4. Benediction and postscript
Prayer, final injunction and blessingArgument
Paul now concludes his letter with a prayer for the full sanctification of the members of the Thessalonian congregation, along with a number of injunctions, and a final invocation for the grace of God to be bestowed on those who hear / read the letter.
i] Context: See 1:1-3.
ii] Structure: This passage, Benediction and postscript, presents as follows:
A prayer for full sanctification, v23;
A promise for its realization, v24.
Request for prayer, v25;
Exhortation toward mutual affection, v26;
Concerning the public reading of the letter.
Invocation of grace, v28.
Although the placement of the benedictory prayer, v24-25, is usually tied to the conclusion of the letter, it is probably more tightly linked to Paul's exhortations toward Christian living, 4:1-5:22. This is particularly evident in the two main themes of the benediction, namely, sanctification and the parousia, "appearing", of Christ. These themes are dominant in 4:1-5:22. Note how Paul's relationship with the Thessalonian church, 2:1-3:13, similarly ends with a prayer in 3:11-13.
Throughout 4:1-5:22 Paul calls on his readers to strive toward holiness / sanctification; "the life to which God has called us is not one of uncleanness; it is a life of holiness", Cassirer, cf., 4:7. As is always the case, when it comes to sanctification, the imperative rests on an indicative - the believer is to strive to be what they are. In 5:23-24 Paul reminds his readers that what they are rests wholly on the grace of God. Holiness / full sanctification is not something a believer can attain through their own efforts, but is bestowed and maintained by a gracious God. This is a very simple truth, but not easily understood. We do quickly come to understand that our justification is by grace through faith in the faithfulness of Christ, but when it comes to our sanctification (aJgiazw, "to make holy, sanctify), we think it is progressed by faithful obedience. Yet, in Christ, by grace through faith, we are completely sanctified, completely holy. We can't make ourselves more holy by our behavior, nor can we make ourselves less holy by our behavior. If we are holding onto Jesus we are holy - we are sanctified oJloteleiV, "wholly, completely." Holiness is given, it is bestowed, and so Paul prays that God aJgiasai uJmaV oJloteleiV, "sanctify you completely." Such is the indicative, the given, and to this is applied the imperative, that we strive to be what we are. As a product of justification, sanctification is a state of holiness, which, in the renewing power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we seek to realize in our daily life, albeit imperfectly.
The second part of the benediction for the Thessalonian believers calls on God to thrhqeih, "keep, preserve", them amemptwV, "blamelessly", en th/ parousia/, "to the appearing, coming", of Christ - kept in their state of holiness until the day of judgment, kept to their faith. Paul is seeking their perseverance in faith, not their obedience. Faithful obedience cannot make them blameless; only faith in Christ can make them blameless. Again, it is grace that guarantees the preservation of the flock, and faith the key that facilitates its realization.
The letter's closing covers v25-28. It consists of three specific requests, and closes with an invocation of grace. The first request is a request for prayer. Paul is seeking prayers for his mission team, and so presumably he is asking for prayer-support for his gospel ministry. The second request is somewhat unclear. In Eastern society family members and friends would kiss the cheek of another, both male and female, as an expression of mutual respect and affection. Paul may be asking the church members to treat each other as family, but it is unlikely that he is instituting a liturgical greeting, even though such soon became part of Christian worship (a tradition maintained today in the giving of peace - a practice viewed by many as disruptive!). It may well be that Paul is asking the person who is reading the letter to the church to offer this affectionate greeting to the congregation on his behalf; see Collins, Studies on the First letter to the Thessalonians, 1984. The third request is virtually a strongly worded note calling on the church elders to read the letter to the congregation and not restrict its communication. It is likely that the note is in Paul's own hand.
Paul concludes with a concluding benediction, an invocation of grace. The word "grace" appears in all the concluding benedictions in Paul's letters, as it does in the salutations at the beginning of the letters. One thing we are sure of with Paul is that all is grace. This grace is not any old grace, it is divine favor that flows from Jesus Christ; it is the undeserved, unmerited, mercy and kindness bestowed by God on those united to Christ in faith.
Text - 5:23
Benediction and postscript, v23-28: i] Benediction, v23-24 - a prayer for full sanctification and a promise for its realization. The prayer is so important that Paul repeats it in the second clause of v23; he prays that the whole person may be preserved entire and without blame, cf., Morris. For the Thessalonians, neither their "complete sanctification", nor their being "preserved blameless", is dependent on their own personal struggling for it, but on their trusting the God who has already called them to himself, and who will bring to pass in their lives what he has already begun, cf., Fee, p231.
de "-" - but, and. Here serving to indicate a step in the argument, ie., a paragraph marker; "Now may the God of peace ...", ESV.
aJgiasai (aJagiazw) opt. "may ..... sanctify [you]" - Optative, expressing a wish, here a wish-prayer.
autoV "God himself" - he. Subject of the optative verb "may sanctify, make holy." On "sanctify", see above.
oJ qeoV (oV) "the God" - [may he], the God. Nominative, standing in apposition to the personal pronoun "he".
thV eirhnhV "of peace" - of peace. The genitive is adjectival, obviously not attributive, "the peaceful God", even though true, but more idiomatic, "the God who bestows / brings about peace"; "the God who gives us peace", TEV.
oJloteleiV adj. "[sanctify you] through and through" - [may sanctify you] wholly. This adjective, in the predicate position, is usually taken as an adverb, with a qualitative emphasis rather than quantitative. Lightfoot opts for a predicate adjective, "may he sanctify you so that ye be entire." Taken this way Paul has in mind the congregation and his concern that each member is sanctified. The more individualistic words "spirit, soul and body" in the second clause indicates that, although Paul is directing his words to the congregation as a whole, he has in mind the complete sanctification of the individual rather than the sanctification of the congregation as a whole. So, the adverbial sense is to be preferred, "sanctify you completely", but with the qualification that Paul is not advocating a notion of full sanctification appropriated by a particular spiritual endeavor. Being wholly sanctified is a work of divine grace found in union with Christ through faith; we can only but imperfectly strive to be what we are in Christ. As such, Paul is able to pray that the Thessalonians be completely sanctified; "Make you holy through and through", Cassirer.
thrhqein (threw) "may ...... be kept [blameless]" - may they be kept, guarded = preserved. Optative, expressing a wish, here as a wish-prayer. This second wish-prayer "repeats and extends on the first", Wanamaker.
oloklhron adj. "[your] whole" - [the] whole, complete, undamaged, intact. "Being complete and meeting all expectations", BDAG. The adjective is attributive. Morris suggest that there is a sacrificial allusion in the use of this word such that "the entire surrender of the man to God ... is involved in sanctification." Still, the verb "to be kept" is passive, so again, God does the keeping of the whole / complete spirit, soul and body, and this to a complete end, namely, our being blameless in the day of Christ's appearing.
to pneuma (a atoV) "spirit" - the [whole] spirit [and the soul and the body]. The three elements, "spirit", "soul" and "body", stand in apposition to "whole". This three-part division has prompted debate. Is our being made up of body, soul and spirit, or just body and soul/spirit? That a human consists of body / flesh and spirit / soul (the God breathed element) is the dominant teaching of the scriptures. It is likely that Paul is being less than technical at this point, but it can be argued that to pneuma is alluding to "the Holy Spirit" as the mediator of the sanctifying power that makes the "soul and body" "blameless".
en + dat. "at [the coming of our Lord]" - in [the appearing of the Lord of us]. Temporal use of the preposition. It is likely that the genitive tou kuriou, "of the Lord", is also temporal - adjectival, idiomatic / temporal. This reflects the common NT phrase hJ parousia tou uiJou tou anqrwpou, "the coming / appearing of the Son of Man" = "when the Son of Man comes." The preposition is somewhat obtuse. Paul may have had in mind the phrase "on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes." The sense is simple enough: "may your spirit, soul and body be kept faultless until our Lord Jesus returns", CEV.
Ihsou Cristou (oV) gen. "Jesus Christ" - Genitive, standing in apposition to the genitive "Lord [of us]"; "our Lord, namely Jesus Christ."
oJ kalwn (kalew) pres. part. "The one who calls" - the one calling [you]. The participle serves as a substantive. Best understood in the sense of an invitation rather than a predestined determination of God's sovereign will.
pistoV adj. "is faithful" - is to be trusted [and he will do, effect]. Predicate adjective. Given the character of God, he will bring to fruition that which Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, namely their complete sanctification. God is "absolutely to be relied on to carry out what has been promised", Fee.
ii] Request for prayer, v25. Paul has prayed for the Thessalonians and so calls on them to reciprocate. To his end, scribes over the years have added an adjunctive kai, "pray also for us." This request by Paul further expresses his affection for the Thessalonian believers.
peri + gen. "[pray] for [us]" - [brothers pray] for [us]. Expressing reference / respect; "concerning, about, with reference to."
iii] Exhortation toward mutual affection, v26. A kiss among family and friends was a common form of greeting at the time, so Paul is not instructing the Thessalonians to do it, but is probably asking that they "greet everyone with a kiss from me", Morris. This request appears in a number of Paul's letter; see 2Cor.13:12, Phil.4:21. "The holy kiss served to symbolize the unity of the community as the family of God", Wanamaker.
en + dat. "with" - [greet all the brothers] with. Instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.
aJgiw/ dat. adj. "[a] holy [kiss]. It is not clear whether weight should be put on this modifier (attributive adjective), just as "love" in "kiss of love", 1Pet.5:14, may not carry any great weight. Bruce suggests that it does carry weight such that the kiss is to be a significant religious act (therefore sacred / holy) within a liturgical setting, presumably the Eucharist. This certainly became the practice in the early church, as documented by Justin Martyr, AD 150.
iv] Injunction regarding the reading of the letter, v27. The instruction shifts to first person, possibly indicating that Paul is now writing the final words. The instruction is very forceful, indicating that Paul was determined to have the letter read to all members of the congregation; Paul's words are not just for the elders.
ton kurion (oV) acc. "before the Lord" - [I adjure you by oath] the Lord. The accusative is probably adverbial, reference / respect, "with respect to the Lord", although pro, "before", may be assumed, as NIV. Wanamaker suggests the accusative "indicates the thing or person by whom the addressees were to swear." Presumably the oath is uttered before the Lord Jesus Christ, so the instruction comes with divine authority. Note that "Lord" stands in a double accusative construction.
anagnwsqhnai (anaginwskw) aor. pas. inf. "to have [this letter] read" - to be read [the = this letter]. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Paul adjures the congregation to do, namely, to read the letter; "that this letter be read."
toiV adelfoiV (oV) dat. "to [all] the brothers and sisters" - to [all] the brothers. Dative of indirect object.
v] Invocation of grace, v28. In ancient letters the good-bye (God be with ye) would often conclude with a wish for the recipients. "Be strong" was commonly used, sometimes with the preposition "with" when a family or group was in mind; "with you all." Paul changes this in his letters to a wish-prayer for the bestowal of divine grace / favor through the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses the same benediction in Rom.16:20 and 1Cor.16:23.
hJ cariV (iV ewV) "the grace" - the grace, favor. The grace, or favor, that Paul has in mind is the unmerited gift of "the totality of salvation", Conzelmann.
tou kuriou (oV) gen. "of our Lord" - of the Lord [of us]. Presumable Paul is speaking of the grace freely given by Christ, so we may classify the genitive as ablative, source / origin, or adjectival, attributive / idiomatic; "the grace which is bestowed by the Lord."
Ihsou Cristou (oV) gen. "Jesus Christ" - Standing in apposition to "Lord".
meq (meta) + gen. "be with [you]" - Expressing association / accompaniment. An optative verb expressing a wish-prayer must be assumed.