Paul’s Ministry in Thessalonica

2:1 For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, about our coming to you—it has not proven to be purposeless. 

v1 – The NIV omits Paul’s ‘for’, and thus obscures the connection with what he has just written.

2:2 But although we suffered earlier and were mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition.

v2 – They had suffered pain and indignity at Philippi: they had been scourged and had their feet placed in stocks.

2:3 For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, 2:4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts.

v3Paul’s evangelistic efforts, though opposed by some, were not fruitless (v1), nor based on error regarding the gospel, nor did they arise from dishonourable motives, such as greed or selfish ambition.

v4 – We are not trying to please men but God – a good motto for all Christian workers!  How often do we fall short in our Christian ministry because we are more anxious to please other people than to please God?

2:5 For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is our witness—2:6 nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others, 2:7  although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children, 2:8 with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

v7 – There is a motherly, as well as a fatherly (v11) aspect to the nurture of Christian converts.

v8 – ‘The greatest gift from a Christian point of view is the gospel of God, but from a human point of view it is to share one’s inmost being with somebody, as two lovers might wish to do.’ (NBC)

2:9 For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery: By working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.

v9 –

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We worked night and day – This may be meant literally, for clearly implied here is the leather-working or tent-making that is referred to in Acts Acts 18:3.  See also 1 Thess 4:11; 2 Thess 3:7–10; Acts 20:34.

2:10 You are witnesses, and so is God, as to how holy and righteous and blameless our conduct was toward you who believe.
2:11 As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his own children, 2:12 exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you live in a way worthy of God who calls you to his own kingdom and his glory.
2:13 And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, which is at work among you who believe.

v13 – ‘Preaching in Paul’s mind did not consist of a man discussing religion. Instead God himself spoke through the personality and message of a preacher to confront men and women and bring them to himself.’ (Robinson, Expository Preaching, 18)

2:14 For you became imitators, brothers and sisters, of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, because you too suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they in fact did from the Jews, 2:15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us severely.
What's in a comma?

Several years ago a fundamentalist church in the Denver metro area gained notoriety during Lent by quoting on their marquee a small fragment of the sentence that spans 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15: “the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus.”  It was a frightening throwback to the days of the Nazis who labeled all Jews as Christkillers.  Only after significant publicity called attention to it, did the church take it down.

Many translations separate 1 Thess 2:14 and 15 with a semi-colon (AV, ASV) or a comma (RSV, NIV and others).  The effect of the comma is to suggest that ‘the Jews’, in an unrestricted sense, killed Jesus, and it has thus been dubbed, ‘The Antisemitic Comma’.

The Complete Jewish Bible, a Messianic Jewish translation, unsurprisingly removes the comma.  So does the updated NIV.  The NLT, using the principles of dynamic equivalence, has, ‘For some of the Jews killed the prophets, and some even killed the Lord Jesus.’

I think that this might be a simple instance of a widely-used figure of speech call a ‘synecdoche’, in which the whole is given for the part.  The immediate context suggests that Paul is using language in this way (presumably, he does not think that all of the Thessalonians’ countrymen persecuted them, any more than he thought that all of the Jews in Judea persecuted the churches there).  This is supported by the wider context, too, for in John’s Gospel ‘the Jews’ often refers to those Jewish leaders who sought to kill Jesus.

The comma could be retained, then, without carrying any antisemitic implications.

They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people, 2:16 because they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely.

v15b – They displease God and are hostile to all men – Does this statement countenance anti-semitism? In answer, it should be noticed, first that the writer is himself a Jew. Paul expressed a longing for his fellow-Jews to overcome their rejection of Christ, Rom 9:2f. The present statement is written in the context of persecution by non-Jews, v14. Although superficially this statement is similar to those general denunciations of Jews that were common in ancient times (and more modern times too), the context ‘should caution us against viewing them as an indiscriminate anti-Jewish polemic and using them as grounds for collective prejudice and discrimination. For just as the Gospel of John uses the term “the Jews” to designate the Pharisaic-Sadducean leadership that opposed Jesus, so Paul has in mind those Jews who opposed his mission (1 Thess 2:16). Thus we see that Paul’s denunciation of “the Jews” takes place with a specific historical context, and it should in no way be generalized. Only when such statements are used indiscriminately in the service of generalized prejudice-as they often have been in the past-can they be called anti-Semitic.’ (HSB)

v16 – The wrath of God has come upon them at last – The precise meaning of eis telos here is disputed.  It may mean ‘finally’ (so NIV), or ‘fully’.  Either way, just as the sin had been building up to its climax (cf Mt 23:32) in the crucifixion of ‘the Lord of Glory’, so the wrath of God has reached its climax.  Many understand this to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem.  ‘In accordance with the words of Christ (Lk 21:20ff), Paul saw this wrath as sending the woes that would utterly destroy the apostate system of worship (centred in Temple and Priesthood), which had killed the Lord and spurned the overtures of his grace in the gospel.  The hope that Scripture holds out to the Jews therefore does not lie in the re-establishment of what was forever abolished, but consists in looking upon him ‘whom they have pierced’ (Zech 12:10).’ (Wilson)

So strong is the condemnation here that some scholars prefer to think that these words have been added by some later writer (after the destruction of Jerusalem).  But we know that Paul himself had been involved in just such efforts to wipe out Christian believers (Gal 1:13; 1 Cor 15:9), and that he distinguished between the faithful ‘remnant’, consisting of Jewish and Gentile believers (Rom 9:22-29; cf. Rom 11:3), and those Jews who persisted in unbelief.

Lest we take Paul’s strong words as an expression of anti-Semitism, we must keep reminding ourselves that he himself (along with most of the first Christian believers) was a Jew, that felt a strong bond with his own people, and that he longed and prayed for them to turn to Christ (Rom 9-11).

Forced Absence from Thessalonica

2:17 But when we were separated from you, brothers and sisters, for a short time (in presence, not in affection) we became all the more fervent in our great desire to see you in person.
2:18 For we wanted to come to you (I, Paul, in fact tried again and again) but Satan thwarted us.

Satan stopped us – The term ‘stopped’ carries military imagery: the progress of an army might be halted by tearing up the road in front of it.

Exactly how Satan did this in unclear.  It may have been through illness (2 Cor. 12:7; Phil. 2:25–30; 2 Tim. 4:20; unlikely to have affected all three ‘again and again’, but the repeated illness of just one of them might have affected the plan of them all).  Or it may have been through Jewish opposition, 1 Thess 2:15f.

As Hansen (PNTC) says, Paul does not attribute every obstacle to the opposition of Satan (see, for example, Rom. 1:13; 15:22).  ‘Paul does not attribute to Satan every obstacle in the way of his plans (Rom. 1:13; 15:22; and cf. Acts 16:6–7; 2 Cor. 1:15–2:4). However, at a number of points in his writings Paul reflects on the conflict with Satan, the “adversary,” who wages war against him and the Christians (Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 2 Thess. 2:9). This is the one who is also called “the devil” (Eph. 4:27; 6:11; 1 Tim. 3:6–7; 2 Tim. 2:26), “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and “the tempter” (1 Thess. 3:5). He tempts Christians (1 Cor. 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:10–17; 1 Thess. 3:5) and takes advantage of them (2 Cor. 2:11), while his own “apostles” distort the gospel and walk about like honorable preachers (2 Cor. 11:3, 14). One of Satan’s messengers tormented Paul, though exactly how is left a mystery to us (2 Cor. 12:7).’

2:19 For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you?
2:20 For you are our glory and joy!

(NET©)

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