Theology and Literary Criticism in 1 Thessalonians

Christoph Demke

JHC 3/2 (Fall, 1996), 194-214. "Theologie und Literarkritik im 1. Thessalonicherbrief. Ein Diskussionsbeitrag," Festschrift für Ernst Fuchs, eds. G. Ebeling, et. al. (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1973), 103-124. Published with permission of J.C.B. Mohr. Translated by Darrell J. Doughty.

THE QUESTION regarding the literary unity of 1 Thessalonians and the authenticity of its individual components has revived again in German exegesis. But it has not yet become a subject of debate. This has its basis in the fact that the first attempt to throw open this question anew, undertaken by K. G. Eckart,1 following a singular impetus by Ernst Fuchs, was immediately subjected to a decisive criticism by W. G. Kümmel.2 To be sure, Kümmel had an easy victory against the frightful deficiencies of Eckart's methodology, which led Kümmel to the fallacious conclusion that the refutation of Eckart's work could establish that there exist "no serious grounds against the assumption that 1 Thessalonians in its received form derives from Paul."3 Even an overview of the history of research should have warned against this fallacious conclusion. For from the very beginning, the fact that the authenticity of the entire letter, or its individual parts, and the question of its literary unity has been raised again and again by very different scholars with very different grounds must be regarded as an indication that the investigation of this letter is faced with a series of still unsatisfactorily resolved problems. The stimulating and instructive methodological criticism of previous investigations of this question will not be set forth here. Nor is this contribution interested in working through all previously advanced observations (hence, references to related literature are reduced). The intention is rather to awaken a debate that should no longer be postponed. In the meantime, however, W. Schmithals has proposed a solution to the problem,4 convincing because of its deceptive simplicity, whose challenge cannot be avoided by research.

An essential element of the analyses by Eckart and Schmithals is the claim that 1 Thess 3:11-13 (Eckart), or 3:10-4:1 (Schmithals), constitutes an epistolary conclusion. Eckart gives no ground for this claim,5 while Schmithals attempts to support his initial argument for this thesis through a detailed overview of the conclusions of the Pauline writings ("Situation," 93-95). Whoever shares with Schmithals the intention of a literary-critical analysis must nevertheless sharply criticize his manipulation of the material.6 This is where I begin.

1. Are Two Epistolary Conclusions Present in 3:11-4:1 and 5:23-28?

NO ONE would doubt that 5:23-28 is an epistolary conclusion. And a comparison of 5:23-28 with 3:11-13 could in fact mislead one to assume that in the latter case as well we have an epistolary conclusion. To confirm that assumption Schmithals claims that, for all the variations, an "underlying structure can easily be recognized for all conclusions" ("Situation," 94). The transition is "usually" constituted with personal remarks; the conclusion is "often" introduced with a passage that "joins" the intercessory prayer (Fürbitte) and doxology. "Then a final exhortation regularly follows," and then brief greetings and a concluding request for blessing (my emphases).

An attentive study of the table provided by Schmithals containing the received, or reconstructed, conclusions of the Pauline letters, however, shows:

1.1  A "passage" that "joins the prayer and doxology" is found nowhere in the conclusions of the Pauline writings. In Phil 4:20 the doxology follows an assurance of blessing (Segenszuspruch), or more precisely, an assurance (Zuspruch) of an act of God (4:19 future, not optative; not a sentence structure in the sense of an intercessory prayer, see below). So also 2 Tim 4:18 (that Schmithals lists this verse under prayers is characteristic) and 1 Pet 5:10. Only in Heb 13:21 is a doxology attached to an intercessory prayerful request (fürbittenden Gebetswunsch);7 but significantly, this attachment is mediated through a predication concerning God (Heb 13:21b). This can be compared with 1 Thess 5:23, 24, where a prayerful request is followed by a predication concerning God, on which, stylistically, a doxology could be attached. From this follows the observation:

1.2  Among the Pauline letters only the Thessalonian letters contain an intercessory prayerful request (1 Th 5:23; 2 Th 3:16). They do not exhibit this prayerful request, however, in its full structure. Where this is fully present a work of God is referred to in the optative and the purpose of the request is indicated with eis to or hina. This structure is present in 1 Th 3:12f; Rom 15:5f; 15:13 (and Heb 13:20, 21a). That this structure can be characterized as an intercessory prayerful request is shown by the conclusion of the proemium in Phil (1:9-11) and 1 Cor (1:8). 1 Th 3:12f thus closely resembles a proemium conclusion, so that it must be compared with this.8

Since 1 Thess 5:23 does not exhibit the complete structure of the intercessory prayerful request (so also 2 Th 3:16; 2:17; 3:5), this passage clearly differs from 1 Thess 3:12-13 and stands with remarkable particularity beside the assurances of blessing in the Pauline conclusions, in so far as these implicitly or explicitly (Phil 4:7, 9; Rom 16:20; 2 Cor 13:11) refer to God's work in the future indicative.

Now, however, let us undertake a further examination of the supposed "structure" of the Pauline conclusions.

1.3  Against Schmithals' contention that an "intercessory prayer and doxology" is "regularly followed by a final exhortation," it must be said, on the basis of the materials Schmithals provides, that in the Pauline letters a final exhortation never follows an assurance of blessing9 or a doxology. Either one or the other is missing, so that the sequence that everything depends on, if one would be able to speak of an underlying "structure," or even a "typical order" (Schmithals, "Brief," 298), cannot be documented. An exception is present only in Hebrews 13:22-23—for Schmithals's listing of 1 Pet 5:12 and 1 Thess 5:25 as also final exhortations belongs to the manipulation of materials that will be exhibited here. Nevertheless, it should be granted that these passages most nearly resemble Schmithals's "structure." This leads to the observation that the "structure" presupposed by Schmithals is only fully present in Heb 13:18-25, and almost fully present in 1 Pet 5:10-14. This order comes near to 1 Thess 5:23-28. One could therefore speak at most of a structure that develops, but not of an underlying structure. There is no such thing for the conclusions of the Pauline letters. With this collapse all the arguments which Schmithals derives from such a structure to ground the claim that 1 Thess 3:11-4:1 is a conclusion.

There remain the "typical formulations" identified by Schmithals for the epistolary conclusions ("Situation," 95).

1.4  The language "God of peace" is found only in conclusions. It is missing, however, in 1 Thess 3:11 (as in 2 Th 2:17 and 3:5), but is found in 1 Thess 5:23 (as in 2 Th 3:16), which clearly speaks against the claim that two conclusions are present.

1.5  It is misleading when Schmithals identifies the phrase autos de ho Theos as a "formula reserved by Paul for epistolary conclusions" ("Situation," 95; see n. 24). On the contrary, as Schmithals himself must finally confirm,10 this formula is in fact found only in the Thessalonian letters, namely, 1 Thess 3:11; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:16; 3:16 (in the two last passages, however, autos de ho kurios11).

1.6  Appeals for prayer appear often in conclusions of letters. That is shown by 1 Thess 5:23-28 as an epistolary conclusion, but not by 3:11-4:1 (2 Th 3:1, however, differs).

1.7  The phrase loipon ktl. still remains ("Situation," 145). This phrase in fact indicates that the writer has completed what is most important and wants to conclude; but it cannot be regarded as a component of a conclusion. Since lengthy discussions still follow, this must be demonstrated in the interpretation, e.g., through literary-critical operations.12

1.8 On this basis, the question can be answered: In 1 Thess only one epistolary conclusion is present, in 5:23-28. In 4:1 it can be seen that the writer has completed what is most important for him and wants to conclude. From this perspective, the theologically significant explications in 4:13-5:11 seem out of place. We will not further pursue this problem right now. Instead, we will follow another trail.

2. Observations Concerning the Use of Language in 1 Thessalonians

IN VIEW of the energy that has already been devoted to word statistics without real results, it seems senseless to take up this question anew. But Kümmel explicitly criticized Eckart for not providing a linguistic investigation for the passages he declared to be "inauthentic."13 Kümmel himself then shared his own observations regarding the use of language in the incriminated passages.14 We will deal with this question for 1 Thess 3:12-13 and 5:23-24 because under 1.2 and 1.3 (above) instances came into view which gave 1 Thess a special place over against the other Pauline letters.

2.1  The use of the term parousia in 3:13 and 5:23 is remarkable. It is already remarkable in itself that apart from the Thessalonian letters Paul employs parousia only once in a christological sense (1 Cor 15:23; he employs it six times with reference to himself, or his coworkers: 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 7:6, 7; 10:10; Phil 1:26; 2:12), in contrast to four times in 1 Thess (2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23) and three times in 2 Thess (2:1,8,9). This matter assumes special importance, however, in that the expression in 1 Thess 3:13 and 5:23 appears precisely in the context where in Phil 1:6,10 and 1 Cor 1:8 Paul employs hêmera. A comparison of the essentially parallel passages 1 Thess 2:19 with 2 Cor 1:14 and Phil 2:16 shows this variation to be consistent.

2.2  A second, less obvious but still noteworthy point should be immediately added. In 1 Thess 3:13; 2:19 the phrase emprosthen tou Theou, or tou kuriou ktl. must attract attention. Apart from the Thessalonian letters Paul employs emprosthen in a local sense two times, and indeed both times in a forensic context: 2 Cor 5:10 and Gal 2:14; and our Thessalonian passages would cohere with this. Otherwise, however, Paul regularly employs enôpion tou Theou (or tou kuriou): Rom 3:20; 14:22; 1 Cor 1:29; 2 Cor 4:2; 7:12; 8:21; Gal 1:20 (seven times; and in addition with reference to human beings: Rom 12:17 and 2 Cor 8:21). Taking 1 Thess 1:3 and 3:9 also in account, in 3:13 and 2:19 we encounter the word (emprosthen) in a context in which for Paul one would certainly expect enôpion. In addition, the phrase enôpion tou Theou (tou kuriou) may be regarded as a biblical formula (see BDF, § 214.5).

2.3  Why does Paul diverge in both cases from his otherwise usual language? The following possibilities should be considered:

2.3.1  One possibility would be that these linguistic variations reflect the temporal interval between the Thessalonian letters and the other Pauline letters. This would then exclude the possibility of a late dating for Paul's correspondence with the community in Thessalonica.15 Measured in terms of the Christian biography of Paul, the brief temporal interval until the following letters of Paul allows this argument to seem commendable only if a development in ideas and content can also be demonstrated between 1 Thess and the letters that follow.

2.3.2  A second possibility would be that the variations in language reflect the influence of Paul's situation or that of his addressees. Paul could avoid the biblical formulations hêmera kuriou and enôpion tou Theou (kuriou) and intentionally express himself in "Greek" because he took into account the gentile-Christian character of the community. To be sure, "scripture" is as little explicitly cited here as in Philippians. But this information cannot satisfactorily explain the facts. For in 1 Thess 5:1ff. Paul emphatically employs the expression hêmera and presupposes that the recipients have been precisely entrusted with this tradition (5:2). Moreover, the assumption of a use of language specifically attuned to the addressees is unconvincing because the passage in question is not specifically formulated, but rather liturgical in character.16

2.3.3  The third possibility is that the writer of the letter participated in the composition by independently elaborating an obscure point made by Paul. One would only grant this possible explanation, easily a misconceived subterfuge, if the variation in language indicated no deeper variation in ideas, since then the issues in 2.3.1 (above) and 2.3.4 (below) would come into question.

2.3.4  The fourth possibility would be that the variation in language indicates a different author than Paul. This explanation first becomes possible when the indicated linguistic variations can be associated with an interconnected array of further variations which themselves reflect a variation on the level of ideas and content. Moreover, one would approach this possibility only with great hesitation because the situational relatedness of 2:17ff and the concrete specificity of at least 5:1-11 should not too quickly be declared as fictional—whereby, to be sure, the possibility should be considered that the letter contains "authentic" and "inauthentic" pieces. But this can first be discussed only if an essential theological variation appears behind the linguistic variation. And then one must still decide whether we actually have to do here with a different author, or only with a temporal interval between 1 Thess and the other Pauline writings (2.3.1).

2.4  In spite of the small basis for a starting point, I have presented these different possibilities in detail so as not to be constrained in the continuation of the investigation. Now I will deal with the previous observations from the perspective of ideas and content.

2.4.1   I begin with 1 Thess 3:12. To the statement that the Lord may strengthen the hearts of the Thessalonians through the increase of mutual love, so that they might be unblamable in holiness before God our Father, the formula is appended: "at the parousia of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." Missing here is a clear connection between the emplored and desired work of God and the final judgment. In 1 Cor 1:8, which is comparable with regard to content, the term eôs telos and the repetition of the verb begaioun (cf. v. 7) clearly accentuates the extension of the beginning of the salvation work of God that has taken place for the faithful to the fulfillment of this work "in the day of our Lord Jesus." Phil 1:6 then expresses this thought directly, so the request in Phil 1:10, that can be compared with our passage, is for a pure and blameless existence until (eis) the day of Christ. That is, in the proemium in 1 Cor and Phil can be seen a connection between the aorist indicative of the saving work of God for the faithful, that grants them an eschatological existence oriented on the day of Christ, and the fulfillment. In 1 Thess 3:12f, however, there is no sign of this connection.

2.4.2  The same can be shown for 5:23. The en tê parousia is hardly tolerable because of the placement of têrêtheiê afterward; but precisely because of this placement of the verb the phrase cannot be explained simply as an appended formula. The explanation given by Dibelius, in contradiction with his translation, that "en parousia = the classical eis tên parousian," can only be regarded as an evasion. For en in place of eis in a temporal sense appears nowhere in the letters of Paul, and the general development brings eis in the place of en. The exegetical dilemma is shown very well by B. Rigaux: "C'est donc moins d'une conservation sans blâme au jour de jugement que d'une vie sans reproche, conservant l'integrité du composé, qui apparaîtra telle au jour de jugement."17

But the text desires precisely a total sanctification and a total preservation of spirit and soul and body at the parousia. Nothing is said here about an arrabôn of the spirit that might be preserved by God until then. There is no reaching back to an aorist of the eschatological work of God for the faithful. The decisive work of God, or the Lord, is expected at the parousia.

That is: In their basic structure of thought these passages are found to be entirely in line with the formula in 1:9f., which is generally regarded as pre-Pauline. The decisive salvation work of the Son is expected at the parousia as salvation from the coming judgment. The eschatological "already" of the salvation work of God for the faithful is unknown.

Before I pursue this thinking further in the letter, it should again be noted that 5:1-11, however, unfolds the "already" of the eschatological existence of the faithful very precisely. Just as we observed from a linguistic perspective (hêmeraparousia), evident here also is a tension between at least 5:1-11 and other sections of the letter. After I have shown how the structure of 1:9f is reflected in the passages under consideration, it should immediately be observed also that, in contrast to 1:9f, in 5:9f the death of Jesus has salvation significance, and otherwise is mentioned only in 4:14. That underlines the special character of 5:1-11, which according to 5:10 is connected with 4:13-18. Thereby the situation identified above (under 1.8), that according to 4:1 the writer has previously related what is most important for him, in relation to which, of course, 4:13-5:11 stands in tension, receives a new illumination.

First of all, however, the determination that the eschatological "already" of the salvation work of God for the faithful is unknown in other sections of the letter must be considered further. Has this thinking led to further differences in the use of language when compared with the other Pauline letters?

2.5  In the passages previously examined words belonging to the meaning-field of "holy" played a role. The Lord comes at the parousia with all his holy ones (3:13). If one associates 4:13-18 with the same letter, that can only be the angels; but even apart from this that is the most probable interpretation. When in the same context establishing of hearts unblamable in holiness is prayed for, holiness can be understood as an attribute of the heavenly world of God, into which one enters at the parousia. That in 5:23 total sanctification at the parousia is prayed for corresponds with this. Which work of sanctification finds fulfillment there through God? The work of sanctification to which God called them (4:7,3,4).18 In this sanctification the service to the true and living God is fulfilled (1:9), who on this way to holiness gives his spirit (4:8).

The use of the word-field "holy" shows, however, that there is nothing to be seen here concerning an eschatological aorist of the work of God. In 4:8 that idea has been inserted in many manuscripts. The distance from the other Pauline letters is confirmed, and the basis for a further linguistic difference is also evident: the recipients are not referred to in the address as hagioi (as Phil 1:1), sanctified (as 1 Cor 1:2), or as klêtoi hagioi (as Rom 1:6f.; 1 Cor 1:2, 24), but receive the—in view of the other Pauline letters (see however Rom 1:7)—surprising salutation "brethren beloved by God" (1:4), in agreement with 2 Thess 2:13. This difference in salutation and address reflects an essential difference in theological sphere. A salvation work of God for the faithful that has already taken place does not come into view (in contrast to 1 Cor 6:11; Rom 15:16; cf. 1 Cor 7:14). The holy spirit is not conceived as a gift of the endtime, which is given to the faithful (as in Rom 5:5; 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Rom 8:23), but is portrayed rather as a power with which God supports the work of sanctification among the faithful (4:8). In this framework the so-called trichotomy in 5:23 clearly fits very well. A different understanding of the spirit is evident only in 5:19 and, without a pertinent word being present, in 4:9.

2.6  A similar difference is evident also in words relating to the word-field "call." One would like to look for the indicative aorist of God's work in 5:24. But precisely there it is missing—which is no longer surprising for us. It is so surprising for Dibelius, however, that he casually inserts the aroist in his translation.19 In fact, one would like to challenge him, when one, for example, compares the verses of a similar form in 1 Cor 1:9 or Gal 1:6; 5:13; 1:15. In Gal 5:8 Paul employs the present tense,20 but doubtless as a conscious variation because he sets the renewed call of God over against the persuasion of the opponents.

Just as the aorist is absent in 5:24, so also in 2:12, where it would be expected in light of the Pauline passages previously referred to. While Dibelius again inserts a past significance in his translation, Rigaux discusses this present participle in detail. His tortuous argument presupposes that the aorist or the perfect would properly be expected. His explanation: "Dans les actions divines, ou ne peut guère distinguer alui, qui a appelé et celui, qui continue à noud sppeler,"21 as correct as it may be as a fundamental theological statement, represents in this context a flight into theological contemplation, where linguistic matters should be clarified. The aorist is present in 4:7. But it is now time to raise the question concerning the meaning of the word kalein in 1 Thess. It does not have here the meaning of the performative "call," not therefore the justifying action creating a new relationship that is the call of God itself, but signifies here simply God's call, which must be followed in true service, in holiness. — If this description of the understanding of kalein in 1 Thess is correct, it must also be evident in the understanding of the Word. I will turn to this in the next section of my article.

It should also be noted that this investigation explains why the klêsis is not mentioned in 1:4, so that in this passage eklogê, a surprising term for the Pauline letters, can be employed.22

2.7  Summary:

2.7.1  The investigation of language disclosed an interrelationship of linguistic usage differing from the other Pauline writings. Each individual observation taken by itself can be more or less qualified. A refutation, however, must contest the interrelationship as such.

2.7.2  Behind the difference in the way language is used appears a distance from the other Pauline letters in thinking in theology. Thereby possibilities 2.3.2 and 2.3.3 are excluded. Either the sections of 1 Thess discussed represent an early stage of Pauline theology (2.3.1) or they derive from a different author (2.3.4). If one thinks in terms of an early stage, one is then able, as indicated, to determine more precisely the theology of this early stage. In this case, however, there then exists a qualitative leap between this letter and those that follow: only after this letter does the understanding of Christian existence from an eschatological determination fully break through.23 This breakthrough would relate to the understanding of the spirit and (as will be further developed) the understanding of the Word. Those sections of the letter standing in tension with the disclosed interrelationship of ideas (4:9,10a; 4:13-5:11; 5:19 with context) would then be the documents in which this breakthrough makes itself known. If one accepts this explanation, the often observed affinities in language and content between 1 Thess and Acts would then be taken as an indication that in Acts the traditions are reflected from which Paul gradually grew by accretion to become the Paul who was received in the history of theology. In principle, therefore, any conclusions regarding the content of his "call" derived from the "major" Pauline letters would be called into question.

2.7.3  If one attributes the letter to a different author because of the circumstances described, given the tensions in content that have become clear, one must then distinguish between "authentic" and "inauthentic" sections. With regard to its composition, we would have to do then with a post-apostolic reworking and elaboration of an authentic letter of Paul. The affinities with Acts would then be an indication of the tradition stream in which this reworking is located.

2.7.4  It is clear that a sufficiently certain decision between the two possibilities would require an entire series of investigations. The following suggestions are intended to prepare the way for a decision whether the letter documents "the way in which the Pauline language emerged from the language of the early Christian community,"24 or whether in the form it now lies before us it should be regarded as post-apostolic.

3. The Relationship of Word and Faith in 1 Thessalonians

IF ONE considers this investigation in view of such a small textual basis, the risk of over-interpretation is especially great. Given the preceding observations, however, the other Pauline letters must be excluded on methodological grounds as resources for interpretation, especially in the case that 1 Thess represents an early stage of Pauline thinking.

That the interrogation of the text is by no means inappropriate is shown by the parallelism between 1:5f and 2:13f. Both passages connect the "reception" of preaching25 with the idea of imitation in a remarkable way.26 This not only justifies the question about how word and faith are related but makes this question mandatory.

3.1  I begin with 1:5-10. At first, the statement that "our gospel... happened" (egenêthê) seems to ascribe a "certain inherent efficacy"27 to the gospel. This conception cannot be derived, of course, from the numerous forms of the aorist passive of gignomai in the passage.28 Above all, however, the formulation that the gospel took place not only with word but also with power etc. shows that power is not intrinsic to the gospel as word. From the other Pauline letters one would expect a simple "not... but" (see 1 Cor 2:4; 4:19f.).29 The formulation here is only possible because the word of the gospel itself is not understood as the active and powerful word of God by virtue of what is says, as is the case in Rom 1:16f.; 1 Cor 1:18f. (cf. 2 Cor 2:16; 4:3f.). The power of the gospel is not activated in the content it communicates, but, as the continuation shows, in the manner and mode of the appearance and conduct of the apostle—which is then elaborated in detail in 2:1-12. This is confirmed by the continuation. In the manner of the word's reception, v. 6 sees the appearance and conduct of the apostle as an exemplar. One must now ask how the content of the gospel can be conceived in this context. The answer can only be that the content of the gospel is understood primarily as the conduct of the apostle and the faithful. That this interpretation is valid is shown by the sequence of vv. 7 and 8. For their part, the Thessalonians become an example for the faithful in Macedonia and Achaia, for the word of the Lord (with this meaning unique for Paul!) has gone out from them, and this word is nothing else than the faith of the Thessalonians. What needs to be said (v 8c) consists of nothing else than the manner and mode of the appearance of the apostle, and the manner and mode of the conversion, the service, and the expectation of the Thessalonians (1:9f.).

3.1.1  The understanding of preaching just described makes the structure of the letter, as it now stands, understandable. F. C. Baur was offended by the fact that the letter contains no theological-dogmatic theme. This circumstance derives from the fact that the gospel is not understood as a word that is active in the power of what it has to say. More important than the content of the proclamation is the manner of conduct (2:9f.), indeed precisely this is the essential content of the proclamation, as 2:11f. shows. Therefore the writer moves from the presentation of the apostle's conduct and that of the community directly to exhortation (4:1ff.). Therefore the teaching-like pieces 4:13-18 and 5:1-11 stand in the exhortations. Exhortation is the content of the gospel.

The investigation of language showed that for the most part the letter does not know the aorist of the work of God, that should determine the content of the gospel. That this is not the case clearly shows a consistent way of thinking.

3.1.2  The understanding of proclamation is also reflected in the fact that at times its source (God, the Lord, the apostle) is indicated, but its content only in 3:3. In the given understanding the authority of the word must be decisive. This is sharply emphasized then in 4:8 (cf. Lk 10:16). This accords with the emphasis in 4:18: the Thessalonians should exhort one another with these words (4:13ff.).30 This emphasis is also present in 2:13f. and 3:3f. All this is consistent when the proclamation is understood as exhortation and example for sanctification.31

3.1.3  The interest for demonstrable faithful conduct also explains the peculiar ordering of the apostle before the Lord in 1:6a, the sharing of the apostle's "soul" before the sharing of the gospel in 2:8, and the witness of the community before the witness of God in 2:10a. While any one of these passages, seen by itself, might be regarded as a reflection of an "early" Paul,32 viewed together these passages require a more fundamental explanation, precisely from the understanding of the gospel.

3.2   I turn now to 2:13ff, where the understanding of faith and suffering will be discussed in more detail.

3.2.1  In 2:13ff the combination of paralambanein and dechesthai is remarkable. It is improbable that the words are employed as synonyms. Since dechesthai refers to the acceptance of the speech of the apostle as the word of God, the verb contains the element of decision and affirmation. The verb paralambanein would then refer merely to the reception of knowledge.33 The distinction between these two processes reflects the distinction between notitia and assensus. Just as the gospel can only take place as word (1:5), so can it only be accepted (paralambanein). The difference from the other Pauline letters is clear. In contrast to 2 Cor 10:13f,; Rom 10:14ff,; 2 Cor 2:14-16; 4:3f, the fact that Paul has arrived in Thessalonia with the gospel is not an eschatological event. On the basis of the understanding of the gospel in 1 Thess, an understanding of Paul's missionary activity like that which finds expression in Rom 15:19ff. is impossible. That means, however, that the qualitative leap that lies between this letter and the other Pauline letters relates not only to the understanding of Christian existence, the spirit, and the Christian proclamation, but also to the understanding of the apostolic mission as an eschatological event. When one considers this consequence, it must be regarded as very improbable that we have to do here with an early stage of Pauline thought. More probable is that the understanding of mission perceived in Rom 15 already accompanied the independent initiative from Antioch.

With this we have an initial perspective for deciding whether we have before us in such passages derives from an early stage of Paul's thought (cf. 2.7.2) or should be attributed to an entirely different writer (cf. 2.7.3).

3.2.2  The preceding interpretation of the understanding of the word seems to contradict 2:13c, in so far as the word is spoken of there as being at work in the faithful. But neither the coming of the word nor its reception is understood as an eschatological event; rather it shows itself to be active as the word of God in the experience of suffering and the conduct of the faithful (2:14). This is illuminated by the fact that in 1:3 faith and love and hope are not understood in themselves as eschatological gifts of God; essential rather is the "work of faith," the "labor of love," and "patience in hope," i.e., the modes of their realization.34 This formulation should be understood to mean that faith, love and hope are seen as forces for the establishment of the faithful: faith leads to works (even preaching), love leads to labor (in service of one's neighbor), and hope leads to patience (in suffering). In so far as these forces appear in works, labor and patience, the word of God is at work in the faithful. In contrast to this, in 5:8 faith, hope and love are themselves understood as the equipment of God given to Christians. How little the activity of God stands in the foreground in 1:3 is shown by the fact that the writer does not give thanks to God for the gifts of God to the community, but rather recollects before God their work of faith, their labor of love and their hopeful patience. That this insistence of the consequences and the realization of faith, love and hope represents an early stage of Pauline thinking is scarcely probable. Much more probable is that this thinking belongs to a time in which the battle about the truth of faith (Paul has at least the events in view in Gal 2:11-14 behind him) has been decided and the actualization of faith and the proclamation appears as the decisive problem.35

Thereby emerges a second perspective for deciding whether such material derives from an early Pauline stage (2.7.2) or represents the work of a later writer (2.7.3).

3.2.3  I return to the transition from 2:13 to 2:14. Why does the working of the word manifest itself in the suffering and conduct of the faithful? The answer can only be surmised from the presuppositions made by the text. I suspect the following. If God's word calls believers into his kingdom and glory (2:12) and thereby on the way to holiness (4:7), this way could very well include suffering; and this is in fact confirmed by 3:3.36 The experience of suffering confirms election (1:4; cf. 2 Th 1:5) to the way determined by God into his kingdom.37 The word is at work in the faithful in that it actually brings about the previously announced way (cf. 3:4).

The communities in Judea are referred to as an example for this way and this election. The community of destiny with them is carefully (almost artificially) grounded in 2.14b. For this reason, the point in 2:14 cannot be the idea from 1 Peter 5:9. The effect of 2:14b is twofold. On the one hand, by means of the example of the Judean communities the suffering of the addressees is linked with the destiny of the Lord (2:15). In the same way, the apostle also mediates with the Lord in 1:6. On the other hand, through v. 14 not only do the communities in Judea become an example for all Christians, but the Jews are set forth as an example for all persecutors. Verse 14b would have no point without vv. 15f. On this basis, it becomes understandable why this statement is extended to include the mention of judgment. The viewpoint that—apart from the traditional phrases employed to carry it out38—extends the thought is that the righteous judgment of God over the example of oppressors, the Jews, has been fulfilled, which signifies comfort for everyone who, following the example of the suffering Judean communities, are still being persecuted. Their oppression will also bring forth judgment. We have to do, therefore, with an application of the idea with a contemporary event in view, that is also generally addressed in 2 Thess.

With reference to the question whether an early stage of Pauline thinking is present here or a post-apostolic train of thought, one would have to decide as follows:

The idea that suffering is a sign of election, but for the adversary a sign of destruction, is expressed by Paul in a similar way in Phil 1:28f. But the artificial way in which in v. 14 the suffering of the addressees is linked with the suffering of the Lord can hardly be reclaimed for an early stage of Pauline theology, for it exhibits a superficiality that is more like the time of Acts. It is most simple, then, in comparison with Lk 21:22-24, to relate v. 16 to the destruction of Jerusalem. The post-apostolic author would then comfort persecuted gentile Christians (v. 14b) precisely by affirming that the hoped for retribution (2 Thess 1:6, 8f.) has already been carried out on the prototype of persecutors, the Jews.

3.3   I will now look at 2:1-12 as an elaboration of 1:5f. The two stereotypical phrases egenêthêmen (1:5; 2:5, 7, 10) and kathôs (kathaper) oidate (1:5; 2:2, 2, 3, 11) are remarkable in their combination. Perhaps most remarkable is the varying repetition in 3:4 (kathôs kai egeneto kai oidate; see below). The stereotypical character of the appeal to the knowledge of the community makes clear that the appeal is not to their own knowledge against actual or feared insinuations, but that the community is presented as a witness for what is said. Thus, the introduction to the summary39 expressly affirms: "You are witnesses, and God..." (v. 10). The formulation is surprising in two ways. First of all, because of the connection, for only if it concerns a situation which the recipient can not know or evaluate from his own experience is an appeal to God meaningful (cf. Rom 1:9; Phil 1:8; 2 Cor 1:23)—so the appeal to God in 2:5b, for example, would be appropriate (but cf. 2:5a). The second surprise in v. 10a, which is confirmed by 2:5b, is the fact that a reference back to the sender (God is my witness, namely before you), as this appears in the Pauline passages referred to, is missing here in both cases. The undirected association of the community and God in v. 10a—it does not mean at all: God is my witness and yourselves!—is only meaningful if the intended addressees of this self-presentation are not those spoken to, but some third party. Neither is the community appealed to on the basis of its own knowledge, nor is God called upon as witness to the community. Here we see the deficiency of correspondence style in this passage, which cannot be satisfactorily explained at all by recurrence to a concrete situation, or to a traditional apologetic formula employed by Paul. The formulation only becomes understandable when what is said is directed outward, and with an appeal to the community and so also God, Paul is held up as an ideal model for holiness, righteousness, and blamelessness (2:10; cf. 1:5b and 6a).

3.4  The same state of affairs can be seen in 1 Thess 3:4. When one observes that 3:5a takes up v. 1 anew, and that the purpose of the sending of Timothy is described two times, in v. 2b and v. 5b, the suspicion that a doublet is present here should be discussed very seriously.40 Since the motivation of the sending in v. 5b fully corresponds with the description of the situation in 2:17-20 and the outcome in 3:6-8, and the statement of purpose in v. 2bf, on the other hand, is surprising in this context, the most simple solution is still that in vv. 2b-5a not only a digression but also an insertion is present.

At the same time, it is striking that the task of Timothy is described in the same way as the task of an apostolic interim visit in Acts 14:22 and 15:32 (to be sure, there with epistêrizein; cf. 15:41; 18:23; Lk 22:32). While one still might regard the combination of agreement and divergence in subject matter and terminology between v. 2bf and Acts 14:22 as an indication of "how Paul avails himself of missionary language in 1 Thess,"41 in my opinion v. 4 clearly excludes this explanation. For v. 4 grounds the eschatological knowledge of the community in an apostolic prophecy whose actual fulfillment must be confirmed by the community. The difficulties that the kai oidate at the end of v. 4 would make in a real correspondence with a persecuted community led von Hoffmann and von Dobschütz to propose that vv. 3f. speak not about the suffering of the community, but the suffering of the apostle. Given the context, however, that is a desperate explanation. The knowledge of the community confirms the reality of the fulfillment of apostolic prophecy here, and the holy conduct of the apostle in 2:1-12. In this way the authority of the apostle (cf. 2:13; 4:8, 18) is underlined.

Considering all the peculiarities in 3:2b-5a together—the difficult position in the present context; the agreement with Acts 14:22; the role of the apostle as prophet (cf. Acts 20:29f.; Jud 17f.; 2 Pet 3:2); and the concern with the fulfillment of his prediction—the most probable explanation is that we have to do here with a post-apostolic gloss. In this case, however, we should assume that a post-apostolic writer has set forth his own self-understanding and intention in the new designation of Timothy's task. He wants to strengthen and exhort the church in its suffering by referring back to apostolic teaching (cf. 4:1f, 11, 18)42 and emphasizing the reliability of the apostle by appeal to the testimony of the church (kai oidate).

3.5  Summary.

The possibility that the letter derives from an early stage of Pauline thought arises primarily in view of the understanding of suffering (3.2.3 above). But the association of suffering with the suffering of the Lord (2:14b-15a) and the reference to the fulfillment of apostolic prophecy (3:4) makes this possibility improbable in this point as well.

The fact that the understanding of the word in this letter provides no rudiments of the eschatological understanding of the Pauline mission (3.2.1) makes an early Pauline composition very improbable.

Against a Pauline origin speaks the qualification of the connection between word and faith through the idea of imitation (3.1) as well as the exclusive interest in the operation and actualization of faith (3.2.2). Summoning forth the witness of the community serves these interests as well (3.3).

4. Conclusion

TAKING UP what was said in 2.7.3 regarding the ascription of this letter to someone other than Paul, the following hypotheses can now be discussed:

The difficulties in the structure of 1 Thess and the tensions in its terminology and theology, which sometimes resemble the other Pauline letters and other times the work of Luke, can be attributed to the fact that a post-apostolic author created this writing using (parts of) an authentic Pauline letter. In this process, he shaped above all the beginning (1:2-2:16), the middle (3:12-4:8), and the conclusion (5:23-27), thus creating a two-part writing that in the first part (1:2-3:13) presents the apostle, witnessed to by the church, as the true example and teacher for imitation by the faithful, and in the second part (4:1-5:28) provides guidance for faithful perseverance in holiness by raising up the apostolic tradition.

A precise determination of the parts of the authentic Pauline writing must begin with 2:17-3:2a, 5b-11; 4:9, 10a, 13-17; 5:1-22. Thereby, modifications within43 and without these sections must be taken into account.

First of all, however, beginning with the hypothesis now in view, the tradition-historical location of the post-apostolic author must be investigated anew, especially in relation to the work of Luke, and the connection between 1 and 2 Thess.44

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Basic Works Referred to in Text

Dibelius, Martin.  An die Thessalonicher I, II, HNT 11 (Tübingen: J. C . B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 21923).

Eckart, K. G.  ("Brief"). "Der Zweite echte Brief des Apostels Paulus an die Thessalonicher," ZThK (1961), 30-44.

Kümmel, W. G.  "Das literarische und geschichtliche Problem des ersten Thessalonicherbriefes," in Neotestamentica et Patristica. Freundesgabe O. Cillman zum 60. Geburtstag überreicht, NovTest Suppl. 6 (Leiden, 1962), 213-227.

Rigaux, B.   Les èpitres aux Thessaloniciens (Paris, 1956).

Schmithals, Walter  ("Brief"). "Die Thessalonicherbriefe als Briefkompositionen," Zein und Geschichte. Dankesgabe an R. Bultmann zum 80. Geburtstag (Tübingen, 1964), 296-315.

Schmithals, Walter  ("Situation"). "Die historische Situation der Thessalonicherbriefe," in Paulus und der Gnostiker (Hamburg, 1965), 89-157 (ET = Paul and the Gnostics [Nashville: Abingdon, 1972], 128-218).

Trilling, W.   Untersuchungen zum 2. Thessalonicherbrief (Leipzig, 1972).

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1 K. G. Eckart, "Der zweite echte Brief des Apostels Paulus an die Thessalonicher," ZThK (1961), 30-44.

2 W. G. Kümmel, "Das literarische und geschichtliche Problem des ersten Thessalonicherbriefes," in Neotestamentica et Patristica, Freundesgabe O. Cullman zum 60. Geburtstag überreicht," NovTest Suppl. VI, Leiden, 1962, 213-227.

3 Ibid., 225.

4 W. Schmithals, "Die Thessalonicherbriefe als Briefkompositionen," in Zeit und Geschichte. Dankesgabe an R. Bultmann zum 80. Geburtstag (Tübingen, 1964), 296-315; also idem, "Die historische Situation der Thessalonicherbriefe," in Paulus und die Gnostiker (Hamburg, 1965), 89-157 (=Paul and the Gnostics [Nashville: Abingdon, 1972], 128-218).

5 "With regard to form as well as content, we obviously have to do with an epistolary conclusion" (p. 35; my emphasis). In the exegetical literature, the "obviously" can be regarded as an indication the writer lacks any convincing grounds.

6 I offer only a selection of the necessary criticism. In so far as Schmithals' s partition hypothesis extends to 2 Thess, I pass it by, since in this respect, which for the sake of saving space cannot be elaborated here, it is less discussible.

7 This description is more precise than Schmithals' "intercessory prayer" (Fürbitte).

8 When Schmithals suggests ("Situation," 93) it is "hardly an oversight" that Kümmel does not attempt to refute Eckart's claim that 3:11-13 is an epistolary conclusion it must be replied that it is scarcely an oversight when Schmithals does not discuss the formal and material closeness of the passage to the conclusion of the proemium in 1 Cor 1 and Phil 1.

9 An intercessory prayer (Fürbitte) is entirely absent, as we have seen.

10 "Situation," 145, n. 258. It is clear that this observation both creates difficulties for his chronological ordering of the four Thessalonian letters and speaks against the denial of literary dependence of one letter upon the other.

11 It would be very interesting to compare these passages more precisely with one another, but this will be left alone here.

12 That Schmithals also advances the announcement of an early visit as an indication of a conclusion shows that he does not perceive 3:11 as a prayerful request, and in this regard thus distinguishes it from all other passages he identifies.

13 Kümmel, "Problem," 216f.

14 Ibid., 216, n. 5 and 217, n. 1. A methodological critique, that would also have to include the history of research concerning this question, would require its own essay. With regard to Kümmel's discussion, only the most elementary point can be mentioned. For discussion of the question of authenticity as such, determinations that a word or expression, when compared with other New Testament writings, only appears in Paul's writings are only worth the effort when one presupposes that the "inauthentic" author must be the writer of one of the other New Testament writings or at least stands in their linguistic tradition. What unites Paul with his world can appear in the concordance as "typically Pauline." There should at least be clarity about this point.

15 The further observations presented below in fact exclude this possibility.

16 See Dibelius, HNT 11 (Tübingen, 21923) regarding 3:13; and Bornemann, Meyer Kommentar 10 (Göttingen, 1894), 292.

17 Les èpitres aux Thessaloniciens, Paris 1956, 600f.

18 In contrast to this triple use of hagiasmos (cf. 2 Th 2:13), there are for Paul two possibly comparable passages in Rom 6:19, 22 and a christological use in 1 Cor 1:30.

19 Dibelius, p. 26: "Getreu ist, der euch berufen hat..."

20 We are only concerned here with passages in which kalein has a personal object.

21 Thessaloniciens, 434.

22 With regard to this difficulty, see H. Schlier, Bibel und Leben (1962), 21, n. 8, also an attempt to exhibit a development to the later Pauline letters.

23 One cannot summarize this circumstance as a dialectic of "salvation possession" and "salvation expectation," whereby Paul gives priority now to one and now the other (see v. Dobschütz, Die Thessalonicherbriefe, Meyer Kommentar [Göttingen, 1909], 81f.).

24 Schlier, 16.

25 A reference to dechesthai ton logon appears only in these two passages in the Pauline writings. On the other hand, one finds the phrase in the Lukan writings: Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; Lk 8:13 (cf. this verse closely with 1 Th 1:6). Schlier (22) again sees in this a sign of the "missionary and community language" from which Paul comes. If one observes, however, that in 2 Cor 11:4 Paul employs the verb in a comparable context in a way clearly different from this use of language, that in the two passages in our letter the idea of imitation is also connected, that the entire phrase is only found in Lukan writings in the NT (perhaps Jms 1:21 as well, but improbable because the verb has a different meaning there), one will not be able to appeal to a general "community and missionary language."

26 In this regard, see, e.g., A. Schulz, Nachfolgen und Nachahmen (Munich, 1962), 286ff., 314ff. In view of the idea of imitation, Schulz identifies these passages as a "noteworthy exception" in the Pauline literature.

27 Schlier, 21f.

28 With regard to the NT as such, see Blass-Debrunner § 78. Cf. also 3.4. below in this article.

29 Schlier (21, n. 10) denies that these passages can be compared and refers rather to the "signs of the apostle" (Rom 15:18f.; 2 Cor 12:12, etc.); also Schmithals, "Situation," 101ff. If one does not pass over vv. 5b, 6a (as Schmithals, 102, with n. 55; Schlier also does not closely connect the idea with these elaborations), however, it is then clear what the author perceives as the power of the spirit accompanying the Word, namely, the example of the apostle, as unfolded in 2:1-12. On this basis the translation of plêroforia must be decided (contra Schlier and Schmithals). If the formula from the signs of the apostle stands in the background, the ease with which this matter is related to "religious-ethical" circumstances is certainly not probable for an early stage of Paul.

30 E. Fuchs ("Hermeneutik?," Theol. Viat. (1960), 47; = Glaube und Erfahrung (Tübingen, 1965), 120) demurred on formal grounds at perceiving the verse as a doublet to 5:11. There is, however, also a difference in content between the two verses. While 5:11 shows some confidence in the spiritual strength of the Thessalonians, which coheres with the reference to having been taught by God in 4:9 and the exhortation to independent testing in 5:19-22, 4:18 as also 4:8 emphasizes the authoritative element of the apostle's word.

31 The letter proceeds here entirely in conformity with the direction W. Trilling has set forth for 2 Thess (Untersuchungen zum 2. Thessalonicherbrief [Leipzig 1972], 100).

32 So C. Clemen, Die Einheitlichkeit der paulinischen Briefe (Leipzig, 1894), p. 15, regarding 1 Thess 1:6.

33 Rigaux, 439 and 381.

34 See E. Fuchs, GPM (1963-64)), 14. "Sonntag nach Trinitatis (zu 1 Thess 1:2-10)."

35 This insistence on actualization is emphatically expressed in the formal exhortation perisseuête mallon (4:1, 10b; cf. in contrast the prayer, e.g., in Phil 1:9f.).

36 Cf. 2 Thess 1:5 and above all Acts 14:22; see below under 3.4.

37 E. Bammel ("Judenverfolgung und Naherwartung," ZThK, 1959, 294ff.) well recognized the "martyr theology" of the letter, even if his historical reconstruction must be rejected.

38 See O. H. Steck, Israel und das gewaltsame Geschicht der Propheten (Neukirchen 1967), 274f. Steck's proposal to interpret v 16c in terms of Mk 12:9, because of the tradition-historical posing of the question, does not take into account the function that v. 16 has in context.

39 Schmithals remarks concerning 2:10-12, with regard to the reconstruction of the situation: "Paul concludes with a pastoral word" (Paulus und die Gnostiker, 109). Thereby neither the style not the function of the verse is apprehended. As a summary, it sets forth what is decisive for the writer.

40 See C. Clemen, Einheitlichkeit, 16. J. Weiss (Das Urchristentum, Göttingen, 1917, 221, n. 2) would like to explain v. 5 as a personal gloss on 3:1 by Paul. Eckart (n. 2 above) regards v. 5 as a gloss that unites parts of two different Pauline letters. Schmithals (Paulus und die Gnostiker, 130) traces the double motivation for the sending of Timothy back to a double concern of Paul (the threat of persecution, but along with this a decisive concern about false teaching).

41 Schlier, Bibel und Leben (1962), 178, n. 9.

42 With regard to this motif in 2 Thess, see W. Trilling, 2 Thessalonicherbrief, 96f. and 115-118.

43 Thus, the difficulties presented by 5:14 over against 5:12f could be attributed to the fact that the post-Pauline writer through an insertion or modification in v. 14 and v. 15 and vv. 26f. (not only v. 27, but also v. 26 differentiates those spoken to and "all the brethren") focussed the conclusion of the letter particularly on the "those who are in charge" (v. 12).

44 W. Trilling has newly rejected the assumption that 1 Thess could have had 2 Thess as a source as "exceedingly fantastic" (2 Thessalonicherbrief, 156, n. 78; cf. also 33ff.), apparently because he regards (in my opinion unnecessarily) the literary dependence of 2 Thess on 1 Thess as "the most certain starting point for the assumption of inauthenticity" (157). That the relatively well ordered second letter is the result of using the first letter, with its puzzling organization, is in any case not very illuminating. With regard to the understanding of the "gospel" (110, with n. 4), the authoritative elements (115-118), and the idea of imitation (118-120), Trilling's description of the theology of 2 Thess corresponds remarkably with the theology in the passages from 1 Thess identified above as post-apostolic.

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Copyright © Institute for Higher Critical Studies, 1996

Darrell J. Doughty
Institute for Higher Critical Studies
Drew University, Madison, NJ, 07940