1 Thessalonians


3. Exhortations toward Christian living, 4:1-5:22

i] Sexual purity


In this major section of his letter, covering 4:1-5:22, Paul begins with an exhortation to holiness in sexual relations.


i] Context: See 1:1-3: In line with the insights of rhetorical criticism, we now come to the heart of this parenetic (exhortatory) letter, the probatio, or proof/thesis section of the letter, 4:1-5:22. Wanamaker is surely right when he notes that the exhortations are demonstrative, not deliberative, ie. they are confirming the Thessalonian believers in their behavior and beliefs, rather than seeking to correct them. Paul deals with the following items:

An exhortation to abstain from fornication, 4:1-8;

An exhortation toward the love of the brotherhood, 4:9-12;

A proof concerning the resurrection of the dead at the return of Christ and their coming with Christ to heaven, 4:13-18;

An exhortation toward readiness in the face of Christ's return, 5:1-11;

A general exhortation toward the proper functioning of a Christian fellowship; 5:12-22.


ii] Structure: This passage, Sexual purity, presents as follows:

Initial appeal, v1-2;

Marital faithfulness / sexual propriety, v3-8.

Sexual sins, v3-6a;

Reasons why they must be avoided, v6b-8.


iii] Interpretation:

The opening Gk. sentence, is rather complex; see below. The third sentence covers v3-6 and serves to define qelhma tou qeou, "the will of God", which stands in apposition to oJ aJgiasmoV, "holiness / sanctification." Paul's explanation of the will of God / holiness is progressed by a series of epexegetic infinitives. The next sentence covers v7 and exegetes the notion of holiness in terms of God's will. The final sentence covers v8 and explains that disobedience amounts to rejection of the divine will.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 4:1

i] Paul beings with an introductory comment covering 4:1-5:22, v1-2. In this introductory appeal, Paul makes the point that "his directions agree with his former teaching, providing theological warrants for those directions, and states the goal of the behavior he inculcates", Malherbe.

loipon oun "finally" - rest, remaining then. The adverb loipon may be either temporal or inferential, but seeing it is linked with oun it is probably drawing an emphatic logical conclusion; "well then, brothers, ....", Malherbe.

paralabete (paralambanw) aor. "we instructed" - [as] you received. The Thessalonians received Paul's gospel tradition. "You have received instruction from us", Barclay.

par (para) + gen. "you" - from [us]. Here expressing agency; "by/from us."

iJna + subj. "-" - [brothers, we ask you and we encourage in Lord Jesus] that ... Bruce suggests that this hina is dislocated and so is repeated again at the end of the Gk. sentence, "that you may abound more." As such it introduces a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Paul ("we" = Paul + team, or royal plural) asks and encourages in the Lord.

pwV "how" - Adverbial, expressing manner.

peripatein kai areskein "to live in order to please [God]" - [as you received instruction from us how it is necessary for you] to walk and to please [God]. These two infinitives serve as the subject of the verb dei "it is necessary" = "to walk and to please God is necessary for you." Bruce suggests a hendidys, ie. a single idea expressed by two words joined by "and" = "to walk so as to please God"; "satisfy", Moffatt; or better, "serve". We naturally assume that the "walk" here refers to ethical behavior (dealing with personal righteousness), but we must remember that the only "service" acceptable to God is faith in Christ's acceptable service (Rom.1:5, uJpakohn pistewV "obedience of faith." A pesky genitive = the obedience that consists of faith, or the obedience that derives from faith???). Our faith in Christ is the only action that properly pleases God.

kaqwV "as [in fact you are living]" - as [indeed you do walk]. Comparative.

erwtwmen (erwtaw) pres. "we ask" - Although the sentence is somewhat difficult to translate, it is simply an exhortation that the Thessalonians behave properly in line with the instructions Paul and his mission team have previously given them, this instruction being that the they live in a satisfactory way toward God.

parakaloumen (parakalew) pres. "urge" - we encourage. Serving to strengthen the asking. "We have one thing to ask of you", REB.

en + dat. "in [the Lord Jesus]" - Probably instrumental, "by the authority of the Lord Jesus", or if local, as in "association with", "as a Christian fellowship", Barclay.


gar "for" - Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why Paul need only encourage the Thessalonian believers to extend themselves in their Christian walk, rather than have to condemn them or make demands of them, namely, because they understand and have applied the teaching he gave them during his mission with them.

oidate (oida) perf. "you know" - Repeating the point made in v1.

uJmin dat. pro. "[we gave] you" - [we gave] to you. Dative of indirect object.

dia + gen. "by the authority of [the Lord Jesus]" - through, by means of [the Lord Jesus]. Here expressing agency. "By the authority" is a bit of a stab, but is also adopted by Moffatt, Weymouth, Williams... A literal "through the Lord Jesus", NAB, may be safer since Paul is not necessarily taking a stand at this point.


ii] Paul now addresses the specific issue of marital faithfulness / sexual propriety, v3-8. It remains unclear whether Paul is simply reinforcing his previous teaching on the divine norms which govern sexuality, or whether he is addressing a problem of immorality that has developed in the church, a problem reported to him by Timothy. The former option seems best, although numerous commentators take the latter position, eg. Green. Sexual laxity was the norm in pagan / Gentile / secular society, as Demosthenes puts it, "mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of our persons, but wives to bear us legitimate children." Obviously Paul is obliged, as apostle to the Thessalonian church, to reinforce Biblical norms.

gar "-" - for. Untranslated, since this conjunction often only indicates another step in the argument, but there is a touch of reason / explanation here, so "Well, to be explicit, God's will is this ...", Malherbe.

touto "-" - this. The "this" is God's will.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "God's" - of God. The genitive may be classified as verbal, subjective, or ablative, source / origin, even adjectival, possessive.

qelhma (a atoV) "will" - God's will is that we be sanctified / holy in Christ, but Lightfoot is surely right when he suggests that God's specific will here is not that we "be sanctified", but in this context, that we avoid sexual immorality, honouring a wife, caring for a fellow believer... This is indicated by the lack of an article. God's will is our holiness, our Christ-likeness, which will/holiness is specifically applied by abstaining from fornication. "God wants ...", TEV.

oJ aJgiasmoV (oV) "that [you] should be sanctified" - the sanctification [of you]. Standing in apposition to "God's will", thus definining / particularizing that will. God's will, namely our sanctification / our being holy, is realized both by God (we are made holy in Christ) and by our action of striving to be what we are in Chirst, here in the terms of our striving toward sexual purity.

apecesqai (apecw) pres. inf. "should avoid" - to abstain, be far off. Is this infinitive in apposition to "sanctification", which is itself in apposition to "the will of God"? This seems unlikely, given that sexual morality is but one aspect of Christ-likeness. It is more likely that the infinitive references "God's will", classified as either epexegetic, defining / specifying that will, or as introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing that will. "Completely free from", TEV.

apo + gen. "-" - from. Expressing separation; "away from."

thV porneiaV (a) "sexual immorality" - Words such as "fornication" and "unchastity", are archaic, "sexual relations outside marriage" probably makes the point for the modern mind. "No one should have sexual intercourse with anyone except their own marriage partner" is a possible paraphrase, although somewhat legalistic. It is possible that Paul is referring to sexual union within the degrees of consanguinity and affinity, an issue raised at the Jerusalem conference, Acts 15, but he is more likely referring to sexual laxity and asking the believers to aim above the low standards evident in pagan society. Sexual purity is not, in itself, holiness, but for the New Testament writers, is a very expressive element of holiness. The imagery of Hosea, of Israel's flirtation with other God's and the way marriage is linked to union with Christ, to oneness with the divine, along with the total sexual laxity of pagan society, has propelled sexual immorality to the top of the evil list. One wonders whether the "greed is good" philosophy of modern business long ago propelled itself to the top of the list, but the church, infested with the philosophy of "success", has failed to recognize this? Of course, such a question raises the issue of Biblical interpretation, and in any case, may fail to give due weight to the "one body" doctrine of scriptures.


From the negative, that we abstain form impurity, Paul gives the positive, that we keep the body pure. This verse is not easily translated and may actually be an exhortation to "control" (in the sense of "possess") their own "body" ("vessel", ie. their wife). "Live continently" is most likely the substance of the exhortation. Such is an appropriate expression toward sanctification, ie. "is holy", and is also "honorable".

eidenai (oida) inf. "that [each of you] should learn" - to know, learn. For the infinitive see apecesqai, v3. The issue here is not so much learning, but doing. The purpose of the exhortation is that the Thessalonians "control" their behavior; "live continently". This has prompted the simple translation "respect and honour your wives", CEV.

uJmwn gen. pro. "[each] of you" - [each one] of you. The genitive is adjectival, partitive / wholative.

skeuoV (oV) "[his own] body" - [his own] vessel, object. The meaning is unclear which is why translators divide: i] "control his body keeping it pure and treating it with respect", Phillips; ii] "procure himself a wife in purity and honour", Weymouth.

en + dat. "in a way that is [holy and honorable]" - in [sanctification and honor/respect/esteem.] The preposition here is adverbial introducing a modal adverbial phrase modifying the verbal aspect of the infinitive katasqai, "to control", which infinitive again functions as apecesqai, v3. The verbal action is unclear, so the AV "how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor", but better how to conduct oneself in marriage, so the CEV translation of the verse "respect and honour your wives."


The God-empowered person is to rule their body rather than be caught up in lustful passions (overmastering desire rather than aggressive desire). Such behavior is typical of the non Jewish world (here Paul means unbelieving Gentiles). They do not know God and therefore tend toward sexual laxity.

mh en "not in" - The preposition here, as in v4, is adverbial expressing manner; "not in the manner of." A believer should respect and honour their wives, and not be caught up in the sexual excesses of the pagan world where extramarital sex is the norm. It is unlikely that Paul is denouncing passion within marriage itself. Ascetic views of marriage were indeed common both within the Jewish and secular community. In the ascetic tradition sex was only for procreation, with companionship and love being the focus of the union. It seems unlikely that Paul is promoting such a victorian view of sex.

epiqumiaV (a) gen. "[passionate] lust" -[ emotion, experience, passion] of lust, passion. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, or attributed; "sensual passions", Moffatt. Best expressed as "passions and desires", Barclay.

kaqaper comp. "like" - just as, like, as. Comparative. The Gentiles know no better, but believers do.


Sexual immorality wrongs the third party, either the person's married partner or future partner. "The Lord will punish" such behavior. Immorality has consequences both here and in the day of judgement, and these consequences should not be ignored. God's righteous judgement exacts a terrible cost. The believer cannot expect to sidestep these costs in the here and now, but thankfully sin's eternal cost is carried by Christ on the cross.

en + dat. "in [this matter]" - in [the matter, thing, deed]. Again adverbial, but here expressing reference / respect; "with respect to the matter under discussion."

mh tuJperbainein (uperbainw) pres. inf. "that .... no one should wrong" - not to overstep, cross a boundary. For the infinitive see apecesqai, v3; still explaining / detailing God's will. Here probably in the sense of intruding on an existing marital relationship, although some commentators think that Paul is now speaking about financial dealings with a brother; "no one should try to overreach his fellow man in business", Barclay, but better "you must not cheat any of the Lord's followers in matters of sex", CEV.

pleonektein (pleonektew) pres. inf. "take advantage of" - to wrong. The infinitive as above. As noted above, the sense "greedy" is adopted by some commentators, but sexual covetousness is the driving force of this evil; "behave covetously".

dioti + ind. (ass.) "-" - because [the Lord]. Introducing a causal clause; "because ...... the Lord exacts the penalty for all such actions", Barclay.

ekdikoV (oV) "will punish" - is an avenger. A sense of "just punishment" is better than "vengeance." Also used to describe the function of civil magistrates, Rom.13:4. "He (Jesus/God) punishes everyone who does such things", CEV.

peri + gen. "[all those who commit such sins]" - concerning [all these things]. Reference / respect; "about, with respect to all such sins."

kaqwV kai "as" - even as, insomuch as. Comparative with an ascensive kai; "even as." The kai, "even", is somewhat emphatic, serving to stress the point Paul is making; "indeed, we told you so before", Malherbe.


God's "call", in the sense of invitation, is not a call to indulge in impure or immoral sexual acts, but rather a call to move into the sphere where God's sanctification takes place, a sphere where our life is increasingly aligned to the character of Christ through the power of the indwelling Spirit. God certainly does not intend a believer to live an "impure" (unclean) life.

gar "for" - Expressing cause/reason. "The reason why Paul had spoken so emphatically about God's vengeance is found in the nature of their call", Malherbe.

ou ... ekalesen (kalew) aor. "did not call" - Not in the sense of effectual call, but of a divine invitation to participate in the life of an eternal community, which community is ethical by nature.

epi ..... en "to [be pure, but] to [live a holy life]" - [God did not call us] to [impurity, but] in [sanctification]. The preposition epi + dat. expresses purpose here, "for the purpose of", while en expresses space / sphere, "in the sphere of, within", but with a touch of eiV, "into", of movement toward coming to rest in. Note how en and eiV are sometimes interchangeable with this sense. "God did not call us for impurity ("not called for the purpose of indulging in impure or immoral sexual acts", Wanamaker), but into sanctification ("into the sphere where God's sanctification takes place", Wanamaker)." The two preposition are sometimes treated as if carrying the same sense, as NIV, but this is unlikely. Turner handles the clause nicely; "God has not called us to uncleanness, but his call is addressed to us in our state of sanctification", Turner.


The believer who thinks they can get into sexual sins with impunity needs to understand that their behavior is nothing less than treating God with indifference. Above all, it is an affront to the Lord; a sin against the Holy Spirit. We carry with us the very presence of the Lord in the gift of the Holy Spirit and so should not willfully affront his person.

toigaroun "therefore" - therefore, then. Emphatic. Drawing a logical conclusion / inferential; "consequently". Only one other use in the NT. "So", CEV; "so then", TEV.

oJ aqetwn (aqetew) part. "he who rejects this instruction" - the one rejecting. The participle serves as a substantive. The implied object, "this instruction," is supplied.

anqrwpon (oV) "[does not reject] man / a human being" - [does not reject] a man. Possibly personal, "rejects Paul", where "man" is understood as Paul, but better "rejects the instruction" that Paul has given. Paul's point is that a rejection of his instruction to the Thessalonian church is a rejection of God.

ton didonta (didwmi) pres. part. "who gives" - the one giving. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting God, or as a substantive standing in apposition to "God"; "the one who gives ..." The present tense (a variant aorist exists; "gave", Moffatt, "has given", Knox), being durative, indicates givings over a period of time. Variant ton kai didonta, forms an intensive construction; "who has also given." It is possible that the giving of the Spirit here is related to conversion, but given the context, it is more likely that Paul is referring to the Spirit's function of shaping holiness in those who are holy in Christ and this by the indwelling-compelling power of the Spirit of Christ.

to agion eiV uJmaV "you [his] Holy [Spirit]" - [the Spirit of him] holy to you. The word order in the Greek serves to emphasize both "holy" and "you."


1 Thessalonians Introduction


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