1 Thessalonians Chapter 4 9-18

9Περὶ δὲ τῆς φιλαδελφίας οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε γράφειν ὑμῖν, αὐτοὶ γὰρ ὑμεῖς θεοδίδακτοί ἐστε εἰς τὸ ἀγαπᾶν ἀλλήλους:

Regarding the brotherly love it is not necessary that I write to you, for you yourselves are god-taught towards the loving each other.

[‘the loving’ is a bit stiff; Grk uses the article when English would not.

“God-taught.”  Interesting concept.  Anyone have any idea what it means?  It’s one of those things that sure sounds good, but is rather hard to pin down.  A revelation, I suppose, would be the most obvious choice?  A divine insight?  Or something.

I should no doubt have mentioned this much sooner, but a word on the definite article in Greek.  The same concept, more or less, holds for some of the Romance languages as well.

The use of the definite article (the) in Greek is pretty much the opposite of in English.  Greek will use the article when English will not.  Here, for example.  Greek says, literally “the loving”  In English, we would say, simply, “loving each other”.  English uses ‘the’ as a definite article, referring to this specific example.  I hit the (this one) ball.  In Greek, “the” almost becomes an indefinite article, used when we’re talking about the general concept.  In Eglish, we would say, “Love is grand”, meaning love-in-general, vs. “the love of a mother for her child,” which specifies.  Greek would do the opposite: H agape kalos estin = love is grand, “H” being the capital form of the letter eta, which is the feminine definite article.  Note that French and Spanish would follow the pattern of Greek.  “L’amour est magnifique,’ or, something I remember from Spanish class: “Que es el hombre?,” or, “What is Man?”.  I have been putting the definite article into my translation, which sort of makes the English a bit non-idiomatic.  I do this to express the literal sense of the Greek.

9 De caritate autem fraternitatis non necesse habetis, ut vobis scribam; ipsi enim vos a Deo edocti estis, ut diligatis invicem;

10καὶ γὰρ ποιεῖτε αὐτὸ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς [τοὺς] ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ. παρακαλοῦμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, περισσεύειν μᾶλλον,

 And for you do the same to all the brothers (those) in the whole of Macedonia. We pray for you, brothers, that you are more overfilled (with love?).

10 etenim facitis illud in omnes fratres in universa Macedonia. Rogamus autem vos, fratres, ut abundetis magis;

11καὶ φιλοτιμεῖσθαι ἡσυχάζειν καὶ πράσσειν τὰ ἴδια καὶ ἐργάζεσθαι ταῖς [ἰδίαις] χερσὶν ὑμῶν, καθὼς ὑμῖν παρηγγείλαμεν,

And to be quiet to strive for (lit: to love) honor and to do your own (tasks/works/job) and to work with your [own] hands, accordingly we command you.

φιλοτιμεῖσθαι ἡσυχάζειν I’m reading this backwards from most people. They use φιλοτιμεῖσθαι as ‘to strive’, leaving out the ‘honor’ part. I alone from anyone in the past 2,000 years of exegesis, am reading it as the goal, rather than the means.  ‘Be restful’ to ‘strive for honor’, rather than ‘be quiet to strive for honor’.  Both verbs are infinitives, which mean neither has grammatical precedence; it’s not explicit that we do one “to do” (infinitive) the other.  Granted, the first may be taken to have precedence, which is why everyone takes it this way.  However, given the flexibility of inflected languages, it is not necessary to read it this way.  But, against me is the Vulgate, so I suppose I have to concede the point to Jerome, but I only do so formally, and grudgingly.   ; – )

παρηγγείλαμεν a word that evolved from its original, classical meaning: to pass on an announcement >>> to give the watchword >>> to command

The point to take from this is that Paul is instructing the Thessalonians to live a quiet, unassuming life of labor, whatever one’s occupation happens to be.  I do not know if this served as the basis for what became the Rule of St Benedict, the founder of western monasticism, but it sure points in that direction.

11 et operam detis, ut quieti sitis et ut vestrum negotium agatis et operemini manibus vestris, sicut praecipimus vobis;

12ἵνα περιπατῆτε εὐσχημόνως πρὸς τοὺς ἔξω καὶ μηδενὸς χρείαν ἔχητε.

that you may go about honestly towards those outside, and you may have no needs.

“Having no needs”.  This sounds almost like Zen.  Or the Stoic philosopher Zeno, who said (centuries before Paul) “I, who have the fewest needs, am nearest the gods.”

12 ut honeste ambuletis ad eos, qui foris sunt, et nullius aliquid desideretis.

13Οὐ θέλομεν δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί, περὶ τῶν κοιμωμένων, ἵνα μὴ λυπῆσθε καθὼς καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα.

And we do not wish you to be ignorant, brothers, about those sleeping, so that you will not be grieved as are the others, those not having hope.

Those ‘sleeping,’ of course, refer to the dead, to those believers who have already died. This is a fairly oblique reference to expectations of the Parousia, specifically to Paul’s expectations of when the Parousia would occur.  There are passages in Mark and Matthew that seem to state pretty clearly that it was expected soon, as within the lifetime of people hearing Jesus preach.  Mark wrote probably 15 years after Paul, and Matthew another decade later, while Paul was writing within a generation of Jesus’ death. It would seem reasonable to suppose that, since Mark and Matthew, writing later, expected Jesus to come within the lifetime of people hearing the words spoken, then we should certainly expect that people 15 years before Mark and Matthew had an even higher level of anticipation. Unfortunately, while this is logical, we can in no way make that inference. We have no way to be sure that different groups of Jesus people had the same expectations or beliefs, or even the same idea of who Jesus was. So it is highly significant that Paul, Mark, and Matthew did, possibly—maybe probably—did believe the Parousia would occur soon.

If it was expected soon, the concern would be that those no longer alive would miss out; Paul here assures them otherwise.

It should, however, also be noted, that Paul tells us in Galatians that he was a Pharisee. One particular belief of this group was that the dead would rise…at some point. Prior, Jews were fairly ambiguous about any afterlife, rather like the early Greeks who envisioned a shadowy existence, but barely that, as seen in the Odyssey.  The Pharisees asserted the dead would rise, time and disposition, status, etc unspecified.

13 Nolumus autem vos ignorare, fratres, de dormientibus, ut non contristemini sicut et ceteri, qui spem non habent.

14εἰ γὰρ πιστεύομεν ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἀπέθανεν καὶ ἀνέστη, οὕτως καὶ ὁ θεὸς τοὺς κοιμηθέντας διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἄξει σὺν αὐτῷ.

For if you believe that Jesus died and rose, and just so God will lead those having fallen asleep in Jesus with him

Now, in 1:9, Paul specifically said that “God raised Jesus”, the latter being in the accusative case, the object that God, in the nominative case and so the subject of the sentence, raised. Here, Jesus rose. Do we have a contradiction? Or, at least, some lack of clarity on Paul’s part? Or is this just another way of saying the same thing? Jesus rose, true, but we can still posit that God was the prime actor. It’s a stretch, and it’s not the most obvious way to take this, but it is, technically, possible that this is what Paul means. We need to look at other references to this action to see if we can get a better idea of what Paul believes about Jesus.  (See note to V16 below.)

14 Si enim credimus quod Iesus mortuus est et resurrexit, ita et Deus eos, qui dormierunt, per Iesum adducet cum eo.

15Τοῦτο γὰρ ὑμῖν λέγομεν ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου, ὅτι ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι εἰς τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ κυρίου οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν τοὺς κοιμηθέντας: .

For this we say to you in the word of the lord, that we the living, those remaining (alive) at the return of the lord will not precede those having been sleeping.

IOW, the dead will precede the living. For where all will go, see V-17.

15 Hoc enim vobis dicimus in verbo Domini, quia nos, qui vivimus, qui relinquimur in adventum Domini, non praeveniemus eos, qui dormierunt;

16ὅτι αὐτὸς ὁ κύριος ἐν κελεύσματι, ἐν φωνῇ ἀρχαγγέλου καὶ ἐν σάλπιγγι θεοῦ, καταβήσεται ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστήσονται πρῶτον,

That the lord in his command, in the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God should come down from the sky(heaven?) and say that the dead in Christ will rise first,

More apocalyptic imagery. “…There were seven angels, with seven trumpets….”

And, as in 4:14, the dead will rise.  They will not be raised, as Jesus was in 1:9.  Given that the dead will rise, how much weight can we give to Jesus rising, vs. being raised?  It would seem to undercut the significance of the change from a transitive verb in 1:9 to an intransitive verb here.

Perhaps more importantly, Jesus comes down ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ.  The word << οὐρανος >> in Classical Greek generally means “the sky.”  However, in NT translation, it is most often translated as “heaven.”  This, IMHO, is a great example of a distortion due to translation.  And, in the gospels, the term switches back and forth between singular and plural.  I’m trying to see if there is a difference in usage of singular vs. plural.  

For a discussion of << καταβήσεται >> vs. << ἀναβήσεται >>,  see the comment to Galatians 2:1.  That is, when I get there!            

16 quoniam ipse Dominus in iussu, in voce archangeli et in tuba Dei descendet de caelo, et mortui, qui in Christo sunt, resurgent primi;
17ἔπειτα ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι ἅμα σὺν αὐτοῖς ἁρπαγησόμεθα ἐν νεφέλαις εἰς ἀπάντησιν τοῦ κυρίου εἰς ἀέρα: καὶ οὕτως πάντοτε σὺν κυρίῳ ἐσόμεθα.

Then we living and remaining at the same time will be seized with them in the clouds to a meeting of the lord in the air, and thus we will all be with the lord.

Here we have the destination: into the clouds. IOW, here is the first conception that ‘heaven’ is in the sky. Note that the term is εἰς ἀέρα. In other places, especially in the gospels, the term used is ‘ouranos’, which, strictly speaking, means ‘sky’, but it traditionally becomes translated as ‘heaven.’

Plus, it’s we who will be with Jesus.  The most obvious way to take this is that Paul fully expects this to happen in his lifetime.  No, it doesn’t have to be read like this, since ‘we all’—which includes, I suppose, the dead—will be with the lord.  But, the immediate impact is that Paul is talking about himself and his audience as ‘we.’  I will grant that this may be pushing the point.

Another point about the clouds.  This has a bit of resonance with the story of the Ascension in Acts.  Is it a foreshadow?  Has this story begun to circulate?  If so, why is it not in Mark and Matthew.

17 deinde nos, qui vivimus, qui relinquimur, simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Domino in aera, et sic semper cum Domino erimus.

18Ὥστε παρακαλεῖτε ἀλλήλους ἐν τοῖς λόγοις τούτοις.

Therefore, comfort each other in these words.

Pastoral.  But a nice message of love and common concern.

18 Itaque consolamini invicem in verbis istis.


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 31, 2012, in 1 Thessalonians, epistles, Paul's Letters, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Regarding the phrase “god-taught”, it would seem that Paul means “natural”, as in “nature vs. nurture”. A common belief of many people was that we were born closer to the pure, goodly state of god, but this degrades over time as we age. Compare this with the belief that old people are wise because they come from a golden age of knowledge.

  2. Excellent. Makes perfect sense. Something “god-taught” would be something sort of either innate, or put there via revelation. Or am I stretching it with the last part?

    • Ever since I wrote my comment, I’ve wondered whether I was anachronistic in my assessment to some degree, and whether it might have meant the exact opposite. Your suggestion of “revelation” as a variant opens up a larger set of possibilities that would appear to better fit the time period. What were the various thoughts in Greek and Jewish philosophies on this subject, is he drawing on one of these, or is he making up a new one?

  3. Revelation, as we think of it, was not really a Greek thing. There were things like sleeping at a Temple of Asklepios and having the god reveal the cause/cure for your disease in a dream. That was a very popular concept among pagans. The revelation experience is more Jewish; sort of the thing that resulted in the Book of Daniel, which is presented as a revelation. As far as that goes, so are a lot of the prophets, such as Isaiah, and Habakkuk, whom Paul cites in Gal 3:11.

    I would put Paul into this lineage. As I will explain a bit in my summary to Galatians, I believe that, at least in part, Paul’s audience for this letter included followers of Jesus who were well acquainted with Jewish law and scripture.

  4. Very interesting. I see what you mean about the Greeks. What about the Romans? The Aeneid by Virgil does contain a “revelation”, where Aeneas is shown what the invisible gods are really doing to Troy and why it was hopeless to stay. The Romans may have been primed for this belief by the Sibyllene Books, while the Greeks were not privy to the weavings of Fate. Revelations must have been very attractive, as they are today, whether through science or religion, and the source of scorn by skeptics of the opposing revelations.

  5. Remember when comparing your translations to Jerome, you may be right and Jerome may be trying to push his theological viewpoint over Paul’s meaning.

  6. As for the Romans…I didn’t mean to dismiss the Greeks and revelation. The gods did speak to mortals, but it was, on the whole, rather a different thing.

    Yes, the Romans had the Sibylline Books, but the Greeks had oracles, too, the most famous, of course, at Delphi. The difference between the Graeco-Roman tradition and the Hebrew tradition was that, by and large, the Gr/Romans expected prophesy to come from an established source. Generally, non-oracular individuals did not have revelations, except those sought at shrine. OTOH, Paul is, by comparison, a nobody. The Gr/Romans would not have paid much attention to someone like Paul, and there was no real history of such individuals in Gr/Roman history.

    Always with exceptions.

    And, remember, a dream, too, is from Zeus.

    As for Jerome…He wasn’t alone in his desire to push his viewpoint over Paul’s meaning. It’s been done for 2,000 years now. This was supposedly taken care of in the Reformation, but they were still too busy pushing their agenda.

    • Speaking-in-tongues was probably “babbling” in the modern meaning, rather than the Bar-bar-ing “barbarian”, foreign, incomprehensible languages implied in the Tower of Babel story and the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13. The “tongues spreading out like fire settled over their heads” are often drawn as “tongues of flame” over the heads of the apostles, but maybe they really meant “the babbling spread like wildfire”, which sounds like the scenario when Paul give rules to the tongue-speakers in 1 Corinthians. It is not hard to assign any group of syllables to a word in one of the many languages used in that area. The randomness may have not been at the syllable level but known words scrambled at the sentence or paragraph level, spewing out whole phrases.

      Interesting that the Pythoness of Delphi and many other oracles were also based on either babblings that are “interpreted”, reading random patterns generated by nature (augery) or the throwing of dice of some kind. Whether Greek or Hebrew, Roman or Chinese, or Native American, this was the common form of communications from the gods outside of dreams. These are base on a slight tipping of random events into non-random meaning – a warping of nature away from its destiny. The shaman covers their self with twisted bird beaks and other flawed growths to draw on the power that transformed them from what they should have been. The difference may be that the antiquity of the Delphic oracle, combined with noteworthy anecdotes of failures that were really successes (“a great nation will fall”), gave Delphi a catchet that was difficult for the Hebrew prophet to compete with.

      Islam’s prophet would fall to the ground in a seizure and babble, parts of which became revelatory passages in the Koran. I believe some Old Testament prophets had this affliction (or gift?) And speaking of gift, this story echos the revelation to Paul by Jesus on the road to Damascus. This makes me ask – how often was Paul struck down? did he babble himself or was he just responding to the religous experiences of others? were the interpreters predesignated by Paul or the elders, were they a family member who knew what they meant, or did someone spontaneously start interpreting what they meant? did they argue over who’s interpretation was better?

  7. Yes, the English term “babble” comes from the Tower of Babel (Babylon?). Hence, the Babel fish (sp?). Since the Greeks didn’t have the Tower of Babel story, they thought non-Greek speakers babbled, which, to their ears, sounded like ‘bar-bar’, hence barbarian, which, in Greek, meant ‘non-Greek speaker’, w/o connotations of being either culturally primitive or w/o civilised behaviour.

    Yes, babbling was a sign of prophesy. Epilepsy was known as the ‘sacred disease’ b/c it was believed (at least by some, at some point) the seizure was divinely inspired.

    As for the interpretation of Delphic oracles, there’s a whole school of thought that Delphi was sort of an international clearing-house of knowledge. People came from all parts of the Greek world and beyond. While there, they naturally chatted the priests or other residents up, so that the priest accumulated a lot of knowledge about what was going on. This, then, was an enormous help when it came time to ‘interpret’ the babblings of the Pythia. No one will go so far as to say the priests faked the whole thing, but this is probably a case of the lord (Apollo, in this case) helping those who helped themselves. If you read the stuff, it’s very hard to ascribe cynical attitudes to the operation, even if there was a strong human element in the proceeding.

    Even the harder-headed Romans took the auspices (haruspex: one who looks at entrails) very seriously.

    And Delphi served a very different function than the Hebrew prophets. The latter were concerned with religious fidelity to YHWH; Delphi aimed to give practical advice. It made its name during the period of colonisation (ca 700 BCE). When a city was considering starting a colony, the first thing was to send someone to Delphi. That’s where the Delphic priests having a finger on the pulse of what other cities were doing could be–and probably was– immensely helpful OTOH, the Hebrew prophets, I believe, were primarily, if not solely interested in cultic procedures.

    From time immemorial (?) shamans (shamen?) have taken substances, sweated, inhaled kannabis, starved themselves, gotten drunk, or used any number of other methods to get beyond the rational mind, to put themselves into an altered state in which or from which to touch the divine mind. This seems to be common through most of the world, and includes the element of chance that you mentioned. Some things are, to some extent, ‘universal’.

    As for Paul being ‘struck’, that’s Luke’s story. Paul says nothing of the sort. Remember, Luke, essentially (IMHO) was a novelist. He has a lot of material that’s not found elsewhere: the nativity, Dives and Lazarus, Zaccheus, & c. He took Matthew and Mark and fleshed the whole thing out, then added an epilogue of sorts that wrapped the whole story up by sending Paul to Rome, which then became the center of what was, by then, the Christian universe, if only because it was the center of the political world. (Yes, Alexandria was huge, too, but not so early on, and Luke was concerned with the political overlords).

    So take ‘struck’ with a grain of salt. In my interpretation, Paul was ‘struck’ by the understanding of how the Christ had changed Judaism forever, and what the implications of that change were. As for the arguments, I paraphrase: whenever three or more of you are gathered in my name, there will be heresy. Just as when you have a group of three people, you have politics.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: