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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

2 Thessalonians 1


Verses 1-8

2 Thessalonians 1:1-8 . The address (2 Thessalonians 1:1-2 ) is followed first by a thanksgiving (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 ) which passes into a prophetic piece of consolation, and then by a brief prayer (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 ).

Verse 3

2 Thessalonians 1:3 . περὶ ὑμῶν : Your thankless situation (4 f.) only throws into more brilliant relief your personal character and bearing under adverse circumstances. ὅτι is best represented by our colloquial “because,” which includes both the causal and the objective senses of the word; what forms matter for thanksgiving is naturally the reason for thanksgiving. ἀγάπη κ . τ . λ ., a period of strain tires mutual gentleness (see on Revelation 2:4 ) as well as patience towards God (2 Thessalonians 1:4 ), since irritation and lack of unselfish consideration for others ( cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 f.) may be as readily produced by a time of tension and severe anxiety as an impatient temper of faith. Paul is glad and grateful that suffering was drawing his friends together and binding them more closely to their Lord, instead of stunting the growth of their faith and drying up the flow of their mutual charity. Praise comes as usual before blame. Paul is proud of his friends, because suffering has not spoiled their characters, as suffering, especially when due to oppression and injustice, is too apt to do. ὀφείλομεν (so Cic. ad. Fam. , xiv. 2, gratiasque egi, ut debui; Barn. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 , vii. 1), the phrase is unexampled in Paul, but not unnatural ( cf. Romans 15:1 , etc.); “the form of duty is one which all thoughts naturally take in his mind” (Jowett).

Verse 4

2 Thessalonians 1:4 . The single article groups ὑπομονὴ and πίστις as a single conception = faith in its special aspect of patient endurance ( cf. on Revelation 13:10 ), faithful tenacity of purpose. M. Gebhardt, in his L’Italie Mystique (pp. 318 f.), observes that “the final word of Dante’s belief, of that ‘religion of the heart’ which he mentions in the Convito , is given in the 24th canto of the Paradiso . He comes back to the very simple symbol of Paul, faith, hope and love; for him as for the apostle faith is at bottom simply hope.” Faith is more than that to Paul, but sometimes hardly more. The Thessalonians are not to fear that they are holding a forlorn outpost. Neither man nor God overlooks their courage ( cf. Plato’s Theaet. , xxv., ἀνδρικῶς ὑπομεῖναι καὶ μὴ ἀνάνδρως φεύγειν ). Their founders and friends at a distance are watching with pride their resolute faith; while in God’s sure process of providence that faith has a destiny of its own, since it is bound up with His eternal designs. Hope is only mentioned once (2 Thessalonians 2:16 , cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:5 ) in this epistle, for all its preoccupation with the future. Faith covers almost all its contents here. θλίψεσιν more general than διωγμοῖς . ὑπὲρ , as in I., 1 Thessalonians 3:2 , is equivalent to περί , with a touch of personal interest (Abbott’s Johannine Grammar , p. 559; Meisterhans, Gramm. d. attischen Inschriften , 182).

Verse 5

2 Thessalonians 1:5 . ἔνδειγμα , in apposition to the general thought of the preceding clause; it does not matter to the sense whether the word is taken as an elliptic nominative or an appositional accusative. “All this is really a clear proof of (or points to) the equity of God’s judgment,” which will right the present inequalities of life (Dante, Purg. , x. 109 f.). Δικαία κρίσις is the future and final judgment of 6 10, whose principle is recompense (Luke 16:25 ); there is a divine law of compensation which will operate. This throws back light upon the present sufferings of the righteous. These trials, it is assumed, are due to loyalty and innocence of life; hence, in their divine aspect (2 Thessalonians 1:5 ), they are the necessary qualification or discipline for securing entrance into the realm of God. They are significant, not casual. Paul begins by arguing that their very infliction or permission proves that God must be contemplating a suitable reward and destiny for those who endured them in the right spirit. εἰς τὸ κ . τ . λ ., is thus a loose expansion (from the common rabbinic phrase, cf. Dalman’s Worte Jesu , 97 f.; E. Tr., 119) of one side of the δικ . κρίσις . The other side, the human aspect of θλῖψις , then emerges in 2 Thessalonians 1:6 . Since the Thessalonians were suffering at the hands of men ( τοὺς θλίβοντας , Isaiah 19:20 ), the two-handed engine of retribution (so Lamentations 3:64 f.; Obadiah 1:15 ; Isaiah 59:18 , for ἀνταποδ .) must in all fairness punish the persecutors ( cf. Sap. 11:9, 10). This is the only passage in which Paul welcomes God’s vengeance on the enemies of the church as an element in the recompense of Christians. ὑπὲρ ἧς καὶ πάσχετε : to see an intelligible purpose in suffering, or to connect it with some larger movement and hope, is always a moral stay. “God gave three choice gifts to Israel the Torah, the Land of Promise, and Eternal Life, and each was won by suffering” ( Berachoth , 5 a ).

Verse 7

2 Thessalonians 1:7 . After noting the principle of recompence (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7 a ), Paul proceeds (7 b 10), to dwell on its time and setting, especially in its punitive aspect. He consoles the Thessalonians by depicting the doom of their opponents rather than (9 c , 10) their own positive relief and reward. The entire passage breathes the hot air of the later Judaism, with its apocalyptic anticipation of the jus talionis applied by God to the enemies of His people; only, Paul identifies that people not with Israel but with believers in Christ Jesus. He appropriates Israel’s promises for men and women whom Israel expelled and persecuted. The ἄγγελοι are the manifestation of Christ’s δύναμις , as the ἅγιοι (saints not angels) are of his δόξα (2 Thessalonians 1:10 ); the position of ἀγγ . ( cf. Win., § 80, 12 b ) tells against Hofmann’s interpretation of δυν . = “host” ( צָבָא , so LXX). Here and in the following verses the divine prerogatives ( e.g. , fiery manifestation and judicial authority) are carried over to Jesus.

Verse 8

2 Thessalonians 1:8 . Those who know not God are of course not pagans as such but immoral pagans, in the sense of Romans 1:28 f. Those who refuse obedience to the gospel are, as the repetition of the article suggests, a different class of people, perhaps drawn both from Jews and pagans. But as Paul never seems to contemplate the idea of any Jew failing to hear the gospel ( cf. Romans 10:16 f.), the description here applies principally to them. ἐν πυρὶ φλογός , one of the most favourite realistic traits of the last judgment, in apocalyptic Judaism ( cf. passages in Volz’s Jüdische Eschatologie , 285, 286); here it is simply a descriptive touch, which Paul does not pause to elaborate ( cf. 1 Corinthians 3:13 ). The rather “broad and inflated” language (Weizsäcker) of the whole passage is probably due to the subject, more than to Paul’s employment of Silvanus, himself a prophet ( cf. Acts 15:32 and 1 Thessalonians 2:12-16 ), as his amanuensis.

Verse 9

2 Thessalonians 1:9 . The overwhelming manifestation of the divine glory sweeps from before it (pregnant ἀπὸ ) into endless ruin the disobedient (Psalms 76:7 ) men who (see Moulton, 91 f.) shall pay the penalty of (see Proverbs 27:12 , LXX) eternal destruction (the common apocalyptic belief, see Volz, Jüd. Eschat. , 286 f.).

Verse 10

2 Thessalonians 1:10 . ἐπιστώθη , like the variant ἐπιστεύθη , is suggested by πιστεύουσιν ( cf. a similar instance in 2 Thessalonians 3:3 ). The abrupt parenthesis (“you included for”) shows how Paul was thinking of the Thessalonians especially, while he depicted the bliss of the saints in general. ἐνδοξ ., in one sense they were to be a credit and honour to their apostles (I., 1 Thessalonians 2:19 f.); in another, they were a glory to Christ Himself, by their ripened character a Johannine touch ( cf. John 17:10 , and 2 Thessalonians 1:12 of this chapter; the parallel between ἔργον πίστεως and John 6:29 is verbal). θαυμ . = to be wondered at (by whom? cf. Ezekiel 39:21 , Ephesians 3:10 ?) in ( i.e. , by reason of, on account of) believers ; for a partial parallel to the phrase see Isaiah 62:6 ( καὶ ἐν τῷ πλούτῳ αὐτῶν θαυμασθήσεσθε ). If ὅτιὑμᾶς had been meant to give the reason for θαυμασθῆναι (so Zimmer, Wohl.), Paul would probably have put God’s witness instead of our witness , and expressed the idea unambiguously; the transition from the πᾶσιν to the special case of the Thessalonians becomes, on this construction, an anti-climax. The rhythmical swing of 7 b 10 suggests a reminiscence or quotation of some early Christian liturgical hymn, perhaps one of the prophetic ψαλμοί which he had heard at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:15 ; 1 Corinthians 14:26 ).

Verse 11

2 Thessalonians 1:11 . καὶ κ . τ . λ ., we pray as well as render thanks (2 Thessalonians 1:3 ) for you. Unable any longer to give the Thessalonians their personal example and instructions the time for that had passed ( ἐπιστώθη ) Paul and his colleagues can still pray for them. The duties of a preacher or evangelist do not cease with the utterance of his message. ἀξιώσῃ : one proof that God deemed them worthy of His kingdom lay in the discipline of suffering by means of which He developed their patient faith (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5 ), but Paul here finds another proof of it in their broader development of moral character and vital religion ( cf. 10). f1πᾶσαν includes ἔργον as well as εὐδοκίαν ; the prayer is for success to every practical enterprise of faith as well as for the satisfaction of every aspiration and desire after moral excellence. Compare Dante’s Paradiso , xviii. 58 60. κλῆσις is “the position you are called to occupy,” “your vocation,” as heirs of this splendid future a not unnatural extension ( cf. Philippians 3:14 ) of its ordinary use (= 1 Corinthians 1:26 , etc.). This implies that a certain period of moral ripening must precede the final crisis. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1 to 2 Thessalonians 3:5 , Paul proceeds to elaborate this, in order to allay the feverish excitement at Thessalonica, while in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 f., he discusses the further ethical disorders caused by the church’s too ardent hope. The heightened misery of the present situation must neither break down their patience (4 f.), nor on the other hand must it be taken as a proof that the end was imminent.

Verse 12

2 Thessalonians 1:12 . Here at any rate it is impossible to take χάριν in a universalistic sense (so Robinson, Ephesians , pp. 225 f.), as though it implied that Christians were put on the same level as O.T. saints. The idea is the merciful favour of God, to the exclusion of human merit. The main topic of the letter is now brought forward; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 gives the occasion for the λόγος παρακλήσεως (2 Thessalonians 1:3-12 ) which follows.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 1". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.