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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament
1 Thessalonians 1

 

 

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Verse 1

1 Thessalonians 1:1. Greeting.—As any trouble at Thessalonica had arisen over Paul’s character more than his authority, or rather as his authority had been struck through his character, he does not introduce his own apostolic rank or that of his colleagues (1 Thessalonians 2:6) in the forefront of this letter, which is intimate and unofficial throughout. Silvanus is put before Timothy as an older man and colleague, and also as Paul’s special coadjutor in the local mission. Acts never mentions Timothy in the Macedonian mission till Acts 17:14, where he appears beside Silvanus. This does not mean (Bleek) that Timothy took no part in the work at Thessalonica; his intimate relations with the church forbid this supposition. Probably he is left unnoticed as being a junior subordinate, till the time comes when he can act as an useful agent of his leaders.— ἐκκλ. a pagan term appropriated by Christianity. An implicit contrast lies in the following words (so in 1 Thessalonians 2:14): there were ἐκκλησίαι at Thessalonica and elsewhere (cf. Chrysostom and Orig., Cels. III. xxix.–xxx.) which had not their basis and being ἐνχριστῷ. The latter phrase is a suggestive and characteristic periphrasis for “Christian,” and the omission of the ἐν before κυρίῳ, as of τῇ before ἐν, is enough to show that the seven words form a unity instead of a double antithesis to “pagan” and “Jewish” respectively.— κυρίῳ ἰησοῦ χριστῷ, a new κύριος (= dominus) for people like the Thessalonians who were hitherto familiar with the title as applied to Claudius (cf. Wilcken’s Griechische Ostraka, 1899, s.v.) the emperor, or to the God of the Jews (cf. Knowling’s Witness of the Epistles, 260 f.). See the ample discussion in Kattenbusch, das Apost. Symbol, ii. 596 f., with his note (pp. 691 f.) on ἐκκλησία. The hope and help of God implied that Christians must hold together, under their κύριος. “No Christian could have fought his way through the great dark night of idolatry and immorality as an isolated unit; the community was here the necessary condition for all permanent life” (Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity, i. 189).


Verses 2-10

1 Thessalonians 1:2-10. Thanksgiving for the origin and achievements of the church.

1 Thessalonians 1:2. Whenever Paul was at his prayers, he remembered his friends at Thessalonica; and whenever he recalled them his first feeling was one of gratitude to God (see 1 Thessalonians 3:9) for the Christian record which, as individuals and as a church ( πάντων) they displayed of active faith (1 Thessalonians 1:4-10, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16), industrious love (1 Thessalonians 4:9 f.), and tenacious hope (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). And not Paul alone. The plural implies that all three missionaries prayed together.— εὐχαριστοῦμεν. The greeting is followed, as in ordinary letters of the period, by a word of gratitude and good wishes. εὐχ. is common in votive inscriptions, in connection with thanksgiving to a god. But while Paul, in dictating his letter, starts with a conventional epistolary form, the phrase immediately expands loosely into μνημθεοῦ ( μνείαν π. as frequently in ethnic phraseology).


Verse 3

1 Thessalonians 1:3. ἀδιαλ. Neither distance nor fresh interests make any difference to his affection; his life is bound up with their welfare; his source of happiness is their Christian well-being (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10). The adverb (a late Greek formation, cf. Expos., 1908, 59) goes equally well with the preceding or with the following words; better with the former, on the whole, as the participles then open the successive clauses in 2, 3 and 4.— ὑμῶν is prefixed for emphasis to the three substantives which it covers, while the closing ἔμπροσθενἡμῶν (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:19) gathers up the thought of μνημον.—Faith in one sense is a work, but Paul here (as in Galatians 5:6) means faith that does work (opus opponitur sermoni inani, Bengel), by producing a change of life and a cheerful courage under trials. It would be no pleasure to recall a merely formal or voluble belief, any more than a display of Christian love (cf. Colossians 1:4) which amounted simply to emotions or fitful expressions of goodwill, much less a hope which could not persist in face of delay and discouraging hardships.


Verse 4

1 Thessalonians 1:4. The practical evidence of the Spirit in their lives showed that God had willed to enrol them among His chosen people (note the O.T. associations of beloved by God and election), just as the same consciousness of possessing the Spirit gave them the sure prospect of final entrance into the Messianic realm—an assurance which (1 Thessalonians 1:6) filled them with joy amid all their discomforts. The phenomenon of the Spirit thus threw light backwards on the hidden purpose of God for them, and forwards on their prospect of bliss.—Recollections depend on knowledge; to be satisfied about a person implies settled convictions about his character and position. The apostles feel certain that the Thessalonian Christians had been truly chosen and called by God, owing to (a) the genuineness and effectiveness of their own ministry at Thessalonica, where they had felt the gospel going home to many of the inhabitants, and (b) the genuine evidence of the Thessalonians’ faith; (a) comes first in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, (b) in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 f. In 1 Thessalonians 2:1 f. Paul reverts to (a), while in 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 (b) is again before his mind. As the divine ἐκλογή manifested itself in the Christian qualities of 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul goes back to their historical origin.


Verse 5

1 Thessalonians 1:5. ὅτι = “inasmuch as”.— τὸ εὐαγγ. ἡμῶν, the gospel of which the apostles, and by which their hearers, were convinced. As the καθὼς clause indicates, πληροφ. must here denote personal conviction and unfaltering confidence on the part of the preachers. The omission of the ἐν before πληρ. throws that word and πνεύματι together into a single conception, complementary to δυνάμει, which here has no specific reference to miracles, but to the apostles’ courage (1 Thessalonians 2:2), honesty and sincerity (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5), devotion (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8), earnestness (9), and consistency (10). The effect of the Spirit on the preachers is followed up (in 1 Thessalonians 1:6) by its effect on the hearers; and this dual aspect recurs in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 (we and you). ἐν (om. Blass) ὑμῖν = “among you”.


Verse 6

1 Thessalonians 1:6. θλίψειχαρᾶς, cf. for this paradox of experience, Mazzini’s account of his comrades in the Young Italy movement: “We were often in real want, but we were light-hearted in a way and smiling because we believed in the future”. The gladness of the primitive Christian lay in the certainty of possessing soon that full salvation of which the Spirit at present was the pledge and foretaste. In view of Psalms 51:13-14 it is hardly correct to say, with Gunkel (Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes, 71), that this connection of joy and the Spirit was entirely foreign to Judaism.


Verse 8

1 Thessalonians 1:8. πίστιςἐξελ. (Romans 10:18), by anacoluthon, reiterates for emphasis ἀφʼ ὑμῶνκυρίου ( λόγος τ. κ. depending for its effectiveness on the definite testimony of Christians). Paul is dictating loosely but graphically. The touch of hyperbole is pardonable and characteristic (cf. Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 4:17; Colossians 1:6); but the geographical and commercial position of Thessalonica see Introd., p. 5) must have offered ample facilities for the rapid dissemination of news and the promulgation of the faith, north and south, throughout European Greece (Encycl. Bibl., i. 32). The local Christians had taken full advantage of their natural opportunities. Through their imitation of the apostles (see Introd., p. 7) and of Christ (here as in 1 Peter 2:19-21, in his sufferings), they had become a pattern for others. The ἐν τῇ is omitted before ἀχαίᾳ here because ΄. and α. are grouped together, over against π. τ.— ὥστεγάρ, the reputation of the apostles rested upon solid evidence.


Verse 9

1 Thessalonians 1:9. The positive and negative aspects of faith: “Videndum est ut ruinam errorum sequatur aedificium fidei” (Calvin).— ἀληθινῷ = “real” as opposed to false in the sense of “counterfeit”.— ζῶντι, as opposed to dead idols (see above, p. 5) impotent to help their worshippers. Elsewhere the phrase (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 3:12) “implies a contrast with the true God made practically a dead deity by a lifeless and rigid form of religion” (Hort, Christian Ecclesia, 173). Nothing brings home the reality of God (i.e., as Father, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3) to the Christian at first so much as the experience of forgiveness.


Verse 10

1 Thessalonians 1:10. In preaching to pagans, the leaders of the primitive Christian mission put the wrath and judgment of God in the forefront (cf. Sabatier’s Paul, 98 f.), making a sharp appeal to the moral sense, and denouncing idolatry (cf. Sap., 14, 12 f., 22 f.). Hence the revival they set on foot. They sought to set pagans straight, and to keep them straight, by means of moral fear as well as of hope. Paul preached at Thessalonica as he did at Athens (Acts 17:29-31; see Harnack’s Expansion of Christianity, i. 108 f.) and the substance of his mission-message on the wrath of God is preserved in Romans 1:18 to Romans 2:16. The living God is manifested by His raising of Jesus from the dead, His awakening of faith in Christians, and His readiness to judge human sin in the hereafter. Seeberg (der Katechismus der Urchristenheit, 82–85) finds here an echo of some primitive Christian formula of faith, but his proofs are very precarious.— τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ. This marked them out from Jewish proselytes, who might also be said to have turned from idols to serve the living God. The quiet combination of monotheism and a divine position of Jesus is striking (cf. Kattenbusch, op. cit., ii. 550 f.).— ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶνἐκ τ. νεκρῶν, both the hope and the historical fact lay outside the experience of the Thessalonians, but both were assured to them by their experience of the Spirit which the risen Jesus had bestowed, and which guaranteed His final work. Were it not for touches like the deeper sense of δουλεύειν, the celestial origin of Jesus, and the eschatological definition of ὀργή, one might be tempted to trace a specious resemblance between this two-fold description of Christianity at Thessalonica and the two cardinal factors in early Greek religion, viz., the service of the Olympian deities ( θεραπεύειν) and the rites of aversion ( ἀποπομπαί) which were designed to deprecate the dark and hostile powers of evil. Paul preached like the Baptist judgment to come. But his gospel embraced One who baptised with the Spirit and with the fire of enthusiastic hope (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:7).

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/1-thessalonians-1.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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