 3:13-17; 4:12-19). Acts 17 describes some of the persecution Paul (cf. II Cor. 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-28) and this church experienced.
▣ "with the joy of the Holy Spirit" This joy given by the Spirit is so encompassing and complete that it is present and sustaining amid great persecution and pain. It is a joy unaffected by circumstances (cf. Rom. 5:2-5; II Cor. 7:4; I Pet. 4:13).
1:7 "you became an example to all the believers" In some ways this is hyperbole, but in others very literal. The Thessalonian believers' joy and perseverance under testing and trial was a source of great encouragement to other believers. This is also how the suffering of Job, the prophets (cf. Matt. 5:10,12), the Messiah, and the Apostles affect future believers. Often believers most powerful testimony is during times of trial, pain, and persecution.
▣ "example" See Special Topic following.
▣ "in Macedonia and in Achaia" These were Roman provinces. Achaia is located within modern Greece; Macedonia is a political state independent of Greece, though culturally and economically related.
1:8 "has sounded forth" This is literally "trumpeted" or "thundered." It is a perfect passive indicative which implies that through their joy amidst trials the gospel "sounded forth and still sounds." In English we get the word "echo" from this Greek word. Verses 8-10 form one sentence in Greek.
▣ "but also in every place" This is a metaphorical exaggeration (hyperbole) similar to v. 2 (cf. Rom. 1:8). The Bible, being an eastern book, often uses figurative language. Be careful of western literalism.
NASB"so that we have no need to say anything"
NKJV"so that we do not need to say anything"
NRSV"so that we have no need to speak about it"
TEV"There is nothing, then, that we need to say"
NJB"We do not need to tell other people about it"
An ambiguous phrase, many translations supply "the faith" from the previous clause. This does not necessarily mean that they understood everything about Christian doctrine or even about suffering. But their lives showed that the gospel truly took root in their hearts and minds. The Holy Spirit will reveal the basics of the gospel to every receptive heart.
1:9 "turned to God from idols" This refers to their repentance from pagan idolatry. The gospel is both negative and positive—repentance and faith (cf. Mark. 1:15; Acts 3:16, 19; 20:21). There is a "turning from" as well as a "turning to."
The NASB Study Bible (p. 1748) makes the observation that the three destructive evidences of the Thessalonian conversion were
1. turning from idols
2. serving God
3. waiting for Christ's return
▣ "to serve" Literally this means "as a slave." This is a present infinitive/span>. They turned (aorist) from idols and continued to serve the true, living God (cf. Rom. 6:18). This portrays God as King and His followers as servants. In one sense, we are slaves, in another, we are sons.
▣ "a living and true God" This reflects God's covenantal name, YHWH (cf. Exod. 3:14). YHWH is the ever-living, only-living God. This is the basis of biblical monotheism (cf. Deut. 4:35,39; 6:4; Isa. 45:5,6,18,21-22; 47:8,10).
1:10 This verse is like a summary of the gospel (cf. I Cor. 15:1-4). These summaries are often called the kerygma ("proclamation").
▣ "to wait for His Son from heaven" This is another present infinitive. They continued to serve (cf. v. 9) God and to wait for Christ's return. Paul continued his emphasis on the Second Coming as the theological keynote of the letter. Every chapter ends on this subject (cf. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:23). See Special Topic at 5:9.
▣ "whom He raised from the dead" This was confirmation of the Father's acceptance of the Son's substitutionary death (cf. I Cor. 15). All three persons of the Trinity were active in Christ's resurrection: the Father—Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33, 34, 37; 17:31; the Spirit—Rom. 8:11 and the Son—John 2:19-22; 10:17-18. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY at Gal. 4:4.
▣ "rescues us" This is a present middle (deponent) participle which emphasizes Jesus' continuous action on our behalf. The victory is ongoing (cf. Rom. 8:31-39). He continues to intercede for us (cf. I John 2:1; Heb. 7:25; 9:24).
▣ "wrath to come." For some, Jesus' Second Coming is their great hope, but for others it will be their eternal loss. The believers will experience the persecution and pressure of Jews and pagans, but they will never experience the wrath of God (cf. 5:9). The wrath of God is coming (present middle [deponent] participle) on all those who reject Christ (cf. 1 Thess. 2:16; Matt. 25; Rom. 1-2). It is surely true that wrath is an anthropomorphic term, but so too, is "the love of God."
At the end of each chapter in 1 Thessalonians an allusion to the Second Coming is prominent (cf. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:23). New Testament writers view time and history through their world-view of a coming day of judgment and reward. The NT is thoroughly eschatological (cf. How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart, pp. 131-134).
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.
1. Why did Paul not assert his apostleship in this letter?
2. What is significant about verse 1?
3. Why are faith, hope and love mentioned together so often in the New Testament?
4. How is election linked to the believers' actions?
5. Why do Christians suffer? How does the Second Coming address the problem of suffering?
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