Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.V.
(1) But of the times.—The fourth subject of instruction; the bearing of the doctrine of the Advent upon the Christian’s own life. “Times and seasons” is a Hebraism, and in the original, the second word, not the first, is the more explicit: we should say, “About day and hour.” The plural seems to mean the different periods at which men might conceive the Advent likely to come.
Ye have no need.—The next verse shows that this paragraph is not so much intended for an answer to a false theory about the time of the Advent, as practically to cure the restlessness common at Thessalonica.
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.(2) Know perfectly.—Or, accurately. There is something of an oxymoron (see Note on 1Thessalonians 4:11) here. “I need not tell you about the time, for you know to a nicety—not the hour of Christ’s coming, but—the utter uncertainty respecting it.” The word shows at the same time with what scrupulous care St. Paul had instructed them on this topic.
The day of the Lord.—Here “the Lord” (as usual in the New Testament) means Jesus Christ; and this day can mean nothing else than the great day of His return to judgment. The expression is taken from the Old Testament, where, of course, it does not primarily mean what we call “the Day of Judgment,” but the set time which God has fixed for any great visitation. Thus in Joel 2:1, et seq., it means the time appointed for the plague of locusts; in Ezekiel 13:5, generally, any day when God visits His people; in Joel 3:14, the fixed time for vengeance to be taken upon the heathen for persecuting the Church; which, in Isaiah 2:12 (a passage largely influenced by recollections of Joel), seems to widen into a general day of judgment for mankind.
Cometh.—Not merely, will come; it is an absolute certainty that the time is on its way to come. (See Note on 1Thessalonians 1:10.)
As a thief in the night—i.e. unexpectedly (Matthew 24:43), and under cover of darkness. The frequency of the simile (see references) throws light on the words “know perfectly,” making it apparent that it was the ordinary formula in which the doctrine was universally taught by the Apostles.
For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.(3) They.—Quite vague and general, like the French on. The plural is so used frequently in St. Luke (Luke 12:11; Luke 12:20, margin; Luke 16:9, probably; Luke 23:29-31). Of course, however, no Christian could say so, for they are ever on the watch, so that “they” will mean “the world.” The word “for” at the beginning of the verse should (according to the best MSS.) be struck out—the abruptness helps to enforce the lesson.
Peace and safety.—Carrying on the thought suggested by the word “night; they are taking their repose in security, without dreaming of any interruption to their slumbers. Is it possible that there may here be a faint recollection of the parable related in Matthew 25:1-13?
Destruction cometh upon them.—Literally, stands over them; or takes its stand over them; presents itself. The present tense is used for the sake of a more vivid effect. The extreme similarity of this passage to Luke 21:34 (with other indications) inclines Bishop Wordsworth to think that the Thessalonians had the Gospel of St. Luke to refer to.
As travail.—A common Oriental simile to express not only suddenness, but horror also. Theodoret fairly says, “The woman with child knows that she has the child to bear, but knows not the exact time for her pangs; so we also know that the Lord of all will appear, but the moment itself we have by no means been explicitly taught.” The comment, however, hardly suits this passage, as the persons on whom the destruction will thus burst are not persons who live in any expectation of such a judgment.
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.(4) But ye.—“Though the world (which lieth in darkness) may be surprised at the coming of the Day, you, members of the Church, living in the light, cannot be surprised.” The words “in darkness” seem to be suggested by the mention of “night” in 1Thessalonians 5:2; and the chief thought (as the succeeding verses show) is that of supineness, inattention, torpor, not so much either ignorance or sin.
That day.—Literally, the day: so that it does not mean the Judgment Day simply as a point of time, but brings out its characteristic of being a day indeed. (Comp. 1Corinthians 3:13.)
As a thief.—There is another reading which has two of the best MSS. and he Coptic version in its favour, and the judgment of Lachmann and Dr. Lightfoot,” As thieves.” But not only is the evidence from the MSS. strongly in favour of the Received text, but the whole context shows that St. Paul was not thinking of the day as catching them at evil practices, but as catching them in inadvertence.
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.(5) Ye are all.—St. Paul recognises no exceptions, no inner distinctions, among the members of the Church: all stand alike so far as grace, privileges, and duties are concerned. The following exhortation shows that it was a matter of each man’s free will whether he would sustain his character as a “child of light” or not.
Children of light.—The expression is an enthusiastic Hebrew poetical turn for intimate vital connection with anything; thus, e.g., “children of this world” (Luke 16:8; Luke 20:34) = “mere products of this age,” with a family likeness for other worldly people; “the son of peace” (Luke 10:6)=a person with whom peace has a natural affinity, to whom the “peace” pronounced will cleave naturally. So “children of the light” are persons to whom darkness is an alien thing, whose natures have a kinship, an intuitive responsiveness for whatever may be called “light.” To such persons the “light,” the “day,” can never come as an unwelcome, startling apparition.
We.—Notice St. Paul’s courtesy again: he suddenly includes himself in his exhortation.
Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.(6) Let us not sleep.—The metaphor here expresses not so much actual sin (Ephesians 5:14) as carelessness in spiritual and moral things. “Let us not say, ‘Peace and safety,’ and resign ourselves to indifference about Christ’s coming.” St. Paul (as always) indicates that it was possible for “children of light” to be converted back into “children of darkness.”
Watch and be sober.—The comparison of night now suggests to the writer another thought besides that of sloth, namely, that of dissipation. Christians are not to turn day into night by debauchery any more than by sleep.
For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.(7) They that sleep. . . .—As the connection of sleep with night has already been sufficiently worked out, and is not touched upon again in 1Thessalonians 5:8, the first clause seems only to be inserted for the sake of bringing out the second, and to justify the sudden introduction of the words, “and be sober.” It may thus be paraphrased: “I say, ‘and be sober too,’ for as they that sleep in the night, so they that be drunken are drunken in the night.” It is implied that the streets even of heathen Thessalonica were seldom affronted with the common English spectacle of drunken men by daylight; while among the Jews it was proof positive of sobriety to say, “It is but the third hour of the day” (Acts 2:15). In St. Cyprian’s time, Christians were known from other men because their breath smelt of wine in the early morning through attending the Blessed Sacrament (Epistle lxiii. 15): no heathens would have touched wine by that time.
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.(8) Putting on.—A curiously abrupt transition, suggested by the sober vigilance just advocated. The Christian must be careful to watch, not only because the Lord is coming back at some unexpected hour, but also because there are enemies all round. He is not only the porter, sitting up to let his Lord in at any hour when He may return from the wedding (Mark 13:34; Luke 12:36), but the soldier standing sentry, liable to be surprised by the foe.
Breastplate of faith and love.—We have not to do with the Christian soldier as aggressive and going forth to conquer, which idea is developed in Ephesians 6:11 et seq., but only as defensive, and protected in breast and head against sudden blows. The three “theological virtues” are the Christian’s defence. (Comp. 1Thessalonians 1:3; 1Corinthians 13:13.) The “breastplate” is a cuirass fitting close to the body, and in Ephesians this cuirass is composed of righteousness, while faith becomes the shield, and love disappears from the panoply. The “faith” here is a general trust in God’s presence and goodness; the “love” is the love both of God and men. Perhaps it is unnecessary to inquire particularly why faith and love are represented as covering the body, and hope as covering the head. It seems far-fetched to consider the first two as keeping the heart, i.e., the affections, from injury; the third as preserving the brain, i.e., keeping us from miscalculating the dangers and so falling into despair. In the passage of Isaiah which St. Paul here imitates, the “helmet of salvation” appears to mean little more than a helmet which secures safety; but as one of the chief benefits which such armour confers is the confident hope of coming off unhurt, St. Paul fairly describes that hope itself as being a protection. In the forefront of the lost (Revelation 21:8) stand those who have had no “hope” or “trust.”
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,(9) For.—This is not the reason for being watchful, but for being hopeful of salvation. The image of the soldier is abandoned’ as suddenly as it was introduced.
Hath not appointed.—Rather, did not appoint, referring to some mysterious moment of God’s eternal counsels, when He fixed His predestination of us—whether the moment of creative thought, or of sending the gospel to us. The “wrath” is that which is to come upon the “children of wrath” at the Second Advent, as in 1Thessalonians 1:10; 1Thessalonians 2:16. (Comp. 1Peter 2:8.) We may well be confident then, for we ourselves are the only persons that can defeat God’s predestinations.
To obtain salvation.—More than “obtain;” the Greek means “acquire” by one’s own efforts;” earn and make our own;” being the same word as is used in 1Timothy 3:13 and Acts 20:28 in the verb; and in the substantive in Ephesians 1:14 (where it is translated “purchased possession”); 2Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 10:39 (translated “saving”); and 1Peter 2:9, where see Note. It will be seen that God does not predestinate men to “salvation” without laborious acquisition on their part, but predestinates them to occupy a position in which they will be able to “work out their own salvation” by placing them “under grace” in the Church. The very same word is used of the Christian’s way of securing salvation, and of Christ’s way of securing it for him (see references); both are “purchasing,” “earning.” But mark that the Christian can only so purchase salvation “through our Lord Jesus Christ:” apart from Him a man can do nothing to redeem himself, but through union with Him the believer can pay the whole price of his salvation (see e.g. John 15:5);
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.(10) Who died for us.—Not a mere pious recollection of a fact which has nothing to do with the context, but an account of the way by which Christ made it possible for us to set about earning salvation. What a blessed privilege a Christian’s life of labour must be, if it alone—to say nothing of the “salvation” at the end—cost such a price!
Whether we wake or sleep.—The mention of Christ’s death at once brings back the recollection of the Advent and the questions concerning the dead in their relation to it. The words “wake or sleep” seem distinctly suggested by the metaphor used from 1Thessalonians 5:2 to 1Thessalonians 5:8, being different in the Greek from the terms used in 1 Thessalonians 4, but abruptly take a much altered meaning. They here, no doubt, signify “life and death:”—“Let us arm ourselves with a brave hope of our salvation, for it will be against God’s will if we should perish: He means us to save ourselves by union with Him who put an end to death for us by dying, and made all who wait for His coming to live, whether they be in the world’s sense dead or alive.”
We should live.—In sharp contrast with “who died for us.” Christ’s dying destroyed the power of death (Hebrews 2:14); henceforth it is only a matter of being awake or asleep; those who sleep quite as truly live, and live with Him, as we who wake (see Luke 20:38; and compare the more developed passage in Romans 14:8). The word “together” (as the Greek clearly shows) must be separated from the “with;” rather, “we should live with Him together,” i.e., we quick, and our brethren the dead; for St. Paul has entirely reverted from the effect of the Advent-doctrine upon Christian life to the subject of the last chapter—the equality of the two classes at Christ’s coming. Bengel, thinking that St. Paul is still applying himself to the discussion of the date of the Advent (which in fact was scarcely raised), tries to make out the meaning, “That we should there and then live with Him.”
Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.(11) Comfort.—Rightly translated. St. Paul is here catching up once more the thought of 1Thessalonians 4:18. They are to comfort one another about their communion with the dead who live in Christ; but perhaps the word also involves the comfort to be imparted by the thought of predestination to earn salvation. The command to “Edify one another” certainly refers to the instruction given in 1Thessalonians 5:1-10 :” Build one another up “in these settled purposes of holy living. This metaphor of building is one which St. Paul uses frequently in his later writings, and which St. Peter (who uses the same) may have adopted from his brother Apostle. St. Paul considers not only the whole Catholic Church to be a great Temple of the Spirit, the stones of which are individual souls (1Peter 2:5; 1Corinthians 3:16), but each believer is a temple too, complete in himself, or, rather, in continual process of completion (1Corinthians 6:19).
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;(12) We now come to minor details of instruction, no doubt suggested by observation of manifest defects in the Thessalonian Church. These details show us still further the mixture of restless ungoverned zeal with gloomy forebodings and discontents.
To know them which labour.—A command to enter into the spirit of ecclesiastical discipline. The persons meant are not simply the hard-working laity, contrasted with the idlers of 1Thessalonians 4:11 and 2Thessalonians 3:11, but those who performed the laborious office of the priesthood, as the words subsequent show. And “knowing” them is hardly to be limited either to the sense of “recognising their position,” i.e., “not ignoring them,” or, on the other hand, to the sense of “being on terms of familiar intercourse with them.” The Greek word indicates appreciation; they are bidden to acquaint themselves thoroughly with the presbyter and his work, and to endeavour to understand his teaching, and to value his example. The logical connection of this verse with the preceding is that of course the main endeavours to “edify” the brethren were made by the presbytery; and the command to edify involves the command to accept edification.
Are over you in the Lord.—This is the primitive idea of the priest in the Church: he is not a member of a sacerdotal caste, ministering to an outer world, but a superior officer in a spiritual society consisting of nothing but priests (Revelation 1:6, where the right reading is, “Made us a kingdom of priests”). It is specially interesting to notice how much power is given to the presbytery in this earliest writing of the New Testament, and how carefully St. Paul seems to have organised his churches, and that at the very foundation of them. It is only “in the Lord” that the presbytery are over men, that is, in spiritual matters.
Admonish you.—The presbytery are not only organisers, managers of the corporate affairs of their Church, but also spiritual guides to give practical advice to individual Christians. These are the two senses in which they are “over you.”
And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.(13) Very highly in love.—The original here is difficult; but it seems best, with most good commentators, ancient and modern, to construe “in love” with “esteem,” and to make “very highly” (a very enthusiastic word in the Greek) an expletive attached to “in love,” implying “hold in a most extraordinary degree of love.” The bond which binds the Christian community to their directors is not to be one of “recognition” and obedience only (1Thessalonians 5:12), but of holy affection above all.
For their work’s sake.—Our love is to be paid them not for any social or intellectual qualities they may have in themselves; it is the work which they have to do that should attract our sympathy. The original seems to mean that we are to love them, not only because they do such work, but also ‘for the sake of their work,” i.e., to help it forward.
Be at peace among yourselves.—Discipline to be observed towards equals, as well as superiors.
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.(14) Now we exhort you, brethren.—Rather and than now. The writers turn to the presbytery, and explain their duty in the administration of discipline to the flock. The flock will be more apt to receive the discipline when they see with what apostolic authority their pastors are armed. Several special parts of the clerical office are then enumerated.
Warn.—The same Greek word as “admonish” in 1Thessalonians 5:12, and selected for that very reason. The “unruly” or “disorderly” are those who infringe good discipline—said of soldiers who leave their ranks: here notably of those mentioned in 2Thessalonians 3:11.
Feebleminded.—Or, fainthearted, pusillanimous. Such persons, e.g., as were overburdened with sorrow for the dead, or afraid of the persecutions, or the like.
Support the weak.—Or, keep hold of them, to help them on. The “weak” are not quite the same as the “feebleminded,” but rather (judging from Romans 14:1 et seq.) those who have not attained that robust common-sense and breadth of conscience which discriminates between truths and superstitions, necessities and expediencies; or who are not yet ripe enough Christians to be sure of standing in persecution.
Patient toward all men.—Church officers are not to be rendered impatient by the defects, errors, weakness, stupidity, unbelief of any one, catholic, heretic, or heathen.
See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.(15) See that.—The exhortation is given to those who have the authority to oversee the Church (Acts 19:28; 1Peter 5:2).
None render evil for evil.—Like the prohibition of fornication, abstinence from revenge is practically a new thought for Greeks, among whom feuds were frequent and undying. (Comp. Romans 1:31; Titus 3:3.)
That which is good—i.e., that which is kind. (See Note on 1Thessalonians 3:6.) This duty is to be “followed,” i.e., made an object to be pursued eagerly, “toward all men.” There is not one standard of morals towards the brethren and another towards the world.
Rejoice evermore.(16) Rejoice evermore.—The remaining commands are more simply spiritual, and hardly form part of the same paragraph as 1Thessalonians 5:12-15, which related to discipline; though from 1Thessalonians 5:19 et seq. we see that St. Paul was still addressing the Church in its corporate capacity, not only the individual members. The Christian who remains in sadness and depression really breaks a commandment: in some direction or other he mistrusts God—His power, providence, forgiveness. The command is specially good for a persecuted Church like that of Thessalonica (Matthew 5:10-12).
Pray without ceasing.(17) Pray without ceasing.—Theophylact well says, “This shows the way to ‘rejoice always’—to wit, incessant prayer and eucharist, for he that has accustomed himself to hold converse with God, and to give thanks to Him over everything that happens as happening well, will evidently have unbroken joy.” Though a man cannot be incessantly praying in words, the mind may be held continuously in an attitude of prayer, even in sleep (Song of Solomon 5:2).
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.(18) In every thing give thanks.—To the Christian who really trusts his Father’s providence, and believes that his prayers are heard, every moment’s occurrence will be just that which he has prayed for—the fulfilment of our Father’s will. It is for this reason that thanksgiving is so inseparably joined with prayer. (See Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2.)
This is the will of God—i.e., that you should be always full of thanksgiving. This clause hardly enforces thanksgiving as a duty, “Give thanks always, for you recognise the duty of doing God’s will, and this is His will;” but rather encourages the Thessalonians to see that thankfulness is always possible. “Give thanks always, for God has no wish to give you cause for sorrow: His will towards you is to fill you with thankfulness.” “Towards you” seems here a more exact rendering than “concerning you.”
In Christ Jesus.—This kind and loving will of God for our good was most abundantly manifested in the life and death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, and even to this day it is chiefly manifested in what Christ Jesus still is for us (e.g. Hebrews 6:19-20).
Quench not the Spirit.(19) Quench not the Spirit.—The mention of prayer and thanksgiving (eucharistia), by which public as well as private worship is intended, leads St. Paul on to the mention of other parts of the service. The gloom and depression to which an antidote is administered in 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 had been such as almost to extinguish that fire of enthusiasm which ought to have burst out in prayers, praises, thanksgivings, and “prophecies.” The “Spirit” here must not be taken too sharply to mean the Person of the Holy Ghost: the Person of the Holy Ghost maybe grieved (Ephesians 4:30), expelled (Psalm 51:11), neglected (1Timothy 4:14), but (though His working on the individual may be stopped) He can never be extinguished. The word here again (as in 1Thessalonians 1:5) is in that intermediate sense which expresses the effect of the Holy Ghost’s personal working upon our spirits. He kindles in us a fire (Matthew 3:11), that is, a consuming ardour and enthusiasm, of love to God and man; which ardour may be damped, quenched, by not giving it free air and play. Gloom (1Thessalonians 5:16), neglect of prayer (1Thessalonians 5:17) which is the very feeding of the flame, discontentment with the answer which God chooses to give to prayer (1Thessalonians 5:18), will in the end reduce us to the condition in which we were before we were confirmed (Romans 8:9). Comp. Ecce Homo, p. 257 (3rd ed.):—“The Apostles in like manner became sensible that their inspiration was liable to intermissions. They regard it as possible to grieve the Divinity who resided within them, and ever. to quench His influence. But neither they nor Christ even for a moment suppose that, if He should take His flight, it is possible to do without Him . . . Christianity is an enthusiasm, or it is nothing.”
Despise not prophesyings.(20) Despise not prophesyings.—The highest outward or charismatic manifestation of this inward fire was the gift of “prophecy” (1Corinthians 12:28; 1Corinthians 14:1; 1Corinthians 14:5; 1Corinthians 14:39), which was an inspired and inspiring preaching, The despondency of the Thessalonians led them not only to quench the fervour of the Holy Ghost in their own bosoms, but to turn a cold and disparaging ear to the sanguine “prophets” who preached to them, the effect of which insensibility was to “quench the Spirit” by degrees in the prophets also. It is because of this double effect of gloominess, inward upon themselves, and outward upon others, that the command, “Quench not,” occurs between the exhortation to thanksgiving and the warning not to despise prophecy. This seems to be the most natural way of accounting for the present warning, but there are two other main interpretations:—(1) It is said that what tempted the Thessalonians to disparage prophecy was their fascination for the more showy gift of tongues. It is true that such was the case at Corinth, and not unnaturally so; and at first sight it seems as if, in 1Corinthians 14:1, “spiritual gifts” were contrasted with “prophecy” as two separate classes, thus giving some ground for Bishop Words-worth’s interpretation of our present passage—viz., that 1Thessalonians 5:19 refers to the gifts of tongues, miracles, &c., in something of the same contrast with “prophecy” in 1Thessalonians 5:20 as may be found in 1Corinthians 14:39. But, on the other hand, it seems more likely that in 1Corinthians 14:1 prophecy is not contrasted with the spiritual gifts there specified as a separate class, but selected from among them: “It is all very well to covet spiritual gifts as a whole, but it would be better to aim more particularly at that one—prophecy—which is the greatest:” just so here, “Do not quench the Spirit, in whatever direction it may blaze up; but especially do not disparage preaching.” Besides, there is nothing to prove that the Thessalonians were dazzled by the more brilliant gifts: and it accords better with the context to suppose that the fault to be corrected in them was not a light sensationalism, but a tendency to damp all ardour alike. (2) Others suppose that the Thessalonians had had experience of persons who had abused the gift of prophecy, and therefore were disposed to suspect and dislike prophecy altogether. This view gains support from 2Thessalonians 2:2, and also from the command in 1Thessalonians 5:21 to test, and retain only what stood the test. There is no particular ground for contradicting this view; but it is unnecessary, and does not carry on the thought so connectedly.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.(21) Prove all things.—The right reading inserts a “but”:—“I bid you pay all reverence to the cheering utterances of your prophets (comp. Acts 15:32); but take care! put everything to the test.” That the warning was needed, or would be needed soon, is shown by 2Thessalonians 2:2. It is couched in general terms (all things), but, of course, has special reference to all things purporting to be manifestations of the Spirit. And how were these revelations to be tested? If they were not in accordance (1) with the original tradition (2Thessalonians 2:2), (2) with the supernatural inspirations of the other prophets who sat as judges (1Corinthians 14:29), (3) with enlightened common sense (1John 4:1), they could not be “good.” The word “good” here is not vague and general good in the moral sense—not the same Greek word as in 1Thessalonians 5:15—but “good” in the sense of “genuine,” “answering to the proper conception of what it purports to be.” The same word is used in the same sense in John 10:11.
Abstain from all appearance of evil.(22) Abstain from all appearance of evil.—This translation cannot stand. Possibly it might be rendered “every form of evil,” but the most natural version would be, “Hold yourselves aloof from every evil kind”—i.e., evil kind of whatever you may be testing. The word “evil” is here used in the moral sense, and does not constitute an exact antithesis to the “good” of the preceding verse.
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.(23) And.—The logic of such an expression as, “Do this, and may you be happy,” lies in the writer’s own connection with both the command and the prayer: “I bid you abstain from every evil kind of thing, and I pray that God Himself may enable you to keep the commandment.”
The very God of peace.—In more usual English, “the God of peace Himself:” the contrast is between the futile efforts after holiness of which they in themselves were capable, and the almighty power of sanctification exercised by God. This sanctification (which is the special work of the Third Person) is here ascribed to the First Person of the Holy Trinity, from whom the Holy Ghost proceeds. He is called (as in Hebrews 13:20) the “God of peace,” not in reference to any dissensions between the Thessalonians (1Thessalonians 5:13), but because of the peace which His sanctification brings into the soul, so that it fears neither temptation’s power nor persecution’s rage. (Comp. the Second Collect for Evensong).
Sanctify you wholly.—Rather, sanctify you whole. The idea is rather that of leaving no part unsanctified, than that of doing the work completely so far as it goes: thus it serves to introduce the next sentence, which explains it.
And I pray God.—If there were need of any insertion, it should have been “We pray God:” Silas and Timothy are never forgotten throughout.
Spirit and soul and body.—This is St. Paul’s fullest and most scientific psychology, not merely a rhetorical piling up of words without any particular meaning being assigned to them. Elsewhere, he merely divides man according to popular language, into two parts, visible and invisible, “body and spirit” (1Corinthians 6:20; 1Corinthians 7:34, et al.); the division into “body and soul” he never uses. (Comp. Note on 1Corinthians 2:14.) The “spirit” (pneuma) is the part by which we apprehend realities intuitively—i.e., without reasoning upon them; with it we touch, see, serve, worship God (John 4:23-24; Romans 1:9; 1Corinthians 6:17; Revelation 1:10, et al.); it is the very inmost consciousness of the man (see, e.g., 1Corinthians 2:11); it is the part of him which survives death (Hebrews 12:23; 1Peter 3:19; comp. Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59). The “soul.” (psyche) includes the intellect, the affections, and the will: and it is of the very essence of the gospel to force sharply upon men the distinction between it and the spirit (Hebrews 4:12). Low-living men may have soul (i.e., intellect, affection, will) in abundance, but their spirit falls into complete abeyance (Jude 1:19); the soul belongs altogether to the lower nature, so that when St. Paul uses the two-fold division, “body and spirit,” the soul is reckoned (not, probably, as Bishop Ellicott says on our present passage, as part of the spirit, but) as part of the body; and when St. Paul describes the “works of the flesh,” he includes among them such distinctly soul-sins as “heresies” (Galatians 5:20). Sanctification preserves all these three divisions entire, and in their due relation to each other; without sanctification, the spirit might be overwhelmed by the other parts gaining the predominance, which would, of course, eventually be the ruin both of “soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28. N.B., that our Lord says nothing of the destruction of the “spirit” in hell: the question is whether He there definitely meant to exclude “spirit,” or used “soul” popularly as including it). Where the New Testament writers acquired such a psychology cannot be determined, but it was probably derived from experimental knowledge of life, not from books, and all experience confirms its accuracy. Modern science tends more and more to show that “soul” is a function of “body.”
Unto the coming.—A mistranslation for “at the coming,” caused by the slight difficulty in understanding the true version. The idea is not so much that of their preservation from sin during the interval, but rather the writers hasten in eager anticipation to the Coming itself, and hope that the Thessalonians at the Coming will be found to have been preserved. “Blameless” should have been “blamelessly.”
Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.(24) Faithful is he.—A reason for hoping confidently that they will be blamelessly preserved. God would forfeit His character for keeping His promise, if He “called,” and did not enable men to obey the call. Of course He can only “do it” in case they continue willing to have it done. On the present tense, see Note on 1Thessalonians 2:12.
Brethren, pray for us.(25) Pray for us.—Taken in conjunction with what follows, this probably is a petition for remembrance in the great public service.
Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.(26) Greet all the brethren.—It is concluded from the manner in which some are told to greet all, instead of all being told to greet one another (as in the parallel passages), that the “brethren” to whom the letter was sent specially were the priesthood of Thessalonica (comp. the next verse). If so, the “holy kiss” had hardly become the fixed Church ceremony which it afterwards was, for the practice (according to the Apostolicqal Constitutions) was for the Church members to pass the kiss from one to another, men kissing men, and women kissing women, not for all the people to be kissed in turn by the priest. This kiss, however, is no doubt intended by St. Paul to be given at a solemn assembly of the Church, i.e., at the Holy Communion, which was the only fixed meeting of the Primitive Church. In the time of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, the kiss was given just before the Sursum Corda. It was not till the thirteenth century that the kissing of the Pax was substituted in the Western Church for the kissing of the brethren. This kiss was to differ from the ordinary Greek salutation, by being distinctly a holy kiss, i.e., a ceremonial, religious kiss.
I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.(27) I charge you.—Adjure is much nearer the original word, which is as solemn as can be. What is the cause of such awful solemnity? The question has never been very satisfactorily answered. It certainly seems as if the contempt of discipline and partial alienation of clergy and laity implied in 1Thessalonians 5:12-13, might suggest to St. Paul a doubt whether his Epistle would reach all the Thessalonian Christians. At any rate, the adjuration marks his sense of the extreme importance of the letter; and perhaps the fact that this was his first pastoral letter may have made him more anxious to ensure its reception and success. It amounts to a claim to inspiration. (Comp. 1Thessalonians 4:15.) The emphasis seems to rest on the word “all (“holy” is an interpolation). The reading is of course a public reading in the celebration of the Communion, at which we know from several early Fathers that the writings of the Apostles were read aloud. (Comp. Colossians 4:16; 2Peter 3:15-16.) Baur thought the adjuration a mark of a forger, who wished to gain authority for his cento: Bishop Wordsworth well points out, on the contrary, what a splendid guarantee for the genuineness and integrity of the Epistles this constant recitation constituted.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.(28) The grace.—St. Paul’s autograph to conclude the letter. (See 2Thessalonians 3:17-18.)