In antiquity crucifixion was a popular way of punishing enemies of the state and criminals; even Judean officials (Alexander Janneus) crucified fellow Judeans (Josephus Antiquities13, 380-83; Jewish Wars 1, 97-98). There was a religious reason for crucifixion in Israelite texts: executed idolaters and blasphemers were hanged on a tree to show they were accursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). So it seems odd that the crucifixion of Jesus and the cross became central elements of Pauline Theology:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (1 Cor 1:17; see in particular 1:17-22).
For I have decided to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2).
But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal 6:14).
Nevertheless only three of his seven letters specifically mention the cross (1 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians); four do not (2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon). On the other hand, four of his seven letters mention crucifixion, and three do not (1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon). And of those that mention crucifixion, Romans mentions it only once (Romans 6:6).
The two letters that mention neither the cross nor crucifixion are 1 Thessalonians and Philemon. The absence of these two motifs from Philemon is understandable. Philemon is a familiar letter of recommendation, a well-known literary form in the Greek world, in which Paul is trying to secure personal consideration for a runaway slave from the owner. It is a delicate situation and his language is accordingly sensitive to and appropriate for the situation.
But 1 Thessalonians is another matter. By general agreement 1 Thessalonians is the earliest (ca. 50 or 51) of Paul's letters, and the earliest writing in the New Testament. In a number of ways this letter reflects a Paul at the beginning of an apostolic career not yet aware of his characteristic apostolic message. For example, one does not find in 1 Thessalonians Paul's emphasis on justification by faith, or the role of the law in Christian faith (but compare 4:1-8), or reliance on Scripture in argumentation. There are no quotes here from Hebrew Bible. His idea that the Judeans are "enemies of the whole human race" (1 Thess 2:15) is scarcely typical of Paul in the later letters (compare Romans 11-13). And his idea that God's wrath has come upon the Judeans "at last" (1 Thess 2:16) is contradicted later by Romans 11:25-26 where "all Israel will be saved."
But most significant is an absence of Paul's cross gospel and the theological significance of the crucifixion of Christ, which seems to suggest that he has not yet made the cross gospel central to his theology. For example, in 1 Thessalonians Jesus is not crucified but "killed" and Paul blames the Judeans for his death (1 Thess 2:14-16), while Mark blames the Romans (Mark 15; cf. Matt 27:25 where the Judeans accept responsibility for his death). In 1 Thessalonians Paul proclaims the gospel of God (2:9; cf. Mark 1:14) or the gospel of Christ (3:2); the content of his gospel in 1 Thessalonians seems to be: that Jesus died for us (5:9-10), that God raised him from the dead (1:10), and that he is coming again in Paul's own lifetime (4:13-18).
There is no developed thinking in 1 Thessalonians about the cross or the crucifixion and its role in the Christian experience, such as we find in Paul's later writings (e.g. 1 Cor 1:18; Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20, 5:24, 6:14). In 1 Thessalonians Paul had not yet developed the concept that believers (1:7; 2:1, 13), or "brothers" (as he usually referred to them) in the community gatherings (e.g. 1:4; 3:1, 7) were saints (i.e. "holy ones"). In 1 Thessalonians the term saint is reserved for those coming with Jesus at his appearing (parousia, 3:13, or perhaps it refers to holy angels, Zechariah 14:5 LXX). The word "saint" is a usual locution for those in Paul's community gatherings in the later letters (Rom 15:25-26; 1 Cor 14:33; 2 Cor 1:1, 13:13; Phil 1:1, 4:21-22). The reason for the difference is perhaps because Paul had not yet discovered (1 Thess 4:3) that the Holy Spirit had sanctified (i.e. "made holy") those in Christ (Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 1:2, 6:11).
If these observations are correct, 1 Thessalonians gives us a remarkable window into the mind of a not quite ready for prime time apostle before he developed his characteristic theological thinking that shaped Christianity for 2000 years. Apparently Paul matured in his thinking, as all of us do. His theology of justification by faith based on the crucifixion of Jesus did not come to him in a blinding flash of divine inspiration, but it was a case of human creative thinking that needed to be developed over time.
And where does that leave us who use a text as "inspired Scripture" that Paul likely would no longer regard as reflecting his best thinking? First Thessalonians is clearly deficient in the sense that it does not reflect Paul's mature thought. If so, should we also regard 1 Timothy as ethically deficient because of its misogyny (1 Tim 2:8-15)?
Charles W. Hedrick
O'Collins, "Crucifixion" Anchor Bible Dictionary 1:1207-10.
As always, Charlie, thanks for this fine analysis. Best, Mike
It certainly begs the question- did Paul know he was writing the very words of God when he wrote them? In other words, was he aware that his written words would be taken as holy scripture? Was God's Word "evolving" as it came to him through inspiration? Does "God's Word" evolve over time?
Lastly- what is the difference between "scripture" and "the Word of God?"
Very interesting as usual- thank you, Elizabeth Holmes
Thank you for providing another very educational NT data base for our consideration!
You have listed quite a few reasons why 1 Thessalonians does not represent Paul's mature thought, and that is consistent with being the earliest writing of his authentic letters.
My question: Why don't these differences with the rest of Paul's writings constitute the work of a different author altogether. One resource along these lines, for example, is the following article:
Theology and Literary Criticism in 1 Thessalonians by Christoph Demke.
"A precise determination of the parts of the authentic Pauline writing must begin with 2:17-3:2a, 5b-11; 4:9, 10a, 13-17; 5:1-22."
I think I found a quite small item of support for another author. A number of months ago, by coincidence, I did a word study of oida (know, see) in the Pauline letters. Two phrases are found only in Thessalonians, and all of the verses except one are in the non-authentic material identified by Demke:
[a] "For you yourselves know" (autoi gar iodate); 1 Thess 2:1, 3:3, 5:2; II Thess 3:7.
[b] "as you know" (kathos iodate); 1:5, 2:2, 2:5, 2:11, 3:4.
Thanks again for the mental stimulation. To answer your last question about the ethical deficiency of 1st Tim. Yes, it is" deficient," and so are many other NT passages. How about Rom 13:1-7? A lot of passages are
inadequate simply because they are directly under the influence of immanent-2nd coming-thinking.
I meant to ask if Paul "believed" (not "knew") he was literally writing "God's Word." If his thoughts were not fully mature and contained ethical deficiency- then why do most denominations continue to tell their congregations that the Bible is infallible and inerrant? I suppose they have explanations for those deficiencies.
St. Louis, MO
I cannot help much with your question. I cannot read minds. Even when people tell me what they are thinking I only know what they told me they were thinking, and not what they were actually thinking at the time they told me. And how can I know what Paul, a character we know only from manuscripts through translators, was thinking about what he wrote when he wrote it?
But here are a few interesting statements he made. From these comments what would you guess he might have thought about what he wrote: 1 Cor 7:10, 12, 25, 39-40.
The challenge to the authorship of 1 Thessalonians goes back to a previous era of critical scholarship and it still has its champions in the modern period. I can only say that for good or ill 1 Thessalonians continues to be affirmed by the majority of critical scholars. On the other hand, 2 Thessalonians, generally affirmed as Pauline by conservative scholars, is regularly rejected as a Pauline text. See the entry Thessalonians in the Anchor Bible Dictionary 6.519.
Also, Elizabeth, in addition to Charlie's suggestion, you might want to look at Galatians 1:9-17 where Paul says that his gospel was a direct revelation from God, suggesting that what he writes about that gospel he believes to be God's "literal" Word.
"...I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed. Am I now seeking human approval or God's approval...If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ...the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin...but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ...But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me...I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me..."
Well, it does appear that Paul was speaking from his own authority and made the point that it was him speaking and not the Lord. Also in v. 40 proclaimed he had the "Spirit of God," which further enhances his self-given authority to command men and women with regard to marriage issues.
Perhaps he framed his letters as being on behalf of God- not the words of God. The culture at that time centered upon "rulers" and "the ruled." Paul wrote from the perspective of a ruler- Jesus seemed to frame his teachings from the perspective " the ruled."
My guess is that Paul and Jesus were very very different and from the way he wrote- my guess is that Paul believed he was speaking on behalf of God.
Thank you for those passages! Elizabeth
Thank you Gene, for reminding me about Paul's "revelation of Jesus Christ." I will re-read that passage as well. Since many other apostles and teachers and so-called gnostics claimed to have received direct revelation from God- Paul had already established himself as a zealot, and as most zealots do- he was perhaps more convincing and adept at establishing and expanding his message in "irrefutable terms." Perhaps he went back and forth between "direct revelation from God" and "him speaking, not necessarily the Lord speaking." I guess it depended upon the subject at hand.
My husband is a former student of Dr. Hedrick, and I was amused to learn that when he took religious studies classes he did not take any on Pauline epistles. I asked him why not? And he replied, "Because Paul talked about himself too much... He constantly used the word 'I.' " So my husband focused more on the gospels... But I'm glad he pointed that out to me, I had never noticed it before.
Thank you again Gene and Charlie! Elizabeth
Good Morning Gene,
You are quite right to add this passage to my group for consideration. I have always had problems, however, with the idea that Paul got his gospel directly from the Lord by personal revelation. He makes the claim (1:9-17) as an over reaction against people who disagreed with him (Gal 1:6-9). And in spite of his claims to the contrary he had other sources of information. Peter and the Lord's brother (Gal 1:18); James and John (Gal 2:9). He even learned a few of the basics in a Hellenistic Christian community (Rom 1:3-4: Jesus only became the son of God at his resurrection) and clearly knew an oral tradition of the sayings of Jesus.
And finally I must disagree that what Paul writes in Gal 1:9-17 "suggests" that his gospel is God's literal word. I think such a conclusion is your inference.
With regard to Paul's claim to have gotten his gospel by personal revelation from the Lord, I must say the following: always be wary of anyone who claims to know TRUTH (of any variety) with absolute clarity, or purports to tell you God's will for your life with absolute certainty. If you listen to them they will wind up controlling your life.
That is indeed true Charlie... I wish I had learned it at an earlier age than 44, but better late than never, as they say.
Best wishes, Elizabeth
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