Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

1 Thessalonians 3

Verse 1

1. Διὸ μηκέτι στέγοντες. Wherefore no longer bearing (it)—viz. the pain of bereavement, the hindering of their return (1 Thessalonians 2:17 f.), and the concern the Apostles felt for their converts left under a storm of persecution (1 Thessalonians 3:3) and with a still imperfect faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:10). Διό has a like comprehensive reference in 1 Thessalonians 3:11. On μή with participles, see Lightfoot ad loc.; the clause does not state a bare fact, as οὐκέτι στέγοντες would have done, but the fact which motived the action taken; cf. Winer-Moulton, pp. 606 ff. On στέγω, repeated in 1 Thessalonians 3:5, see Lightfoot again. Kindred to Latin tego, to cover, the verb means both to hold in one’s feelings (Plato Gorgias 493 c), and to hold out against the pressure of circumstances: either sense is appropriate here; the latter accords with 1 Corinthians 9:12; 1 Corinthians 13:7—the other N.T. exx.—and with later Greek usage, exemplified by Philo in Flaccum 974 c (§ 9), μηκέτι στέγειν δυνάμενοι τὰς ἐνδείας.

ηὐδοκήσαμεν καταλειφθῆναι ἐν Ἀθήναις μόνοι, we thought good (or determined) to be left behind in Athens alone: censuimus ut (Calvin), or optimum duximus ut (Estius) Athenis soli relinqueremur. For the force of the plural we, and for the movements of the missionary party at this time, see Introd., pp. xx. f. Εὐδοκέω implies not the bare determination (ἔδοξεν ἡμῖν), but a conclusion come to heartily and with goodwill (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Corinthians 5:8, &c.)—often used of God’s “good pleasure” in His saving acts and choices (Luke 12:32, &c.). Κατα- adds intensity to λείπω; the simple verb however only occurs intransitively in the N.T. ΄όνοι indicates that Timothy was missed; Paul and Silas were “lonely” without him: cf. Philippians 2:20; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2 ff; 2 Timothy 4:9 ff., indicating the value set upon Timothy’s company. To give up Timothy, their ὑπηρέτης (cf. Acts 13:5), was a sacrifice; both the older men, probably, found a comfort in his presence which they could not in the same way give to each other. Timothy, as well as Silas, must previously have rejoined St Paul at Athens, according to the instructions of Acts 17:15.

Verses 1-5

§ 5. 1 Thessalonians 2:17 to 1 Thessalonians 3:5. The Separation of the Apostles from their Converts

After the pause for thanksgiving to God, which in its turn led up to the stern denunciation of Jewish persecutors in 1 Thessalonians 2:15 f., the Letter resumes the strain of 1 Thessalonians 2:13. The happy intercourse between the Apostles and their newly-won converts (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12) had been broken off by the assault just alluded to; the missionaries had left Thessalonica prematurely and in grief, planning a speedy return (1 Thessalonians 2:17). St Paul in particular had twice resolved on this, but in vain (1 Thessalonians 2:18). For the Thessalonian Church gave its ministers the greatest joy and hope (1 Thessalonians 2:19 f.). Failing to return themselves, the other two had sent Timothy, to cheer the Thessalonians and sustain their faith in the present trials, of which indeed they had been forewarned (1 Thessalonians 3:1-4); especially on St Paul’s motion had Timothy gone, to enquire how the Church fared under this prolonged and anxious trial (1 Thessalonians 2:5).

Verse 2

2. καὶ ἐπέμψαμεν Τιμόθεον, τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἡμῶν κ. διάκονον τοῦ θεοῦ. For the name Τιμόθεος, see note on 1 Thessalonians 1:1. This description of Timothy—our brother, and God’s minister (or fellow-worker, συνεργόν)—raises the question whether he had been at Thessalonica; for it looks as though he were being introduced to the readers, and only Paul and Silas are actually named in St Luke’s account of the mission at Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-10, Timothy appearing on the scene at Berœa just when Paul is departing for Athens (v. 14 f.). On the other hand, Timothy shares in the greeting, from which point the Epistle proceeds in the 1st pers. plural; and there is no hint of his exclusion from the reminiscences of chaps. 1 and 2. The sending of this young and somewhat timid helper probably dictates the commendation, designed to obviate any disparagement of Timothy on the part of the Church: cf. 1 Corinthians 16:10; 1 Timothy 4:12. It seems that in Thessalonica, as previously in Philippi, Timothy had not been marked out for attack in the same way as his leaders; he could return when they could not. Cf. the eulogy upon Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), who is going back to Philippi; also 2 Corinthians 8:23, referring to Titus, who was already well known to the Corinthian Church.

The surpassingly high epithet συνεργὸν τοῦ θεοῦ (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:1) was calculated (if this reading be genuine: see the Textual Note) to exalt Timothy in the eyes of the readers and to silence complaint about his being sent. But the adjunct ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ τοῦ χριστοῦ hardly suits συνεργὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, since God’s part has been emphatically contrasted with that of His servants “in the good news of the Christ” (see 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 12:6): the reading διάκονον τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν τῷ εὐαγγ. is preferable, assuming τοῦ θεοῦ authentic; cf. Romans 1:9; Philippians 2:22; Philemon 1:13. For the bare συνεργόν (without τοῦ θεοῦ), see 2 Corinthians 8:23; in 1 Corinthians 3:9 συν-probably conjoins Paul and Apollos, and θεοῦ is genitive of possession. For διάκ. τοῦ θεοῦ, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 6:4. As distinguished from δοῦλος, expressing the personal relation binding the “slave” to his master, διάκονος connotes the help or service rendered.

Τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ χριστοῦ, “the good news about the Christ,” who is the object of the Divine proclamation (see Romans 1:3; 1 Corinthians 1:23; &c.); previously τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ in this Epistle (1 Thessalonians 2:2, &c.; see note), with the subjective genitive. The phrase “servant of God,” or “our fellow-worker,” requires the definition ἐν τῷ εὐαγγ. (see Romans 1:1 f., Romans 1:9, Romans 15:16; Romans 15:19; and Philippians 2:22; Philippians 4:3), which reminds the Thessalonians of their indebtedness to Timothy.

The elder missionaries had sent Timothy εἰς τὸ στηρίξαι ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλέσαι ὑπὲρ τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν, in order to establish you and encourage (you) in furtherance of your faith. The two infinitives (στηρίξαι κ. παρακαλέσαι), with a single article, form one idea, the latter being the means to the former: they are coupled in the reverse order in 2 Thessalonians 2:17; cf. also 1 Thessalonians 3:13 below. On παρακαλέω, see notes to 1 Thessalonians 2:12, and παράκλησις, 1 Thessalonians 2:3. Timothy’s presence and exhortations, it was expected, would steady and strengthen the buffeted faith of the Thessalonians. In its primary meaning (cf. Luke 16:26), στηρίζω goes back to Homer; its ethical use belongs to later Greek, occurring e.g. in Epictetus, Gnomologium Stobœi, 39 (ed. Schenkl), τοὺς ἐνοικοῦντας εὐνοίᾳ κ. πίστει κ. φιλίᾳ στήριζε. For εἰς τό with infin., see note on 1 Thessalonians 2:12. Ὑπέρ signifies more than about (περί, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 3:9, &c.), rather on behalf of, in the interest of (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:1); somewhat differently used in 2 Thessalonians 1:4.

Verse 3

3. τὸ μηδένα σαίνεσθαι ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν ταύταις. To wit, that no one be shaken in mind (or befooled) amid these afflictions. “These” are the θλίψεις of 1 Thessalonians 1:6 and 1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:14 (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 ff.), from which Timothy would find the Thessalonians still suffering. Σαίνω is a N.T. hap. leg.; its sense is doubtful. It does not seem to be cognate with σείω, to shake, disturb, as commonly supposed, but signifies to move quickly, to swish or wag (as the dog his tail: so in Homer and Hesiod); then, in the Attic poets, to fawn upon, wheedle, greet pleasingly, and so to befool, cozen. The latter meaning is put upon the word here by Hofmann, Lightfoot, Schmiedel, after Beza (adblandiri), supposing that St Paul regards the persecuted Thessalonians as in danger of seduction by the arts of the enemies of the Gospel, who would know how to flatter the Apostle’s converts (cf. Galatians 4:17), while they vilified himself (see 1 Thessalonians 2:3-12; Introd. pp. xxxiv. f.). But the verb is read by the Greek interpreters as synonymous with σαλεύω or ταράττω; cf. Diogenes Laertius, viii. 41, οἱ δὲ σαινόμενοι τοῖς λεγομένοις ἐδάκρυόν τε καὶ ᾤμωζον, where σαινόμενοι signifies “moved” in feeling, “affected” in mind; also παιδός με σαίνει φθόγγος, Sophocles, Antig. 1214. Thus σαίνεσθαι is in contrast with στηρίξαι, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, and with ἐὰν στήκετε ἐν κυρίῳ, 1 Thessalonians 3:8 : cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58; Colossians 1:23; Ephesians 6:11 ff., &c.

The phrase τὸσαίνεσθαι, of which τῷ σαίνεσθαι (T.R.) is a clumsy emendation, stands in the accus. case, in loose explanatory apposition to εἰς τὸ στηρίξαι κ.τ.λ., as though St Paul had written τουτέστι τὸ μηδένα κ.τ.λ.; similarly τὸ μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν in 1 Thessalonians 4:6 (see note). Some commentators suppose εἰς to be repeated in thought—an unlikely ellipsis; others (Ellicott, Hofmann, A. Buttmann) regard the clause as an accus. of the object (content) to παρακαλέσαι—a forced construction.

αὐτοὶ γὰρ οἴδατε. Almost a formula of this Epistle: see note on 1 Thessalonians 2:1.

ὅτι εἰς τοῦτο κείμεθα, that we are set (appointed, destined) for this: εἰς τοῦτο, scil. εἰς τὸ θλίβεσθαι. “We” includes readers with writers; the θλίψεις of the latter were alluded to in 1 Thessalonians 2:2, again in 2 Thessalonians 3:2. For St Paul’s destination in this respect, see Acts 9:16, and 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 : and for Christians generally, Acts 14:22 (where the characteristic expressions of this passage—στηρίζω, παρακαλέω, πίστις, θλίψεις—appear: St Luke was recalling the actual words of the Apostle); John 16:1 ff., John 16:33, &c.; 1 Peter 2:21 (εἰς τοῦτο ἐκλήθητε). Κεῖμαι is a virtual passive to τίθημι, to set, or to τίθεμαι (middle), to appoint (see 1 Thessalonians 5:9); for κεῖμαι εἰς, cf. Philippians 1:16, Luke 2:34. To “know” that one’s sufferings belong to the Divine order of things and are proper to the Christian calling, is to be assured not only of their necessity but of their beneficial purpose and joyful issue: see the Beatitudes in Matthew 5; also Romans 8:17 f.; 2 Timothy 2:11 f.; 1 Peter 4:12 ff.

Verse 4

4. καὶ γὰρ ὅτε πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἧμεν, προελέγομεν κ.τ.λ. In support of the rule just stated, the Apostles recall their own definite and repeated warnings. For εἰμὶ πρός—the “with” of personal converse—cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; also Galatians 1:18; John 1:1. The impf. προελέγομεν, like ἐλέγομεν in 2 Thessalonians 2:5, supposes reiterated warning; the language of the sequel, μέλλομεν κ.τ.λ., sustains the sense “fore-tell” for this verb—otherwise it might be rendered, “we told you openly (or plainly),” as in R.V. margin; cf. πρόκειμαι in 2 Corinthians 8:12. The same ambiguity attaches to προ-λέγω in 2 Corinthians 13:2; Galatians 5:21.

ὅτι μέλλομεν θλίβεσθαι, that we are to be afflicted (writers and readers; see note on κείμεθα, 1 Thessalonians 3:3). The persecution of the missionaries and their converts sprang from the same source (see 1 Thessalonians 2:14 f.; Acts 17:5), the malignity and persistence of which were patent from the first in Thessalonica.

Ὅτι μέλλομεν, not μέλλοιμεν: the moods of oratio recta are almost always in N.T. Greek taken over unchanged in the subordinate clause, whether the verbum dicendi be primary or historical in tense; see Winer-Moulton, p. 376.

καθὼς καὶ ἐγένετο καὶ οἴδατε, as indeed it proved, and you know: an appeal to the facts of the case and the experience of the readers. On the latter point, and the recurrence of this appeal (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:3), see notes to 1 Thessalonians 1:5 and 1 Thessalonians 2:1. The reminder should help to prevent the Thessalonian believers from being “shaken amid these afflictions”: what had happened was natural and expected; it is “no strange thing” (1 Peter 4:12).

Verse 5

5. διὰ τοῦτο κἀγὼ μηκέτι στέγων ἔπεμψα κ.τ.λ. On this account I myself also, no longer bearing (it), sent, &c.: a re-assertion, in the singular number, of what 1 Thessalonians 3:1 related in the plural, with an additional reason brought into view—διὰ τοῦτο, scil. εἰς τὸ γνῶναι κ.τ.λ. Some suppose (a) that the plur. and sing. of 1 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:5 are used indifferently, that indeed the 1st plur throughout the Epistle is a conventional pluralis auctoris; but this is improbable, on general grounds (see Introd. pp. xxxix. f.). (b) Hofmann and Spitta (Urchristenthum, Band i., pp. 121 f.) draw quite another inference from the discrepancy of number; they conclude that St Paul in his impatience sent a second messenger, on his own account, with the enquiry stated in this verse, after Timothy had been despatched by himself and Silas (1 Thessalonians 3:1). But the words of 1 Thessalonians 3:1 are deliberately resumed, as if expressly to identify the two (quite congruous) purposes stated in 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:5; moreover it is Timothy (1 Thessalonians 3:6) who returns with the report that allayed St Paul’s anxiety. (c) Assuming, then, that 1 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:5 refer to one and the same visit, and that the distinction of number in the double grammatical subject is not otiose, we must understand that, while the two chiefs concurred in sending Timothy to Thessalonica from Athens, the action was St Paul’s principally; and that, while both the senders were wishful to strengthen the faith of the Thessalonians, St Paul attributes to himself, rather than to Silas, the apprehension that this faith might have given way. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 St Paul distinguished himself as having made a second, unshared, attempt to get back to Thessalonica; and here, as being actuated by a second motive, that was perhaps not at the time so explicit, in directing Timothy’s errand. If διὰ τοῦτο be prospective to εἰς τὸ γνῶναι, the construction resembles that of 1 Timothy 1:16, 2 Timothy 2:10, Philemon 1:15; but the above interpretation is consistent with the more usual retrospective reference of the prepositional phrase—scil. to προελέγομεν κ.τ.λ.—the purpose of Timothy’s visit being understood as growing out of the prevision expressed in 1 Thessalonians 3:4 : “expecting this continued trial for you, I sent, in some apprehension, to see how you were bearing it.”

εἰς τὸ γνῶναι τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν. (On this account I indeed sent Timothy), so that I might ascertain your faith: to learn its condition—whether, and how, you are maintaining it. Γινώσκω, in distinction from οῖδα, to be aware of, acquainted with (1 Thessalonians 3:4, &c.), means to get to know, perceive, recognize: cf. Colossians 4:8, and the two verbs as associated in Ephesians 5:5; also 2 Corinthians 2:9. “The brevity of the expression shows how entirely ἡ πίστις forms the all-comprising and fundamental concept for the whole life of Christianity as it is called into existence by the Gospel” (Bornemann).

μή πως ἐπείρασεν ὑμᾶς ὁ πειράζων καὶ εἰς κενὸν γένηται ὁ κόπος ἡμῶν, lest (fearing that) somehow the Tempter had tempted you, and our toil should prove in vain. Upon this, the generally accepted, construction, the μή of apprehension is followed by the aorist indicative in the first clause inasmuch as the πειράζειν belongs to the sphere of historical facts, while the εἰς κενὸν γενέσθαι was matter of eventual contingency (aor. subjunctive): see Winer-Moulton, pp. 633 f., Blass, Grammar, p. 213, Ellicott ad loc.: the opposite transition—from subjunctive to indicative, after μήπως—is observed in Galatians 2:2 (see Lightfoot ad loc.). It is possible, however, both in this passage and in Galatians 2:2, to read μήπως as the indirect interrogative, in which case γένηται (subj.) implies contingency in the matter of enquiry (see Winer-Moulton, pp. 373 f.; and the exx. in Liddell and Scott, s.v. μή, C.2 Thessalonians 1): (enquiring), Had the Tempter anyhow tempted you, and would our toil prove in vain? ut cognoscerem … num forte tentator vos tentaverit, adeo ut labor meus (rather noster) irritus fieri possit (Schott). See Grimm-Thayer, Lexicon, s.v. μήπως; also Hofmann’s, Bornemann’s, or Lünemann’s (Meyer’s Commentary) note ad loc Ἔπεμψα εἰς τὸ γνῶναι describes an act of virtual interrogation; in the two members of the question united by καί, upon this construction, ἐπείρασεν relates to (presumable) fact, and the dubitative γένηται to the possible consequence thereof. Ephesians 6:21 (ἵνα εἴδητε τὰ κατʼ ἐμέ, τί πράσσω) and Acts 15:36 (ἐπισκεψώμεθα τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς …, πῶς ἔχουσιν) afford similar instances of the indirect question attached to the accusative after a verbum cognoscendi. Only one other instance is quoted of interrogative μήπως, viz. Iliad x. 101, while μήπως of apprehension is frequent in St Paul (1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 9:4; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Corinthians 12:20, &c.); but there is nothing in the added πως inconsistent with interrog. μή: cf. εἴπως in Romans 1:10; Romans 11:14, Acts 27:12. The practical difference between the two constructions is small.

Ὁ πειράζων (for the substantival participle see note on ὁ ῥυόμενος, 1 Thessalonians 1:10) is ὁ Σατανᾶς of 1 Thessalonians 2:18, in his characteristic activity: cf. Matthew 4:3; Matthew 6:13; Mark 1:13; 1 Corinthians 7:5. God is ὁ δοκιμάζων (1 Thessalonians 2:4), “the Prover (of hearts)”: the difference of the verbs lies in the bad or good intent of the trial; see Trench’s Synon. § 74. The repetition of the verb in subject and predicate almost assumes the fact of temptation; the stress of the apprehension (or interrogation: see previous note) rests on the second half of the sentence. For εἰς κενόν (to a void issue), cf. note on κενή, 1 Thessalonians 2:1; also 2 Corinthians 6:1; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16; in the LXX, Isaiah 65:23, Jeremiah 28. (Heb. or Eng. 51) 58, Micah 1:14. For κόπος, see note on 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Ὁ κόπος ἡμῶν closes the question with emphasis: that “our toil”—such labour as 1 Thessalonians 1:9 to 1 Thessalonians 2:12 described, and attended with such success—“should prove abortive,” was a fear that wrung St Paul’s soul.

Verse 6

6. Ἄρτι δὲ ἐλθόντος Τιμοθέου πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἀφʼ ὑμῶν. But now that Timothy, at this moment, has come to us from you. From Acts 18:5 it would appear that Timothy had joined Silas before arriving at Corinth, where the two found St Paul (see Introd. p. xxi.). Ἄρτι (√αρ, as in ἀραρίσκω, to fit or join) means just now or then, at this, or that, juncture; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Corinthians 14:7; Galatians 4:20, &c. The temporal adjunct qualifies the two participles jointly, ἐλθόντοςκαὶ εὐαγγελισαμένου; it is needless and awkward to carry it past them to παρεκλήθημεν: Timothy had come with his tidings at the nick of time, just when such refreshment was needed; see note on 1 Thessalonians 3:7, and the Introd., pp. xxxiii., lxiii. Ἀφʼ ὑμῶν bears emphasis; it was news “from you” that St Paul was pining for; cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:8, and 1 Thessalonians 2:19 f.

ἐλθόντοςκαὶ εὐαγγελισαμένου ἡμῖν τὴν πίστιν καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην ὑμῶν, has come … and brought us the good news of your faith and love. Nowhere else in the N.T. is εὐαγγελίζομαι (εὐαγγέλιον) used of any other but “the good news”; see, however, in the O.T. (LXX) 1 Ki. 31:9; 2 Ki. 1:20; 1 Paral. 10:9. There is a fine play upon the word: Timothy’s report was, in effect, gospel news, as it witnessed to the power of God’s message (λόγος θεοῦ ὅς ἐνεργεῖται ἐν ὑμῖν, 1 Thessalonians 2:13); and it was the best of news to Paul and Silas—a very “gospel” coming to them in return for the Gospel they had brought to the readers (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, &c.). For πίστις καὶ ἀγάπη, comprising together the whole Christian life, cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (and note), 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Ephesians 1:15; Philemon 1:5-7; 1 John 3:23, &c.

καὶ ὅτι ἔχετε μνείαν ἡμῶν ἀγαθὴν πάντοτε, and (reporting) that you keep a good remembrance of us at all times: this was reciprocal (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:2 f.). “A good” is a well-disposed, kindly “remembrance” (cf. notes on ἀγαθός, 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16); and ἔχειν μνείαν (cf. 2 Timothy 1:3) is “to hold, maintain a recollection”—so of other faculties or exercises of mind (1 Thessalonians 4:13; Philippians 1:23; Colossians 3:13; 1 Timothy 1:19, &c.); μνείαν ποιοῦμαι, “to express the recollection” (scil. in word), 1 Thessalonians 1:2. Bound up with the concern of the Apostles for the faith of the persecuted Thessalonians was the fear, dictating the self-defence of 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 and the explanations of 1 Thessalonians 2:17 to 1 Thessalonians 3:5, lest the attachment of the latter to their fathers in Christ should have been weakened through absence and by the detractions of the enemies of the Gospel (see Introd. pp. xxxiv. f.). It was a great relief to find that this goodwill had never wavered. The ὅτι clause is co-ordinate with τὴν πίστιν κ. τὴν ἀγάπην ὑμῶν, and serves to expand τὴν ἀγαθὴν περὶ ἡμῶν μνείαν ὑμῶν.

This “good remembrance” the Thessalonians cherish, ἐπιποθοῦντες ἡμᾶς ἰδεῖν καθάπερ κ.τ.λ.—while you long to see us, just as we indeed (to see) you; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:17 f., for this latter longing. Ἐπιποθέω (cf. Romans 1:11; Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:26; 2 Timothy 1:4; only in James 4:5, 1 Peter 2:2, in the N.T. outside St Paul) denotes a tender yearning towards an absent beloved. The affection as well as the esteem of their disciples remained with the Apostles; the longing for reunion was equal on both sides. For καθάπερ, see 1 Thessalonians 2:12; and for the antithetic ἡμεῖς ὑμᾶς (thrice in this verse), cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20.

Verses 6-13

§ 6. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13. The Good News brought by Timothy

Timothy has just returned from Thessalonica; and his report is entirely reassuring (1 Thessalonians 3:6), so that it gives new life to Paul and Silas (1 Thessalonians 3:7-8). They know not how to be thankful enough to God for the joy with which their breasts are filled by this good news (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10), which revives their yearning for the sight of Thessalonian faces. They offer now a solemn prayer that the way may he opened for this journey (1 Thessalonians 3:11); and that meanwhile the readers may grow in love and be made blameless in holiness, gaining thus a steadfast heart in view of the Lord’s expected coming (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

Verse 7

7. διὰ τοῦτο παρεκλήθημεν, ἀδελφοί, ἐφʼ ὑμῖν ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ ἀνάγκῃ κ.τ.λ. On this account we were encouraged, brothers, over you in all our necessity and affliction. Διὰ τοῦτο is resumptive, as commonly. For παρακαλέω, a characteristic word of the Thessalonian Epistles, see note on 1 Thessalonians 2:12. Cf. with this occasion that of 2 Corinthians 7:6 f., when Titus’ return to the Apostle Paul relieved his fears for the loyalty of the Corinthian Church. Ἐπί with dative follows verbs, and verbal nouns, of emotion, giving the occasion “at” or “over” which the feeling arises; cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 7:4; 2 Corinthians 7:7; Romans 6:21, &c.: here a double ἐπί, since there were coincident occasions (see note on ἄρτι, 1 Thessalonians 3:6) of comfort—in the perilous condition of the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 3:3-5), and in the troubles surrounding the missionaries at Corinth. Encouragement on the former account (ἐφʼ ὑμῖν) heartened the Apostles to encounter the latter (ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ ἀνάγκῃ κ.τ.λ.); this happy effect appears to be hinted at by St Luke in Acts 18:5.

Ἀνᾴγκη signifies outward constraint, whether of circumstances or duty (1 Corinthians 7:26; 1 Corinthians 9:16, &c.); θλίψις, trouble from men (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 3:3 f., &c.). For similar combinations, see 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 12:10—bearing on St Paul’s hardships at Corinth, where he is now writing; 1 Corinthians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 9:12, and 2 Corinthians 11:6 (ὑστερηθείς) show that there St Paul was in pecuniary straits: ἀνάγκη includes this, and more.

(παρεκλήθημεν) … διὰ τῆς ὑμῶν πίστεως. “Your faith” conveyed the needed solace: here lay the critical point (1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:5; cf. Luke 22:32); for the readers’ “faith” the writers first gave thanks (1 Thessalonians 1:3; see note; also on 1 Thessalonians 3:5 above). In the conception of πίστις the thought of fidelity often blends with that of belief and trust.

Verse 8

8. ὅτι νῦν ζῶμεν ἐὰν ὑμεῖς στἡκετε ἐν κυρίῳ. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. Νῦν is temporal (cf. note on ἄρτι, 1 Thessalonians 3:6)—under these circumstances. Ζῶμεν, “we live indeed!”—in the full sense of the word; “vivimus, hoc est recte valemus” (Calvin); “vivere mihi videor et salvus esse, si res vestræ salvæ sunt” (Estius): cf. 2 Corinthians 6:9, for this rhetorical usage (ἡ ὄντως ζωή in 1 Timothy 6:19 is quite different); also Psalms 71:20; Psalms 119:77, &c., Psalms 138:7. But St Paul is thinking of something beyond his own revived energy; the persistence of Thessalonian faith reveals the vitality of the Gospel itself, the λόγος ἐνεργούμενος ἐντοῖς πιστεύουσιν (1 Thessalonians 2:13) ministered by Christ’s servants. They “live” to purpose, in so far as their message lives on in others. 2 Corinthians 4:7-16 supplies a commentary upon this text: ὁ θάνατος ἐν ἡμῖν ἐνεργεῖται, ἡ δὲ ζωὴ ἐν ὑμῖνδιὸ οὐκ ἐγκακοῦμεν; cf. also Philippians 1:21-26; John 4:31-34. St Paul felt as though the defection of the Thessalonians would have killed him. ʼΥμεῖς is emphatic—“if you are standing fast”—since the cause of the Gospel depends in a peculiar sense upon the Thessalonian Church, the point d’appui of the present mission (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Ἐὰν στήκετε has grammatical parallels in ἐὰν οἴδαμεν (1 John 5:15), ὅταν στήκετε (Mark 11:25) &c.; classical sequence in the use of ἐάν (as of εἰ) was not strictly maintained in N.T. Greek; this is true of later Greek generally (Winer-Moulton, p. 369). The indicative (for subjunctive: if -ετε be not an itacistic writing) states the hypothesis more assertively; and ἐὰν στήκετε is a virtual appeal: “You must show that my misgiving was needless; you will go on to justify my confidence.” For ἐν in this connexion, cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:12; and for στήκω (a late verb based on ἕστηκα), cf. Philippians 4:1; 1 Corinthians 16:13. To “stand fast in the Lord” implies an obediently steadfast faith.

Verse 9

9. τίνα γὰρ εὐχαριστίαν δυνάμεθα τῷ θεῷ ἀνταποδοῦναι περὶ ὑμῶν …; For what due thanksgiving can we render to God for you …? Ἀντί in ἀνταποδοῦναι implies correspondence between the boon and its acknowledgement (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6; Luke 14:14; Colossians 3:24, &c.); ἀποδοῦναι, to give back, repay, appears in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, Romans 2:6; Romans 13:7, Luke 20:25, &c. For εὐχαριστία, see note on -τέω, 1 Thessalonians 1:2. Γάρ, of explanation, naturally introduces this question: the fact that the writers cannot thank God enough for “the joy” given to them by Timothy’s report, shows how greatly they were encouraged by it (1 Thessalonians 3:7), and how vital to them is the fidelity of this Church (1 Thessalonians 3:8). This inexpressible thanks is due to God, who upholds the readers under the storm of persecution: see 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; and cf. John 10:29; John 17:11, &c.

ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ χαρᾷ ῇ χαίρομεν διʼ ὑμᾶς ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν, for all the joy with which we rejoice because of you before our God. For ἐπί in this connexion, see note on 1 Thessalonians 3:7. Πᾶσα ἡ χαρά is “the sum of joy” collectively: cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:7; 1 Corinthians 13:2; Philippians 1:3. ,, perhaps by attraction for the cognate accus. ἥν, as in Matthew 2:10; yet χαρᾷ χαίρειν in John 3:29 (cf. 1 Peter 1:8): Hebraistic feeling favoured such emphatic assonant combinations (see e.g. Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 66:10), but they were idiomatic in Greek poetry. Χαίρειν διά, as in John 3:29; John 11:15; while the ordinary ἐπί (as with παρακαλοῦμαι, εὐχαριστία above) would give the occasion of χαίρειν, and ἐν the ground (Philippians 1:18; Philippians 3:1, &c.), διά introduces the reason of joy, that to which it is referred on reflexion: when the Apostles consider what this news from Thessalonica means and all it implies in their converts (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:4), their hearts overflow with gladness before God. For the ἔμπροσθεν clause, cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3; since “our God”—the God of the Christian faith and revelation—sent His servants on the errand of the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:4, &c.), “to” Him “thanks” are “rendered back,” and “before” Him “the joy” is testified which its assured success awakens. Ten times, with an emphasis of affection, is the pronoun ὑμεῖς repeated in 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10.

Verse 10

10. νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ δεόμενοι εἰς τὸ ἰδεῖν ὑμῶν τὸ πρόσωπον, by night and day making supplication in exceeding abundant measure, to the end that we may see your face. On the temporal expression, see note to 1 Thessalonians 2:9; it repeats more graphically the ἀδιαλείπτως of 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (or 2), 1 Thessalonians 2:13 : “night and day” the Apostles are “working” and “praying” at once; they could pray while occupied with manual labour. For the union of thanksgiving and prayer, cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 f. Ὑπερ-εκ-περισσοῦ (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:13, -ως; Ephesians 3:20) is an almost extravagant intensive, plusquam abunde, found outside St Paul (who affects ὑπερ- compounds) only in Daniel 3:22 (Theodotion), and in Clemens Rom. ad Corinth. xx. 11; it surpasses περισσοτέρως (1 Thessalonians 2:17): cf. 2 Corinthians 1:8 b; Ephesians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 15:8, for like ardours of hyperbole. Δέομαι is to beg, as for some personal boon, something that one “wants for oneself”; cf. Romans 1:10; Luke 9:38; Luke 22:32, &c. Εἰς τὸ ἰδεῖν κ.τ.λ. expresses the ulterior aim of these importunate supplications (cf. Philippians 1:23, τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι); the writer’s prayers touched on intervening objects—the removal of hindrances (1 Thessalonians 2:18), the progress of the work in hand (2 Thessalonians 3:1 f.)—but this longing always animated them: cf. for εἰς τό with infin. 1 Thessalonians 2:12, and note. For ἰδεῖν τὸ πρόσωπον ὑμῶν, see 1 Thessalonians 2:17.

The aim of the above δεῖσθαι is twofold: “to see the face” of their beloved Thessalonians would be an extreme gratification to the writers; and this satisfaction is identified, by the vinculum of a single article, with the blessing thus brought to their readers,—εἰς τὸκαὶ καταρτίσαι τὰ ὑστερήματα τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν, in order to (see your face) and make good the deficiencies of your faith: “ut suppleamus” (not “compleamus,” as in Vulg.) “quæ vestræ fidei desunt” (Calvin), “ut sarciamus, &c.” (Beza). Ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν, just as in 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:5 (see notes), stands for the whole Christianity of the Thessalonians. Τὰ ὑστερήματα points to what was lacking not in but to “the faith” of the readers. Strong and steadfast in itself (see 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:8, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8; 2 Thessalonians 1:3), that faith required more knowledge (see e.g. 1 Thessalonians 4:13), more moral discipline and sanctity of life (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12) and practice in the ways of piety (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22), more sobriety of temper, more steadiness and self-possession (1 Thessalonians 5:1-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:1 ff.). For the objective genitive to ὑστέρημα, cf. Colossians 1:24; 2 Corinthians 8:13 f.; also Mark 10:21, ἕν σε ὑστερεῖ. Καταρτίζω means to set right, correct—not to complete something defective in itself, but to make good and fit out that which lacks the resources or conditions necessary to its proper action or destination: cf. Romans 9:22; Hebrews 13:21; Matthew 4:21,—“repairing their nets”; and see Lightfoot’s note ad loc.

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 breathe out the prayer which the writers, as they have just said, are continually making, 1 Thessalonians 3:11 corresponding to εἰς τὸ ἰδεῖν κ.τ.λ., and 1 Thessalonians 3:12 f. to the καταρτίσαι τὰ ὑστερήματα of 1 Thessalonians 3:10.

Verse 11

11. Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ ἡμῶν καὶ ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦς κατευθύναι τὴν ὁδὸν ἡμῶν κ.τ.λ. Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you. The Apostles appeal to “God Himself and Christ” to clear their way to Thessalonica, hitherto obstructed by Satan (1 Thessalonians 2:18; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:5). So many prayers, however, in these two Epistles begin with the formula Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ θεός or ὁ κύριος, which is peculiar to them (1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:16), that one hesitates to lay stress on the αὐτός here: this may mean only, as Lightfoot puts it, that “After all said and done, it is for God Himself to direct our path.” From “our God and Father” (see 1 Thessalonians 1:3, and note) the Apostles crave the help which, in this sovereign and gracious character, He is surely bound to give (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:16; Matthew 6:8 f.; Luke 11:13; John 17:11). Κατευθύνω, to make straight—a classical verb, found only here and in 2 Thessalonians 3:5, Luke 1:79, in the N.T.; a common O.T. word (see e.g. Psalms 5:8; Psalms 118:5, LXX): it is the opposite of ἐνκόπτω, 1 Thessalonians 2:18 (see note).

The association of “our Lord Jesus” with “God the Father” in acts of prayer and thanksgiving is a very noticeable feature of these two Letters; it affords impressive evidence, coming from the oldest N.T. writings, of the deity of Jesus Christ as this was conceived by the first Christians; the two are so identified that they count as one (cf. the words of Jesus in John 10:30, ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἕν ἐσμεν), blending in the singular optative predicate, κατευθύναι: see also 2 Thessalonians 2:16 f., and note. The petition of 1 Thessalonians 3:12 is addressed to “the Lord” solely.

Verse 12

12. ὑμᾶς δὲ ὁ κύριος πλεονάσαι καὶ περισσεύσαι τῇ ἀγάπῃ εἰς ἀλλήλους καὶ εἰς πάντας. But you may the Lord make to increase and overflow in your love toward one another and toward all. 1 Thessalonians 3:12 passes from writers to readers with the contrastive δέ. “The Lord,” in St Paul’s general usage—above all, where it directly follows ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν Ἰ. Χ.—means Jesus Christ, not the Father: cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:8, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 4:15 ff., 1 Thessalonians 5:27, and the ἡμῖνεἶς κύριος of 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:5. In 2 Thessalonians 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:16 “the Lord” is again addressed, quite unreservedly, in prayer: cf. 2 Corinthians 12:8; 2 Timothy 1:16-18; Acts 1:24; Acts 7:59 f. The Lord Jesus is asked, in effect, to aid the fulfilment of His own command of love (John 13:34, &c.) and to perfect in His disciples the grace of which He is the example and channel (see Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2, &c.).

Περισσεύσαι (make abundant) caps πλεονάσαι (make more): cf. the variation in Romans 5:20; 2 Corinthians 4:15. Elsewhere in the N.T. the latter verb is always, the former usually, intransitive—the original usage in each case; πλεονάζω (הִרְבָּה) has the active sense in Numbers 26:54; Ps. 70:21; 1 Maccabees 4:35 : cf. the double usage of the Eng. increase, multiply. In 1 Thessalonians 4:10 the wish is expressed that the Thessalonians may “abound (still) more in love”; in 2 Thessalonians 1:3 thanks are given because their “love multiplies.” The passages just referred to speak of ἀγάπη εἰς ἀλλήλους, 1 Thessalonians 4:10 embracing “all the brethren in all Macedonia”; but here, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, καὶ εἰς πάντας is added: cf. Romans 12:16; Romans 12:18; Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 2:1; 1 Peter 2:17. For the cruelly persecuted Thessalonians this wider love was peculiarly difficult—and necessary; it meant loving their enemies, according to Christ’s command (Matthew 5:44).

καθάπερ καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς ὑμᾶς, as verily we also (do) towards you—i.e. “as we increase and abound in love toward you”; for the Apostles’ love to their flock was not stationary, nor limited; the εὐαγγέλιον of 1 Thessalonians 3:6 gives it a new impulse. This clause (repeated from 1 Thessalonians 3:6) rests naturally upon the foregoing verbs, mentally resumed in their intransitive sense; or, after Theodoret, we may supply διετέθημεν, affecti sumus erga vos (Calvin); see also Lightfoot ad loc. In support of this claim of the writers, cf. the statement of 1 Thessalonians 1:5 b, and the language of 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 : for similar references on St Paul’s part, see 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; Philippians 3:17; Philippians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Acts 20:35; cf. also the appeal of Jesus in John 13:15; John 13:34, &c.

Verse 13

13. εἰς τὸ στηρίξαι ὑμῶν τὰς καρδίας ἀμέμπτους ἐν ἁγιωσύνῃ κ.τ.λ., to the end He may establish your hearts, (made) unblamable in holiness, &c.: the ultimate end (see note on εἰς τό with infin. 1 Thessalonians 3:10) of the prayer for increased love in 1 Thessalonians 3:12; such love will lead to confidence of heart in view of the coming of Christ in judgement. A like connexion of thought appears in 1 John 3:18-21; 1 John 4:16 f.: “Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgement.… Perfect love casts out fear.” The prayer for improved faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10), leads to prayer for increased love (1 Thessalonians 3:12), and now for assured hope (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3). “Love” prepares for judgement as it imparts “holiness”; in this Christian perfection lies (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23). Love and holiness are associated in the apostolic prayer, as (with reversed order) in the apostolic homily of 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. Ἀμέμπτους is attached, proleptically, as an objective complement to στηρίξαι τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν, “found unblamable”: cf. for the construction, 1 Corinthians 1:8; Philippians 3:21 (σύμμορφον). Clearly some of those addressed in the exhortations immediately following (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) were not yet ἄμεμπτοι ἐν ἁγιωσύνῃ, as they must be ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ.

ἀμέμπτουςἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς ἡμῶν imports freedom from blame in God’s eyes, before whom believers in Christ will be presented at His coming: see Colossians 1:22; Colossians 1:28; 1 Corinthians 15:24; and cf. Philippians 2:15; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Peter 3:14. “Our God and Father” listens to the Apostles’ prayers for the welfare of His chosen (1 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:4), and will delight hereafter to recognize them as His holy children. While ἁγιότης (2 Corinthians 1:12; Hebrews 12:10) denotes the abstract quality of “holiness,” ἁγιασμός the process, and then the result, of “making holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3; frequent in St Paul), ἁγιωσύνη is the state or condition of the ἅγιος (see note on this word below): cf. Romans 1:4; 2 Corinthians 7:1. This holy state is that toward which the love now vigorously active in the Thessalonians must grow and tend, so that their holiness may at Christ’s coming win God’s approval, the anticipation of which will give them a calm strength of heart in prospect of that tremendous advent (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7 ff.).

On στηρίζω, see note to 1 Thessalonians 3:2. The phrase στηρίζειν καρδίαν is found in James 5:8, and in the O.T. (LXX) in Psalms 103:15; Sirach 6:37 : it means not the strengthening of character, but the giving of conscious security, of a steady, settled assurance—the opposite of the condition deprecated in 1 Thessalonians 3:3, or in 2 Thessalonians 2:2. On καρδία, see note to 1 Thessalonians 2:17.

The last clause, ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ κ.τ.λ., might be attached grammatically to στηρίξαι, as by Bornemann, the whole sentence being thus rendered: “so as to give you steadfast hearts—hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father—in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints”; the words implying that the desired assurance is to be realized at the hour of the Lord’s appearing. But this is somewhat forced in construction; and the στηρίζειν thought of in 1 Thessalonians 3:2, as in 2 Thessalonians 2:17, relates to no future and prospective assurance of heart, but to that which is needed now, in the midst of present trials and alarms (1 Thessalonians 3:3 ff.; 2 Thessalonians 2:2, &c.). “The coming” of the Judge will reveal the blamelessness in question—ἀμέμπτουςἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ (cf. Romans 8:18 f.; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:4), unblamable … in the appearing, &c.; but the holy character then disclosed exists already in the saints, who thus prepared joyfully await their Lord’s return (see Luke 12:35-46). St Paul was sensible of such readiness in his own case (2 Corinthians 1:12; Philippians 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 4:7 f.; cf. 2 Peter 3:14). The παρουσία is the goal of all Christian expectation in the N.T.—the crisis at which character is assayed, and destiny decided; see, in particular, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13 f.; and our Lord’s parables of the Wedding Feast and Robe, and of the Lighted or Unlit Lamps (Matthew 22:11-13; Matthew 25:1-13).

That “our Lord Jesus comes (attended) with all His saints”—μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ—is explained in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16. These are not the “angels” of 2 Thessalonians 1:7 (see note); οἱ ἅγιοι denotes always with St Paul holy men (2 Thessalonians 1:10, and passim): here the holy dead, who will “rise first” and whom “God will bring with Him”—with Jesus—when He returns to His people upon earth. To be fit for this meeting (ἡμῶν ἐπισυναγωγή, 2 Thessalonians 2:1), Christians must be “blameless in holiness”; only the holy can join the holy. Hofmann, and a few others, connect μετὰ τῶν ἁγίων with ἀμέμπτους ἐν ἁγιωσύνῃ instead of παρουσίᾳ—“blameless in holiness … along with His holy ones”; but this construction appears artificial, and misses the thought developed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which is already in the writer’s mind, viz. that Christ will be attended in His παρουσία by the sainted Christian dead. For the word παρουσία, see note on 1 Thessalonians 2:19; and for the name “Lord Jesus,” see 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:19.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 3". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.