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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

1 Thessalonians 5

 

 

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Verse 1

1 Thessalonians 5:1. The times and periods are not “simply the broad course of time, of which the ἡμέρα κυρίου constitutes the closing scene” (Baur); καιρός denotes a section of time more definitely than χρόνος, in Greek usage. “No nation has distinguished so subtly the different forms under which time can be logically conceived. χρόνος is time viewed in its extension, as a succession of moments, the external framework of action.… καιρός, a word, which has, I believe, no single or precise eqivalent in any other language … is that immediate present which is what we make it; time charged with opportunity” (Butcher, Harvard Lect. on Gk. Subjects, pp. 117–119). In the plural, especially in this eschatological outlook, the phrase is little more, however, than a periphrasis for “when exactly things are to happen”. Paul thought he needed to do no more than reiterate the suddenness of the Last Day. But, not long afterwards, he found that the Thessalonians did require to have the χρόνοι καὶ καιροί explained to them in outline (II., 2 Thessalonians 2:2 f.).


Verses 1-11

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. περὶ τῶν χρόνων καὶ τῶν καιρῶν.


Verse 2

1 Thessalonians 5:2. οἴδατε, referring to the teaching of Jesus on this crucial point, which Paul had transmitted to them (see Introduction).


Verse 3

1 Thessalonians 5:3. ὅταν, κ. τ. λ., when the very words, “All’s well,” “It is all right,” are on their lips.— ἐπίσταται, of an enemy suddenly appearing (Isocrat., Evag., § 58 ἐπὶ τὸ βασίλειον ἐπιστάς, Herod. iv. 203).— αὐτοῖς, i.e., while the Day comes suddenly to Christians and unbelievers alike, only the latter are surprised by it. Christians are on the alert, open-eyed; they do not know when it is to come, but they are alive to any signs of its coming. Thus there is no incompatibility between this emphasis on the instantaneous character of the advent and the emphasis, in II., 2 Thessalonians 2:3 f., on the preliminary conditions.


Verse 4

1 Thessalonians 5:4. From the sudden and unexpected nature of the Last Day, Paul passes, by a characteristic inversion of metaphor in κλέπτας, to a play of thought upon the day as light. A double symbolism of ἡμέρα, as of κοιμᾶσθαι, thus pervades 4–8. Lightfoot cites a very striking parallel from Eur., Iph. Taur., 1025–1026.


Verse 5

1 Thessalonians 5:5. The present age is utter night ( שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ לַיְלָה), as contemporary rabbis taught; the age to come is all day. Meantime faith is to be held fast through this night (cf. passages quoted in Schlatter’s die Sprache u. Heimat des vierten Evangelisten, 17, 18). υἱοὶ φ. καὶ . ἡμέρας is a stronger and Semitic way of expressing the thought of “belonging to” (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:8).


Verse 6

1 Thessalonians 5:6. To be alert, in one’s sober senses ( νήφειν), is more than to be merely awake. Here, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, the Christians are summoned to live up to their privileges and position towards the Lord. “There are few of us who are not rather ashamed of our sins and follies as we look out on the blessed morning sunlight, which comes to us like a bright-winged angel beckoning us to quit the old path of vanity that stretches its dreary length behind us” (George Eliot). In one of the Zoroastrian scriptures (Vendidad, xviii. 23–25) the cock, as the bird of the dawn, is inspired to cry, “Arise, O men!… Lo here is Bushyasta coming down upon you, who lulls to sleep again the whole living world as soon as it has awoke, saying, ‘Sleep, sleep on, O man [and live in sin, Yasht, xxii. 41]! The time is not yet come.’ ”


Verse 7

1 Thessalonians 5:7. Cf. Plutarch, De Iside. vi., οἶνον δὲ οἱ μὲν ἐν ἥλιου πόλει θεραπεύοντες τὸν θεὸν οὐκ εἰσφέρουσιν τοπαράπαν εἰς τὸ ἱερόν, ὡς οὐ προσῆκον ἡμέρας πίνειν, τοῦ κυρίου καὶ βασιλέως ἐφορῶντος.


Verse 8

1 Thessalonians 5:8. ἐνδυσάμενοι θώρακα κ. τ. λ., the thought of 1 Thessalonians 2:12-13; the mutual love of Christians, which forms the practical expression of their faith in God, is their true fitness and equipment for the second advent. Faith and love are a unity; where the one goes the other follows. They are also not merely their own coat of mail, requiring no extraneous protection, but the sole protection of life against indolence, indifference and indulgence. They need simply to be used. If they are not used, they are lost, and with them the Christian himself. The transition to the military metaphor is mediated (as in Romans 13:12-13) by the idea of the sentry’s typical vigilance.


Verse 9

1 Thessalonians 5:9. The mention of the future σωτηρία starts Paul off, for a moment, on what it involves (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).


Verse 10

1 Thessalonians 5:10. Life or death makes no difference to the Christian’s union and fellowship with Jesus Christ, whose death was in our eternal interests (cf. Romans 14:7-9). For this metaphorical use of γρηγ. εἴτε καθ. (different from that in 6), Wohl. cites Plato, Symp., 203a: διὰ τούτου (i.e. Eros) πᾶσα ἐστιν ὁμιλία καὶ διάλεκτος θεοῖς πρὸς ἀνθρώπους, καὶ ἐγρηγορόσι καὶ καθεύδουσιν, as a possible basis.


Verse 11

1 Thessalonians 5:11. The modification in the primitive attitude of Christians to the Parousia of Jesus is significant. Instead of all expecting to be alive at that blessed crisis, the inroads of death had now forced men to the higher consolation that “it did not make the least difference whether one became partaker of the blessings of that event in the ranks of the dead or of the living. The question whether the Parousia was to happen sooner or later was no longer of paramount importance. The important thing was to cultivate that attitude of mind which the writer of this epistle recommended” (Baur).— οἰκοδομεῖτε, the term sums up all the support and guidance that a Christian receives from the fellowship of the church (cf. Beyschlag’s N.T. Theology, ii. 232).— καθὼς καὶ ποιεῖτε, another instance (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:10) of Paul’s fine courtesy and tact. He is careful to recognise the Thessalonians’ attainments, even while stirring them up to further efforts.


Verse 12

1 Thessalonians 5:12. These προϊστάμενοι are not officials but simply local Christians like Jason, Secundus, and perhaps Demas (in whose houses the Christians met), who, on account of their capacities or position, had informally taken the lead and made themselves responsible for the welfare and worship of the new society. The organisation is quite primitive, and the triple description of these men’s functions is too general to permit any precise delineation of their duties (cf. Lindsay’s The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries, pp. 122 f.). κοπιω̄ ντας denotes the energy and practical interest of these people, which is further defined by προϊσταμένους (a term with technical associations, to which ἐν κυρίῳ is added in order to show that their authority rests on religious services) and νουθετοῦντας (= the moral discipline, perhaps of catechists, teachers and prophets). An instinct of rebellion against authority is not confined to any one class, but artisans and tradesmen are notorious for a tendency to suspect or depreciate any control exercised over them in politics or in religion, especially when it is exercised by some who have risen from their own ranks. The community at Thessalonica was largely recruited from this class, and Paul, with characteristic penetration, appeals for respect and generous appreciation towards the local leaders.


Verses 12-22

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22. General instructions for the church.


Verse 13

1 Thessalonians 5:13. “Regard them with a very special love for their works’ sake” (so thorough and important it is). “Be at peace among yourselves” (instead of introducing divisions and disorder by any insubordination or carping).


Verse 14

1 Thessalonians 5:14. The particular form of insubordination at Thessalonica was idleness (for the contemporary use of ἀτ. in this sense, see Oxyrh. Papyri, ii. 1901, p. 275). Similarly, in Olynth. iii. 11, Demosthenes denounces all efforts made to shield from punishment τοὺς ἀτακτοῦντας, i.e., those citizens who shirk active service and evade the State’s call for troops.— ὀλιγοψύχους = “faint-hearted” (under trial, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, see references), ἀντέχεσθε (cleave to, put your arm round), ἀσθενῶν (i.e., not in health only but in faith or position, Acts 20:35), μακ. π. πάντας = do not lose temper or patience with any (of the foregoing classes) however unreasonable and exacting they may be (cf. Proverbs 18:14, LXX). The mutual services of the community are evidently not to be left to the προϊστάμενοι, for Paul here urges on the rank and file the same kind of social duties as he implies were incumbent upon their leaders (cf. νουθετ. 12, 14). If ἀδελφοί here meant the προϊστάμενοι, it would have been more specificially defined. An antithesis between 12 and 14 would be credible in a speech, not in a letter.


Verse 15

1 Thessalonians 5:15. The special circumstances which called for forbearance (1 Thessalonians 5:14) were likely to develop a disposition to retaliate upon those who displayed an ungenerous and insubordinate spirit (e.g., the ἄτακτοι); but the injunction has a wider range ( εἰς πάντας, including their fellow-countrymen, 1 Thessalonians 2:14).


Verse 16

1 Thessalonians 5:16. To comment adequately upon these diamond drops (16–18) would be to outline a history of the Christian experience in its higher levels. π. χαίρετε, cf. Epict., i. 16 (“Had we understanding, ought we to do anything but sing hymns and bless the Deity and tell of His benefits?… What else can I do, a lame old man, than sing hymns to God?… I exhort you to join in this same song.”) There is a thread of connection with the foregoing counsel. The unswerving aim of being good and doing good to all men, is bound up with that faith in God’s unfailing goodness to men which enables the Christian cheerfully to accept the disappointments and sufferings of social life. This faith can only be held by prayer, i.e., a constant reference of all life’s course to God, and such prayer must be more than mere resignation; it implies a spirit of unfailing gratitude to God, instead of any suspicious or rebellious attitude.


Verse 17

1 Thessalonians 5:17. “Pray always, says the Apostle; that is, have the habit of prayer, turning your thoughts into acts by connecting them with the idea of the redeeming God” (Coleridge, Notes on the Book of Common Prayer), cp. iii. II, 1 Thessalonians 5:23.


Verse 18

1 Thessalonians 5:18. Chrysostom, who wrote: τὸ ἀεὶ δηλονότι εὐχαριστεῖν, τοῦτο φιλοσόφου ψυχῆς, gave a practical illustration of this heroic temper by repeating, as he died in the extreme hardships of an enforced and painful exile, δόξα τῷ θεῷ πάντων ἕνεκα. For thanksgiving even in bereavement, cf. Aug., Conf., ix. 12; and further, ibid., ix. 7 (tunc hymni et psalmi ut canerentur, secundum morem Orientalium partium, ne populus maeroris taedio contabesceret, institutum est).


Verse 19

1 Thessalonians 5:19. τοῦτο κ. τ. λ. The primary reference is to εὐχαριστεῖτε, but the preceding imperatives are so closely bound up with this, that it is needless to exclude them from the scope of the θέλημα.— ἐν χ. . This glad acceptance of life’s rain and sunshine alike as from the hand of God, Jesus not only exemplified (cf. context of μιμηταὶτοῦ κυρίου, 1 Thessalonians 1:6) but also enabled all who keep in touch with him to realise. The basis of it is the Christian revelation and experience; apart from the living Lord it is neither conceivable nor practicable (cf. R. H. Hutton’s Modern Guides of English Thought, pp. 122 f.).


Verse 20

1 Thessalonians 5:20. As εὐχαριστεῖν was a special function of the prophets in early Christian worship (cf. Did. x. 7), the transition is natural. The local abuses of ecstatic prophecy in prediction (2 Thessalonians 2:2) or what seem to be exaggerated counsels of perfection (1 Thessalonians 5:16 f.) must not be allowed to provoke any reaction which would depreciate and extinguish this vital gift or function of the faith. Paul, with characteristic sanity, holds the balance even. Such enthusiastic outbursts are neither to be despised as silly vapouring nor to be accepted blindly as infallible revelations. The true criticism of προφητεία comes (1 Thessalonians 5:21) from the Christian conscience which is sensitive to the καλόν, the συμφέρον, the οἰκοδομή, or the ἀναλογία τῆς πίστεως (cf. Weizsäcker’s Apost. Age, ii. 270 f.). But this criticism must be positive. In applying the standard of spiritual discernment, it must sift, not for the mere pleasure of rejecting the erroneous but with the object of retaining what is genuine.


Verse 22

1 Thessalonians 5:22. A further general precept, added to bring out the negative side of κατέχετε, κ. τ. λ.— πονηροῦ neut. abstract = “of wickedness,” as Genesis 2:9 ( τοῦ εἰδέναι γνωστὸν καλοῦ καὶ πονηροῦ).— παντὸς κ. τ. λ., perhaps an allusion to the manifold ways of going wrong (Arist., Nik. Eth., ii. 6 14, τὸ μὲν ἁμαρτάνειν πολλαχῶς ἐστίντὸ δὲ κατορθοῦν μοναχῶς).


Verse 23

1 Thessalonians 5:23. εἰρήνης, with a special allusion to the breaches of harmony and charity produced by vice (cf. connection of 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 and 1 Thessalonians 4:3 f.), indolence, impatience of authority or of defects in one another (1 Thessalonians 5:13 f.), retaliation (1 Thessalonians 5:15), and differences of opinion (1 Thessalonians 5:19 f.) Such faults affect the σῶμα, the ψυχή and the πνεῦμα respectively, as the sphere of that pure and holy consciousness whose outcome is εἰρήνη.— ὑμῶν, unemphatic genitive (as in 1 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 3:13, cf. Abbott’s Johannine Grammar, 2559a) throwing the emphasis on the following word or words. πνεῦμα is put first, as the element in human nature which Paul held to be most directly allied to God, while ψυχή denotes as usual the individual life. The collocation of these terms is unusual but of course quite untechnical.— ἀμέμπτως has almost a proleptic tinge = “preserved entire, (so as to be) blameless at the arrival of,” which has led to the substitution, in some inferior MSS., of εὑρεθείη for τηρηθείη (cf. textual discussion in Amer. Jour. Theol., 1903, 453 f.). The construction is rather awkward, but the general sense is clear. With the thought of the whole verse compare Ps. Sol. 18:6: καθαρίσαι θεὸς ἰσραὴλεἰς ἡμέραν ἐκλογῆς ἐν ἀνάξει χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ, also the description of Abraham being preserved by the divine σοφία in Sap. 10:5 ( ἐτήρησεν αὐτὸν ἄμεμπτον θεῷ).


Verse 24

1 Thessalonians 5:24. The call implies that God will faithfully carry out the process of ἁγιάζεσθαι and τηρεῖσθαι (cf. Philippians 1:6), which is the divine side of the human endeavour outlined in the preceding verse.


Verses 25-27

1 Thessalonians 5:25-27. Closing words of counsel and prayer.


Verse 26

1 Thessalonians 5:26. Neither here, nor above at 1 Thessalonians 5:14, is there any reason to suppose that Paul turns to address the leaders of the local church (so e.g., Bornemann, Ellicott, Alford, Askwith, Zimmer, Lightfoot, Weiss, Findlay) as though they were, in the name of the apostle(s), to convey the holy (i.e. not of convention or human passion) kiss, which betokened mutual affection (cf. Renan’s S. Paul, 262, DC(34). i. 935, and E. Bi(35), 4254) in the early Christian worship. This greeting by proxy is not so natural as the ordinary sense of the words; the substitution of τ. . π. for the more common ἀλλήλους is intelligible in the light, e.g., cf. Philippians 4:21; and it would be harsh to postulate so sharp a transition from the general reference of 1 Thessalonians 5:25 and 1 Thessalonians 5:28. Even in 1 Thessalonians 5:27 it is not necessary to think of the local leaders. While the epistle would naturally be handed to some of them in the first instance, it was addressed to the church; the church owned it and was held responsible for its public reading at the weekly worship.— πᾶσιν, like the πάντας of 1 Thessalonians 5:26, simply shows Paul’s desire to prevent the church from becoming, on any pretext, a clique or coterie. But the remarkable emphasis of the injunction points to a period when such public reading of an apostolic epistle was not yet a recognised feature in the worship of the churches. Paul lays stress upon the proper use of his epistle, as being meant not for a special set, but for the entire brotherhood (i.e., at Thessalonica, not, as Flatt thinks, in Macedonia). See that every member gets a hearing of it at some meeting or other ( ἀναγ., timeless aor.), and thus knows exactly what has been said. So Apoc. Bar. lxxxvi.: “when therefore ye receive this my epistle, read it in your congregations with care. And meditate thereon, above all on the days of your fasts.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/1-thessalonians-5.html. 1897-1910.


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Friday, August 18th, 2017
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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