1 Thessalonians


2. Paul's relationship with the Thessalonian church, 2:1-3:13

ii] Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians' response to the gospel


Paul has defended himself from the charge that his ministry is a front for financial gain and now goes on to express his thanks to the members of the Thessalonian congregation. When Paul visited Thessalonica, he was given a hearing and inevitably a number of people accepted the gospel as a message from God. As always, an acceptance of the gospel brings with it negative social consequences, but like the believers in Judea, the Thessalonians stood firm in their faith. The violent opposition faced by the believers in Judea was particularly focused on frustrating their attempts to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles.


i] Context: See 2:1-12.


ii] Structure: This passage, Paul's thanksgiving for the Thessalonians' response to the gospel, presents as follows:

Thanksgiving proper, v13:

An open reception of the gospel.

Gospel opposition, v14-16:

A willingness to suffer for the gospel, v14.

Violent, v15a;

Focused on hindering the gospel, v15b-16a;

Eternal consequences, v16b;

they heap up their sins for the wrath of God.


iii] Interpretation:

As already indicated, the letter proper where Paul deals with the issues of "the sanctity of the marriage bed, the refusal to work by some who were able to, ... and questions about the nature and timing of the Lord's return", Fee, does not begin until chapter 4. Wanamaker classifies the passage before us as a Digressio, although v13 at least harks back to the Exordium - Paul's introductory thanksgiving and prayer. This is particularly evident because Paul renews the thanksgiving he began in the first chapter. In the thanksgiving in v13 Paul expresses his delight at the way the Thessalonians had received the gospel; they had believed the apostle's message, accepting it as a message from God. In the style of the Narratio, the narrative section of the letter, Paul reminds his readers of the persecution they experienced over the last few months since he left them, v14. The trouble that caused Paul and Silas to flee Thessalonica was initially at the hand of members of the Jewish synagogue, but Gentiles were soon caught up in the disturbance. The Thessalonian believers now suffer as a consequence of this initial disturbance. Paul makes the point that their problems are part of a long history of persecution affecting the Christian community in Palestine. This persecution began with the crucifixion of Christ, the (Christian??) prophets, extending to the brothers and sisters throughout Judea, v15. Such does not go unnoticed with God; it has its consequences, v16.


The anti-Semitic stance of this passage has prompted negative comment, but we need to remember that Paul was a Jew and he is simply making the point that it was his fellow Jews who not only persecuted him and the other believing Jews, but also Jesus and the Prophets. Paul has every right to be critical of the actions of his own people.


Greek: Verse 14-16, except "The wrath of God has come upon them at last", is a single sentence in the Greek text commencing with a causal gar and so serving to provide the basis for the thanksgiving in v13; "for you brothers, became imitators ......"

Text - 2:13

Paul's thanksgiving for the Thessalonians' response to the gospel: i] Thanksgiving proper, v13. In this thanksgiving, Paul offers God his thanks for the thoughtful recognition and acceptance of the gospel message that he and Silas preached in Thessalonica, an acceptance which recognized that the message was not of human design, but divine in origin.

kai "And" - This variant is most likely original, given that it is rather awkward - more likely removed than added. It would be unusual for Paul to use kai, rather than de, to introduce a step in the argument, but it may well serve this purpose, ie., transitional. If so, it should be treated in English as a paragraph marker.

dia touto "-" - because of this. This causal construction is usually inferential; "therefore"; "Moreover, in consideration of all this, we give unceasing thanks, ...", Cassirer. Barclay stays with cause / reason; "There is another reason why we continually thank God. We thank him because when you received the message of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as indeed it is, as a message from God."

kai "[we] also" - and. Here adjunctive, "also"; "Added to this ......." Possibly serving to strengthen hJmeiV, "we", so "we for our part", Best, ie., emphatic.

tw/ qew/ (oV) dat. "[thank] God" - [we also give thanks to] God [unceasingly]. Dative of direct object after the verb "to give thanks to." The verb is modified by the modal adverb "unceasingly, constantly."

oJti "because" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why Paul unceasingly gives thanks to God for the Thessalonians, so Wanamaker. It may serve to introduce a content clause / epexegetic, specifying the content of the thanksgiving, so Fee, ... cf., BDF 442.12; "we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God .....", ESV.

paralabonteV (paralambanw) aor. part. "when you received" - having received. The participle is adverbial, best taken as temporal, as NIV. The sense is "receive by approval / conviction by accepting", BDAG 5, and technically of receiving a tradition, which, in this case, refers to receiving the gospel tradition, cf., 1Cor.15:3, Gal.1:12.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the word] of God" - [the message of hearing from us] of God. The genitive is usually classified here as verbal, subjective, "proceeding from God", so Ellicott, Morris, ..., but given that the head noun logon, "word, message", is not overly verbal the genitive could be classified as attributive / idiomatic, "which proceeds from God." The placement of this genitive is unusual given that it is unrelated to the head noun "word". Paul seems to have added it as a qualification having just said that the message was from him (and Silas, "us", although Paul often uses the royal plural), when of course it is primarily from God. So the sense is "when you received the message (logoV, "word", the gospel - the apostolic tradition handed down), which you heard from us, a message which came directly from God, ......" So, although Paul states that the gospel communicated to the Thessalonians came from his lips, he adds that the prime source for the message is God himself. So, it serves to establish an "emphatic contrast", Morris. "When you received the word of divine preaching which goes out from us", Cassirer.

akohV (h) gen. "which you heard" - [word] of hearing / report. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "word, message", as NIV. The word can refer to the act of hearing or what is heard. If what is heard is in mind then "the preached word / message from us"; if the act of hearing is in mind then "the message which you heard from us."

para + gen. "from [us]" - Here expressing source / origin.

anqrwpwn (oV) gen. "a human [word]" - [you received it not as it is (kaqwV estin is assumed) a word] of men [but as it is truly a word of God]. The genitive, as with "of God", may be ablative, source / origin, "from men .... from God", or better, adjectival, attributive, limiting "word", "a human word ...... a divine word."

alla "but" - Strong adversative.

kaqwV + verb to-be. "as [it actually is]" - as [it is]. Here the sense is heading toward basis / cause / reason; "you received the message not because it is a human message, but because it is truly, really a divine message." Wanamaker suggests a more comparative sense "just as it truly is a message from God."

kai "[which is] indeed" - [which] and [works in you the ones believing]. The conjunction here may be adjunctive, "which also works in you", or emphatic, as NIV.

en + dat. "in [you]" - Local, sphere / metaphorical.

toiV pisteuousin (pisteuw) dat. pres. "who believe" - the ones believing. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "you", as NIV. "but it is really a divine message, a power which is at work in you who believe."


ii] Gospel opposition, v14-16: A willingness to suffer for the gospel, v14. Paul is quite chuffed that his new converts in Thessalonica have proved their worth, proved their genuine response to the gospel, by standing firm in persecution. It seems likely that the congregation is primarily Gentile, but it would look very Jewish to the outsider, and so the persecution is probably coming from the Gentile population in general. None-the-less, the troubles were probably initiated by members of the local synagogue; see Taylor, Who Persecuted the Thessalonian Christians? Paul's letters to the Thessalonians reflect the early years of the Christian church when the Jerusalem church faced persecution, a persecution Paul himself initiated, so the troubles in Judea serve as a model of faithful endurance, a model which the Thessalonian believers now emulate; see Jewett, Agitators, who argues that Jewish nationalists were involved in persecuting Jewish Christian throughout Palestine because of their mission to the Gentiles.

gar "for" - Here more reason than cause, ie., "a marker of clarification", BDAG 2; "Brothers and sisters, let me explain in more detail my reason for giving thanks to God for you. What happened to you is the very counterpart of what happened to God's churches in Judea."

twn ekklhsiwn (a) gen. "[imitators] of [God's] churches" - [you became imitators] of the church [of God]. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, subjective; "you followed the example set by the congregations of God in Judea." The genitive "of God" is probably possessive, as NIV. We have here an early use of the word ekklhsia. The word has no religious significance and means nothing more than "an assembly / gathering / meeting." The special nature of this assembly is that it is "in Christ", and Christ is in it. Note that the noun mimhthV, "imitator", has a negative connotation in English which has prompted the TEV translation "the same things happened to you that happened to the churches of God in Judea."

twn ouswn (eimi) gen. pres. part. "[in Judea]" - the ones being [in Judea in Christ]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "churches"; "the churches ... that are in Judea". The preposition en, "in", is locative, expressing space, ie., indicating where the churches are. Paul adds the prepositional phrase en Cristw/ Ihsou, "in Christ Jesus." Here en is again locative, but expressing sphere / incorporative union; "in union with Christ Jesus." "The churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea", ESV.

oJti "-" - because. Here probably introducing a causal clause explaining "the grounds of saying that the Thessalonians imitated the Jewish Christians of Judea", Wanamaker; "because you too, have suffered so at the hands of your own countrymen, just as they suffered from the Jews", Berkeley.

kai "-" - [the same things you] also [suffered]. Adjunctive use of the conjunction, repeated with "like also they (the Christians in Judea) suffered by the Jews."

uJpo + gen. "[you suffered] from [your own people]" - by [the own fellow countrymen]. Here expressing agency; "because you also suffered persecution by (at the hand of) your own countrymen." The preposition is also used in the following clause "as also they by the Jews."

kaqwV "the same things [those churches suffered]" - as, like [they by the Jews]. Comparative; "when you suffered at the hands of your fellow-countrymen you were sharing the experience of the Judaean Christian churches who suffered persecution by the Jews", Phillips. Note that the word "Jews" derives from the region, namely Judea, so in its fullest sense it means "the [Jewish] people of Judea."


Those opposed to the gospel are violent and so will have to face the wrath of God, v15-16. Paul is highly critical of his fellow countrymen. It was they who had fermented the troubles in Thessalonica which forced him and Silas to flee, and they even pursued him, fermenting more trouble for the missionaries, cf., Acts 17:13. Paul reminds his readers that not only did Jesus die at the hands of his own people, but Jewish believers if Palestine have also suffered at their hands (hJmaV, "us", may specifically reference Paul and his fellow missioners). Paul's main charge against his fellow Jews is that they hindered the Gentile mission. This criticism is unlikely to be focused on the judaizers (legalistic Christian Jews), but the Jews in general. The Jewish authorities saw it as their responsibility to chastise wayward Jews like Paul for daring to pollute the purity of the Jewish faith with the inclusion of Gentiles. It is very unwise to classify Paul's words here as anti-Semitic; he has every right to criticize the hostility demonstrated by his own countrymen.

twn ... apokteinantwn (apokteinw) gen. aor. part. "who killed [the Lord Jesus]" - of the ones having killed [and = both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and having severely persecuted us and not pleasing God and contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles]. The participle, as with "having persecuted / driven out" (NIV "drove [us] out"; the ek prefix my give this sense or it may simply intensify, ie., "severely persecuted"), "[not] pleasing [God]" and "forbidding", is adjectival, attributive, limiting the genitive "Jews", as NIV, ie., the Jews in question are those who persecuted Jesus and the Christian prophets of the early church (who were also Jews) and ........ This set of genitive participles can also be classified as substantives standing in apposition to "Jews"; "the Jews, namely, those who ........" So, the description / specification of the Jews in mind covers the rest of the sentence, probably excluding "but wrath has come upon them at last!", v16b. "The Jews who put the Lord Jesus and the prophets to death, who are persecuting us cruelly, who incur the displeasure of God and who are contrary to all people, and who hinder us from preaching to the Gentiles, lest they be saved, so filling up the measure of their sins."

touV profhtaV (hV ou) "[and] the prophets" - The prophets are most likely Christian prophets, and this may include the apostles / leaders / witnesses etc., contra Fee who thinks Paul has in mind the OT prophets, ie., "their own prophets", NEB note. Note the possible translation "killing Jesus and persecuting the prophets and us."

qew (oV) dat. "[they displease] God" - Dative of direct object after to verb "to displease." "How displeasing they are to God!", TEV.

enantiwn gen. adj. "are hostile [to everyone]" - [and] contrary [to all men]. The genitive adjective is attributive, limiting "Jews", so functioning in accord with the series of participles in the sentence. The word takes a dative complement, here "to all men." The statement "hostile to everyone" reflects Jewish exclusivism, a stance that prompts a negative reaction (similar to Christianity - "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me", Jn.14:6). The two contrasting phrases make the point that Paul's fellow countrymen continue to oppose the outpouring of God's grace upon humanity, which displeasing of God is demonstrated in their hostility toward broken humanity.


kwluontwn (kwluow) gen. pres. part. "in their efforts to keep [us]" - forbidding, hindering [us]. The participle as "having killed" above. The present tense my indicate the durative nature of the forbidding; "they are continually hindering us."

lalhsai (lalew) aor. inf. "from speaking" - to speak. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what the Jews forbad Jewish Christians to do, namely, that they not preach to the Gentiles.

toiV eqnesin (oV) dat. "to the Gentiles" - Dative of indirect object.

iJna + subj. "so that [they may be saved]" - that [they might be saved]. Possibly introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that they might be saved", although a negation would be expected, "lest ..." So, it may well be epexegetic specifying the "forbidding", namely, how the Gentiles may be saved; "they even try to prevent us telling the Gentiles how they may be saved", TNT - "They keep us from speaking his message to the Gentiles and from leading them to be saved", CEV.

eiV to + inf. "in this way they heap up [their sins]" - that [to fill up / fulfill the sins of them]. This construction may introduce either a final or consecutive clause. Morris, Wanamaker, ... opts for final, expressing purpose, "in order that .....", but consecutive, expressing result, seems more likely. We may have expected a durative tense rather than a punctiliar aorist + pantote, "always". Frame suggest Paul has in mind a series of events taken collectively, but it may just reflect Gen.15:16. Their interference in the salvation of the Gentiles results in the heaping up of their sins to the full measure, inevitably bringing upon them the wrath of God. "As a result, they fill up the full measure of their sins."

pantote adv. "to the limit" - always. Temporal adverb; "as they have always done."

de "[The wrath of God has come upon them]" - but, and [upon them came the wrath]. The NIV takes the conjunction here as indicating a step in the argument (indicating a new sentence) rather than as an adversative, "But wrath has come down upon them at last", so ESV, or continuative, as TEV, "and now God's anger has at last come down on them." The aorist efqasen, "came [upon them]", is problematic; has Paul got some particular event in mind, eg., the massacre in Jerusalem, AD 49, so Jewett, Agitators? Usually understood as an example of apocalyptic language, so Paul is referring to the wrath of God applied at the day of judgment.

eiV teloV "at last" - to end. An idiomatic temporal phrase, as NIV, "finally", so Best, Wanamaker, ..., although possibly spacial, "completely", Moule, "to the full, to the utmost", Zerwick. "But now retribution has overtaken them for good and all!" REB.


1 Thessalonians Introduction


[Pumpkin Cottage]