Dave Black writes on this passage today on his blog, as he prepares to teach it. I have extracted the post and put it on the Jesus Paradigm site (supporting Dave’s book The Jesus Paradigm), in order to have a permanent link.
Dave argues based on the way one should analyze the phrases and then punctuate. It’s well worth reading.
I would add that Paul is here commending the Thessalonians for behaving as the churches in Judea did, which is also a commendation for those believers who were doubtless all or nearly all Jews themselves. The logic here indicates that Paul is condemning those who killed Jesus specifically, rather than all Jews, as he commends a large group in the same passage.
Dave talks about vituperation. I think Paul was passionate and his language is often vigorous. It’s easy for hate to take over and reinterpret and apply words.
Just try to talk about “moderate Muslims” in today’s atmosphere. You’ll doubtless encounter those who don’t want to make the distinction between those who engage in terrorism, those who support it, those who are apathetic toward it, and those who actively oppose it.
Yet if we turn the situation around, we’re quite willing to make such distinctions or gradations regarding those in our own community.
This is how stereotypes are created, and hate against a group generated. An accusation, however just, is brought against one member of a group, and then someone focuses on that group, rather than on the person involved. Soon perfectly innocent people are subjected to hatred. This happens whether it’s a matter of a racial group, a religious group, or a profession. One police officer is caught in corruption and someone concludes that “the police are corrupt.”
On the other hand, some excuse members of a group because of prejudice (perceived or real) against the whole.
I think Paul makes his distinction here. Those who persecuted were, quite rightly, condemned. (That goes for Christians who have persecuted others through the centuries as well.) We need to make a similar distinction at all times between those to be commended and those evildoers we must deal with.
I’m reminded of my own reaction to the Duke Lacrosse Case. (Yes, that’s an entry on Wikipedia.)
When I first heard of it, I assumed that the accused were guilty. Why? They seemed to me to be privileged rich kids and I thought they were exercising their privilege and entitlement. Turned out I was wrong.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:15, my emphasis)
Don’t do that, Henry!