Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

1 Thessalonians 4

Verse 1

1 .] λοιπόν has no reference to time, ἀεὶ κ . εἰς τὸ διηνεκές , Chr., Thl., but introduces this second portion, thus dividing it from the first, and implying the close of the Epistle. St. Paul uses it towards the end of his Epistles: see in addition to reff., Ephesians 6:10 ; Philippians 4:8 .

οὖν , in furtherance of the wish of ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 ; τούτῳ κεχρημένοι τῷ σκόπῳ προσφέρομεν ὑμῖν τὴν παραίνεσιν .

ἐρωτῶμεν ] in the classics, only used of asking a question : but in N. T. (as the Heb. שָׁאַל , Lün., which however, in the sense of requesting , is rendered in the LXX by αἰτεῖν ) it has both meanings of our verb ‘ to ask ’ (reff.).

παρακ . ἐν κυρ . Ἰησ . ] we exhort you in (as our element of exhortation; in whom we do all things pertaining to the ministry (see Rom 9:1 ): Eph 4:17 not ‘ by ,’ as a ‘formula jurandi,’ which is contrary to N. T. usage, see Fritzsche on Rom 9:1 ) the Lord Jesus, that as ye received (see on ch. 1Th 2:13 ) from us how ( τό is not superfluous: it collects and specifies what follows, q.d. ‘the manner of your,’ &c.) ye ought to walk and to please God (i.e. to please God in your walk and conduct: to walk, and thereby to please God), as also ye are walking (this addition, says Lün., is required as well (see var. readd.) by internal considerations. For ἵνα περισσ . requires the assumption of a prior commencement (see 1Th 4:10 ): and such a commencement would not be implied in the preceding text, without καθὼς καὶ περιπατεῖτε . Evidently the Apostle would originally have written ἵνα , καθ . παρ . παρ ʼ ἡμ . τὸ πῶς κ . τ . λ .…, οὕτως καὶ περιπατῆτε : but while writing, altered this his intended expression, that he might not say too little, wishing to notice the good beginning already made by the Thessalonians. The repetition of ἵνα after so long an intervening clause is too natural to have given rise (as De W. thinks) to the insertion) that ye abound yet more , viz.: ἐν τῷ οὕτως περιπατεῖν : not, as Chrys., ἵνα ἐκ πλείονος περιουσίας , μὴ μέχρι τῶν ἐντολῶν ἵστασθε , ἀλλ ʼ ἵνα καὶ ὑπερβαίνητε .

Verses 1-8

1 8 .] to a holy life .

Verses 1-12

1 12 .] Exhortations : and

Verses 1-18

CHAP. 1Th 4:1 to 1 Thessalonians 5:24 .] SECOND PORTION OF THE EPISTLE: consisting of exhortations and instructions .

Verse 2

2 .] takes up the καθὼς παρελάβετε of the former verse, and appeals to their memory in its confirmation. See similar appeals in Galatians 4:13 ; 1 Corinthians 15:1 .

παραγγ . ] commands , see reff. The stress is on τίνας , to which τοῦτο answers, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 .

διὰ τ . κ . Ἰησ . ] by , i.e. coming from , παραγγελθείσας διὰ . So τὰς διὰ τῶν ὀλίγων πολιτείας , Demosth. p. 489: δι ʼ ἑαυτοῦ , of himself, Xen. Cyr. viii. 1. 43: see Bernhardy, p. 236.

Verse 3

3 .] further specification ( γάρ ) of the παραγγελίαι : see above.

τοῦτο is the subject, not the predicate (as De W.): see Romans 9:8 ; Galatians 3:7 ; not superfluous, as Pelt, but emphatically prefixed (so Lünem.).

θέλημα τ . θεοῦ serves to take up again the διὰ τ . κυρ . Ἰησοῦ .

The article may be omitted, because the predicate θέλημα τ . θ . is not distributed (?): but in this case, τὸ θέλ . would be equally applicable, there being no danger of τὸ θέλ . being mistaken for ‘the whole will,’ but rather specifying ‘that which forms part of the will.’ This explanation is not to be abandoned, as Ellic., on account of the merely occasional omission of the article after a noun substantive, mentioned by Middleton and Ellic.: for the reason of that omission is to be sought rather in logic than in idiom. Rather perhaps should we say that there is in Greek a tendency to omit articles before predicates, even where such an omission cannot be logically pressed.

ὁ ἁγ . ὑμ . is in apposition with θέλ . τ . θ . as a ‘locus communis,’ the will of God respecting us being known to be our sanctification, and then this, sanctification being afterwards specified as consisting in ἀπέχεσθαι , &c. Therefore ἁγιασμός must be taken in the most general sense, and that which is afterwards introduced, ἀπέχεσθαι , &c., as a part of our ἁγιασμός .

ὑμῶν is the objective genitive, of you .

ἀπέχεσθαι and εἰδέναι are not the negative and positive sides of ὁ ἁγ . ὑμ . as Lünem. and Ellic., for the negative comes in again in 1 Thessalonians 4:5-6 , but the latter ( εἰδέναι to διεμαρτυράμεθα , 1Th 4:6 ) further specifies and ensures the former.

Verse 4

4 .] εἰδέναι , know how (reff.). On the meaning of τὸ σκεῦος , there has been much difference. Very many Commentators understand it of ‘ the body .’ (So, among others, Chrys. (see below), Thdrt., Œc., Thll., Tert., Pelag., Calv., Corn.-a-lap., Beza, Grot., Calov., Ham., Beng., Mac-knight. Pelt, Olsh., Baumg.-Crus.) But it is fatal to this interpretation, (1) that it must force an untenable meaning on κτᾶσθαι , which can only mean ‘ to acquire ,’ not ‘ to possess .’ Chrys., whose sense of Greek usage led him to feel this, tries to fit the meaning ‘ to acquire ’ into the sense: ἡμεῖς αὐτὸ κτώμεθα , ὅταν μένῃ καθαρὸν κ . ἐστιν ἐν ἁγιασμῷ · ὅταν δὲ ἀκάθαρτον , ἁμαρτία (so Olsh. also); but this is lame enough, and would not, as De W. remarks, answer for the other member of the sentence, μὴ ἐν πάθει ἐπιθυμίας . (2) that the mere use of σκεῦος , without any explanation, could hardly point at the body . In all the passages ordinarily quoted to support it, the metaphor is further explained by the context: e.g., Barnab., ep. 7, 11, pp. 744, 760, τὸ σκεῦος τοῦ πνεύματος αὐτοῦ , Philo, quod det. pot. insid. § 46, vol. i. p. 223, τῆς ψυχῆς ἀγγεῖον τὸ σῶμα , de migr. Abr. § 36, vol. i. p. 467, τοῖς ἀγγείοις τῆς ψυχῆς σώματι κ . αἰσθήσει , Cic. disp. Tusc. i. 22: ‘corpus quidem quasi vas est aut aliquod animi receptaculum,’ Lucret. iii. 441: ‘corpus, quod vas quasi constitit ejus (sc. animæ).’ 2Co 4:7 is evidently no case in point, ὀστρακίνοις being there added, and the body being simply compared , to an earthen vessel . (3) that the order of the words is against it. In τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος , the emphasis must lie on ἑαυτοῦ cf. 1 Corinthians 7:2 , ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἐχέτω . Had the body been meant, this would be without import, and it would more naturally have been τὸ σκεῦος ἑαυτοῦ (or αὐτοῦ ). (4) But a more fatal objection than any of the former is, that the context is entirely against the meaning. The ἁγιασμός has been explained to consist in ἀπέχεσθαι ἀπὸ τῆς πορνείας . And now this πορνεία comes to be specified, wherein it consists, and how it may be guarded against: viz. in carrying on the divinely-appointed commerce of the sexes in holiness and honour. In fact, the thought is exactly as in 1 Corinthians 7:2 , διὰ τὰς πορνείας ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἐχέτω , κ . ἑκάστη τὸν ἴδιον ἄνδρα ἐχέτω . Many have therefore understood σκεῦος in its literal meaning as applied to τὸ πρᾶγμα , i.e. the woman (or indeed the man , on the other side, inasmuch as the woman has ἐξουσία over his body, see 1 Corinthians 7:4 . So that thus it would be an exhortation to the woman also: so De Wette). Thus the context would be satisfied, and the emphatic position of ἑαυτοῦ (as in 1Co 7:2 ); and κτᾶσθαι would retain its proper meaning: that each of you should know how to acquire his own vessel (for this purpose) in sanctification ( κτᾶσθαι ἐν ἁγ . belong together) and honour . This sense of σκεῦος is found in the Jewish books (Megill. Esther 1:11 ; “In convivio dixerunt aliqui: mulieres Medicæ sunt pulcriores: alii, Persicæ sunt pulcriores. Dixit Ahasuerus: Vas meum, quo ego utor, nec Persicum est nec Medicum, sed Chaldaicum”). And the expression κτᾶσθαι γυναῖκα is common: cf. Xen. Symp. ii. 10: ταύτην ( Ξανθίππην κέκτημαι : Ruth 4:10 ; Sir 36:24 . And so Thdr. Mops. ( σκεῦος τὴν ἰδίαν ἑκάστου γαμετὴν ὀνομάζει ), some in Thdrt. ( τινὲς τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος τὴν ὁμόζυγα ἡρμήνευσαν ), Aug. (contr. Jul. iv. 10 (56), vol. x. p. 765, ‘ut sciret unusquisque possidere vas suum, hoc est, uxorem:’ cf. also ib. 1 Thessalonians 4:9 (35), p. 805: de nupt. et conc. i. 8 (9), p. 418, ‘non solum igitur conjugatus fidelis vase non utatur alieno, quod faciunt a quibus uxores alienæ appetuntur: sed nec ipsum proprium in concupiscentiæ carnalis morbo possidendum sciat.’ But he mistakes κτᾶσθαι for possidere , and so understands the command as given conjugatis fidelibus ), Thom. Aquin., Zwingle, Est., Heins., Wetst., Schöttg., Michaelis, Koppe, Schott, De Wette, Lünem., al. (Much of the foregoing note is from De W. and Lün.) The objection to the above view, that thus only men would be addressed (Calv., al.) is easily answered (besides as above, under 4) by observing that in other places also, where πορνεία is in question, the male only is exhorted, e.g. 1 Corinthians 6:15-18 ; the female being included by implication, and bound to interpret on her side that which is said of the other.

Verse 5

5 .] ἐν πάθει ἐπιθ . , πάθει having the emphasis, ‘in the mere passio of lust,’ as Thdr. Mops. (Lün.), ὡς ἂν τοῦτο ποιοῦντος οὐκέτι ταύτῃ ὡς γυναικὶ συνόντος ἀλλὰ διὰ μίξιν μόνην ἁπλῶς , ὅπερ πάθος ἐπιθυμίας ἐκάλεσεν .

καθ . καί ] the καί so usual after particles of comparison, points to the association in the same category which the particle supposes: καὶ ἡμῖν ταὑτὰ δοκεῖ ἅπερ καὶ βασιλεῖ , Xen. Anab. ii. 1. 22. See examples in Hartung, Partikell. ii. 127: and cf. ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 3:6 ; 1 Thessalonians 3:12 , &c.

τὰ μὴ εἰδ . τ . θ . ] μή , because the Gentiles are spoken of by the writer from this point of view. It is not a mere fact which is stated, but that fact as logically interwoven with the course of the context: and hence the subjective negative. See reff.

Verse 6

6 .] I cannot help regarding it as most unnatural, to interpret this verse of a new subject introduced, viz. the not wronging one another in the business of life. How such Commentators as De Wette and Lünem. can have entertained this view, I am at a loss to imagine. For (1) the sense is carried on from 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 , without even the repetition of ἕκαστον ὑμῶν to mark the change of topic: and (2) when the Apostle sums up the whole in 1 Thessalonians 4:7 , he mentions merely impurity, without the slightest allusion to the other. To say that more than one kind of sin must be mentioned because of περὶ πάντων τούτων , is mere trifling: the πάντα ταῦτα (not ταῦτα πάντα , which would collect many individuals into a whole) generalizes from the sin mentioned to a wider range. The interpretation which I impugn, is also that of Zwingle, Calv., Grot., Calov., Le Clerc, Wolf, Koppe, Flatt. I understand the verse, with Chrys., Thdrt., Œc., Thl., Jer., Erasm., Est., Corn.-a-lap., Heins., Whitby, Wetst., Kypke, Beng., Michaelis, Pelt, Olsh., all., to refer to the sins of uncleanness , and continue 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 : that he should not (viz. τινά , contained in the αὐτοῦ following: so that τὸ μὴ is a further specification of ὁ ἁγιασμός , rather than parallel with εἰδέναι ) set at nought (the order of the sentence requires that ὑπερβ . should not stand absolutely , as De W., Lün., al., for ‘ transgress ’ ( μὴ νῦν ὑπέρβαιν ʼ, ἀλλ ʼ ἐναισίμως φέρε , Eur. Alc. 1077: ὅτε κέν τις ὑπερβήῃ κ . ἁμάρτῃ , Il. ι . 497), but transitively : otherwise τινα would have occurred after ὑπερβαίνειν to mark the distinction of construction: and ὑπερβ with an accusative of person signifies either ‘ to pass by ’ or ‘ take no notice ,’ ‘posthabere,’ as Herod. iii. 89, ὑπερβαίνων τοὺς προσεχέας : or ‘ to go beyond ’ or ‘ surpass ,’ as Plato, Tim. 24 D, πάσῃ πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὑπερβεβηκότες ἀρετῇ . Of these, the former seems most applicable here: see below) or overreach his brother in the matter (viz of τὸ ἑαυτοῦσκεῦος κτᾶσθαι that there should be among you none of those strifes on account of the πάθη ἐπιθυμίας , the ‘teterrima belli causa’ in the heathen world. As Jowett rightly observes, “It is not necessary to suppose that any idea of unchastity is conveyed by the term πλεονεκτεῖν , any more than in the tenth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.’ The meaning exclusively arises from the connexion and application of the word.” How τῷ πράγματι can ever signify τοῖς πράγμασιν , ‘business affairs’ (De W., alt.), I cannot imagine; and it is equally futile (with E. V. arm.) to take τῷ for τῳ = τινι in the N. T. “It is probable that the obscurity of the passage arises partly from the decency in which the Apostle clothes it.” Jowett), because God is the avenger (‘ righter ,’ in such cases of setting at nought and overreaching) of all these things (viz. cases of ὑπερβασία and πλεονεξία , and by inference, lustful sins like them) as also (see on 1Th 4:5 ) we before told you and constantly testified .

Verse 7

7 .] This verse (see above) is in my view decisive for the above rendering of 1 Thessalonians 4:6 . There is no mention here of avarice : nor is it possible to understand ἀκαθαρσία , when 1Th 4:3 has gone before, of any thing but carnal impurity. Chap. 1 Thessalonians 2:3 , which is adduced to shew that it may here represent covetousness, is a very doubtful example: see there.

ἐπί , for the purpose of, on condition of : ἐν , in , ‘in the element of,’ not = εἰς , the aim : but ἁγιασμός is the whole sphere of our Christian life.

Verse 8

8 .] Hence, the sin of (rejecting) setting at nought such limitations and rules is a fearful one no less than that of setting at nought God the giver of the Holy Spirit. In ἄνθρωπον ἀθετεῖ there is an obvious allusion to ὑπερβαίνειν κ . πλεονεκτεῖν τ . ἀδελφόν above. There is no need to supply any thing after ἀθετων ὁ ἀθετῶν simply describes him who commits the act of rejecting; q. d. the rejecter what he rejects, is not to be supplied in the construction, but is clear from the context viz. τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ . The distinction between ἄνθρωπον (anarthrous) and τὸν θεόν , seems to be, that the former is indefinite; not (any) man, but (definite) God .

τὸν [ καὶ ] δόντα ] q. d. who also is the AUTHOR of our sanctification.

[ καί ‘novum hic additur momentum,’ Bengel. It introduces a climax, whereby the sin is intensified.]

δόντα , as being one great definite act of God by His Son.

τὸ πν . αὐτοῦ τὸ ἅγ . ] This form of expression (q. d. ‘His own ( αὐτοῦ emphatic) Spirit, the Holy One’) is probably chosen, and not τὸ ἅγ . πν αὐτοῦ , for precision, to bring out τὸ ἅγιον as connected with ἁγιασμός preceding.

εἰς ὑμᾶς is not = ὑμῖν , but gives the idea of direction: see Galatians 4:6 ; ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 .

Verse 9

9 .] δέ is transitional, the implied contrast being to the sin last spoken of.

φιλαδελφία (reff.) here refers more immediately (cf. ποιεῖτε αὐτό below) to deeds of kindness by way of relief to poor brethren.

οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε ] This is a not unusual touch of delicate rhetoric with St. Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:1 ; Philemon 1:19 ; ch. 1Th 5:1 ). It conveys tacit but gentle reproof. The knowledge and the practice already exist: but the latter is not quite in proportion to the former. τῷ εἰπεῖν , οὐ χρεία ἐστί , μεῖζον ἐποίησεν ἢ εἰ εἶπεν . Chrys. The construction οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε γράφειν ὑμῖν (defended by De Wette and Winer), has been pronounced inadmissible by Lünemann, such use of the infinitive active being only found where no special personal reference is attached to the verb, as ὑμῖν here: so that this would require ἐμὲ γρ . or γράφεσθαι . He therefore reads ἔχομεν . But with so many corrections (see var. readd.), and with the known irregularities of St. Paul’s style in such constructions, it surely is not safe to speak so positively. I should regard the construction, not as analogous with χῶρον οὐχ ἁγνὸν πατεῖν , Soph. Œd. Col. 37; ἄξιος θαυμάσαι , Thuc. i. 38, and the like, but as a mixed one between ἔχομεν γράφειν and ἔχετε γράφεσθαι .

αὐτοὶ ὑμεῖς , in opposition to ἡμᾶς , the subject to be supplied from γράφειν : but αὐτοί is not sponte , which would not agree with θεοδίδακτοι . The stress of the sentence is on αὐτοὶ ὑμεῖς , not on the θεο - in θεοδίδακτοι , as Olsh., “where God teaches, there, the Apostle says, he may be silent:” but as Lün. observes, the θεο - comes in over and above as it were; διδακτοί would convey the fact : θεοδίδακτοι = διδακτοί , κ . ταῦτα παρὰ θεοῦ . And this teaching is practical its tendency and object being εἰς τὸ ἀγ . ἁλλ ., to produce mutual love.

Verses 9-12

9 12 .] Exhortations to brotherly love (9, 10 a), and to honest diligent lives (10 b 12).

Verse 10

10 .] follows up the θεοδίδακτοί ἐστε by a matter of fact, shewing the teaching to have been in some measure effectual.

καί γάρ ] the καί belongs to ποιεῖτε ‘besides being taught it, ye do it,’ ποιεῖτε carrying the emphasis of the sentence.

αὐτό , scil. τὸ ἀγαπᾷν ἀλ .

περισσεύειν , viz. in this ἀγάπη . (But there does not seem any reason, with Jowett, to ascribe this αταξία to their uneasiness about the state of the dead : much rather (as he also states: see below) to their mistaken anticipations of the immediate coming of the Lord.) It would seem as if, notwithstanding their liberality to those without, there were some defect of quiet diligence and harmony within, which prompted this exhortation: see 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 . Thdrt. assigns another reason for it: οὐκ ἐναντία τοῖς προῤῥηθεῖσιν ἐπαίνοις ἡ παραίνεσις . συνέβαινε γὰρ τοὺς μὲν φιλοτίμως χορηγεῖν τοῖς δεομένοις τὴν χρείαν , τοὺς δὲ διὰ τὴν τούτων φιλοτιμίαν ἀμελεῖν τῆς ἐργασίας · εἰκότως τοίνυν κἀκείνους ἐπῄνεσε , καὶ τούτοις τὰ πρόσφορα συνεβούλευσε . (So also Est., Benson, Flatt, Schott, and De W.) Lünem. objects to this, that thus the Church would be divided into two sections, the one exhorted to persist and abound in their liberality, the other to work diligently to support themselves; whereas there is no trace in the text of such a division. He therefore would abandon the idea of a connexion, and treat 1Th 4:11-12 as applying to a totally distinct subject; accounting for its introduction in such close grammatical connexion with 1 Thessalonians 4:10 , by St. Paul’s rapid transitions in the practical parts of his Epistles. But we may well answer, that instances are frequent enough of exhortations being addressed to whole churches which in their application would require severing and allotting to distinct classes of persons.

Verse 11

11 . φιλοτιμεῖσθαι ἡσυχάζειν ] to make it your ambition to be quiet have no other φιλοτιμία than that of a quiet industrious holy life. Thl. (as an alternative) and Calvin would take φιλοτιμεῖσθαι alone, and understand it “optima æmulatio, quum singuli benefaciendo se ipsos vincere conantur:” but thus the omission of any copula before ἡσυχ . would introduce great harshness into the sentence.

πράσσειν τὰ ἴδια τὰ ἴδια πράττω κ . τὰ ἴδια πράττει οἱ πολλοὶ λέγουσιν εἰκῆ , δέον , τὰ ἐμαυτοῦ πράττω , κ . τὰ σαυτοῦ πράττεις λέγειν , ὡς οἱ παλαιοί , ἢ τὰ ἴδια ἐμαυτοῦ πράττω κ . τὰ ἴδια σαυτοῦ πράττεις . Phryn. ed. Lob., p. 441: where see examples in the note.

From ἐργ . τ . χερσ . ὑμ . , it appears that the members of the Thessalonian church were mostly of the class of persons thus labouring. Observe the present infinitives, indicative of continued habit.

Verse 12

12 .] Purpose of 1 Thessalonians 4:11 .

εὐσχημόνως ] honourably : ἀτάκτως , 2Th 3:6 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:11 , is the opposite.

πρός , with regard to : as in the proverb οὐδὲν πρὸς Διόνυσον , πρὸς Τιμόθεον πρᾶξαι , Demosth., p. 1185. See Bernhardy, p. 265.

τοὺς ἔξω ] the unbelieving world (reff.).

μηδενός (subjective, as ruled by the χρείαν ἔχητε ) is much better taken neuter than masculine; for as Lün. observes, to stand in need of no man , is for man an impossibility.

Verse 13

13 .] οὐ θέλ . κ . τ . λ . , is with our Apostle (see reff.) a common formula of transition to the imparting of weighty information.

τ . κοιμ . ] those who are sleeping ; so the present is used in the well-known epitaph, ἱερὸν ὕπνον | κοιμᾶται · θνήσκειν μὴ λέγε τοὺς ἀγαθούς . Or we may understand it, ‘those who (from time to time) fall asleep (among you),’ as suggested in the Journal of Sacred Lit. for April, 1856, p. 15: but the other seems simpler. It was an expression (reff.) conveying definite meaning to the Thessalonians as importing the dead in Christ ( 1Th 4:16 ). No inference must therefore be drawn from the Apostle’s use of this word, as to the intermediate state (as De W. after Weizel, for the sleep of the soul, and Zwingle, Calvin, al., against it): for the word is a mere common term.

ἵνα μὴ λ . ] object of my not wishing you to be ignorant.

μὴ λυπ . is absolute , that ye mourn not : not (as Thdrt., Calvin, al.) μὴ λυπ . καθὼς , ‘that ye may not mourn (so much) as others &c.’ He forbids λυπεῖσθαι altogether. But we must remember, what sort of λυπεῖσθαι it was. Surely not absolutely the mourning for our loss in their absence , but for theirs (see above), and in so far , for ours also. See Chrysostom’s very beautiful appeal in loc.

οἱ λοιποί ] viz. the heathen, and those Jews who did not believe a resurrection.

οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα ] viz., in the resurrection . Lün. cites, Theocr. Idyll. iv. 42, ἐλπίδες ἐν ζωοῖσιν , ἀνέλπιστοι δὲ θανόντες : Æsch. Eum. 638, ἅπαξ θανόντος οὔτις ἐστ ʼ ἀνάστασις : Catull. 1 Thessalonians 5:4 ff., ‘Soles occidere et redire possunt; | nobis quum semel occidit brevis lux | nox est perpetua una dormienda:’ Lucret. iii. 942 f., ‘nec quisquam expergitus exstat | frigida quem semel est vitai pausa secuta.’ Jowett adds ‘the sad complaints of Cicero and Quintilian over the loss of their children, and the dreary hope of an immortality of feme in Tacitus and Thucydides.’ (But when he goes on to say that the language of the O. T., though more religious, is in many passages hardly more cheering, and substantiates this by Isaiah 38:18-19 , it is surely hardly fair to give the dark side, without balancing it with such passages as Psalms 73:23-26 ; Proverbs 14:32 . In the great upward struggle of the ancient church under the dawn of the revelation of life and immortality, we find much indeed of the αἴλινον αἴλινον εἰπέ but the τὸ δ ʼ εὖ νικάτω has its abundant testimonies also.) This shews of what kind their λύπη was: viz. a grief whose ground was unbelief in a resurrection: which regarded the dead as altogether cut off from Christ’s heavenly kingdom.

Verses 13-18

13 18 .] instructions respecting the resurrection of the departed at the Lord’s coming . We can hardly help suspecting some connexion between what has just preceded, and this section. It would certainly seem as if the preaching of the kingdom of Jesus at Thessalonica had been partially misunderstood, and been perverted into a cause why they should not quietly follow active life, and why they should be uneasy about those who fell asleep before that kingdom was brought in, imagining that they would have no part in its glories. Cf. Acts 17:7 .

Verse 14

14 .] Substantiation ( γάρ ) of that implied in last verse, that further knowledge will remove this their grief : and that knowledge, grounded on the resurrection of our Lord.

εἰ ] not ‘ seeing that :’ but hypothetical: ‘ posito , that we, &c.’

ἀπέθ . κ . ἀνέστη go together, forming the same process through which οἱ κοιμώμενοι are passing. “The Apostle here, as always, uses the direct term ἀπέθανε in reference to our Lord, to obviate all possible misconception: in reference to the faithful he appropriately uses the consolatory term κοιμᾶσθαι : see Thdrt. in loc.” Ellicott.

οὕτως ] The two clauses do not accurately correspond. We should expect καὶ πιστεύομεν ὅτι οὕτως καὶ οἱ ἐν Ἰησοῦ κοιμηθέντες ἀναστήσονται , or the like. Still the οὕτως betokens identity of lot for the two parties concerned, viz., death, and resurrection. In this they resemble: but in the expressed particulars here, they differ. Christ’s was simply ἀνέστη : theirs shall be a resurrection through Him, at His coming.

διὰ τ . Ἰησοῦ ] I feel compelled to differ from the majority of modern scholars (not Ellicott), in adhering to the old connexion of these words with τ . κοιμηθέντας . I am quite aware of the grammatical difficulty: but as I hope to shew, it is not insuperable. But if we join διὰ τ . Ἰησ . with ἄξει , we obtain a clause which I am persuaded the Apostle could never have written, flat and dragging in the extreme διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἄξει σὺν αὐτῷ αὐτῷ referring to Ἰησοῦ already mentioned in the same clause. Whereas, on the other connexion, we have Ἰησοῦς and οἱ κοιμηθέντες διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ set over against one another, the very article, and the unemphatic position of the words, shewing the reference back, and we have αὐτῷ naturally and forcibly referring back to Ἰησοῦς and διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ , in the preceding clauses. In other words, the logical construction of the sentence seems to me so plainly to require the connexion of διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ with κοιμηθέντας , that it must be a grammatical impossibility only, which can break that connexion. But let us see whether there be such an impossibility present. οἱ κοιμηθέντες are confessedly the Christian dead, and none else. They are distinguished by the Apostle’s use of and adhesion to the word, from the merely θανόντες . What makes this distinction? Why are they asleep, and not dead? By whom have they been thus privileged? Certainly, διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ . We are said πιστεύειν δι ʼ αὐτοῦ ( Act 3:16 ), εὐχαριστεῖν δι ʼ αὐτοῦ ( Rom 1:8 ), εἰρήνην ἔχειν δι ʼ αὐτοῦ (ib. Rom 5:1 ), καυχᾶσθαι δι ʼ αὐτοῦ (ib. Rom 1:11 ), παρακαλεῖσθαι δι ʼ αὐτοῦ ( 2Co 1:5 ), &c. &c.: why not also κοιμᾶσθαι δι ʼ αὐτοῦ ? And when Lünem. objects, that the extent of the idea οἱ κοιμηθέντες is understood from the former part of the sentence, εἰ πιστεύομεν κ . τ . λ ., this very reason seems to me the most natural one for the specification If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then even thus also those, of whom we say that they sleep , just because of Jesus, will God , &c.: the emphasis being on the διὰ . Jowett keeps this connexion, merely saying however, “nor will the order of the words allow us to connect them with ἄξει ;” a reason surely insufficient for it. He is certainly in error when he continues, “The only remaining mode is to take διὰ for ἐν (?), ‘those that are asleep in Christ.’ ”

ἄξει σὺν αὐτῷ ] will bring (back to us) with Him (Jesus): i.e. when Jesus shall appear, they also shall appear with Him, being (as below) raised at His coming. Of their disembodied souls there is here no mention: nor is the meaning, as often understood, that God will bring them (their disembodied souls, to be joined to their raised bodies) with Him: but the bringing them with Jesus = their being raised when Jesus appears.

Verse 15

15 .] Confirmation of last verse by direct revelation from the Lord .

τοῦτο this which follows: taken up by ὅτι .

ἐν λόγῳ κυρ . , in (virtue of: an assertion made within the sphere and element of that certainty, which the word of the Lord gives) the word of the Lord , i.e. by direct revelation from Him made to me. τουτέστιν , οὐκ ἀφ ʼ ἑαυτῶν , ὰλλὰ παρὰ τοῦ χριστοῦ μαθόντες λέγομεν , Chr.: ἐκ θείας ἡμῖν ἀποκαλύψεως ἡ διδασκαλία γεγένηται , Thdrt. That St. Paul had many special revelations made to him, we know from 2 Corinthians 12:4 . Cf. also Galatians 1:12 ; Eph 3:3 ; 1 Corinthians 11:23 ; 1 Corinthians 15:3 , and notes.

ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες ] Then beyond question, he himself expected to be alive, together with the majority of those to whom he was writing, at the Lord’s coming. For we cannot for a moment accept the evasion of Theodoret (cf. also Chrys. and the majority of ancient Commentators, down to Bengel, and even some of the best of the moderns, warped by their subjectivities: cf. Ellicott here), οὐκ ἐπὶ τοῦ ἑαυτοῦ προσώπου τέθεικεν , ἀλλ ʼ ἐπὶ τῶν κατ ʼ ἐκεῖνον τὸν καιρὸν περιόντων ἀνθρώπων : nor the ungrammatical rendering of Turretin and Pelt ‘we, if we live and remain’ ( ἡμεῖς ζῶντες , περιλειπόμενοι ): nor the idea Œc., al., that οἱ ζῶντες are the souls , οἱ κοιμηθέντες the bodies : but must take the words in their only plain grammatical meaning, that οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλ . are a class distinguished from οἱ κοιμηθέντες , by being yet in the flesh when Christ comes, in which class, by prefixing ἡμεῖς , he includes his readers and himself. That this was his expectation, we know from other passages, especially from 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 , where see notes. It does not seem to have been so strong towards the end of his course; see e.g. Philippians 1:20-26 . Nor need it surprise any Christian, that the Apostles should in this matter of detail have found their personal expectations liable to disappointment, respecting a day of which it is so solemnly said, that no man knoweth its appointed time, not the angels in heaven, nor the Son ( Mar 13:32 ), but the Father only. At the same time it must be borne in mind, that this inclusion of himself and his hearers among the ζῶντες and περιλειπόμενοι , does not in any way enter into the fact revealed and here announced, which is respecting that class of persons only as they are, and must be, one portion of the faithful at the Lord’s coming; not respecting the question, who shall , and who shall not be among them in that day.

οἱ περιλειπ . εἰς …] Dr. Burton, doubting whether περιλειπόμενοι εἰς τ . π . can mean ‘ left to the coming ’ (but why not? εἰς as defining the terminus temporis is surely common enough, cf. Philippians 1:10 ; Acts 4:3 , εἰς τέλος Joh 13:1 al. fr.), puts a comma at περιλειπόμενοι , and takes εἰς τὴν π . with οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν , rendering, those who are alive at the last day will not enter into the presence of the Lord before those who have died . But 1) ἡ παρουσία τοῦ κυρίου is never used locally , of the presence of the Lord, but always temporally , of His coming : and 2) the arrangement of the sentence would in that case be οὐ μὴ φθ . τοὺς κοιμ . εἰς τ . π . τοῦ κυρ .

οὐ μὴ φθάσωμευ ] shall not (emphatic ‘there is no reason to fear, that …’) prevent (get before, so that they be left behind, and fail of the prize).

Verse 16

16 .] A reason of the foregoing assertion, by detailing the method of the resurrection. Because (not ‘ that ,’so as to be parallel with ὅτι before, as Koch) the Lord Himself (not, as De W., ‘ He, the Lord ’ which would be to the last degree flat and meaningless; nor as Olsh., ‘the Lord Himself ,’ in contrast to any other kind of revelation: nor as Lünem., as the chief Person and actor in that day, emphatically opposed to His faithful ones as acted on, but said for solemnity’s sake, and to shew that it will not be a mere gathering to Him, but HE HIMSELF will descend, and we all shall be summoned before Him) with (‘ in ,’ as the element, the accompanying circumstance) a signal-shout ( κέλευσμα is not only ‘ the shout of battle ,’ as Conyb.; but is used of any signal given by the voice, whether of a captain to his rowers, Thuc. ii. 92: of a man shouting to another at a distance, Herod. iv. 141: of a huntsman to his dogs, Xen. Cyneg. vi. 20. Here it seems to include in it the two which follow and explain it), viz. with the voice of an archangel (Christ shall be surrounded with His angels, Mat 25:31 al. To enquire, which archangel, is futile: to understand the word of Christ Himself (Ambrst., Olsh.) or the Holy Spirit (al.), impossible), and with the trumpet of God ( θεοῦ as in reff., the trumpet especially belonging to and used in the heavenly state of God; not commanded by God (Pelt, Olsh., al.), nor does θεοῦ import size or loudness (Bengel, al.), although these qualities of course are understood. On the trumpet as summoning assemblies, cf. Numbers 10:2 ; Numbers 31:6 ; Joel 2:1 : as accompanying the divine appearances, Exodus 19:16 ; Psalms 47:5 ; Isaiah 27:13 ; Zechariah 9:14 ; Mat 24:31 ; 1Co 15:52 ) shall descend from heaven (cf. Act 1:11 ): and the dead in Christ ( ἐν χρ . must not, as Pelt, Schott, be joined with ἀναστήσονται : for apart from the question whether this would give any admissible meaning, it would bring ἐν χριστῷ into an emphatic position of prominence, which would confuse the whole sentence) shall first rise ( πρῶτον has no reference whatever to the first resurrection ( Rev 20:5-6 ), here, for only the Lord’s people are here in question: but answers to ἔπειτα below: first , the dead in Christ shall rise: then , we, &c.): then we who are living, who remain (as above) shall be caught up (reff.: the great change spoken of 1 Corinthians 15:52 , having first suddenly taken place) all together (see Romans 3:12 , ch. 1Th 5:10 note: ἅμα does not belong to σὺν αὐτοῖς ) with them (the raised of 1Th 4:16 ) in (the) clouds ( ἔδειξε τὸ μέγεθος τῆς τιμῆς · ὥσπερ γὰρ αὐτὸς ὁ δεσπότης ἐπὶ νεφελῆς φωτεινῆς ἀνελήφθη , οὕτω καὶ οἱ εἰς αὐτὸν πεπιστευκότες … ἐπὶ νεφελῶν ὀχούμενοι ὑπαντήσους . τῷ τῶν ὅλων κριτῇ … Thdrt.) to meet the Lord (as He descends: so Aug. de civit. Dei xx. 20. 2, vol. vii. p. 688: ‘non sic accipiendum est tanquam in aëre nos dixerit semper cum Domino mansuros, quia nec ipse utique ibi manebit, quia veniens transiturus est, venienti quippe itur obviam, non manenti.’ Christ is on His way to this earth : and when De W. says that there is no plain trace in St. Paul of Christ’s kingdom on earth, and Lün., that the words shew that the Apostle did not think of Christ as descending down to the earth, surely they cannot suppose him to have been so ignorant of O. T. prophecy, as to have allowed this, its plain testimony, to escape him. εἰς ἀπάντησιν occurs (reff.) twice more in the N. T., and each time implies meeting one who was approaching not merely ‘meeting with’ a person) into the air (belongs to ἁρπαγησόμεθα , not to εἰς ἀπ . τοῦ κυρ . as in E. V.), and thus we (i.e. we and they united, ἡμεῖς ἅμα , σὺν αὐτοῖς , who were the subject of the last sentence) shall be always with the Lord . That he advances no further in the prophetic description, but breaks off at our union in Christ’s presence, is accounted for, by his purpose being accomplished, in having shewn that they who have died in Christ, shall not be thereby deprived of any advantage at His coming. The rest of the great events of that time His advent on this earth, His judgment of it, assisted by His saints ( 1Co 6:2-3 ), His reign upon earth, His final glorification with His redeemed in heaven, are not treated here, but not therefore to be conceived of as alien from the Apostle’s teaching.

Verse 18

18 .] ὥστε , so then: reff.

παρακ . , comfort: cf. ἵνα μὴ λυπῆσθε , 1 Thessalonians 4:13 .

λόγοις , not things , here or any where: but words: these words , which I have by inspiration delivered to you.

It will be manifest to the plain, as well as to the scholar-like reader, that attempts like that of Prof. Jowett, to interpret such a passage as this by the rules of mere figurative language, are entirely beside the purpose. The Apostle’s declarations here are made in the practical tone of strict matter of fact, and are given as literal details, to console men’s minds under an existing difficulty. Never was a place where the analogy of symbolical apocalyptic language was less applicable. Either these details must be received by us as matter of practical expectation, or we must set aside the Apostle as one divinely empowered to teach the Church. It is a fair opportunity for an experimentum crucis: and such test cannot be evaded by Prof. Jowett’s intermediate expedient of figurative language.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.