1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Structure

Dave Black commented on the structure of this passage, and I’ve been trying to work with it a bit. I do a loose form of phrasing when I study, in which I break pieces of the passage in some detail at times and leave others less chopped, so to speak.

This morning, my Sunday School class, always small, was canceled due to absences, so I spent some time chopping! Here’s an image of what I did. This is a large image. If you want to actually read it, you can click on it, but if you have your Greek NT nearby, you should be able to see just the shape.

1 Thessalonians 1-1-10 Greek


Now I don’t know if this was of any value to you, because it’s just my way of thinking about the structure. You may find it hard to follow. I know there are some phrasing systems that are different.

Nonetheless, it helped me, though I don’t think it finally answered the questions I had. You might want to read Dave’s post (which I copied to so we’d have a good link!) before this discussion.

There seemed to be two major questions, first whether 1:2-10 should be divided into two paragraphs (2-5, 6-10) or seen as one, and second whether one could imagine a division of the text that used 1:1-3 as a division.

As to the second question, I could not see when I first read this how it could be divided in that way. First, there is a clear division, in my view, between 1:1 and 1:2, and second, there is no division that I can see between 1:3 and 1:4. I think eidotes is likely parallel with poioumenoi in modifying eucharistoumen. (Pardon some loose transliteration.)

As to the first, this results from the e-mail that was sent to Dave, challenging the division between 5 & 6. The most logical reading seems to me to relate verse 6 right back to the thanksgiving of verse one. My blue line on my image above would should the structure if 6-10 is a different paragraph. My red line subordinates it to eidotes in verse 4. I was having a hard time seeing that logic until I had broken this down and bit and read it several times. It could be, but I would lean to making 2-10 a single paragraph and tying verse 6 back to verse 2. Lean, not fall head over heels into.

I rarely post this sort of stuff. I’m not really an expert, and the epistles are not my normal stomping ground, but one must venture off of comfortable territory at some time or another!

I do want to call attention to Dave’s article and his post because I think it is unfortunate that so many of the epistles are chopped into pieces in the way they are used in the church. We have our proof texts and our favorite passages, but we don’t read them as a whole. They’re short. You can afford to sit down and read the whole thing. I can afford to sit down and read all of 1 Thessalonians in Greek. It’s fun, and it’s profitable.

On something this short, I recommend starting a study by reading it 12 times, preferably in different sources. It’s a good time to polish up your Latin or French, or if you’re not into languages, just use a number of English translations. People tell me they’ll get bored reading the same thing 12 times. I haven’t found it to be so. I recall being challenged to try this on the Sermon on the Mount. I promised to stop when I found nothing new. I read it over 30x, and stopped just because I needed to study other scriptures. How can it be boring?

But even more, we neglect so much of the Pauline material in the Bible. Galatians and Romans are the big things, but I think you won’t understand Paul unless you read other epistles. I think 2 Corinthians is another one that is neglected, and by neglecting it, we miss some of who the apostle Paul was and how he led churches.

Those are my thoughts instead of teaching Sunday School!

What do you think?


Conviction with Teachability

This is just a short note—I hope!—as I have an extremely heavy day and really shouldn’t be stopping to write.

I’ve been thinking of different ways to state my goal both in my own writing and teaching and in publishing, and I played with “conviction and …”. What about “conviction without arrogance”? Perhaps “conviction with gentleness”? I think both of those say something of my goals.

But I think “conviction with teachability” may come closest. In my post two days ago, My Own Custom Bible, I said that we need to try to overcome the various elements that make us customize our Bible, but we should also be aware that we won’t be fully successful. I resemble that remark! I’d like to say that “conviction with teachability” is a good description for me, but I know that I can get stubborn on things I should change. Like most of us at one time or another I’ve been “saming when I should have been a-changing” (apologies Nancy Sinatra).

But the realization of our own weaknesses can also lead to a lack of conviction and to inaction, because we cannot make a firm decision as to what we should do. This is not a weakness of just one particular branch of Christianity (or society, for that matter). I think it’s hard to truly combine these two aspects fully.

“Teachability” is often seen as lack of conviction. Firm convictions result in one being seen as unteachable. And that even beyond the failings we will doubtless have.

If I might illustrate from a question on which many of my friends disagree—evolution—I’d point out that I’ve been involved in studying the topic since I was around 10 or 11 years old. I started as a young earth creationist and am now a theistic evolutionist (though I don’t like the term). I recall someone asking me to read a web page of moderate length which he felt would immediately convert me back to the young earth creationist position. When I instead pointed out that there was nothing in the article that was any different from the material I read before I was a teenager, he accused me of being arrogant and unteachable. You see, those arguments were so forceful to him, that he couldn’t see how I could be unconvinced.

On the same topic, there are hundreds of articles that come out every year, and normally at least a dozen or so books on this subject, just considering the ones I wish I had time to read. So one has to present a good reason to take the time on a particular book or article. Quite frequently, simply the fact that we’re having a conversation and a participant would like me to try, will lead me to read a particular book.

My point here is that being teachable means willingness to examine evidence, but at the same time, when one has spent many years studying a particular topic and coming to their current convictions on it, failure to turn on a dime doesn’t mean they are unteachable. (For you grammar cops out there, that’s an example of the singular ‘they,’ an acceptable form of English usage. Acceptable by whom? By me!)

At the same time, I have to watch carefully to make sure that the fact that I have certain convictions doesn’t mean that I’ll never read something from other perspectives.

I think you can see that combining conviction (at least strong enough to lead to action) and teachability is not always going to be easy. But it’s something I strive for.

My Own Custom Bible

I have in my inbox an e-mail sent on behalf of the American Bible Society. The subject line reads: “Create your own Custom Bible from American Bible Society.”

I suspect some folks are thinking I’m going to draw the obvious lesson that we shouldn’t have our own custom Bible. After all, the correct Sunday School answer, whenever it’s not Jesus, is “everything it says in the Bible.” Others are probably thinking that if I do so I’ll be horribly unfair, as indeed I would. What the American Bible Society (an organization I strongly support) is doing is offering the option for organizations to get Bible bindings for particular situations. This is simply an application of modern printing technology. In many churches you’ll find Bibles with dedication labels. Some evangelism efforts have Bibles with contact information added. Modern technology lets you build all of that into the printing. I don’t have a problem with such editions.

But the line still intrigued me, not because I think it’s so wrong, but because I think that taken out of context, it describes what pretty much all of us do with the Bible. We have our own custom Bible. Not only am I not writing to criticize us for that; I’m actually going to suggest it’s impossible for us not to have our own custom Bible. Why? Because we are such very custom individuals. Often we don’t even realize what we are bring into the text.

I remember once discussing the issue of oaths with a someone who believed that Matthew 5:33-37 meant that one could not swear to tell the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” in court, whether or not one added “so help me God.” Now my issue is not with his view of that text. He could be right. Rather, the issue is with the basis of that interpretation. He stated to me that his view was that we should take a scripture passage to mean what an average American high school graduate would understand from it. Thus, “don’t swear” would, he told me, mean “don’t swear” to this average American high school graduate. I then pointed to Matthew 5:29-30, which says we should pluck out our eye or cut of our hand if it offends. He immediately told me that this meant that one should be prepared to give up everything, even our lives, through martyrdom. I, being the mean, obtuse, and twisted person I am, asked him immediately if that was how the average American high school graduate would read it.

He had a tradition that suggested how he should read these various texts. His tradition customized his Bible. In fact, tradition commonly customizes our reading of the Bible, and we rarely can escape that completely. We can be so certain that a text means a certain thing, that we don’t even consider alternative readings. I’m often annoyed by the extent to which modern commentaries cite every which possible reading and understanding of a passage before coming to any conclusion. It results in commentaries of 500+ pages on five page books. But there’s a good reason why scholars are taught to look at other commentaries: It forces them to think about approaches to the text that are different from their own.

Tradition isn’t the only way we filter the text. When I first saw the e-mail subject line I though immediately of our favorite verse, chapter, book, and so forth. I remember one class I was teaching. After a couple of weeks they would laugh whenever I used the words “one of my favorite,” simply because I had designated so many passages as “favorite.” But that doesn’t exempt me from having a custom Bible. I still have passages I read more than others. I tend to avoid some of the favorites. I know more about Hebrews than Galatians or Romans, for example. I know more about Leviticus than Isaiah or Jeremiah. This is because of my personality, which tends to avoid well-trodden paths.

Should we try to make our Bibles less custom? I think it’s a good idea to do so, but only so long as we remember that we won’t get there completely. When we forget the things that influence our own interpretation we tend to get arrogant.

Commercial note:

My company, Energion Publications, will be releasing a book early next year. I’ve already had a chance to read the manuscript, and will be announcing it as forthcoming within the next couple of days. In the meantime, look at this cover and especially the subtitle:

9781631990991I believe I shall enjoy marketing this book!

A Note on My View of Egalitarianism

Speaking of equality, I want to write a brief note on egalitarianism as I see it. As with all labels, the boundaries are often a problem. Back in early science classes, I learned to distinguish vegetable, animal, and mineral. At certain levels, those distinctions become pretty muddy. It’s not just in social science.

What I mean by egalitarianism is that all activities and offices should be available to men and women based on their gifts, not on their gender. If a woman has pastoral gifts, she should pastor. I’m actually less concerned with the office of pastor than with the exercise of the gifts of a pastor, but since I believe that offices should follow gifts, the two would generally go together. I do not mean that there must be an equal number of men and women in pastoral roles. I do not comment on how many women or men might be gifted for those roles. I don’t know. I suspect that there may be more women gifted for those roles in the church at the moment. I also believe that authority follows gifts in the same way as an office does; the greatest behaves as a servant.

I’m not going to try to define complementarianism here, though I previously objected to a definition of complementarian which was alleged to include my own position. This is because I don’t believe that men and women are the same. They are not. I simply believe that either a man or a woman may have any set of gifts, and if they do, they should make use of those gifts as God’s servants. I’m stating this in church terms, but I hold the same view in society in general. The issue for me is not how many of what hold what position or job; rather, the issue is whether a person who has certain gifts can fully exercise those gifts.

Now specifically in the church I think there should be less difference between the practice of the complementarian and egalitarian positions than there is, assuming we both take the same view of authority that Jesus did. “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11 NRSV). In the church, this issue should not be one of seeking power. I think God, through Jesus Christ, has set the goal, which is leading with grace. That means that Christian leadership, no matter who exercises it, should be based in service. Those who follow leaders in the church should be doing so because they respond to that grace, demonstrated in being the servant of all. To whatever extent the battle over gender equality in the church is a struggle for supremacy, rather than for servanthood, it’s on the wrong track.

I don’t mean by this that those who are suppressed or oppressed in churches by leaders who seek power should just roll over. What they should do is either follow servant leaders or become servant leaders themselves. Move on to where you can do that! Let those who seek power exercise it over empty buildings if they must. Let’s live as servants in the world and be a servant church.

Is Marriage a Partnership of Equals

Those who know me, will know my answer. I’m egalitarian. My wife and I do two “yesses” and one “no” and either of us can provide the “no.”

Bob Cornwall is working on a study guide on marriage and blogging as he goes. Today he begins to address this topic. I think one of the most interesting questions will be the way in which we read and apply scripture.

Please take discussion to his blog.

Dance Floor Worship

I have been working on cleaning up some of my old web site articles and reposting them were appropriate. I found one I forgot I’d written, titled Dance Floor Worship. I said regarding a moment looking out over the Gulf of Mexico:

I can call this a secular moment, and wonder when I will be in church so that I can experience the presence of God. But God is not nearly so bound as I am. God doesn’t need me to wait.

I’d like to remember this idea of seeing the sacredness in every moment, rather than waiting for the special, sacred ones. I need to do it more often!

When Theology Overrides Story

Jody and I were reading the Lectionary passages for next Sunday this afternoon, and I was reminded about how our theology can keep us from reading Bible stories. I think it’s also easy to let our theology trump the theology of a Bible writer, but stories don’t have a one-to-one relationship to theology in the first place.

The story in this case comes from Exodus 32:1-14, in which Moses is on the mountain talking to God and the Israelites decide he won’t becoming back. (The story is repeated in the reading from Psalm 106.) So they make and worship the golden calf. God becomes angry with Israel, but Moses steps in and persuades him not to destroy the Israelites, even though the alternative is that God will make a great nation of his descendants instead.

There are two points here that bother different people. Is this picture of God true and/or helpful? Do we serve a God who becomes angry at people and determines to wipe them out? There are, of course, many other stories that raise the same questions as well. On the other hand we are presented with a God who can be persuaded to change his mind. Moses calms God down, so to speak.

If you’re of some sort of Calvinist persuasion, you’ll likely be OK with the angry God who wants to destroy the Israelites. God’s anger against sin is a key part of that theology. But what about God changing his mind? It’s very likely that this will be dismissed as somewhat of a ploy, perhaps a test of Moses. Will he stand for the people he leads? And of course God knows the results of that test. But actually calming God down or making God actually change his mind is inadmissible.

On the other hand, if you’re like me, and tend to favor something along the line of openness theology, the latter point is easy to accept. God repents regularly in scripture. So this experience tends to mesh with my own theology that has God interacting with human beings in deciding their destiny.

Yet many people who share that theology are very uncomfortable with God becoming angry with his people. So in this case one accepts the changeability of God, but not the anger. The anger is dismissed as coming from an excessively primitive view of God.

I would suggest that in both cases theology prevents an authentic reading of the story. We need to let the story speak first. There is a sense of tension here. God has brought his people out of Egypt, only to have them credit that to an entity they themselves have created. God is, in the terms of the story, rightfully angry. There is the real risk, from the storyteller’s point of view, of the people being destroyed. In fact, it might well be quite reasonable for God to do that.

There is also a real test of the character of Moses. If our theology didn’t interfere, we’d feel the tension better as Moses has a choice to make. Will he be the leader who identifies with, and serves the best interests of those he leads? If he does so, will God change his mind?

How we work the story into our theology is another matter, but must come later. Let the story speak first.


Technology and Privacy (TED talk video)

I think this is worth watching …

In Which I Am Completely Unhelpful about UMC General Conference

Allan Bevere has carried on a discussion about the 2016 UMC General Conference, in which he is partially responding to another Energion author, Joel Watts.

I have to agree with Allan that closing the floor is unlikely to help. I’m not sure anything will. I see individual United Methodist churches accomplishing things for the gospel. I don’t see the denomination doing so.

One of the favored activities of Christian bloggers is to advocate one form of church organization over another, but that’s not the real question. Methodist can talk about how churches without an episcopal structure have less accountability. Churches that choose their pastors locally can talk about the constraints of a heavy bureaucracy. But the real question is whether whatever structure we’ve created will have Jesus at the top. I’m completely unconvinced that any structure whatsoever will make that certain. Reorganizing won’t help.

I think listening to the Holy Spirit is what will really help, but even I don’t hear the same things from the Holy Spirit that all my friends do, so some holy conferencing needs to take place until we get to Acts 15:28, where the same thing “seems to the Holy Spirit and to us” before we have any solutions. And I don’t mean uniformity. I mean fellowship in a diversity that is still part of God’s kingdom.

But before that happens we’ll all have to be much more broken and humble, definitely myself included, than we are right now.

Divorce and (Re)marriage Discussion

Just in case I haven’t stirred things up enough lately, I’ve invited a discussion on divorce and marriage over on the Energion Discussion Network. Go participate and enjoy!