I’m reading Fred Craddock‘s book, Preaching, for a class on, well, preaching. In it, it notes – while avoiding the Augustine dispute with Donatus – that the preacher’s moral character is a part of the sermon.
I see the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 2. Paul is intent to give a good account of himself. He is no Sophist, he declares, using his talents to make money, to trick people, to be lazy. What he is has to give is too important to hold on too and to prevent by simply being lazy. He works to contribute to the community he is in. Sure, he says, he could sit and let people pamper him, fawning all over him, but his gospel is too powerful to recline on a sofa.
So, I was thinking… maybe Augustine is right. The efficacy of the preaching outweighs the moral character of the preacher, but if the preacher does not care about the moral character of him/herself, then this will get in the way of the message. The message will work, if given space… by a poor leader, a contemptible character will take up that space around him/herself so that nothing can work. If everyone is paying attention to the character of the speaker, the message will cease having a place to take hold.
This past Sunday, the Sunday School class made it through chapter three of 1 Thessalonians. Remember, we are, much to the chagrin of canonical theologians, going through the New Testament chronologically. James was first, and now 1 Thessalonians.
The thought occurred to me as to what the good news was for Paul. He did not provide us a lexicon. So, the only source for the good news was the Septuagint. We find it in Isaiah, in several places – both times pointing to the good news that God has won. In 1 Thessalonians, it is not much different. But, what has God one?
Here, I think we see the beginning of the splitting of the Shema, but God is still in charge… and Jesus is subordinate. Why? Because Paul prays to God and the gospel is God’s. God has won. Jesus is raised from the dead by God and is awaiting God’s permission to return with the army of heaven to really bring about the kingdom, a kingdom already working through the power of God’s spirit. It is not about being perfect, but about worshiping the true and living God. And, it is about the inclusion of the Gentiles – from the earliest of Paul’s letters, this is a key point.
Granted, I do not believe a Gentile mission was embraced by the entirety of the early Church until after 70, but…
So… thoughts? What is Paul’s Gospel in 1 Thessalonians?
Next week, our Sunday School class will begin to read 1 Thessalonians as we explore the New Testament canon chronologically. Granted, Childs and others of the canonical stripe may disagree with this method, but I find that for those who are developing their own theology, especially historical theology, beginning with the earliest writings and progressing forward helps them to understand the idea of theological progression. I am personally aided by reading the canon this way because it helps me to understand – and thus appreciate – theological progression and the very real fact that New Testament theology was not birthed whole. It needed progression even within the authors, as inspired as they were from the first to the last.
I mean, look at Paul – whom we will begin with as we explore his first letter, 1 Thessalonians. I would place it right after the book of James (although Borg disagrees with me). Like James, Paul is speaking about a community, focused on daily living rather than a theological defense of Jesus’s death. This is important because some of you still think speculative theology is far more important than practical theology. Both Paul and James are speaking about a community awaiting the return of Christ. It wasn’t a lot of rules or Church hierarchy. As a matter of fact, there was no Church as of yet. Only a bunch of Jews who believed Jesus was Lord, or something – at least Jesus was something more than they knew – he was something different about God.
I’m thinking of splitting this book up between two Sundays. First, we need to discuss current eschatological thoughts. What if Jesus has already returned? I believe he has, as a matter of fact, but others may not. Do we continue to live James and 1 Thessalonians out if Jesus has already returned? Another real discussion to have here is what is the new family Paul is clearing speaking of?
The book mentioned in this post is new, but it takes the New Testament canon and lays it chronologically. So far, except for James, I agree with him, at least in order – if not in pinpointing the dates. Borg lists 2 Peter as last – and that I agree with. I am thinking of writing a paper on 2 Peter as a defense of… er… never mind.
This is classwork. It was supposed to be only between 750 to 1000 words. Ugh.
The second chapter of 1 Thessalonians serves as Paul’s self-defense of a previous mission, perhaps against the persecution which the community was presently suffering (5.3, but more especially, 2.14-16) and is delivered in an epideictic style. This defense is able to state that both Paul and the community are worthy of praise, with this relationship being co-dependent, while the persecutors are worthy of blame. The author is defending against charges of motives of impure intentions (2.3), insincerity (2.5), and self-aggrandizement (2.5). It includes the common attributes suggested by Aristotle, who Olbricht has suggested serves more to fulfill Paul’s cognitive environment, such as appeals to authority (2.2, 4-5), brief mentions of narrative which suggested that it was unimportant to rehearse the entire story (2.1,9), and proofs of Paul’s ministry (2.7,10). It also includes a moral purpose for Paul’s speech, which would connect himself to the community to which he was writing (2.8). Then, there is 2.13-16 which, while it includes narrative relating to previous persecutions, as well as previous preaching, doesn’t seem to fit well with Paul’s speech if it was just about giving Paul a position of praise; however, I might suggest that this serves to remind the reader of the previous reception of Paul and serves to propel them to deliberate that the reception of the current letter may in fact do that much more. It is in this latter section, however, that we find that Paul is almost jubilant of that those Jews who opposed him have now suffered God’s wrath.
If the second chapter of Paul’s letter is indeed epideictic rhetoric, then by proclaiming a joyful end in wrath to those who had long prevented him from preaching to the Gentiles may conflict with Aristotle’s basic need, that the character of the speaker be unquestionable and include moral purpose (III.16.6). Yet, this shouldn’t turn us off of using epideictic to place this speech. Instead, we may find that Paul is delivering this speech to cast blame upon those who were recently inflicted with God’s Wrath. After all, the honor of God was challenged when Jewish leaders tried and found guilty the proclaimed Son of God. According to Paul, it wasn’t just the Son of God who was killed, but so too the prophets and members of the community. It was a repeated action of sin against God which prompted the Wrath, and thus not Paul’s preaching of something new. He was, after all, as he consistently proclaimed, from God, preaching God’s Gospel. The historical circumstance, then, is that Paul has to defend himself in the midst of persecution of the community. He has presented the true message, which the community accepted and received, so to say that the current persecution is God’s Wrath is wrong; it is not the community suffering God’s Wrath, but those who are doing the persecuting. The proof of this is in Paul’s message, his actions, and the coming Day of the Lord.
In the contemporary world the Christian Church must contend with the New Atheists, the Fundamentalists, and hermeneutics which threaten to tear apart our theological fabric. At our feet are laid wars, genocides, holocausts, oppression, molestations, economic collapses, crusades of anti-science, anti-women, and anti-‘x’, with ‘x’ representing whatever is needed at the moment to convict Christianity in the hearts and minds of the audience. We no longer seek the Ideal Church, but even within ourselves, we accept only the Church Presented, as if that is the real church, as if the monolithic evil presented by secularists is the only reality of the Church. In a world which believes it is similar to the one described by Paul in the New Testament, it may be that the contemporary ministry should respond in kind. To that end, the Church must be willing to present a good report of itself, using the method of Paul. We must remind the world of the good things we have done, of our charities, our missions, our educational pursuits. Our message is good because it is from God and is delivered without impurities, honoring the trust placed upon us by the One who gave the Church the message. It is not about seeking glory from others, but about having God through Christ glorified in the world. We have acted as both father and mother to countless unnamed witnessed who should be, rather, the loudest voices at the trial. And finally, the Church must be encouraged that even in the present suffering, it will remain victorious.
 By this, I intend to state that the community’s response to the message was proof of Paul’s character, and proof of Paul’s character could be found in the community’s imitation of Christ, because Paul had clearly imitated Christ (2.14).
 “Appearing in the same year as Hughes’s and Wuellner’s essays was one by Thomas Olbricht, who sought to apply an authentic Aristotelian rhetorical analysis to 1 Thessalonians. He faults H.-D. Betz for using Latin sources like Cicero and Quintillian, which he maintains Paul would very likely not have known. He argues instead that in the Hellenistic world in which Paul lived the influence of Aristotle on rhetoric was ubiquitous and therefore if Paul was influenced by rhetoric, as seems likely, it would have had Aristotelian roots.” – Donfried, Karl P., and Johannes Beulter. The Thessalonians debate: methodological discord or methodological synthesis?. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2000.
 “But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!” (ESV)
Since I have nothing to post this morning, I’m going to post a response I gave about the above mentioned topic:
I agree with you that often times, pulling “end times” theology (I use this vs. eschatology), from Paul, as with the entire New Testament, is subjective. Of course, often times, many of our theologies aren’t well formed from the New Testament, but based upon subjective reasoning. I believe, or rather hope?, that we can move towards objectiveness in theology and biblical criticism.
I was thinking about that question, before you asked, all evening, sleeping, and this morning. (No rest for the weary or wicked, I guess 😉 ) 1st Thess may have been remembered to supplement 2nd Thess. After all, we have forms of rhetoric which allow a later person to issue a speech or other work which records the tone and tenor of the historical person’s word. Of course, when Paul mentions the “sons of light” I think back to the Sons of Light at Qumran, so I would like to place 1 Thess into that time frame, or sometime afterwards. And by that, I mean sometime between the mid-last century BCE and the first decades of the first century CE. So, perhaps Paul, still more Saul than Paul, using his background – I still think he was a sicarii, and following what I believe is Robert Eisenman’s position, the Sicarii derived from these Sons of Light – wrote 1 Thess at some point, perhaps near the end of his life as he faced Nero.
To that end, however, I look at the Man of Lawlessness in 2nd Thess. and while I previous said that he may be a Roman Emperor, I think differently, although will mention that particular Roman Emperor in a bit. It could have been one of the three Messiah claimants which appeared during 69-70, who virtually did exactly what Paul said would/had happen(ed). If so, then to have Paul write that a half-generation before the actual event would be fantastical, but improbable. If we could better assure ourselves of the historical referent, we could find a better date for 2 Thess. Perhaps this letter was written as a sort of commentary on the first one. I note that the undeveloped theology often attributed to an early Paul could very well be attributed to a Pauline community who were afflicted, suffering, and waiting for righteous wrath to be poured out against the persecutors, who needed a validation for their community against an apostasy. They needed Paul.
As 1 Thess stood against those who cried for ‘peace and safety’, 2 Thess is directed against a singular individual. First, we find that the community was suffering direct persecution, along with propaganda. The opponents were declaring that the Day of the Lord had already come, but this community said no. After all, Christ had not returned to vanquish the enemy. Vespasian, the Roman General-turned-Emperor, was heralded as a Messiah, and went about persecuting Zealots and the Sicarii, among other Jewish terrorist groups. Further, there were three Jewish Messiahs in Jerusalem proclaiming freedom, and the start of the New Age. This letter may be one written to directly oppose that proclamation. What would prompt it? First, in 2.3, the author speaks of the apostasy which will come. (Look at Mark’s impetus for suffering and writing to combat loss of membership) By historical records, it had already come. The believers in Jesus were suffering, and loosing members. After all, you had a host of Messiahs to believe in, and they were all temporarily in control at one time or another. This is that strong delusion and this is why people were perishing, because of the false messiahs who were proclaiming a military victory. It was driving people away from the Crucified Messiah who had yet to return (and thus, the Apologies of the Cross in the Gospels). Josephus writes that the Romans weren’t worried about destroying anything until they were forced to by the Jewish terrorists, and these groups were led by Messiahs. But someone in particular was giving this community trouble, and the author attacked him, without revealing the identity, with the promise that Christ was going to return and reveal all.
While 1 Thess may have been written by Paul, I am unsure of 2 Thess. I think that if we were to take a look at the psychology of apocalyptic fervor, using examples from across the history as we know it, we see that it was not uncommon for a group of religious believers, to assume that the end was near due to such external factors as suffering, persecution, and apostasy which would drive them to see in the ‘signs’ around them hope that their various saviors would return and save them. In this regard, if 1 Thess had been written by Paul, and was used by the community to look forward to the coming of Christ, and suddenly, they looked around and discovered the Jewish Revolt of the 60’s, with Messiahs everywhere, the Roman Empire on a murderous swath of destruction, then they may have written 2nd Thess to avert any more weak-kneed responses, such as apostasy. After all, 1 Thess is not high on the fervor previously mentioned, but contends that one must continue to work – and not be lazy – because Christ will return. The community of 2nd Thess then, seeing that people thought that they may have missed this, used this as a reason to deny Christ. To prove Pauline authorship, the author needed to make it Pauline. Easy enough. He borrowed from Galatians 6.11 for 2 Thess 3.1 and thus 2 Thess become ‘canon’, prophetic, and served to validate the persecuted.
Please note that this is not my intended area of study – I’ll focus on the Gospels, because as any good NT scholar does, they focus on the Gospels 😉 – but this is my stance under my current knowledge base, which ironically, has indeed been influenced by my study of the historical referents in the Gospel of Mark.