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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
1 Thessalonians 2

 

 

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Verse 1

II.

(1) For yourselves brethren, know.—The writers’ purpose is practical, not didactic; they there-fore animate their converts with the stirring memories of their conversion. “We need not go to these foreign witnesses for the tale of how we came to you; for you recollect it as if it were yesterday.” The “for” (as in 1 Thessalonians 1:8) implies “for in fact,” “for after all.” The thought of 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:9. is here resumed, but with a different purpose: there it was to prove that the work was God’s work; here, “to stir up their pure minds by way of remembrance.”

Not in vain draws a little too much attention to the result of their coming. It should be, not vain—i.e., not purposeless and idle. This may be seen from the contrast drawn in the following words.


Verse 2

(2) Even after “what was enough to have scared others” (Bengel). Such men were not likely to be “vain.” The marks of their ill-treatment at Philippi were fresh upon them at Thessalonica (as ye know). See Acts 16 and Acts 17:1.

In our God.—These words give the ground of their boldness—“in reliance on the God whom we felt to be in union with us.”

With much contention.—Rather, in the midst of much conflict arising from persecution.


Verse 3

(3) “The reason that we were able to endure so much was our consciousness of the sincerity and purity of our attention.”

Exhortation.—Exhortation is an attempt to make men take a particular line of action. “Our efforts to get men to act as we wish,” St. Paul says, “do not spring from a desire to dupe them,” etc. It is a question whether “of deceit” is the right rendering, or “of error,” “all a mistake.” If the latter, the argument would be that of Paley’s Evidences, i.e., to deduce the truth of the revelation from the sufferings of its prophets. But the points raised in contrast, in 1 Thessalonians 2:4-12, seem to preclude this meaning, which would be more likely to introduce some substantiation of the gospel truths, as in 2 Peter 1:16.

Of uncleanness.—It is possible that the word only means “with impure (or covetous) motives;” but it probably refers to the subtle forms of temptation which often accompany spiritual work. See, for example, the Greek of 1 Timothy 1:5; also 5:1, 2; 2 Timothy 3:4-7.

In guile.—The preposition is changed;” nor yet by the use of tricks;” Not only were their motives sincere and pure, but their manner of dealing straightforward.


Verse 4

(4) Were allowed.—Rather, have been, and in 1 Thessalonians 2:3 is, not “was.” St. Paul is arguing from his habitual practice. “But we speak after the manner of men who remember that God Himself has tried them, and has been satisfied to entrust the gospel to them, making it our business to please, not men, but God who thus tries our hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). The word translated “allowed” implies examining and approving (as in Luke 14:19; 1 Timothy 3:10; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 John 4:1), and is repeated emphatically (trans lated “trieth”): “being examined and approved by God, we study to please Him who constantly examines and approves us, not to court those to whom we are sent.” St. Paul expresses here, as elsewhere, a total disregard of men’s opinions about him (1 Corinthians 4:3; Galatians 1:10).


Verse 5

(5) At any time.—Not only during the stay at Thessalonica, but neither at Thessalonica nor elsewhere, as the next verse shows. But as the Thessalonians can only be appealed to as evidence for their own experience, the writers therefore call God Himself to witness. At the same time, the absence of flattering words was a thing of which human witnesses could judge; the freedom from covetous designs was known to God alone.

Cloke of covetousness—i.e., some specious pretext, under cover of which we might gain a worldly advantage; so (though the Greek word is different) 1 Peter 2:16, “a cloke of maliciousness.”


Verse 6

(6) Glory—i.e., recognition of our splendid position, as in the phrase “giving glory to God,” i.e., “recognising Him for what He is,” John 5:44. (Comp. John 12:43; Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5.)

Been burdensome.—The marginal reading is on the whole preferable. The original is, might have been in weight—i.e., “have dealt heavily with you,” in all the pomp of apostolic dignity, making people acknowledge our “glory.” Although, no doubt, one means of asserting their authority would have been to claim their maintenance from the Church (comp. 1 Corinthians 9:1-6), more is meant than the mere obtaining of money.

Apostles of Christ.—The title seems here to be bestowed on St. Silas and St. Timothy just as in Acts 14:14 upon St. Barnabas. As official dignity is here the point, it cannot simply (according to the etymology of the word) mean “Christ’s missionaries,” as we speak of “the Apostle of England,” &c., i.e., the earliest great preacher of the gospel there. The episcopal office (which St. Timothy, at any rate, held somewhat later) may perhaps be here ranked with the apostolate. Thus, in Galatians 1:19, St. James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, wears the title, though it is scarcely probable that he was one of the Twelve. Andronicus and Junias, in Romans 16:7; Epaphroditus, in Philippians 2:25 (where it is wrongly translated “messenger,” as also in 2 Corinthians 8:23), are called Apostles. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11, probably also in Ephesians 2:20, Revelation 2:2, the first rank in the threefold ministry of the Church seems to be meant, for the reference is to the orderly Organisation of the Society. However, in our present passage it may conceivably be stretched to mean “as an Apostle and his following.” The definite article should be struck out.


Verse 7

(7) Among you.—Rather, in the midst of you, making the gentleness still more marked. “Her,” in the Greek emphatically her own. The contrast is drawn between the charlatan, licentious, sophistical, fawning, greedy, vainglorious teachers, to whom Greeks were well accustomed, and the Apostles, sitting familiarly like mothers amidst a group of their own children, folding them for warmth to their bosoms “Keep a mother’s heart for men,” was the advice which made Henri Perreyve’s life so winning (Méditations, p. 87).


Verse 8

(8) So means hero even so, confirming the simile, and is not to be taken in the sense of “therefore.”

Not the gospel of God only.—The gospel was, as it were, the milk given to the young converts; but the nursing mothers were ready to let them draw their very life away, so dearly did they love them.


Verse 9

(9) For.—As in 1 Thessalonians 2:1, the general principles of the foregoing verses are supported by facts which the Thessalonians will remember. If the word attaches itself to any particular phrase, it is to “impart our own souls,” “we were ready to die for you; indeed, you remember how we worked ourselves almost to death.”

Labour and travail—not mere synonyms here: the first describes the kind of work; the second, the intensity of it: “our manual labour, and how hard we worked at that.”


Verse 10

(10) Ye are witnesses.—Abruptly, without conjunction, the writers add a summary description of their conduct at Thessalonica; before, they had dwelt on details, now, on the broad characteristics. As in 1 Thessalonians 2:5, God is appealed to, because the readers could only judge of the outward propriety of their teachers’ conduct; and it is a moral law that (as Aristotle says) “the righteous man is not he that does acts which in themselves are righteous, but he that does those acts in such a mind as befits righteous men.”

Holily, of the inner, “justly,” of the outer life.

Among you that believe—where (if anywhere) we might have been tempted to be lax or exorbitant.


Verse 11

(11) As (emphatic):” we lived holily—just (in fact) as you remember we tried to induce each one of you to live.”

Every one,—Now they appeal to the individual recollection of the Thessalonians. It gives us an incidental glimpse of the apostolic method,—which was, to deal with individual souls. (Comp. Acts 20:20; Acts 20:31; Colossians 1:21.) St. Chrysostom exclaims: “Fancy! not one in all that multitude passed over!” The image is changed from that of motherly tenderness to that of fatherly direction.

Comforted is here used as almost equivalent to “exhorted,” or, rather, encouraged, when the moral aspirations were beginning to flag.

Charged.—Better, adjured; so Galatians 5:3.


Verse 12

(12) Hath called.—The right reading is, was calling, which has been altered because of the slight theological difficulty, on the analogy of Galatians 1:6, etc. The call is not simply a momentary act, but a continual beckoning upwards, until the privileges offered are actually attained. The Thessalonians at that time, though already by baptism members of the kingdom (Colossians 1:13), were not yet so assured in their new allegiance as to be certain of reaching the full-developed glory of that kingdom. Note again the thought of the Advent.


Verse 13

(13) The first part of this chapter draws attention to the Apostles’ part in the conversion of Thessalonica. From this point (roughly speaking) to the end of 1 Thessalonians 3, the action of the converts is the chief subject.

This verse differs from the original in several particulars of more or less importance. Literally translated, it would run thus: And for this cause we too thank God unceasingly, that, on receiving a word of hearing at our lips of God, ye welcomed, not a word of men, but (as it is in truth) a word of God, which also, etc.

For this cause—viz., because of the labours we went through to teach you, which we are thankful were not wasted. We too, as well as you. The two words rendered “received” are not the same; the first meaning merely an outward reception, the second the welcome given. The words “it” and “as” (as the italics show) do not stand in the Greek. St. Paul is not expressing so much his gratitude for the manner in which the word was greeted, as for the essential character of what was greeted.

The word of God which ye heard of us.—The same phrase as in Hebrews 4:2, which is there rendered, “the word preached.” “The word might have been, so far as you knew, a mere word spoken by us—ordinary men—but it was in reality a word of God, and so you found when you embraced it.”

You that believe.—It could have no effect without this condition. (See Hebrews 4:2.)


Verse 14

(14) For ye.—“The effectual power of this word upon you is shown in your joining the Church in spite of such difficulties.”

Followers.—Better, imitators. The churches of Judæa are probably selected for example, not only as being the oldest and best-organised churches, but the most afflicted, both by want (Acts 11:29; Acts 24:17; Romans 15:26), and (chiefly) by persecution from the “Jews.”

Your own countrymen.—See Acts 17:8-9. It was always the Jewish policy to persecute by means of others. Evidently the Thessalonian Church is almost entirely Gentile.


Verse 15

(15) Who both killed.—A tremendous invective against the Jews, the purpose of which is (1) to show the deep sympathy of St. Paul with the persecuted Thessalonians, and his indignation against the persecutors; (2) to make them see still more deeply the value of their faith by the efforts made to keep it from them. Objection is often made to St. John’s Gospel on the ground that no born Jew could have written of “the Jews” in the bitter way so common in that book, or viewed them so completely as a separate body from himself. This passage, in an indubitable epistle of “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” seems a satisfactory answer. The memories of St. Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:52) seem to be waking in the mind of him who was once a persecuting Jew himself.

Have persecuted.—Take the marginal version, “chased” (not “have chased”) “us violently out of Thessalonica.”

They please not God—(though to serve and please Him was the special purpose for which the nation was set apart, ) “and are at cross purposes with all mankind.” The historian Tacitus gives, as a characteristic of the race, “an attitude of hostility and hatred towards all others.” Juvenal makes the same accusation.


Verse 16

(16) Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles.—The Apostle indicates the special way in which their contrariety showed itself.

To fill up.—Literally, unto the filling up. Not exactly their intention in forbidding, but, the end to which such conduct was steadily (“alway”) tending. (Again comp. Acts 7:51, and Matthew 23:32.) St. Paul seems to mean that there may be a certain sum of wickedness which God will allow a nation, a church, a person, to complete, before cutting” them off from all spiritual help; the Jews were industriously labouring to complete the sum.

For.—The Greek word is but; and the point is this:—“The Jews have been working up to the rounded perfection of their sin; but (they had not much left to do) the wrath burst suddenly upon them to its uttermost.” The word for “is come” (which should be the simple preterite “came”) is the same as that used in Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20, of a sudden, unexpected apparition. “The wrath” is the wrath from which Jesus is delivering us (1 Thessalonians 1:10), and it had already come upon the Jews, though its outward manifestation in the destruction of Jerusalem was not to come yet awhile. The particular moment at which St. Paul means that the wrath “came” must have been the moment of their final rejection of the Messiah.


Verse 17

(17) But we, brethren.—Now comes a change of subject: no longer the memories of the time when St. Paul was among them, but his hopes and fears about them since he left.

“But while you were being persecuted by these reprobate Jews, we, who were driven away from you, were longing to come back to see whether your faith was such an effectual working faith as to support you through it all.”

Taken from you.—Literally, bereaved from you—i.e., bereaved by being torn from you; a return to the simile of the mother (1 Thessalonians 2:7), or father (1 Thessalonians 2:11).

The more abundantly.—“So far were we from the proverb, ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ that our very absence gave us a greater yearning after your presence” (1 Corinthians 5:3).


Verse 18

(18) We would.—Not merely a conditional tense, but “we were ready to come—meant to come.”

Even I Paul.—Rather, that is to say, I Paul, not as if it were a great thing that one like him should have such a wish, but showing that Silas and Timothy had not shared his intention. Why had they not? The answer shows the minute truthfulness of the Acts. Timothy, apparently, did not at first leave Thessalonica with St. Paul (Acts 17:10, where the Greek seems definitely to exclude him). Both Silas and Timothy were left at Berœa (Acts 17:14). It was during this period that St. Paul felt so eager a desire to return to his persecuted children. We cannot tell on what two definite occasions the desire was almost taking shape; but possibly his longing may have been stimulated by seeing his messengers start for the north, first when he sent for his two companions (Acts 17:15), and secondly when he despatched Timothy himself to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2).

But Satan hindered.—How, cannot be decided; but St. Paul has no doubt that his disappointment was a direct manifestation of the work of evil, not a leading of God to stay where he was. Elsewhere he is quite as clear that the obstruction of his own plans is owing to God. (See Acts 16:6-7; 1 Corinthians 16:12, where the will spoken of is not Apollos’ will, but God’s.) The difficulty is to tell in each case whether God is directly saving us from a worse course, in spite of ourselves, or permitting a momentary, and yet if rightly used a disciplinary, triumph of evil.

Satan.—The Thessalonians, though originally Gentiles, had doubtless been taught enough at their conversion to recognise the word. Though it is quite clear from other passages (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:7) that St. Paul believed in the existence of personal fallen spirits, it cannot be positively affirmed that he here means anything more than a personification of all that is opposed to God—the hostility of wicked men, &c.


Verse 19

(19) “We were most anxious to come and stablish you for we should lose all our hope and joy and honours if Christ should come and we should have lost you.”

Our hope—i.e., the object on which our hopes are centered.

Crown of rejoicing.—Or, of boasting; “crown that we are proud to wear,” like victors in the games For the meaning of such phrases, see Note on 1 Thessalonians 1:3

Even ye—(not necessarily excluding other converts) just you, and others like you.

In the presence.—“It is the thought of presenting you to Him that thrills us with hope, joy, pride—the thought of wearing such a decoration before Him.” (Comp. 2 Corinthians 11:2.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/1-thessalonians-2.html. 1905.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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