Isagogics1 to Pauline Literature



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Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary

Archdiocese of Denver

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Pauline Literature


Theo 5115

© Rev. Andreas Hoeck, S.S.D.



Table of Contents

Isagogics1 to Pauline Literature

I. Paul's Life and Mission2
Next to Christ Paul has been the most influential figure in the history of Christianity. There are two sources for his life: biographical details in his own letters, and accounts of his career in Acts (beginning with Stephen's martyrdom, 7:58). A mediate stance uses the epistles as a primary source and cautiously supplements from Acts, not hastening to declare apparent differences contradictory. No doubt, Acts offers theological interpretation of Paul, adapting his role to fit an overall view of the spread of Christianity (cf. Acts 1:8), telescoping and compacting more complex events.
Birth and upbringing: Paul was born ca. ad 5-10 (no mention of his mother), citizen of Tarsus (Acts 22:3; 21:39), and Roman citizen (Acts 16:37f; 22:25-29) with basic Hellenistic rhetorical skills. His full name was Saul Paul (Hebrew-Latin) according to the Jewish custom of his time; he used “Paul” (Latin) when he started preaching among the gentiles to have easier access to them. He learned the trade of tentmakers (Acts 18:3). Brought up in Jerusalem and educated by Gamaliel I the Elder (ca. ad 20-50), Acts 22:33. Paul is a Pharisee from his youth4, Acts 26:4f5. His religious interests devoured all else in his life to the point of remaining unmarried. He seems to have left Jerusalem before Jesus began his public ministry there, cf. 2 Cor 5:16.
Belief in Jesus and immediate aftermath: Paul says that he persecuted the Church of Christ violently trying to destroy it (Gal 1:13) due to his zeal as a Pharisee. Did he perceive the followers of Jesus as blaspheming against Moses by changing customs that the Law decreed and by advocating the destruction of the Temple sanctuary (Acts 6:11-14; 8:1)? Paul then receives a divine revelation (Gal 1:13-17; Acts 9:1-9) after which he stayed in Damascus. The encounter with the Risen Christ destines him for the mission to the Gentiles (as a Diaspora Jew, he was not only knowledgeable about but also acutely feeling for them). After a three-year interlude (in Damascus and Arabia = Nabatean kingdom) he goes to Jerusalem to visit Peter and James (Gal 1:18f), then to Tarsus in Cilicia for several years. Eventually Antioch in Syria (the third largest city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria) became important in his life (Acts 11:25f), the base for his outgoing missionary activity.
First missionary journey, the Jerusalem meeting, the Antioch aftermath (it was really Barnabas’ missionary voyage since it was he who was in charge; Paul joined him as his collaborator): Acts 13:3–14:28, before ad 49, Barnabas, Paul and John Mark from Antioch to Cyprus, Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Having met opposition in synagogues, Paul addressed himself to Gentiles among whom the Gospel was well received. Ca. ad 49 a meeting (Council) was held in Jerusalem to answer the question of the Gentile Christians. Decision: Gentiles are accepted without circumcision. Paul and Barnabas come to an unhappy parting of ways.
Second and third missionary journeys: In the Second Journey (ad 50-52, Acts 15:40–18:22) Paul and Silas returned to sites in SE Asia Minor evangelized in the First Journey, then to Galatia, Phrygia, over to Macedonia (Europe6) from Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, Athens, and Corinth (1/2 Thess). With Aquila and Priscilla to Ephesus, Caesarea Maritima, then up to Jerusalem. Third Journey (ad 53/54-58, Acts 18:23–21:15): After "some time" at Syrian Antioch he went once more through Galatia and Phrygia to Ephesus (the most important city of the Roman province of Asia) where he stayed for three years (54-57, Acts 20:31; 1 Cor, Gal, Phil, Phlm7). After Pentecost in 57 he left for Troas, crossing to Europe and Macedonia (Philippi? 2 Cor 2:12f; 2 Cor). Finally to Achaia and Corinth (Rom). Acts 20:2-17: Paul sets out to Jerusalem by way of Macedonia (Passover in Philippi), sailing to Troas, to Miletus (farewell speech to the presbyters of Ephesus). Then to Tyre, Caesarea, with a foreboding of imprisonment and death.
Paul arrested in Jerusalem; imprisoned in Caesarea; taken to Rome; death: Most of the last half-dozen years (ca. 58-64) is recounted in Acts 21:15–28:31. Suffering by imprisonment8. In Jerusalem a rather tense meeting beneath surface politeness with James (Acts 21:17-25). His presence in the Temple court caused a riot, self-defense in Hebrew (Aramaic? Acts 21:26–22:30). Paul creates a dispute between Sadducees and Pharisees at a Sanhedrin session, then taken away to Caesarea, appealed to Caesar, travels to Rome. His hazardous sea journey (ad 60/61) ends in Malta (Acts 27:1–28:14). Arriving finally in Rome, spent two years under house arrest (Eph, Phil, Col, Phlm). Neither the letters nor Acts tell us of his death; but there is good tradition that he was martyred under Nero9, either about the same time as St. Peter (ad 64) or somewhat later (ad 67), buried at the Via Ostiensis (Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls). His plan had been to undertake a fourth missionary journey via Rome to Spain. Tradition affirms that he was released after two years in Rome (63 A.D.), went to Spain10, and added another trip to the East; upon his return to Rome he suffers a second arrest (1/2 Tim, Ti, Heb) and is martyred in 67 A.D.
Unfortunately, it has become customary to distinguish three tiers within the Pauline Corpus:

i. “Undisputed” (also called proto-Pauline): 1 Thess, Gal, Phil, Phlm, 1/2 Cor, Rom;

ii. “Disputed” (deutero-Pauline): 2 Thess, Col, Eph;

iii. “Pseudonymous”11: Pastoral Letters (1/2 Tim, Ti).

13 Pauline epistles and Hebrews (Catholic Canon): Romans, 1/2 Corinthians, Galatians, Captivity epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon), 1/2 Thessalonians, Pastoral epistles (1/2 Timothy, Titus).

He has written more than 14 epistles, however: 1 Cor 5:9 mentions an earlier letter to Corinth; Col 4:16 speaks of an epistle to the Laodiceans; according to Phil 3:1 he had written an earlier letter to Philippi as well.


II. Classification and Format of New Testament Letters12
Classification: The thirteen epistles that bear Paul's name are divided into two smaller collections: nine addressed to communities at geographical places (Rom, 1+2 Cor, Gal, Eph, Phil, Col, 1/2 Thess), and four to individuals (1/2 Tim, Titus, Phlm). Hebrews has long been associated with Paul. Each collection is arranged in descending order of length.

Letters could be written by the sender's own hand (Phlm) or dictated (Rom 16:22; 1 Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; 2 Thess 3:17; Col 4:18). Paul's letters were meant to be read aloud in order to persuade. They can be judged as ars rhetorica13.


Format: The Egyptian, Hellenistic and Roman world has left us many letters; they tend to follow a set format. One who lacks knowledge of it can seriously misinterpret a letter. Generally four parts of it are distinguished:

1) the Praescriptio (opening formula) consists of four elements: (a) superscriptio (sender): name of the author, his identity and authority, names of co-senders; (b) adscriptio (addressee): personal name or community in stated region; (c) salutatio (greeting): "greetings" or "peace" (reflecting Hebrew 'shalom'); (d) remembrance or health wish: the sender prays for the welfare of the addressee and gives assurance of the sender's own health (1 Thess 1:2f).

2) Thanksgiving: faithfulness to the congregation addressed, supplication for the continuance of such fidelity, anticipation of main theme of the message, expression of joy, a captatio benevolentiae, putting hearers/readers in a benevolent mood to receive a message.

3) Body: with transitional sentences at the beginning (body-opening) and the end (body-closing).

4) Concluding formula: wish for good health, a word of farewell, greetings, doxologies, benediction of recipients.
III. Paul's Epistolography
Various collections of letters by important writers have come down to us from classical times. For instance those of Cicero, Pliny the Younger, St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Paulinus of Nola, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine etc.

However, even from a literary point of view the Pauline letters are quite outstanding. No writer of ancient times can be compared to him, none approaches the depth, strength, passion and vision of the Apostle of the Gentiles. But many early writers were in fact disciples of Paul, dedicated apprentices of his and his unique epistolography. His letters have all the features of real correspondence, not written with a literary purpose, nor are they intellectual reflections cast in letter form, nor elaborations of some earlier texts.



Chrysostom compares his letters to a mine, containing limitless resources of the most precious metals; or sources which flow more the abundantly the more one draws from them. Jerome affirms: “As often as I read Paul I am hearing not so much words, but bolts of thunder”.

They have all the immediacy of things said and dictated on the spot, not seldomly interrupted for days and even weeks. Paul links ideas by associations, he goes back over things already spoken about, keeps repeating ideas which he sees as very important, he develops his arguments slowly, moving in concentric circles. Sometimes he rises suddenly to dizzy heights, pursuing an insight, on other occasions he writes straight from the heart and the tone is warm and passionate; he sometimes uses irony, reproach and even cutting words if he feels that is what his readers need.

Paul's style does not follow any fixed method; but there is a basic order to it. In each letter there are one or more core themes to which the Apostle keeps returning, and these lead him on to other ideas which seem to be incidental. This explains why we sometimes find unfinished sentences: the writer's thought has gone off on a tangent and does not come back. These clauses have a poetry and strength and vitality of their own.

Still, these epistles largely do keep to the general structure of a traditional letter. Paul begins with a greeting, a vibrant, supernatural recollection. He gives a little news about himself and sends his best wishes for peace, grace and divine assistance. He then moves on to deal with the dogmatic matter(s) he deems necessary to expound. He then reminds his readers of their ethical duty, in all situations, to be charitable, and, always using new imagery, he paints an attractive picture of what the Christian life involves, how magnificent it is, and how demanding it is also. Specific moral imperatives stem from the indicative of one’s relationship to God through Christ; thus, ethical conduct is the practical, personal expression of one’s faith, hope and love; in fact, moral behavior is man’s response to the impulse and promptings of God’s grace: orthopraxy results from orthodoxy, never viceversa! The Apostle then ends the letter renewing his good wishes and greetings, and praising God14.


Paul’s letters constitute the first written Christian theology, that is, they are the first conscious intellectual effort to make theological sense out of Jesus. In them he works at resolving disputes among the early Christians. They are rich with references to himself. He understands that selfhood in terms of relationships to Christ and his people. His epistles are second only to the Gospels in their formative impact on Christian thinking and belief. Perhaps the biggest surprise is how little they say about the Jesus of the Gospels. Though the Gospels may not have been written down when Paul sent his letters, the stories on Christ must have been in circulation and Paul must have known them. He mentions almost nothing about them: he doesn’t write about the calling of the apostles, about Jesus’ miracles, about his speeches (parables) and encounters with enemies and friends.

The barest minimum of the kernel story of redemption (= Kerygma) seems to be sufficient for him, Gal 3:1. Paul does not imagine the simple country life that Jesus pictures, a world of agricultural work and the cycles of organic life15. Paul’s imagined world is the world of ancient urban-pagan Rome, the army as a profession, the imperial wars, the stadium with its Greco-Roman sporting events and the competitive athletes vying for the laurel wreath. His imagination is filled with conflict, competition, tension, battle and endangerment in this world. Jesus’ non-violent passivity is replaced by the use of certain pugnacious, aggressive images that helped prepare early Christian martyrs for the trials of endurance they faced. Paul’s historical paradigm is that of sin-redemption-eschaton; his moving optimism was to remake the way in which Christians imagined past, present and future. His habit of typological reading of the Hebrew Scriptures was to become in the early centuries of Christianity one of the central ways of imagining the life of Christ and of the Church.



IV. Paul and the Old Testament16
The writings of the apostle Paul reveal a person immersed in the content and teaching of the OT. Every leading conception of his religious terminology and has its roots definitely laid in OT soil: dogmatic proofs (e.g. Rom 3:10-18), analogies (e.g. Rom 2:24), illustrations (cf. Rom 10:6-8), and language to merely clothe his thought (e.g. 1 Cor 15:32). The Pauline use of the OT appears in three distinct forms:
1. Quotations proper;

2. Intentional and casual allusion;

3. Theological theme.
Paul quotes (mainly in Rom, 1,2 Cor, Gal) the OT 93 times (about 1/3 of all NT quotations); drawn from 16 OT books (33 from Pentateuch, 25 from Isa, 19 from Psalms). 51 quotations are in absolute or virtual agreement with the Septuagint (LXX), 22 of which at variance with the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT). Even where the apostle quite evidently sees in a citation the underlying connotations of the Hebrew, the Alexandrian version (LXX) remains his mode of expression.

Paul’s use of the OT cannot be understood apart from his attitude towards it. To him the Scriptures are holy and prophetic. All his important doctrines are buttressed by an appeal to his Bible, which is ‘God-breathed’ (qeo,pneustoj, ‘inspired’, 2 Tim 3:16). Although the OT is sometimes referred to as ‘the law’, ‘the writings’, or ‘the law and the prophets’, ‘the scripture’ (h grafh,) is the prevailing usage.

In the Pauline epistles an Introductory Formula (IF) is most common: ‘it is written’ (29 times), ‘the scripture says’ (6 times), ‘David says’, ‘the law says’, ‘God said’, indicating the value of the unalterable Word of God. Paul accepts the hagiographic cooperation of the writer, excluded by the Alexandrian concept, cf. Rom 10:20. The scripture is adduced as a final authority and one divinely planned whole whose significance is bound up inseparably with the New Covenant community of Christians.

The apostle’s notion of grafh, is linked to two other words, gra,mma and pneu/ma. Gra,mma is usually employed in an uncomplimentary manner in his letters, frequently set in opposition to pneuma (cf. Rom 2:27.29; 7:6; 2 Cor 3:6f). Grafh, and no,moj both signify for Paul the revealed will of God. But the law understood as a legal system apart from Christ could only bring death; so also the whole OT understood and applied without the illumination of the pneuma often resulted not in grafh,, but only in gra,mma. The issue of the Law versus Christ here passes into Paul’s understanding of the nature of Scripture itself. Grafh, is the Spirit-carried letter, the Spirit-interpreted letter.

There are a few quotations (with IF) in the Pauline epistles which do not appear on first observation to be derived from the OT: 1 Cor 2:9; Eph 4:8; 5:14; probably 1 Cor 15:45b and 1 Tim 5:18b. Do they result from apocryphal writings, from a variant Greek text, from a paraphrastic rendering, or a merged quotation? A departure of this kind surely would have aroused some vocal repercussion in canon-conscious first century Judaism. Yet there was an extension of the concept of grafh, in the apostolic community: the sayings of Christ were regarded as the Word of God by Paul, and 2Pt 3:16 appears to equate the Pauline writings with Scripture; furthermore, the exercise of the gift of prophecy was no less from the Holy Spirit than the oracles of the OT prophets. If these observations are correct, and if Eph 5:14 does not find its ultimate source in the OT, the most probable alternative source is a saying either of Jesus or of a Christian prophet.

Paul adopts many of the Jewish literary methods: IFs, merged quotations, allegory. The significant conclusion, however, is the great chasm separating the writings of Paul from the rabbis. The apostle’s OT exegesis was not just an adoption of current traditions but reveals a vitality and understanding totally foreign to rabbinical literature. If Paul used Jewish methods and interpretations, he culled and molded them to a Christological understanding of the OT: Messiah, Cross, Resurrection reveal the true meaning of Scripture. Paul was a disciple of Christ, not of Gamaliel! In emphasizing his direct revelation from Jesus Christ he asserts the independence of his message from any earthly authority, Gal 1:11f. There is, however, an interdependence on a common stock of teaching and hymnody current in the Church. The whole concept of Christianity being the true Israel lies embryonic in the earliest stages of the Christian movement. Paul’s typological use of the OT reflects the teachings of Christ (‘rock’, ‘rejected stone’, ‘living bread’, ‘temple’, etc.).

The apostle uses the OT selectively; he makes no attempt to exploit even the whole corpus of messianic prediction either as it refers to Christ or to the messianic age. Nevertheless, the subjects on which he dwells read like an outline of biblical theology:

The fall of man and its effects, Rom 5:12ff; The universality of sin, Rom 3:10ff; The coming of Christ and the Gospel, Rom 1:2; Gal 3:8.14; The obedience and sufferings of Christ, Rom 15:3; The resurrection of Christ, 1 Cor 15:1ff; The Lordship of Christ, 1 Cor 15:25.27; The sovereignty of God, Rom 9:15.17.20; Divine election, Rom 9:7.10ff; 11:4f; The rejection of Israel and calling of the gentiles, Rom 9:25ff; 10:16ff; The universality of the Gospel, Rom 10:18; The forgiveness of sin, Rom 4:6; 9:33; 10:11ff; Justification by faith, Rom 1:17; 4:1ff; 10:5ff; Baptism and the Lord’s supper, 1 Cor 10:1ff; The gifts of the Spirit, Eph 4:8; Christian conduct, Rom 12:19; 13:9; 1 Cor 9:9; The persecution of Christians, Rom 8:36; The parousia of Christ, 2 Thess 1:8-10; The final judgment, Rom 14:11; The final overthrow of death, 1 Cor 15:54ff.


In conclusion, the significance of the OT for Paul’s theology can hardly be overestimated. His experience on the Damascus road radically altered his understanding of the Book, but it in no way lessened its importance for the apostle of the gentiles. Rather, his knowledge of Christ opened to him a New Way in which he found the true meaning of the Scriptures.
In the 50s of the 1st cent Paul produced the earliest surviving Christian documents. One can discern the development of his thought in these terms: first the seed (1/2 Thess), followed by the verdant ear (the four great ones, Rom, 1/2 Cor, Gal), then the mature grain (captivity letters, Eph, Phil, Col, Phlm), and finally the gleanings (pastoral letters, 1/2 Tim, Ti) and vintage (Heb). Their presentation below will follow the conjectural timeline of their original publication.
N.B.: The methodology employed in this course’s exegesis is at the same time (i) synchronic (chiefly patristic [listening to the timeless thought of the Fathers of the Church], narratological [recognizing the storyline], and canonical [reading individual texts of the Bible in the context of the whole as indicated by the axiom Scriptura Scripturis, or Scriptura sui ipsius interpres]), and (ii) diachronic (i.e., historico-critical [investigating the text’s historicity])17.
V. The First Letter to the Thessalonians, 50 A.D. (from Corinth, 2nd journey)
Thessalonica: The modern Saloniki, formerly Thermae (hot mineral springs in vicinity), situated on the northwestern part of the Thermaic Gulf, and the Via Egnatia, the great Roman East-West highway of trade. Occupied by the Athenians, destroyed during the Peloponnesian war in 421 b.c., rebuilt by Cassander, who gave it the name of his wife, Thessalonica, the half-sister of Alexander the Great. After the battle of Pydna the city surrendered to the Romans in 168 b.c., made capital of one of the four districts of Macedonia, later its metropolis. In 42 b.c. it became a free Greek city with ensuing privileges, cf. Acts 17:6. In the time of Paul a most flourishing and populous city of Macedonia; inhabitants chiefly Greeks, Romans and numerous Jewish colony with own synagogue, cf. Acts 17:1.
Thessalonian Church: Paul, Silas18, perhaps Timothy also, came to Thessalonica during first part of second missionary journey, following his expulsion from Philippi (Acts 17:1ff). Some few months must have been required for the establishment of this flourishing Church, as it afterwards proved to be. The envy of the Jews forced them out before their work was finished.
Occasion and Purpose of 1/2 Thess: Continued or fresh persecutions there caused Paul to send Timothy to that troubled Church with a message of encouragement and consolation. There were also some errors and abuses that needed correcting. It seems that the Apostle's authority and the methods of his ministry had been questioned in certain quarters (1 Thess 2:1-12). Some were in danger of lapsing back into their pagan vices, while others were idle and restless, waiting for the Parousia (1 Thess 4:1-12). Still others were troubled over the fate of relatives who had died before the coming of the Lord; and certain ones had grown careless as a result of the Parousia being too long delayed (1 Thess 4:13–5:11). It seems that there was also some disorder or lack of respect for those in authority (1 Thess 5:12-15).
Date and Place of Writing: All authorities, ancient and modern, are well agreed that 1/2 Thess were written at Corinth during the Apostle's long stay in that city of over eighteen months on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-8), around 50/51 a.d., thus the earliest writing of the whole NT: in Aquila’s humble tentmaker shop begins the New Testament19.
Authenticity: The external and internal evidence in favor of the genuineness of 1/2 Thess is so strong as to place it beyond all questions.
Epistolary contours20:
Inscription, 1:1

I. Paul's solicitude for the Thessalonians, 1:2–3:13



II. Exhortations on Christian life, 4:1–5:22

Conclusion, Salutation and Blessing, 5:23-28
1:3: This, along with 5:8, is the earliest mention in Christian literature of the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, Love in their fruitful exercise (cf. 1 Cor 13:13). The syntactic order here stresses eschatological hope, in line with the letter’s emphasis on the Lord’s parousia (cf. 1:10; 2:12.19; 3:13; 4:13–5:11.23).

1:6: Paul’s theme of “imitation” (mimhth,j, cf. 2:14; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; 2 Thess 3:9) is rooted in his view of solidarity in Christ through sharing in His cross.

2:7: Many excellent mss read “infants” (nh,pioi) here, the NVg has “parvuli”; another authoritative variant is “gentle” (h;pioi) which would suit the context, too. Paul sees himself as a mother or nurse, trofo,j.

2:14: Luke’s picture of the persecutions at Philippi (by Gentiles) and in Thessalonica and Beroea (by Jews) seems to be schematized (cf. Acts 16:11-40; 17:1-15). Paul portrays the Thessalonian community as composed of converts from paganism (1:9) and speaks here of persecution by their pagan compatriots rather than by Jews.

2:15-16: Not to be read in an Anti-Semitic key, but rather in the light of eschatology and of Paul’s pride in his own ethnic background (cf. Rom 9:1-5; 10:1; 11:1-3; Phil 3:4-6).

4:2: These “instructions” (paraggeli,aj) include specific guidelines on the basis of the Lord’s authority, not necessarily sayings Jesus actually uttered. The concluding v.8 implies that these are practical principles in accordance with the role of the Holy Spirit.

4:3-7: Paul is dealing with a variety of moral regulations (fornication, adultery, sharp business practices). Specific problem: marriage within degrees of consanguinity (as between uncle and niece) forbidden in Jewish law but allowed according to a Greek heiress law, which would insure retention of an inheritance within the family and perhaps thereby occasion divorce. In that case “immorality” v.3 (pornei,a) should be rendered as “unlawful marriage”, and “this matter” v.6 (evn tw/| pra,gmati) as “lawsuit”. The expression to. e`autou/ skeu/oj kta/sqai, v.4 (NVg “suum vas possidere”) can mean both “to acquire a wife to himself” and “to control one’s body”.
Exegesis of 4:13–5:11 (Resurrection and Parousia): Timothy reported to Paul that the Thessalonians feared that their dead relatives and friends would miss out on the second coming of Christ, and that the Thessalonians were running a high parousiac fever in the belief that the second coming was due to take place in a very short time. Paul deals with the first problem in 4:13-18, and with the second in 5:1-11. The cause of both problems was a misunderstanding of his own preaching about an imminent Parousia, cf. 1 Thess 4:15; 1 Cor 15:51; Phil 1:23f; 3:20f; 2 Cor 5:1-10; 2 Thess 2:1-3.

Resurrection: The earliest Christians (including Paul himself?) expected the second coming of Christ to take place within the short span of their own lifetime. The corrective influence of time and the reaction of all four Gospels softened this expectation but never quite removed it (cf. the apocalyptic discourses in Mt 24; Mk 13; Lk 21). Jewish theories of the time held that with the advent of the Messiah there would also come the end of the world. Apocalyptic writers harangued their readers about the imminence of the end of the old world, the advent of the new age, the resurrection of the dead, the coming of the Messiah and of the reign of God. These theories and the apocalyptic atmosphere in which they flourished influenced Paul and the early Christians. The Messiah had indeed come. He had risen from the dead, the Reign of God had arrived! It was only a matter of time, therefore, before God would complete His definitive conquest of the forces of evil in the world. Then all who believed in Jesus Christ would share with Him in the resurrection and in the glorious victory of the Kingdom. It is in the light of such thinking that 4:13-18 should be interpreted:

4:13: Rhetorical disclaimer (cf. 4:9; 5:1; 1 Cor 12:1): "we do not want you to be in ignorance". The Thessalonians thought they were to live to see the Second Coming of Christ in their own time. Since some among them had recently died, they were profoundly grieved, thinking their loved ones would never witness the Parousia. Paul condemns their immoderate sorrow only.

4:14: The proof for the resurrection of the dead is to be found in Jesus rising from the dead, who is the head of the Body.

4:15: A doctrine communicated directly by Christ Himself, evn lo,gw| kuri,ou; the Apostle is speaking rhetorically in the first person plural: he is not to be understood as including himself and his companions among those witnessing the Parousia. That he had no intention of teaching the imminent advent of Christ is clear from 5:2; 2 Thess 2:1ff (cf. Mt 13:32ff; Acts 1:6ff), cf. all Greek and Latin Fathers, St. Thomas Aquinas, Estius, and all the leading Catholic commentators21.

4:16: As Jesus ascended visibly into heaven, so shall He appear at the end of the world (cf. Acts 1:11), as a general issuing orders (ke,leusma) to His troops. Expressions to be understood figuratively, as Paul uses eschatological language common among the Jews, and employed by Christ: evn sa,lpiggi qeou/, the trumpet appears in OT contexts of theophanies (Exo 19:19; 20:18; Hb 12:19; Rev 1:10), of the exodus encampment (Num 10:2-8), of liturgies (Lev 23:24; 25:9; Psa 81:3; Joel 2:15), of battle (Josh 6:5.20 [fall of Jericho]; Zeph 1:16), of dynastic proclamations (1Kgs 1:34), of divine praise (Psa 47:5; 150:3), of warning (Eze 33:3), and of eschatological judgment (Joel 2:1; Mt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52). By "rise first" (avnasth,sontai prw/ton) is not meant that the resurrection of the just will precede the general resurrection (about which he is not talking), but that the resurrection of those just will be prior to the transformation of the saints who are living at that time.

4:17: Paul says plainly that those saints who are alive at the time of the Parousia will not die, but will be transformed and taken (a`rpaghso,meqa lit. caught up, carry off, snatch up/away, seize; cf. 2 Cor 12:2; Rev 12:5; Mt 24:40f), together with the righteous dead already raised to life, into glory with Christ (see the Greek Fathers), cf. 1 Cor 15:51; 2 Cor 5:4. "We who are alive", as in v.15, refers not to Paul and his companions, but to those just who will be living when Jesus comes in glory. As Jesus ascended into heaven enveloped in a cloud (Acts 1:9), and as He shall come again in the clouds of heaven (Mt 24:30), so the just at the end of the world shall be transported by supernatural power beyond the clouds to meet Him in His regal majesty, and with Him enter into glory for evermore. From the NVg “rapiemur” came the idea of “the rapture”, when believers will be transported away from the woes of the world, combining this verse with Mt 24:40f and Rev.
Parousía: Behind the inordinate sorrow of the Thessalonians over their dead lay their false notion of the imminence of the Parousia. Paul, therefore, now reminds them of the teaching of the Lord Himself regarding the uncertainty of that event.

5:1: "times" (cro,nwn length of time) and "seasons" (kairw/n period of time), stereotypical expression parallel to "the day of the Lord", v.2; cf. Dan 2:21; 7:12; Wis 8:8, characterizing the temporal schema of the end-time (Acts 1:7; Mt 24:36; Mk 13:32).

5:2: They had been well instructed on these points by Paul. "The day of the Lord" (h`me,ra kuri,ou), a familiar OT and Pauline expression signaling the visitation of Christ judging the world22. His coming will take place suddenly and unexpectedly, cf. Mt 24:43; Lk 12:39f.

5:3: "They", i.e., the unbelieving.

5:4-5: Baptism has made them children of light; no need to fear the suddenness of the Lord's coming.

5:6-7: "Therefore" introduces with emphasis the conclusion to be drawn from what has just been said: vigilance is required.

5:8: Paul passes from the metaphor of the light to that of the armor of the soldier (cf. Eph 6:11-17), speaking of two defensive-protective arms, the breastplate (qw,rax) and the helmet (perikefalai,a), likening them to the virtues of faith, hope and charity as foundation of the Christian life.

5:9-10: "whether we be alert or asleep", i.e., whether we be living or dead at the time of the Parousia, we shall be Christ's. The one thing that matters is to be at all times one with Christ.

5:11: Paul loves to praise his readers when they deserve it.

Paul did not share the common illusion concerning the Coming of the Lord. In principle, though, there is nothing to prevent his having done so, for inspiration does not impart universal knowledge and could not in any case give him the knowledge of the last day, which the heavenly Father has reserved to Himself. Apart from the truth of which he is the depositary, the sacred writer can be ignorant, hesitate, base an opinion on probabilities or likelihoods, and set out in search of the truth by using the means which all men have at their disposition. The essential thing is that he should not teach error. Paul, knowing better than anyone that the date of the last day by no means forms the object of the revelation, does not teach that the world is about to end, he declares solemnly that the consummation of things is not imminent; but for wont of special light on the subject, he abides by the statement of the Gospel. Nevertheless, he does seem to look forward to a long series of centuries.


vv.19-21: Paul’s buoyant encouragement of charismatic freedom sometimes occasioned excesses that he or others had to remedy (cf. 1 Cor 14:2; 2 Thess 2:1-15; 2Pt 3:1-16).

v.23: He is not offering an anthropological or philosophical analysis of human nature (to. pneu/ma kai. h` yuch. kai. to. sw/ma). Rather, he looks to the wholeness of what may be called the supernatural and natural aspects of a person’s service of God.

v.26: The “holy embrace/kiss” (evn filh,mati a`gi,w|, see Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1Pt 5:14) was a greeting of respect and affection, perhaps given during a liturgy at which Paul’s letter would have been read.
VI. The Second Letter to the Thessalonians, 51 A.D. (from Corinth, 2nd journey)
A more impersonal tone and changed circumstances are suggested. Traditionally written shortly after 1 Thess. Chapter two is notoriously difficult, the heart of the letter. The epistolary structure is as follows:
I. Address, 1:1-12

II. Warning against deception concerning the Parousia, 2:1-17

III. Concluding exhortations, 3:1-16

IV. Final greetings, 3:17-18


1:3-12: Paul’s gratitude in vv.3-5 contrasts with the condemnation announced in vv.6-10. A prayer completes the section, vv.11-12. Kata. th.n ca,rin tou/ qeou/ h`mw/n kai. kuri,ou VIhsou/ Cristou/ in v.12 can be translated in two ways: (a) “the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ”; (b) “the grace of our God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”.
Exegesis of 2:1-12 (The Signs of the Lord's Coming): The Thessalonians have been shaken by a message purporting to come from Paul himself. They must not be disturbed about the Parousia, for certain signs, yet far off, must precede that grand event. There must first come a great religious revolt, and then the man of sin, Antichrist, must appear. This mystery of iniquity is already at work, but something holds back the full exercise of his power. He shall eventually be conquered by Christ (who had manifested himself from the beginning, whereas the evil one will be revealed only at the end), but he will first show great signs and wonders and seduce many. The overall point is the need to reject such lies as Satan sends. Paul’s descriptions are very cautious and cryptically veiled to prevent Christians from being persecuted by the current political powers.

2:1-2: Referring to the reunion of the living and the dead at the coming of Christ at the end of the world, cf. 1 Thess 4:17; 5:10. The Thessalonians should not lose their sober judgment. "By spirit", by any pretended revelation or prophesy attributed to the Holy Spirit23; "nor by word", any teaching of the Apostle misinterpreted or falsely attributed to him; "nor by epistle", any spurious letter circulated in the name of Paul (reason of his practice of concluding a genuine epistle with a summary note and greeting in his own hand, cf. Gal 6:11-8 and elsewhere). None of these sources of error should lead them to think the Second Advent is upon them.

2:3: Apostasi,a, i.e., apostasy or religious defection, falling away from God; it will be the first of the great events that shall precede the Parousia. Paul, becoming absorbed in a description of the "man of sin", forgets to complete his sentence (something like "... the Day of the Lord will not come"): an ellipsis.

"The man of lawlessness24" (a;nqrwpoj th/j avnomi,aj), i.e., the second event is the man of sin, to be identified with Antichrist (cf. Isa 11:4; traces are taken from Dan 11:36 [Antiochus Epiphanes]), whose other-world character is obvious from the fact that he is to be "revealed". He is described: (a) as to his nature (lawless, sinful), (b) as to his fate (perdition25), (c) as to his ambition (to take the place of God, being worshipped, cf. v.4). This impersonation and personification of sin and godlessness is an emissary of Belial or Satan, cf. v.9.



N.B.: "The Antichrist (avnti,cristoj)", the term, which can mean either "one who opposes Christ" or "one who replaces Christ", occurs only in 1 Jn 2:18.22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7, but a similar expression "pseudo-Christs" (yeudo,cristoi) is found in Mt 24:11-24; Mk 13:21f; Acts 20:29f. Paul refers to the same figure under different terms, 2 Thess 2:3-8: "the falling away" (avpostasi,a), "the lawless one" (a;nqrwpoj th/j avnomi,aj), "the son of perdition" (ui`o.j th/j avpwlei,aj), see also 2 Tim 4:1ff.; 2 Pt 3:3. The Apocalypse of John uses again another terminology: "the beast" (qhri,on), Rev 11:7; 13:1ff.; 17:7-1426. The author refers, therefore, to a conception known to his readers as part of the common primitive Christian revelation. To what extent he has modified or interpreted this notion, if he has done so, cannot be determined. Although Paul appears to speak of a single eschatological Antichrist, his meaning is not certain, especially in view of the fact that his descriptive language is largely borrowed from OT types (Eze 28:2; Dan 11:36; Leviathan [Job 3:8; 41:1; Psa 74:14; 104:26; Isa 27:1]; Behemoth [Job 40:15]; serpent [Gen 3:1]; sea monster [Gen 1:21; Mt 12:40]; Gog & Magog [Eze 38], etc.). The figure in the Synoptics and Apc certainly implies a collectivity of persons. "Many antichrists have arisen", 1 Jn 2:18b, whether the author is reinterpreting or merely reproducing the common Christian belief, it is clear that by "antichrist" he understands any and all of the false teachers who afflict the Church in this "last hour". Jn seems to share the persuasion of the early Church that the time of the parousia would not be long in coming. However, he is less concerned with the parousia than with the present state of the Church, which, whatever its prolongation, is a period of anticipation in which the last times have already begun (cf. Jn 4:23; 5:25).

2:4: The object of his opposition will be Christ27. This His archfiend will deny the true God and spurn the idols, so as to appropriate all worship to himself28. "Taking his seat in God's temple" expresses the general usurpation of divine adoration and honor (see Eze 28:2) on the part of Antichrist (cf. Dan 7:23-25; 8:9-12; 9:27; 11:36-37; 12:11, about Antiochus IV Epiphanes). Human self-assertiveness against God and His Temple finds its climactic action in him.

2:5: The anacóluthon (incomplete sentence) of vv.3b-5 recalls an apocalyptic scenario depicted in terms borrowed especially from Dan 11:36f.

2:6-7: Obscure explanation (because the Apostle supposes his readers to be familiar with previous instructions) of what holds back the Antichrist, consequently the dawn of the Last Day. “What is restraining (v.6 to. kate,con, present participle neuter)” or “the one who restrains (v.7 o` kate,cwn, present participle masculine)”, neuter and masculine respectively, of a force (Roman empire? Cosmic/angelic powers? the preaching of the Gospel?) or a person (Roman emperor, in Paul’s day Nero? Holy Spirit? Michael Archangel29? Paul himself?) holding back the lawless one (cf. Rom 13:1-7). The "mystery of iniquity" is the Antichrist himself operating in secret30, restrained (kate,con) by whom or what?

2:8-12: Paul speaks of the coming of Antichrist, of his malevolent works, and of the reason why God will permit him so to harass the world. The action of the Lord in overcoming the lawless one is described in OT language: avnelei/ tw/| pneu,mati tou/ sto,matoj auvtou/ (Isa 11:4; Jb 4:9; Rev 19:15). The biblical concept of the “holy war”, eschatologically conceived, may underlie the imagery. In v.9 the Apostle returns to describe the coming and working of Christ's archenemy (cf. v.8a). He will be Satan's instrument to seduce and entice the world31. The final reason is given: that all may be condemned who have preferred iniquity to the truth of the Gospel. According to Rom 1:24-28 sin leads in its train its own punishment. God employs Satan and Antichrist as instruments to that effect.

3:6: Some members of the community, probably because they regarded the parousia as imminent (cf. 2:2), had apparently ceased to work for a living. The disciplinary problem they posed could be rooted in Paul’s own teaching (cf. 1 Thess 2:16; 3:3-4; 5:4-5) or, more likely, in a forged letter and the type of teaching dealt with in 2:1-15. The apostle’s own moral teaching, reflected in his selfless labors for others, stemmed from a doctrinal concern for the Gospel message (cf. 1 Thess 2:3-10).
How eschatology-oriented Christianity was in its beginnings can be derived from the fact that the NT begins with Paul’s Apocalypse (1/2 Thess) and closes with the great Apocalypse of John.
VII. The First Letter to the Corinthians, 56 A.D. (from Ephesus, 3rd journey)
Corinth becomes the mother-church of Greece, Acts 18:1-18. Paul had received disquieting news about the Corinthian community. Unhappily, four core groups crystallize after Paul’s departure, displaying open factionalism: (i) Apollo, an Alexandrian teacher drew crowds by his preaching; (ii) Judeo-Christians pretending to be in touch with Peter and diminishing Paul’s authority; (iii) others turned to Christ himself rejecting any human mediation; (iv) and those that adhered to Paul’s teaching. Paul writes 1 Cor to restore order in the community, as well as to respond to the questions addressed to him. Written in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8), towards the end of his stay there, 55-56 A.D.

On four occasions Paul refers to his letter as "writing" (4:14; 5:11; 9:15; 14:37): his purpose is clearly admonitory. It is a plea for the unity of the community, cf. 1:10. He wrote at least two other letters to that city (5:9; 2 Cor 3-4) in addition to 2 Cor.


Stylistic feature: Use of chiastic presentations in a familiar A-B-A' pattern on the micro (sentence) and macro (epistolary units) level to provide his argument with verve and emphasis. Chiasms are recognized by the phenomenon of inclusio, the literary device of ring construction, in which the final element of the disquisition corresponds to the first. Use of digression in support of his arguments. The letter is composed in the deliberative mode of rhetoric.
Problems at Corinth: Paul had information from Chloe (1:11), from a community letter written to him (7:1ff), and from three visitors from that city (16:15-18). The community was breaking into rival factions, extolling individual teachers whose words were becoming more important than Christ, cf. 1:10–4:21.

In chs.5-6 he deals with some scandalous behavior, condoned by the community; Christians bringing other Christians before pagan courts; fornication. In chs.7-15, Paul gives solutions to problems presented to him in a letter: on marriage, sexuality, celibacy (ch.7), eating meat sacrificed to idols (chs.8-10), women's dress (11:1-16), Eucharist (11:17-34); charismatic gifts were more highly prized than works of charity (chs.12-14), resurrection (ch.15).


Corinth: Two urban periods: i) Greek city-state from 5th cent. bc, destroyed by the Roman Consul Lucius Mummius in 146 bc, ii) Roman city founded in 44 bc by Julius Caesar. Archeology attests to various pagan cults (Dionysius, Isis, Demeter, Persephone, Asklepios, Poseidon, Apollo and Hermes). Paul's visit to Corinth is recorded in Acts 18:1-18 (ca. 42 bc).
Epistolary structure:
Introduction (1:1-9): Greeting and thanksgiving,

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