(Very) Short Thoughts on 1 Thess 2.1-16

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)

(MP, 408)

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