Is I Thessalonians 2:13-16 Pauline?

On page 125 of Jewish and Pauline Studies, W.D. Davies says that I Thessalonians 2:13-16 was authentically Pauline, whereas many scholars have maintained that the passage was added later than Paul.  A. Andrew Das, in Paul and the Jews (which I recently read and blogged through), also maintains that Paul wrote I Thessalonians 2:13-16, and he offers thorough arguments for his case.  In this post, I will talk about some of those arguments.  I will focus primarily on Das, since he is more thorough than Davies in his discussion of this issue.

I Thessalonians 2:13-16 states the following (in the King James Version): “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.  For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”

In the nineteenth century, Das notes, the main arguments against the Pauline authenticity of this passage was, first, that it referred to the events of 70 C.E. (“the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”), which occurred after the time of Paul, and second, that it presumed a clear distinction between the Jews and the Christians, which happened after 70.  According to Das, some nineteenth century scholars still defended the passage’s Pauline authenticity, asserting that the wrath that the passage mentions could have been a pre-70 incident of calamity experienced by Jews (i.e., the famine of 46-47, persecution under a harsh Judean governor, the killing of thousands of Jews in 49, or the suppression of Theudas’ revolt in 49), or that Paul was speaking of a future wrath, as Paul speaks of God’s coming judgment as if it had already occurred. Das’ solution is that the wrath of I Thessalonians 2:16 is an eschatological wrath, which Paul believed could have present dimensions (Romans 1:18; 9:3, 22).

In the twentieth century, Das narrates, there emerged new arguments against I Thessalonians 2:13-16’s authenticity.  Das mentions these arguments, then he responds to them.  The first argument is that Paul in I Thessalonians 2:14 exhorts the Thessalonians to imitate the churches in Judea, which is uncharacteristic for Paul, who often tells his readers to imitate Christ or himself.  Das retorts that Paul often does “support his exhortations with the example of other churches (see 1 Cor 11:16; 14:33; 16:1-2; 2 Cor 8:1-7; cf. Rom 15:26-27)” (though Das does not think that I Thessalonians 2:14 is technically an exhortation, since Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are already living like the Judean Christians, not exhorting them to do so), and that v 14 expands upon Paul’s statement in I Thessalonians 1:6-9 about imitating the suffering of Paul and his co-workers.  The second argument is that II Thessalonians 2:14-16 uses linguistic constructions (i.e., joining two main clauses by kai, separating “Lord” and “Jesus” by a participle) and vocabulary that are not typical of Paul.  Das responds that the linguistic constructions in question are found in Paul’s writings, and he attributes the non-Pauline vocabulary to Paul drawing from earlier Jewish and Christian language.  (For example, according to Das, Paul uses apokteino because he draws from a long tradition about Israel killing the prophets.)  

The third argument is that removing I Thessalonians 2:13-16 provides for a smoother transition between v 12 and v 17, for Paul already thanked God in 1:2-3, so why does he need to do so again in I Thessalonians 2:13-16?  Das replies that Paul often uses and ABA pattern of saying something, switching to another topic or tangent, and then resuming discussion about his previous topic.  Das thinks that is going on in I Thessalonians 2, for he says that Paul emphasizes “we” (“But we, brethren”) in v 17 precisely because he is resuming his discussion before vv 13-16.  Das also notes that “thanksgiving is a motif that runs throughout the letter (see also 3:19)” (page 134).

The fourth argument is the “lack of historical evidence for Jewish persecution of Christians in Judea” in Paul’s time, at least to the extent that I Thessalonians 2:13-16 is describing.  Das thinks that this is a relatively strong argument, for Josephus narrates in Antiquities 20:200 that the Pharisees were angered by the death of James, plus Paul in Galatians 5:11 admits that he wouldn’t have suffered as much had he insisted on circumcising the Gentiles, and Das states that the “conflicts of Galatians 2 and Acts 15 revealed a preference by many Jerusalem Jews for Gentile circumcision in order to join the church (cf. Acts 16:3, 21)” (page 135).  For Das, these items are evidence that “relations between the Jerusalem church and the Jewish community may not have been that tense.” 

But Das ultimately rejects this argument.  He states on page 135 that “The NT documents do suggest a pattern of at least occasional persecution of the early Christians at the hands of non-Christian Jews not only in Judea (e.g., Acts 6-9 [esp. 8:1]; 22:4; 26:9-11) but also elsewhere (e.g., Thessalonica in Acts 17:5)”, and that Paul himself refers to Jewish persecution of Christians in II Corinthians 11:24 (where he speaks about his own suffering) and Galatians 1:13 (where he says that he persecuted the Christian church before he believed in Christ).  Das says on page 137 that “the Judean persecutions described by Luke in Acts must have been intense but only sporadic and perhaps limited to the early years of the church prior to the death of Herod Agrippa in 44 C.E.”, for Acts 9:31 presents the Christians in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoying peace after the turbulence of Acts 6-9.  Das’ argument is that Paul in I Thessalonians 2:13-16 is referring back to these past events.  But Das also offers another argument: that Paul is using hyperbole in I Thessalonians 2:13-16, as Jewish writers did when characterizing their opponents “within eschatological contexts.”  Das notes the apocalyptic elements of I Thessalonians—-the “us” vs. “them” mindset, Paul’s discussion of the opposition he experienced to his work, etc.—-and concludes that I Thessalonians 2:13-16 fits well within I Thessalonians. 

Davies’ arguments are not as thorough as those of Das, but they cover some of the same ground.  Davies argues against the claim that I Thessalonians 2:13-16 is late because the passage is severe in its criticism of the Jews.  Davies contends that “Jews have often been their own most severe critics” (page 125).  But Davies does not believe that Paul was being anti-Jewish, but rather that Paul was specifically criticizing the Jews who were hindering his own work, plus Davies states that Paul was not closing the door of hope to Israel after the flesh.  A feature of the case of both Das and Davies is that Paul was engaging in an inter-Jewish dispute, not criticizing the Jews as an outsider.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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