1 Thessalonians Ch 4 1-8

1Λοιπὸν οὖν, ἀδελφοί, ἐρωτῶμεν ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ, ἵνα καθὼς παρελάβετε παρ’ ἡμῶν τὸ πῶς δεῖ ὑμᾶς περιπατεῖν καὶ ἀρέσκειν θεῷ, καθὼς καὶ περιπατεῖτε, ἵνα περισσεύητε μᾶλλον.

So, for the rest, brothers, we ask you and pray in the Lord Jesus, that as you accepted from us as to how you must go about and please God, (which is)  how in the way you go about so that you be more fulfilled.

For the rest, brothers, we ask you and pray in the Lord Jesus  Christ, so that accordingly you accept from us how it is necessary to walk and please Go, and (that you) walk accordingly so that you become more superabundant (more fulfilled = more pleasing to God).

περιπατεῖτε: this is literally, to walk about. Generally, in the sense of ‘going about one’s business’. 

 Of course, pleasing God implies a moral code, but this is nothing new for Judaism.  Vs 4-13 are really an extended description of how to live life.

 1 De cetero ergo, fratres, rogamus vos et obsecramus in Domino Iesu, ut — quemadmodum accepistis a nobis quomodo vos oporteat ambulare et placere Deo, sicut et ambulatis — ut abundetis magis.

2οἴδατε γὰρ τίνας παραγγελίας ἐδώκαμεν ὑμῖν διὰ τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ.

For you know we have given you instructions from the lord Jesus

Direct from Jesus—he is pulling rank.  This would put him on par with the original Apostles, which would likely have been an issue.  “Why listen to this guy?  He never met Jesus.”

 This is, in effect, a very bold claim, one that is likely intended to put Paul’s teaching above suspicion and/or reproach.  This is not the first time in this letter Paul has made this claim.

2 Scitis enim, quae praecepta dederimus vobis per Dominum Iesum.

3τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, ὁ ἁγιασμὸς ὑμῶν, ἀπέχεσθαι ὑμᾶς ἀπὸ τῆς πορνείας,

for your being made holy is the will of God, that you be moved from debauchery

Here we go with the debauchery theme.  Throughout his letters, Paul spends a lot of time warning about ‘pornes’.  This word can have a lot of different nuances, but, generally for Paul, it suffices to note that this is the root of ‘pornography.’ It’s heavily sexual, although it can be (and is) used more generically as ‘corruption’ in Mark.

 Here the thing to note is that Paul is equating being holy with refraining from debauchery.  One secondary source states that the belief in celibacy was not wholly a Christian invention.  There are indications that some practitioners of Judaism felt that celibacy was a positive virtue. The thing to note is that Judaism, at root, was the religion of desert nomadic herders who reacted to the fertility cults of the settled cities of the Philistines.

 A good reference for this (& lots of others) topic is Robin Lane Fox’s “Pagans and Christians”.  The book is an excellent and very thorough source for the religious ideas of pagans, Christians, and Jews in the first centuries after the execution of Jesus. He suggests that certain strains of Judaism had come to perceive celibacy as a preferred state.  The anti-debauchery theme is picked up again in V-4 & V-7

 Note that ἁγιασμὸς = sanctificatio in Latin.  The quirk with this is, we are used to it as the root of “saint”, which has a lot of connotations for us.  It is more accurate to think of this word as ‘holy.’  For example, the great church of Constantine in Istanbul is properly “Hagia Sophia”.  “Holy Wisdom.”  It is often rendered as “Saint Sophia”, and this changes the implications, making us think in terms of a person, rather than a condition.  In fact, this carries into Latin, and a lot of the Romance languages; what should be rendered as ‘holy’ is often translated as ‘saint.’

 In any case, this is a very early moral code for those who wish to follow Jesus.  Also, note that it is “God’s Will” that we be holy.

 3 Haec est enim voluntas Dei, sanctificatio vestra,

4εἰδέναι ἕκαστον ὑμῶν τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος κτᾶσθαι ἐν ἁγιασμῷ καὶ τιμῇ,

(in order) that each of you know you are vessels in holiness and honour, [literal]

So that each of you know how to get for yourself your own vessel (=body) in holiness and honour. [easier to read]

 Interesting Greek here—the ‘en’ corresponds to ‘in’ pretty much exactly, which is a tad unusual; not exactly standard Greek. One would almost expect Genitive of Material.  And here, the infinitive is used to express the sense of “in order to,” just as we would say, “To get better, practice.”  Not sure if there is some nuance to this, but I suspect not. Instead, it’s just the versatility of Greek.

 Also!! The Vulgate adds an entire phrase: ut abstineatis a fornicatione “so that you abstain from fornication”.  Assuming this is the actual Vulgate of St Jerome, this emphasis is entirely understandable.  He has been called “The Patron Saint of Misogyny.”  This reputation comes from his inability not to be tempted by the guiles of women.  IOW, it’s the woman’s fault that he’s so weak-willed that resisting the temptation they provoke is very difficult for him.  IIRC, this is, more or less, the thought process behind the burqa: how can men be expected to keep it in their pants when women are so alluring?

 4 ut abstineatis a fornicatione; ut sciat unusquisque vestrum suum vas possidere in sanctificatione et honore,

5μὴ ἐν πάθει ἐπιθυμίας καθάπερ καὶ τὰ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ εἰδότα τὸν θεόν,

 ta…ta; the gentiles (and) those not having known (perfect participle) God.

 He continues the theme of debauchery.  Note that his audience is converted Gentiles, yet he accuses the Gentiles of being especially debauched.  And note the excuse he provides them “they do not know God.”  The idea of equating the knowledge of what is right with doing what is right is, ultimately, from Plato.  (If only that connection were true!)

5 non in passione desiderii, sicut et gentes, quae ignorant Deum;

6τὸ μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν καὶ πλεονεκτεῖν ἐν τῷ πράγματι τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, διότι ἔκδικος κύριος περὶ πάντων τούτων, καθὼς καὶ προείπαμεν ὑμῖν καὶ διεμαρτυράμεθα.

Not the overstepping and (‘and’ = nor, or ‘and not’) to defraud in your affairs your brother, because the lord over all these things is the avenger about all such things, accordingly and we have warned you and we have given testimony.

ἐν τῷ πράγματι = ‘within your affairs’

περὶ πάντων τούτων = ‘concerning all things’; ‘around all things’ would be accusative

Defrauding: this is directly from Judaism, which talks a lot about the ideas of social justice, and social equity. Not egalitarianism; wealth was considered a sign of God’s favour—think Job—but equity. The rich can be rich, but don’t cheat people to get more. Be rich, but be equitable. Be fair.

 Note that “the lord” will be an avenger.  The concept of divine retribution for evil acts is very ancient, both for Jews and pagans.

6 ut ne quis supergrediatur neque circumveniat in negotio fratrem suum, quoniam vindex est Dominus de his omnibus, sicut et praediximus vobis et testificati sumus.

7οὐ γὰρ ἐκάλεσεν ἡμᾶς ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ ἀκαθαρσίᾳ ἀλλ’ ἐν ἁγιασμῷ.

for God did not call you into impurity, but into holiness.

 Did John the Baptist preach about impurity? He was an ascetic, but even in Matthew, he doesn’t really go there; we are not told John’s message was about sexual morality.  The “brood of vipers” is more about social justice than personal purity.  Maybe we can infer personal purity from being a hermit in the desert, but it’s not explicit.  And Jesus doesn’t dwell on it all that much, either, nor do other epistles by writers other than Paul.  The lack of teaching on sexual impurity would indicate that this is Paul’s particular theme.  As we shall see later, Paul was all for elimination of Jewish purity / kosher laws, but the whole immorality thing isn’t something that got a lot of stress?  Jesus certainly didn’t emphasize it in the gospels.

 Regardless, the implication is of a moral code, but this is hardly alien to Jewish teaching and practice.

7 Non enim vocavit nos Deus in immunditiam sed in sanctificationem.

8τοιγαροῦν ὁ ἀθετῶν οὐκ ἄνθρωπον ἀθετεῖ ἀλλὰ τὸν θεὸν τὸν [καὶ] διδόντα τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ τὸ ἅγιον εἰς ὑμᾶς.

For which reason the one[ is] setting aside not man, but God, the one giving his spirit, the holy [ i.e., his holy spirit ] to you.

Paul is teaching God’s law, not man’s—presumably someone else is teaching that.  This echoes his claim in 4:2 that he got his instructions directly from Jesus.  And again with the holy spirit.  But there is no sense in this that the holy spirit is anything but the spirit of god, in the sense that humans also have a spirit.  Of course, these sorts of passages were cited to prove the “Holy Spirit.”

8 Itaque, qui spernit, non hominem spernit sed Deum, qui etiam dat Spiritum suum Sanctum in vos.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on July 24, 2012, in 1 Thessalonians, epistles, Paul's Letters, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. An interesting set of questions you pose about Jews vs John the Baptist vs Jesus vs Paul, when it comes to purity and sexual morality. Things we know, and related questions:
    1. Of the 613 laws of Judaism, some are related to purity, some to morality, and some are rituals of observance or worship. Paul used some and threw out others. Has this been categorized in a way to see if Paul had a consistent theology with his choices, or did he have to choose as he found circumstances amongst each church’s population? A comparison between instructions to different churches may illuminate this. This blog could be a good starting point.
    2. Prior to performing certain holy rituals or acts, purification is required by washing in a Mikvah (bath, spring, or stream). Once purified, certain acts such as touching a dead thing or having sex make you impure. Much of this ritual is used in Islam, too, with required washing before praying. Is water purification common to all religions?
    3. It is likely that Baptism is a version of this Jewish purification ritual, and it was definitely associated with purification as practiced by John the Baptist. Is it significant that John would pour the water on you, instead of washing yourself? In Christianity, Baptism is our “purification of original sin”, but is only done once in your life, as an initiation ritual, and all groups have initiation rituals, The daily prayer ritual uses holy water, usually self-anointed, but sometimes sprinkled by a priest on higher occasions. How was water purification and initiation rituals expected to be handled in pagan Thessalonika?
    4. Many ascetic movements are celibate or chaste, concerned with purity, so much so that they lessen their moral behavior with familial abandonment, since these worldly connections only detract from purity. This is only enhanced with apocalyptic theologies, since families are not important when the world is about to end. Interesting that modern cults also encourage the abandonment of family and friends, because they distract from the cult and are hostile to the cult.
    5. One of the few lessons by Jesus on sexual morality is the story of the lady at the well, about divorce and marriage. However, Jesus spends much more time encouraging his followers to abandon their families, as he did. The lady at the well story seems out of place, but then Jesus often discourages over-ritualizations, such as his arguments with the Pharisees about the Sabbath, but encourages higher standards than what is required by the 613 laws.

  2. Another item:
    6. During the Patriarchal Age, we find Jacob’s sons making trips into the city to visit the temples to have sex. Other Canaanite and Fertile Crescent texts of that time indicate that the women would also go to the temples to have sex. No wonder that fertility problems could be solved at the temple, when an alternative male-female pairing can have solve the conception problem that a husband and wife might have. The desert tribes are fewer and far between, and they know each other closely, so the temples and cities provide a great cultural outlet for their normally strict interactions.

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