Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:III.
(1) Finally.—The practical portion is introduced in the same manner as in the First Epistle (1Thessalonians 4:1), “for the rest,” “as to what I have yet to say.”
Pray for us.—St. Chrysostom remarks: “Himself had prayed for them; now he asks them to pray for him.” How much of a Christian teacher’s power, increasing as time goes on, comes from the accumulation of intercession from his spiritual children! St. Paul leaves people praying for him everywhere (Romans 15:30; 2Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:18-19; Colossians 4:3; 1Thessalonians 5:25; comp. Hebrews 13:18). In all these cases the request is for active help in his work of evangelising:” not that he may fall into no danger,” says St. Chrysostom, “for that he was appointed unto.” (Comp. 2Timothy 2:9.) “That” stands for “in order that,” and does not introduce merely the subject of the prayer.
May have free course.—Quite literally, as in the margin, may run along. Speed and security are contained in this idea: no hesitation about the next turn, no anxious picking of the way, and no opposition from devils and bad men. Bengel compares Psalm 147:15.
And be glorified.—The word does not mean merely “obtain applause,” “win distinction,” as a successful runner; it always implies the recognition or acknowledgment of inherent admirable qualities. (See Notes on 2Thessalonians 1:12; 1Thessalonians 2:6.)
Even as it is with you.—Such praise would flush the Thessalonians to pray for him with greater fervour and assurance. “With you” means, in the Greek, “in your direction,” “on turning to you:” people had only to look at Thessalonica, and they were forced to recognise the character of the gospel.
And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.(2) And that we may be delivered.—Compare Romans 15:31. This clause is an amplification of the word “may run along:” the impediments to the gospel progress were (except that all were overruled for good) such persecutions as these. St. Paul gives thanks for such deliverances in 2Corinthians 1:10; 2Timothy 3:11; 2Timothy 4:17. Perhaps (as St. Chrysostom suggests) one reason for here inviting their prayers for himself was to nerve the Thessalonians by the sense that they were not the only people in the world in danger.
From unreasonable and wicked men.—The curious word rendered “unreasonable” is rendered “amiss” in Luke 23:41, “wickedness” in Acts 25:5, “harm” in Acts 28:6, occurring nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means something “misplaced” hence “extravagant,” “monstrous.” Thus the dying robber says that our Lord had done “nothing so monstrous” as to deserve crucifixion; Festus ironically invites the priests to a serious journey to St. Paul’s trial, “if there be something so monstrous in him;” the Maltese barbarians “saw that nothing so monstrous happened to him after all.” So St. Paul wishes the Thessalonians to pray for his deliverance “from these monstrous and depraved people.” He is evidently meaning some particular foes whom he fears, for the original has the definite article. Who, then, are “these monstrous persons?” If we turn to Acts 18:6; Acts 18:9; Acts 18:12, and observe the circumstances in which the letter was written, we can hardly doubt that they are the unbelieving Jews of Corinth. From these Jews he was, though narrowly, delivered. It was, perhaps, in direct answer to the prayers for which St. Paul here asks that he received the vision and assurances of our Lord, and that Gallio was moved to quash so abruptly the proceedings of the Jews.
For all men have not faith.—This clause gives the reason for the alarm implied in the last clause: “Do not be surprised at my needing help against bad men; for you know that it is not every one that believes.” There is something a little scornful and embittered in the expression (recalling the invective against the same people in 1Thessalonians 2:15-16), for it suggests the thought that nothing better was to be expected from such a set of unconverted Jews. Tacitly, also, the unbelieving Corinthians are contrasted with the Thessalonians who had so readily embraced the truth. It may, however, be doubted whether this sentence is not an instance of a common Hebrew idiom, occurring more than twenty times in the Greek Testament, by which the combination of “all” and “not” amounts to “not any.” Thus, “all flesh shall not be justified,” in Romans 3:20, is rendered “no flesh shall be justified;” “they are not all of us,” in 1John 2:19, means “not one of them is of us.” So here it may be, “for there is not one of them that believes;” and so also, again speaking of the Jews, in Romans 10:16, “they did not all obey” may mean “none of them obeyed”—a rhetorical exaggeration, which the writer proceeds to justify by the exhaustive question from Isaiah.
But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.(3) But the Lord is faithful.—It must not be thought from this that the word “faith” in the previous verse meant “fidelity.” St. Paul, after his favourite manner, is playing upon two meanings of the word: “But whether men have faith or not, the Lord is faithful.” There is the same play of words in Romans 3:3. “The Lord” seems here to be used, as was said on 1Thessalonians 3:12, without distinct reference to one Person of the Holy Trinity rather than another. This characteristic of God is named because God stands pledged to all who believe in Him.
Who shall stablish you.—How soon St. Paul reverts from his own needs to theirs! He does not continue, as we should expect, with “who will preserve us”
Keep you from evil.—Rather (probably), from the Evil One, as in the Lord’s Prayer. Possibly, the word is used not without a reference to the word rendered “wicked” in 2Thessalonians 3:2, with which in the Greek it is identical.
And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you.(4) We have confidence in the Lord touching you.—Rather, We rely upon you in the Lord: the clause forms the counterpart to the last verse. St. Chrysostom’s whole comment is worth transcription:—“God, saith he, is faithful, and having promised to save, save He assuredly will, but as He promised. And how did He promise? If we would be agreeable, and would hear Him; not unconditionally, nor while we remain inactive like stocks and stones. Yet, well has he added his, ‘We rely in the Lord:’ that is, ‘We trust to His love of men.’ Once more he takes them down, ascribing the whole matter to that quarter; for had he said ‘We trust to you,’ it would have been a great compliment indeed, but would not have taught them to ascribe all to God; and had he said ‘We rely on the Lord that He will keep you,’ without adding ‘upon you,’ and ‘that ye both do and will do what things we command,’ he would have made them less active by casting the whole upon the power of God.” (See the passage of Galatians referred to in the margin.)
Both do and will do.—The emphasis of the sentence is on the future tense, the commendation of the present being only intended to do away the rebuke which might have been conveyed by the future alone. How careful St. Paul is not to wound susceptibilities, though he never “pleases men”! (See, for instance, Notes on 1Thessalonians 4:1; 1Thessalonians 4:9-10; 1Thessalonians 5:11.) This expression of confidence is a happy rhetorical means of preparing readers for the commands which are to follow.
And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.(5) The Lord.—See Note on 2Thessalonians 3:3. The Person of the Blessed Trinity to whom this guidance immediately belongs is the Holy Ghost. So far, the Greek expositors are right who are agreed to consider this a proof of the Holy Ghost’s divinity. Their right conclusion is, however, drawn from wrong premise, for the name is not here to be taken as consciously intending Him. The ground for their supposition is that the names “God” and “Christ” occur immediately after, and not (as we might expect) “His” or “for Him.” But in 1Thessalonians 3:12-13, there occurs precisely the same arrangement of the three words: the Greek equivalent for the sacred Hebrew Name standing first, and then, for clearness’ sake, being explained by the personal titles, “God our Father,” “our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Direct your hearts into the love of God.—This prayer in itself implies that they had not yet reached the point which St. Paul would have them reach, and were perhaps not taking the directest course. The same word is used in Luke 1:79; 1Thessalonians 3:11. The “love of God” here meant is that practical love which consists in keeping the commandments (John 14:21), as may be seen from the context:—“I am sure that the Lord will strengthen you, and that you are doing and will continue to do as you are bidden: may God help you to the obedience of true love, and to such perseverance in obedience as was shown by Christ; and it is in this hope that we bid you take steps to repress the disorders which are prevalent among you.”
The patient waiting for Christ.—This rendering is so beautiful in itself, and so well in keeping with the leading thoughts of these two Epistles, that it is painful to be forced to reject it. But the only rendering which is possible is, Christ’s patience; and the simplest meaning of that phrase is “the endurance which characterises Christ,” the genitive being, as in 1Thessalonians 1:3, almost a descriptive adjective, “Christ-like,” “Christian endurance.” This “patience” includes both the thought of bearing up under their present persecutions and also the thought of “patient continuance in well doing,” as opposed to the fitful restlessness which had begun to prey upon the Thessalonian Church.
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.(6) We command you.—The practical conclusion of the letter. These words take up the expression in 2Thessalonians 3:4, “Ye will do the things which (at any time) we command you; now the thing which we command you is this.”
In the name of our Lord.—To do anything in a person’s name seems to mean, in the first instance, the actual pronouncing of the name in the performance of the action—to do it name on lip, just as to “come in a rod” (1Corinthians 4:21) literally means rod in hand. Thus, miracles are commonly said to be performed “in the name of the Lord,” viz., with the audible repetition of His name (for instance, Matthew 7:22, Mark 16:17; Luke 10:17); and for examples of the way in which the name was literally so used, we may refer to Acts 3:6; Acts 9:34; Acts 19:13—in the last case the name being employed as a mere incantation or charm. See also Philippians 2:10, where, as the adoration paid to Jesus Himself is the point, the phrase must mean, “mentioning the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.” From this mention of the name in performing an action, our phrase assumes, at any rate, two distinct meanings: (1) As in Colossians 3:17, it implies an invocation or attestation of the person named, or a recognition of his presence and interest in the matter, in which sense it has passed into the common language of Christianity, into legal formulas, &c. (2) Here, and usually, it means a claim to the authority of the person named—to act officially as his representative with full powers. (See Notes on John 14:13; John 14:26.) Thus the prophets spoke “in the name of the Lord”—i.e., as His authoritative exponents (James 5:10); St. Paul commands (Acts 16:18), and retains a man’s sins (1Corinthians 4:5) “in the name of the Lord”—i.e., as His official spokesman or ambassador; the priests are to administer the unction of the sick with like authority (James 5:14-15). So here, the Thessalonians are not to think that in disobeying St. Paul’s injunctions they are rebelling against a mere human authority; Christ Himself speaks to them through St. Paul’s lips. Yet, commanding with all this tremendous authority, they are still but “brethren” (Matthew 23:8).
Withdraw yourselves.—The striking word here used is (in its simple form) only found besides in 2Corinthians 8:20 : “avoiding this.” In a still more striking compound, it occurs in Acts 20:20; Acts 20:27; Galatians 2:12; Hebrews 10:38. It is a metaphor from the language of strategy a cautious general shrinking from an encounter and timidly drawing off under cover. Perhaps, we might illustrate it by the familiar English “fight shy of every brother.” A social excommunication rather than ecclesiastical seems chiefly meant, though the latter might perhaps be involved.
Disorderly.—The word is rendered “unruly” in 1Thessalonians 5:14, and is possibly suggested by the military metaphor above. It means properly “out of rank.” The kind of irregularity which is meant is made clear by 2Thessalonians 3:10-11. The worthy Bengel quaintly makes this an opportunity for denouncing the Mendicant Orders: “An order of mendicants, then, is not an order; if the Thessalonians had bound themselves to it by a vow, what would St. Paul have said?”
The tradition.—See Note on 2Thessalonians 2:15. The word must imply systematic and definite teaching; and we see here again that a clear code of ethics was part of the apostolic catechism. (See Note on 1Thessalonians 4:1)
He received.—The best rendering is, which they received—i.e., all the brethren who walked disorderly. The word “receive” is the regular correlative to “tradition” or “deliver.” (See, e.g., Mark 7:4; 1Corinthians 11:23; Galatians 1:9; Colossians 2:6.)
For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;(7) For justifies the assertion that they had received a better teaching. (Comp. 1Thessalonians 2:1; 1Thessalonians 4:9; 1Thessalonians 5:2.)
To follow us.—The word, of course, means “to imitate”; and the rather compressed expression seems to stand for something fuller, such as, “Yourselves know how you ought to live, for you have but to imitate us: you recollect not only a tradition, but an example.” This is better than (with St. Chrysostom) to make the whole “tradition” consist of example without precept, however such an interpretation might simplify the logic.
For (or because).—Historical justification of the statement that their example was a trustworthy mode in this particular, at any rate: see the same use of “for” in 1Thessalonians 2:9, “for labouring,” &c.; 1Thessalonians 4:3. It is perhaps simpler, however, to translate the word “that,” instead of “for “: “You know perfectly how to live—how to imitate our example—that we never,” &c. Then follows a description of the Apostles’ conduct at Thessalonica similar to that in the First Epistle, thus giving us a clearer understanding why they dwelt so long and so passionately upon the topic there—namely, in order by force of tacit, contrast to shame the disorderly brethren into imitation.
Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:(8) Neither.—They might have thought it possible to live on others without incurring so serious a charge as “disorderliness.”
Eat any man’s bread.—Still more literally, eat bread from any man—i.e., “from any man’s table.” St. Paul always becomes picturesque and vivid in a passage of this kind, and generally Hebraistic (“eat bread,” 2Samuel 9:7, and often). “For nought” is literally at a gift. There is a flavour of scorn in St. Paul’s disclaimer of such a parasite’s life.
Wrought.—In the original it is the participle, “working,” which better suits the rapid flow of the sentences. The order also is slightly more forcible: “We ate bread from no man’s table at a gift, but in toil and travail, all night and day labouring that we,” &c. To “be chargeable” means more than “to make you pay”: it contains the notion of burdensome expense.
Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.(9) Power.—Rather, authority, which is power plus legitimacy, How jealously St. Paul guards the rights of the Apostolate! not for himself, but for the brethren of the Lord and Cephas (1Corinthians 9:5), perhaps for Silas and Timothy (1Thessalonians 2:6, Note), and for futurity. The unbounded claims of spiritual fatherhood seem copied from the Roman law of patria potestas. (Comp. Philemon 1:8; Philemon 1:19.)
To make.—Literally, in order that we might give. It was not without thought and design that they had adopted the plan.
An ensample.—The same word as in 1Thessalonians 1:7. Literally, a model. The argument is a strong à fortiori. Whatever reason these Thessalonians might have for giving up work, St. Paul had the same, and more. He looked for the Advent, as they did; he spent his time in going about among the brethren, as they did; and over and above, he had the apostolic right to maintenance, which they had not. Why should not he have left off work, if they could justify themselves in so doing? If he thought right to work, à fortiori, it must be their duty to work too.
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.(10) For even.—The sequence of thought is a little difficult, but it seems best to regard this “for” as connecting its sentence, not with 2Thessalonians 3:9, but rather with 2Thessalonians 3:6. It does not give the reason why St. Paul and his companions worked: “because we strictly enjoined you to work, and therefore could not be idle ourselves.” Rather, it justifies the reiteration of the command: “We do not hesitate to command you now to repress this disorderly conduct, so contrary to the example set you; for, in fact, when we were with you we used to lay down this law.” So Theodoret takes it: “It is no new thing that we write to you.”
We commanded.—The tense in the original is that of constant re-assertion, which brings out once more the thorough grounding which the Apostles gave at once to their converts. (See Note on 2Thessalonians 3:6 : “the tradition;” also the Note on 2Thessalonians 2:5.) The same definite precept is referred to in 1Thessalonians 4:11.
If any would not work.—The word “would” stands for “is not willing,” “refuses.” To any weakness or incapacity for work, except in himself, St. Paul would be very tender; the vice consists in the defective will. The canon (in the original) is laid down in the pointed form of some old Roman law like those of the Twelve Tables: “If any man choose not to work, neither let him eat.” It does not mean, “let him leave off eating,” putting it to the man’s own conscience to see the necessary connection between the two things (Genesis 3:19); but, “let him not be fed.” The Thessalonians are not to be misled into a false charity: giving food in Christ’s name to persons who are capable of working and able to get work, and are too indolent to do so. The support which is here forbidden to be given to these disorderly persons might come either direct from the private liberality of individuals, or from some collected church fund administered by the deacons. It does not seem at all impossible that this Thessalonian Church, which St. Paul himself declares to have taken the churches of Judaea for a model (1Thessalonians 2:14), may have copied its model in adopting some form of communism, or, at any rate, some extensive use of the agapè which we see to have been in use at Corinth, established by the Apostle at the very time of writing this Letter (1Corinthians 11:21). Such a supposition would give much more point to St. Paul’s canon, as well as to other phrases in both these Epistles, and would enable us to understand better how this discipline could be actively enforced. That the ordinary agape was a matter of considerable importance to the poorer classes is evident from 1Corinthians 11:22.
For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.(11) For we hear.—Explaining how St. Paul came to speak upon the topic at all. Hitherto he has only been giving directions, without saying why. News had been brought back, no doubt, by the bearers of the First Epistle.
Walk among you disorderly.—A verbal repetition of 2Thessalonians 3:6. It is not quite the same as “some among you which walk disorderly,” for the words “among you” represent the vague and various directions taken by those aimless feet, going about from house to house, workshop to workshop.
Working not at all, but are busybodies.—This is what the disorderliness consists in, as we should have seen from 2Thessalonians 3:10. There is a scornful play of words here in the Greek which is lost sight of in the English: the word for “busybodies” being merely a compound form of the word “working.” Quite literally, the compound means “working enough and to spare,” “being overbusy,” “overdoing;” then, as a man cannot possibly overdo what it is his own duty to do, it comes to signify (1) doing useless things, things which concern no one, and might as well be left alone: as, for instance, magic, which is described by this word in Acts 19:19; or natural science, which is so described in the Athenians’ accusation of Socrates! (2) Meddling with matters which do not concern the doer, but do concern other people: so used in 1Timothy 5:13. Prof Lightfoot suggests (On a Fresh Revision, p. 59; comp. p. xviii., 2nd ed.) that the play can be kept up through the words “business” and “busy”: we might perhaps say, “not being business men, but busybodies.” But which of the two notions mentioned above is to be considered most prominent here we cannot tell for certain. (a) The Thessalonians do not seem to have been much carried away by the first class of danger—idle speculations, such as those of the Colossian or Ephesian Churches. Yet we cannot altogether exclude this meaning here. St. Paul’s readers had been overbusy in theorising about the position of the departed at Christ’s coming (1Thessalonians 4:15, Note), and had been so eager over their idle doctrines of the Advent as to falsify, if not actually to forge, communications from St. Paul (2Thessalonians 2:2). Such false inquisitiveness and gossiping discussions might well be described by the Greek word with which we are dealing. (b) Everything, however, points to a more practical form of the same disposition to mask idleness under cloak of work; feverish excitement, which leads men to meddle and interfere with others, perhaps to spend time in “religious” work which ought not to have been spared from every-day duties. (See 1Thessalonians 4:11-12, and Notes.) There is nothing to show definitely how this busy idleness arose, but it may very probably be the shaken and troubled condition of mind spoken of in 2Thessalonians 2:2.
Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.(12) We command.—The fourth time the severe word is used in this very chapter. Perhaps “we order” might convey the meaning still more sharply. But immediately, lest severity provoke rebellion, he adds, “and we beseech,” alleging also the grounds on which he rests his appeal: “in our Lord”—i.e., “on the strength of our union in the Body of Christ.” (Comp. 1Thessalonians 4:1.)
That with quietness they work.—The opposites of bustling, and of idleness.
Eat their own bread.—Not other people’s. This passage tempts us to take the marginal version in 1Thessalonians 4:12 : “have need of no man.” The phrase is not fatal to the idea of there being a communism established. The bread would still be “their own”—i.e., they would have a right to it, supposing it had been earned for the community by hard work: otherwise, communism or no communism, the bread was stolen. The commentators aptly compare a rabbinical saying:” When a man eats his own bread he is composed and tranquil in mind; but if he be eating the bread of his parents or children, much more that of strangers, his mind is less tranquil.”
But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.(13) But ye, brethren.—The last verse was addressed to all those whose consciences would prick them on hearing it read at the Eucharist. Now the writer turns to the orderly brethren, as quite a distinct class. The rhetorical effect of this quick apostrophe would be the same as in the well-known story of Napoleon addressing the rioters, and requesting the gentlemen to separate themselves from the canaille. The distinction is so invidious that every one would hasten to join the ranks of the respectable.
Be not weary in well doing.—This is an exhortation to “the patience of Christ,” for which the Apostle had prayed. The phrase takes for granted that they had been hitherto engaged in “well doing”—i.e., in acting honourably, “walking honestly towards them that are without” (1Thessalonians 4:12); and St. Paul is anxious to preserve them from “fainting” (as the word is translated in Galatians 6:9), and so slipping into the like idleness and bringing scandal upon the Church.
And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.(14) And if any man,—An appeal to the rightminded, not only to persevere themselves, but to join with the overseers of their Church in enforcing discipline, as in 1Thessalonians 5:12-15.
By this epistle.—Rightly rendered. The marginal version, “by an Epistle,” is impossible, for in the Greek the definite article appears. It might, if the context suited, be attached to the following clause, instead of the foregoing, and translated, “by means of the Epistle signify that man,” meaning “in your answer.” But there is nothing to show that St. Paul was expecting any answer; and, for another thing, he has given them full directions for dealing with the case themselves, so that it would be superfluous to send the particulars to St. Paul. For several other weighty reasons it is best to attach the words to the hypothetical clause; and the sense will be, “There can be no excuse now. It was possible to forget or misinterpret our verbal tradition, painstaking and definite though it was; possible also to ignore the example which we set; but now you have it in black and white, and the man who does not submit to our directions in this form must be visited severely.” There are at least three places besides this in St. Paul’s writings where “the Epistle” stands absolutely for “the present Epistle,” viz., Romans 16:22; Colossians 4:16; 1Thessalonians 5:27; possibly a fourth might be added, 1Corinthians 5:9; only once in a very clear context it refers to a former Letter (2Corinthians 7:8).
Note that man.—The reflexive voice of the verb implies mutual warning against him: “Agree to set a mark upon him, to make a marked man of him.” The notion is that of making him easily recognisable, so that no Christian should “have company” with him unawares. (Comp. Genesis 4:15.) The word and the thought in Romans 16:17 are slightly different. The best text goes on abruptly, without conjunction: “Note that man; have no company with him.” This social extrusion from good men’s conversation, not to speak of the Sacraments, would, to a Christian in a heathen city, be indeed a delivering to Satan, a thrusting into outer darkness.
Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.(15) Yet.—The original is simply And, which is much more beautiful, implying that this very withdrawal from brotherly intercourse was an act of brotherly kindness.
An enemy.—In the private, not the public, sense. “Do not think of him as one with whom you must be at feud, to be thwarted and humbled on every occasion.” St. Chrysostom exclaims, “How soon the father’s-heart breaks down!”
Admonish him as a brother.—How was this to be done without “having company” with him? Perhaps the presbyters, to whom the work of “admonishing,” or “warning,” specially belonged (see 1Thessalonians 5:12; 1Thessalonians 5:14), were to visit them in private with that object. Or possibly, the admonition was to consist in the act of separation, and not in verbal reproof at all.
Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.(16) Now.—Rather, And, or But. The prayer is joined to the exhortations, as in 2Thessalonians 2:16 and elsewhere, and of course bears upon the subject of them.
The Lord of peace.—We had “the God of peace” at the close of the last Epistle (1Thessalonians 5:23, where see the Note). The “peace” prayed for here has perhaps a more immediate reference to external matters than in the parallel passage. St. Chrysostom suggests the danger of quarrels breaking out owing to the administration of the prescribed discipline. And the conduct of these restless busybodies was in itself destructive of peace, both for their own souls and for the community. But the words “by all means,” or, more literally, in every shape and form, show that the Apostle is extending his glance over all the subjects mentioned in the Epistle now finished: “Peace all throughout in every form,” through all persecutions and from all persecutions; through the terrors of the reign of Antichrist and through the Judgment Day; peace among themselves, in their own hearts, with God.
The Lord be with you all.—Another way of expressing the prayer for peace; for where He enters He says, “Peace be unto you.” The word “all” is strongly emphasised, catching up the “always” and “in all forms.” St. Paul has spoken with strong censure of some; but he wishes to show that he bears no ill-will to any; and to leave off by blessing all, as he began by giving thanks for all (2Thessalonians 1:3).
The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.(17) The salutation.—At this point St. Paul takes the pen out of his secretary’s hand, and adds the closing words himself. The actual salutation does not begin until the benediction of the 18th verse, to which this 17th is intended to attract attention.
Which.—Namely, the autograph addition of a salutation, or valedictory prayer, not the special words in which it was couched.
The token.—Rather, a token—a mark, that is, by which to tell an authentic Epistle of his from those forged letters with which false brethren had troubled the Thessalonian Church (2Thessalonians 2:2). At first sight, it seems to us too audacious for any one to have conceived the thought of writing a letter under the name of St. Paul; but, on the other hand, we must recollect several points. (1) St. Paul’s genuine First Epistle, in spite of its claim to inspiration (1Thessalonians 4:15), could not yet have acquired in the eyes of the Thessalonians the sanctity it wears for us; they had no notion of such a thing as Holy Scriptures, and even if they had, St. Paul was a familiar figure, a mechanic who had just left them, not yet invested with the heroic halo. (2) Such literary forgeries were not uncommon in that age, and scarcely considered reprehensible, unless they were framed to inculcate with authority some heretical teaching. Apocryphal Gospels soon after abounded, under false titles, and works fathered upon St. Clement and other great Church teachers. (3) There need nor always have been a direct intention to deceive the readers as to the authorship, but the renowned name acted as a tempting advertisement for the work, and the theories thus shot forth hit their mark; whether the real authorship were discovered or not mattered little in comparison. Such points must be borne in mind before we accept as genuine any of the early Christian writings.
In every epistle.—That is, naturally, “in every Epistle which I write.” It cannot be narrowly restricted to mean, “in every Epistle which I shall for the future write to you Thessalonians,” though that is, of course, the practical significance. Nor does it imply a formed design of writing other Epistles to other churches. It seems necessary to suppose that St. Paul had already made a practice of concluding Letters with his autograph, though only one Letter of his is now extant of an earlier date than our present Epistle. There is no reason whatever to suppose that all the Letters ever written by St. Paul have been preserved to us (see Dr. Lightfoot’s Philippians, p. 136, et seq.), any more than all the sayings and acts of Jesus Christ (John 21:25); and even when he wrote his First Epistle to Thessalonica he had seen the necessity of giving careful directions about his Letters (1Thessalonians 5:27), and of rousing his correspondents to a reasonable scepticism (1Thessalonians 5:21). The same solicitude re-appears in 1Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11. And the rule which St. Paul had already made he always observed, so far as we can test; for all his extant Epistles, as Bishop Wordsworth points out on 1Thessalonians 5:28, contain his “salutation” at the end.
So I write.—“Such is my handwriting.” It need not mean that the Thessalonians hitherto were unacquainted with his hand; he only calls their attention closely to it. The great bold handwriting (comp. Galatians 6:11) would not easily be mistaken.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.(18) The grace.—This is his “salutation.” The Greek secular salutation, at greeting and parting alike, was chaire (literally, rejoice); so St. Paul, alike at beginning and ending, uses a word of kindred origin, charis (“grace”). Observe the word “all” again, as in 2Thessalonians 3:16. St. Chrysostom’s beautiful comment may well be given: “What he calls his ‘salutation’ is the prayer, snowing that the whole business they were then about was spiritual; and even when he must give a salutation, there must go some benefit along with it, and it must be a prayer, not a mere symbol of friendship. ’Twas with this he would begin, and with this he would end, fencing round that which he said with mighty walls on either side; and safe were the foundations he laid, and safe the conclusion that he laid thereon. ‘Grace to you,’ he cries, ‘and peace’; and once more, [‘Peace always’ and] ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.—Amen. ’”