by Robert Brow  February 1999

1 Thessalonians

The first thing I noticed was that in Acts Luke used the name Silas (Acts 15:22, 27, 15:40 &18:5) which is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic -Seila- which is a form of the Hebrew -Shaol-. Luke transliterated -Shaol- into Greek letters as -Saulos- throughout the Book of Acts, where Luke sets his story clearly among the Greek speaking -synagogue congregations- of the Mediterranean world

But now in the first verse of both 1 and 2 Thessalonians Paul wants to use a Roman name for his friend -Seila- and so he transliterates -Silvanus- from Latin into Greek as Silouanos (1:1). This is very common in missionary situations all over the world. In north India, where I worked, thousands were given the name -Masih- the Hindi transliteration of the English -Messiah- transliterated from the Hebrew -Mashiakh-. But when they tried to appear as British, they took the English name Massey.

I was never allowed to be called Bob in Brussels, where I was raised. There you called a mongrel street dog "Bobby chien." So I am always Robert (pronounced Robere in French) in my Belgian family, and when I want to appear respectable. My children call me Dad. But my friends and even my grandchildren call me Bob (some were forced to call me Granpa Bob, but I don't like words beginning with Gr - gruff, grouch, grumble, groan, grumpy, grunge, grease, etc. I still view Bobby as an insult. I don't like to be called Father, because that again conveys another image (I wouldn't want to welcome Petroula Ruehlen, the Rector of Holy Trinity Church, Port Neches, Texas, to our group as Dear Mother). And I like to promote myself as one of the brothers and sisters in our royal priesthood.

That is a long way round to explain why I always assume that there is a rhetorical model that every writer of letters or books is conveying by the names she or he uses. Paul and -Sila- had both insisted on being treated as Roman citizens in Acts 16:37, and so Silas must be called Silvanus among the Thessalonians.

Last week we had the angrily fierce picture of Paul writing crudely "I wish the circumcisers would castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12). Today I was astonished to see a quite different model emerging in 1 Thessalonians :  -egenethymen ypioi en meso umon- We became gentle (2:7), as opposed to being -en barei- heavy- handed -(2:7) as he was in the letter to the Galatians. -os ean trophos-  As a woman nursing a baby (2:7) Having been denied the opportunity to experience that, I can still picture it from watching my wife at work with four children.

-thalpy ta eautys tekna- Roman women could force a slave or paid servant to do the job, but here Paul puts in the words -ta eautys- (2:7). This conveys the idea that he, Silvanus, and Timothy each viewed the new converts in Thessalonica as their very own children. -outos omeiromenoi- having a kindly feeling for (2:8)   Wanting not only to give you -to euaggelion- but -metadounai- impart to you -tas eauton psuchas- our very lives (2:8)  -dioti agapytoi ymin egenythyte- because you became our beloved (2:8)   -oz patyr tekna eautou- in the same way as I love my own children (2:11)

As I try to construct a model that captures that incredibly tender picture, I remember the model of Paul's anger in Galatians. So I need a model to put them both together. I remember rushing out angrily to grab one of my own kids from a road where a truck was hurtling by. I also remember the fierce anger of a woman at a child abuser. Both models of fierceness and passionate love are needed to convey who Paul was. I hope my children and friends can slowly make sense of the contradictory models that might explain me.

That suggests that I will need to expand my explanatory model for Paul from the Book of Acts, and now from 1 Thessalonians by including all the apparently contradictory models in the other Epistles. When we come to the Gospels, I will assume that God has given me these four conflicting pictures to understand his Son. And then eventually I need an even more expanded model from all the 66 books of the Bible to begin to understand what God the Father, God the Son, and God the Son are about in our world.

Later in the Epistle there is another set of alternative models clustered around the word -parousia- coming, presence (1 Thess. 4:15). As applied to Christ, the Arndt and Gingrich Lexicon informs me that this word is used "nearly always of his Messianic Advent in glory to judge the world at the end of this age." But that suggests only one explanatory model of what this might mean. Here are thee alternatives that I have constantly encountered :

(1)Jesus was mistaken about the -parousia- that he expected in his generation (Albert Schweitzer and many NT scholars since).

(2) We are still in that generation, which has already extended for 1900 years during which the Son of God has sat doing nothing. But any moment now we should expect as believers that -arpagysometha- we will be raptured (4:17). I remember visiting Winona Lake, Indiana in the spring of 1958 and I was informed from many license plates that WHEN THE RAPTURE OCCURS THIS CAR WILL BE DRIVERLESS. It wasn't clear what I was meant to do with that information.

(3) But another possible meaning of the verb -arpazo- is to be snatched from a fire or other disaster (as in Jude 23) . Mark and Matthew expected Jesus the Messiah's coming in that generation to destroy the temple and topple the religious establishment of Jerusalem. And they told the early Christians exactly how to avoid that by escaping the holocaust (Mark 13:14-16, Matthew 24:15-18, see the Commentary on Matthew). This happened in AD 70, and apparently the Christians who heeded the warning were in fact snatched from the final destruction.

How do we decide to live by one or another of these models ? If Jesus was just plain ignorant (1) about the -parousia- why should we conclude he is the Messiah, or bother to follow him?

If we are still in the "this generation" of Jesus, and the rapture (2) is now expected before Y2K, what do I do with that ?

(3) I prefer to think that Paul expected the end of that age in the coming of the Lord in the destruction of the temple and fall of Jerusalem. But he assumed that with other Christian believers -arpagysometha- we would escape the judgment of that world. He probably escaped it in AD 64 by being executed under Nero. But the interventions of the reigning Son of God have continued in every nation and every period ever since.  (e.g. October1989 when to everyone's surprise the Lord took down the iron curtain and ended the power of communism in Europe)  The Son of God is not sitting doing nothing but reigning (as in the Messiah "for ever and ever") and we are part of his reigning royal family.

That is not a proof that the model I live by is the correct one, but at least it makes sense to me, and I can face Y2K and any other imminent disasters with confidence.

 2 Thessalonians .....