1 Thessalonians Chapter 5

1Περὶ δὲ τῶν χρόνων καὶ τῶν καιρῶν, ἀδελφοί, οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε ὑμῖν γράφεσθαι,

About these times and intervals, brothers, there is no need that it be written you.  (it is not necessary to write you.)  

These intervals?  Which?  The current times?  Or the “end times”, that are referred to in 4:13-17?

1 De temporibus autem et momentis, fratres, non indigetis, ut scribatur vobis;

2αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἀκριβῶς οἴδατε ὅτι ἡμέρα κυρίου ὡς κλέπτης ἐν νυκτὶ οὕτως ἔρχεται.

For you definitely know the day of the lord as a thief in the night in this way comes (comes thus,  as a thief in the night)

2 ipsi enim diligenter scitis quia dies Domini, sicut fur in nocte, ita veniet.

3ὅταν λέγωσιν, Εἰρήνη καὶ ἀσφάλεια, τότε αἰφνίδιος αὐτοῖς ἐφίσταται ὄλεθρος ὥσπερ ἡ ὠδὶν τῇ ἐν γαστρὶ ἐχούσῃ, καὶ οὐ μὴ ἐκφύγωσιν.

When they say, “peace and security”, then sudden destruction comes over them as the pangs of childbirth, and there is no escaping.

We have slipped into apocalyptic imagery again.  The contrast between the expected peace, and the actual trials, is picked up again in the “Little Apocalypse” of Matthew 24, as well as later, in the Apocalypse of John.  Part of this was to assure the audience that their trials, referred to above, are part of the plan.  So don’t despair!  

3 Cum enim dixerint: “ Pax et securitas ”, tunc repentinus eis superveniet interitus, sicut dolor in utero habenti, et non effugient.

4ὑμεῖς δέ, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἐστὲ ἐν σκότει, ἵνα ἡ ἡμέρα ὑμᾶς ὡς κλέπτης καταλάβῃ,

you, too, brothers, don’t be in darkness, so that the day (of the lord) does not catch you like a thief,

Verses 4-8 comprise an extended metaphor with the image of light/dark, and night/day, ending up with sober/inebriated.  The good followers of Jesus are in the light/day, and sober.  They will be saved from….(see V-9 for the cliffhanger!)  

Using the metaphor of the contrast between night/dark vs day/light to indicate the distinction between evil/good pre-dates Christianity.  Offhand, my first experience with it would be in Zoroastrianism, the dualist belief in which Principals of Light (Ahura, or Ahuramazda) is engaged in existential combat with the principal of Darkness (Ahriman). Plato uses the metaphor to describe the upward journey to attain The One.  It remains fundamental, perhaps a species-memory of the nightly predators that lurked just outside the ring of light provided by the campfire.

4 Vos autem, fratres, non estis in tenebris, ut vos dies ille tamquam fur comprehendat;

5πάντες γὰρ ὑμεῖς υἱοὶ φωτός ἐστε καὶ υἱοὶ ἡμέρας. οὐκ ἐσμὲν νυκτὸς οὐδὲ σκότους:

for you are all be sons of the light and children of the day. We are not (sons of) the night or darkness.

5 omnes enim vos filii lucis estis et filii diei. Non sumus noctis neque tenebrarum;

6ἄρα οὖν μὴ καθεύδωμεν ὡς οἱ λοιποί, ἀλλὰ γρηγορῶμεν καὶ νήφωμεν.

Then let us not sleep as the rest, but let us watch and let us be sober.

6 igitur non dormiamus sicut ceteri, sed vigilemus et sobrii simus.

7οἱ γὰρ καθεύδοντες νυκτὸς καθεύδουσιν, καὶ οἱ μεθυσκόμενοι νυκτὸς μεθύουσιν:

For those sleeping, sleep by night, and those who are inebriated, let them be inebriated by night.

7 Qui enim dormiunt, nocte dormiunt; et, qui ebrii sunt, nocte inebriantur.

8ἡμεῖς δὲ ἡμέρας ὄντες νήφωμεν, ἐνδυσάμενοι θώρακα πίστεως καὶ ἀγάπης καὶ περικεφαλαίαν ἐλπίδα σωτηρίας:

We of the day, on the other hand, will be sober, putting on our breastplate of faithand  love and our helmet of faith of (for) salvation.

8 Nos autem, qui diei sumus, sobrii simus, induti loricam fidei et caritatis et galeam spem salutis;

9ὅτι οὐκ ἔθετο ἡμᾶς ὁ θεὸς εἰς ὀργὴν ἀλλὰ εἰς περιποίησιν σωτηρίας διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ,

for God did not place us for wrath, but for the saving of salvation through our lord Jesus Christ

The benefit of being of the light/day, and being sober/watchful is salvation from the coming wrath.  This was alluded to earlier, in 1:10.  The wrath of God is when the bad folks finally get what’s coming to them.  Divine retribution for transgressions, as mentioned, is an old concept.  The twist with the apocalyptic thinking is that it will all hit the fan at the same time.  But the punishment will be allotted to individuals.  This followed the Greek idea of a personal fate; in which each will get what is coming to him/her.  Judaism was more collective, more group oriented.  Jews were the chosen people; followers of Jesus, perhaps influenced by Greek thinking, became more individualistically oriented.  We are saved because of our behaviour as individuals, not because we belong to the right group.

And it’s specifically for the followers of Jesus, because the salvation comes through him.  Both << διὰ >> and << per >> with the genitive explicitly entail the idea of a channel, or a mediator.

Greek:  ἔθετο  This is a basic word, simply meaning ‘to put’ or ‘to place.’  And Lewis & Short give a secondary definition as “to appoint,” but in the sense of appointing an official.  The NASB and the ESV translate this as ‘destine’.  The idea of destiny, especially as predestination, will become very important in later letters, especially Romans.  However, in this instance, I don’t believe that reading this as ‘destined’ is necessary, or even warranted.  We can be placed on the path to salvation, but to use ‘destined’ is, I think, misleading, especially in view of what will come later on the topic. But, regardless, we’ll take note of clues that may point in that direction. This is the first.

9 quoniam non posuit nos Deus in iram sed in acquisitionem salutis per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum,

10 τοῦ ἀποθανόντος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἵνα εἴτε γρηγορῶμεν εἴτε καθεύδωμεν ἅμα σὺν αὐτῷ ζήσωμεν.

who having died for us,so that, whether we keep watch or whether we sleep, at the same time we will live with him.

Picks up on the idea of the dead entering into life along with those remaining.  We will live. Whether we have died, or whether we remain alive to ‘keep watch’, we will live.  Paul has mentioned ‘life’ or ‘living’ a couple of times now.  This is a case where, given the 2,000 years between Paul and us, we ‘know’ exactly what he means: eternal life in heaven.  However, bear in mind that this is in no way spelled out so far.  Will it be spelled out more explicitly later in the NT?  That remains to be seen.  We have been told we’ll sit on the clouds, so that is a start.

Now, it has to be both admitted and understood that Paul’s assembly may have had a very clear idea about what “life” meant.  This, presumably, was part of Paul’s gospel.  So, this may be why Paul feels no need to explain what this concept meant.

10 qui mortuus est pro nobis, ut sive vigilemus sive dormiamus, simul cum illo vivamus.

11Διὸ παρακαλεῖτε ἀλλήλους καὶ οἰκοδομεῖτε εἷς τὸν ἕνα, καθὼς καὶ ποιεῖτε.

Because of which (propter), console each other and build towards the one, as you do

“Build towards the one…” << οἰκοδομεῖτε εἷς τὸν ἕνα >>.  What, exactly, does this mean?  It’s not at all clear.  Nor is the Latin much help here.  Plato had his concept of << τὸ ἕν >>, The One, which was more or less similar to the way Christians came to conceive of God.  Is this what he means?  Seems doubtful, coming from a Jew, but he was speaking to Greeks, for whom the concept may  not have been unfamiliar.   

11 Propter quod consolamini invicem et aedificate alterutrum, sicut et facitis.

12Ἐρωτῶμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, εἰδέναι τοὺς κοπιῶντας ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ προϊσταμένους ὑμῶν ἐν κυρίῳ καὶ νουθετοῦντας ὑμᾶς,

For we ask you, brothers, to know those toiling among you and standing before you in the lord and admonishing you

Paul is referring to himself, and to his colleagues, such as Timothy.  And perhaps the elders of the assembly that Paul, perhaps, designated.  Bear in mind, we have absolutely NO evidence for how this worked.  Later sources have descriptions of ritual and practice, but there is no reason to suppose that ritual and practice remained constant for years, or decades.  Indeed, given the lack of central direction, there is every reason to suppose that ritual and practice were different—perhaps very different—in different places.  Former pagans would have come from a different set of assumptions than Jews.  There is every reason to believe that the different groups all heard different messages, and then added their own interpretations. 

Venerable Bede, writing in the 8th Century CE, had a lot to say about the abhorrent practice of the Celtic Irish church in how they set the date of Easter.  Even with a nominal central authority held by the Bishop of Rome, lot of things did not get standardized for a very long time.  If ever.

12 Rogamus autem vos, fratres, ut noveritis eos, qui laborant inter vos et praesunt vobis in Domino et monent vos,

The rest of the letter is more or less pastoral in nature.  It is Paul trying to nurture his flock.  However, it is interesting in some of the admonitions he provides, so I’ll mention the points that stand out for me.  Overall, though, there are a lot of very nice sentiments expressed, words of encouragement and hope, so let’s not underestimate the value of the ‘pastoral’ parts.

13καὶ ἡγεῖσθαι αὐτοὺς ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ διὰ τὸ ἔργον αὐτῶν. εἰρηνεύετε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς.

so that you may have them abundantly in your love because of their labors.  Let there be peace among you.

13 ut habeatis illos superabundanter in caritate propter opus illorum. Pacem habete inter vos.

14παρακαλοῦμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, νουθετεῖτε τοὺς ἀτάκτους, παραμυθεῖσθε τοὺς ὀλιγοψύχους, ἀντέχεσθε τῶν ἀσθενῶν, μακροθυμεῖτε πρὸς πάντας.

For we exhort you, brothers, admonish the unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, uphold the weak, show patience to all.

This is a very nice thought.  However, how does it match with the injunction in V-22?

14 Hortamur autem vos, fratres: corripite inquietos, consolamini pusillanimes, suscipite infirmos, longanimes estote ad omnes.

15ὁρᾶτε μή τις κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ τινι ἀποδῷ, ἀλλὰ πάντοτε τὸ ἀγαθὸν διώκετε [καὶ] εἰς ἀλλήλους καὶ εἰς πάντας.

Look, do not give back evil for evil, but give always  the good (things) to each other and to everyone.

The Golden Rule, more or less.  Or, Turn the Other Cheek.  Both are messages that are common to the gospels as well.  This indicates that social aspects, loving your neighbor, were important and fundamental parts of the message of Jesus as it was preached.

15 Videte, ne quis malum pro malo alicui reddat, sed semper, quod bonum est, sectamini et in invicem et in omnes.

16Πάντοτε χαίρετε,

Be happy always,

16 Semper gaudete,

The rest of the chapter is exhortation.  It’s all meant, no doubt, as encouragement; sometimes it may come off as a bit bland, or trite, but, if you can get into the spirit of the thing, one can feel Paul’s earnestness.  He sort of sounds like the country bumpkin, unsophisticated, a bit too sincere, but he should be taken as sincere.  This may be what this audience in particular required, for we don’t find this sort of thing in all his letters.

17ἀδιαλείπτως προσεύχεσθε,

pray without ceasing,

17 sine intermissione orate,

18ἐν παντὶ εὐχαριστεῖτε: τοῦτο γὰρ θέλημα θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ εἰς ὑμᾶς.

give thanks in all things,  for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus towards you.

 [the Latin supplies the ‘est’, “is” that is lacking in the Greek.  Both Greek and Latin frequently omit the verb ‘to be’, assuming that it will be ‘understood.’  This can be rough when you first start reading real Latin or Greek. ]

18 in omnibus gratias agite; haec enim voluntas Dei est in Christo Iesu erga vos.

19τὸ πνεῦμα μὴ σβέννυτε,

Do not quench the spirit,

19 Spiritum nolite exstinguere,

20προφητείας μὴ ἐξουθενεῖτε:

do not despise the prophets

20 prophetias nolite spernere;

21πάντα δὲ δοκιμάζετε, τὸ καλὸν κατέχετε,

prove (probably ‘test’ as idiomatic to English) all things, hold the good,

21 omnia autem probate, quod bonum est tenete,

22ἀπὸ παντὸς εἴδους πονηροῦ ἀπέχεσθε.

and hold yourselves away from all shapes of debauchery.

Here is the cross-reference to V-14, which tells the flock to uphold the weak, etc.  Do what is specified in V-14, but keep away from debauchery. 

 The question is why did Paul feel the need to stress this to the point that he did?  Why is this so important to him?  Was keeping it in his pants a big problem for him? 

22 ab omni specie mala abstinete vos.

23Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης ἁγιάσαι ὑμᾶς ὁλοτελεῖς, καὶ ὁλόκληρον ὑμῶν τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ τὸ σῶμα ἀμέμπτως ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τηρηθείη.

Let the God of peace sanctify you all/entirely, and all of you (collective), and may the whole of your spirit and your soul and your body be preserved (as) blameless on the coming of our lord Jesus Christ. 

The definite articles translate as “your”. This is common.

23 Ipse autem Deus pacis sanctificet vos per omnia, et integer spiritus vester et anima et corpus sine querela in adventu Domini nostri Iesu Christi servetur.

24πιστὸς ὁ καλῶν ὑμᾶς, ὃς καὶ ποιήσει.

Faithful is the one calling you, and the one  who will also do it

24 Fidelis est, qui vocat vos, qui etiam faciet.

25Ἀδελφοί, προσεύχεσθε [καὶ] περὶ ἡμῶν.

Brothers, pray for us. 

25 Fratres, orate etiam pro nobis.

26Ἀσπάσασθε τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς πάντας ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ.

Greet all brothers with the sacred kiss.

26 Salutate fratres omnes in osculo sancto.

27Ἐνορκίζω ὑμᾶς τὸν κύριον ἀναγνωσθῆναι τὴν ἐπιστολὴν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς.

I adjure you, by the lord, to read the epistle to all brothers.

27 Adiuro vos per Dominum, ut legatur epistula omnibus fratribus.

28Ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μεθ’ ὑμῶν.

The grace of our lord Jesus Christ be with you.

28 Gratia Domini nostri Iesu Christi vobiscum.

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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 August 29, 2012, in 1 Thessalonians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Paul’s constant haranguing about debauchery does remind me of the Old Testament’s constant haranguing about idols and other folk-religion practices. Either Paul is especially sensitive to this from his own perspective, or from a Jewish Pharisee perspective, or this was a real problem with pagan converts. If I remember correctly, in 1 Corinthians, Paul has to point out that even though one may be “saved” (ready to go to heaven), this doesn’t mean one can return to debauchery. Maybe pagans were originally drawn to Christian groups from the misunderstood stereotype of the “love fest” as orgy, and Paul had to devote a large amount of time trying to “unlearn” them.

  2. Good point about the OT and the railing against the idols and religious practices. Most of what they were railing against, oftentimes, were fertility rites. These generally involved what Paul would probably call debauchery.

    As such, Paul would, again, be firmly in the tradition of mainstream, or perhaps Pharasaic (?) Judaism. However, my apologies, but Paul seems to have an especial ‘thing’ about debauchery. He’s just too insistent, and too persistent for this not to be his particular hobby horse. Or so it seems to me. He strikes me as the forerunner of St Jerome, who railed against women because they were so darned alluring! I.E., we have a bit of transference going on here. Paul found this sort of thing particularly appealing, so he got particularly excised about it.

    One of the things I’ve had to learn the hard way is the whole attitude about “Carnivale.” It all goes back the fertility cults, or rites, and these had to be forcibly rooted out by Christian authorities over the course of a thousand years. Wild as Mardi Gras is, I suspect it’s only a pale reflection of what once went on.

    Drunkenness and debauchery: for much of human history, two great tastes that taste great together. So, of course, Paul has to put a stop to this.

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