1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

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robert j
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1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 --- Interpolation or Not?

Post by robert j » Fri Jan 11, 2019 11:44 am

Until about a year ago, I accepted that 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 was most likely an interpolation, without much question. But as I sometimes do, I decided to challenge my assumptions and tried to make a case for this passage having been written by Paul.

I was surprised by the result of my efforts. Could it be an interpolation? Sure. But I’m no longer prone to so readily dismiss the passage as an interpolation.

This post is a slightly revised version of my previous effort and draft from a year ago.

The entire passage in question (followed by thoughts on specific portions) ---

For you became imitators, brothers, of the churches of God in Judea being in Christ Jesus. For the same as them, you also suffered from your own countrymen as they also did from the Jews, who having killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and having driven us out, and not pleasing God, are also set against all men, hindering us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, so as always to fill up their sins. Now the wrath has come upon them to the utmost. (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)

… the Jews, who having killed … the Lord Jesus

For those accepting some version of the NT Gospel stories, not much problem here. However, I think a different solution better fits this claim.

Nowhere else did Paul write that the Jews had killed Jesus in such an explicit manner. However, I think that concept is inherent in Paul’s system constructed from the Jewish scriptures.

Paul presented his Jesus Christ as having “died for our sins according to the scriptures”. I think Paul’s Christ was “hung on wood” (Galatians 3:13) --- as derived from Deuteronomy 21:23 and 27:26 --- as a redemptive act in a Jewish tradition to set aside the Jewish law.

And Paul’s Jesus Christ was delivered-over unto death for our sins as derived from Isaiah 53 (especially verses 4-8), and then resurrected (Isaiah 53:10-12). I have elaborated on these concepts in relation to Paul in greater detail in numerous posts on this forum.

In Paul, it was ancient Jews that killed his Jesus Christ within the realm of his source material --- the Jewish scriptures.

… the Jews, who having killed … their own prophets

I don’t see a problem with this, and there is an explicit claim in Romans 11:3 which was derived from passages in the Jewish scriptures.

… the Jews … Now the wrath (ὀργὴ) has come upon them to the utmost

This is seen by many (if not most) critical investigators as a reference to the Roman-Jewish war, and added to the text after the war in the form of an interpolation --- along with all or part of the preceding portion of the passage. That’s a reasonable interpretation, after all, in Paul’s system the wrath to come was a future event that would accompany the parousia of Jesus. Paul’s Gentile believers would be spared the ordeal ---

… Jesus, the (one) delivering us from the coming wrath (ὀργῆς). (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

But for the Jews, the wrath is also presented elsewhere as a current burden ---

For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith has been made void and the promise made of no effect, for the law brings wrath (ὀργὴν), and where there is no law, there is no transgression. (Romans 4:14-15)

Paul was certainly capable of extreme rants such as wishing his opponents in Galatia would castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12). So in an angry rant for the sake of the Thessalonians, for Paul to write that, “the wrath (ὀργὴ) has come upon them (Jews) to the utmost” is a bit extreme, but still within Pauline thought. And Paul reassured the congregation of their own future ---

... because God has not destined us for wrath (ὀργὴν), but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:9)

… you also suffered from your own countrymen (συμφυλετῶν) as they also did from the Jews

The Thessalonians were badly hassled ----

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation … (1 Thessalonians 1:6)

Those hassling his converts in Thessalonica are identified in the passage in question as their own countrymen (συμφυλετῶν). They were locals. But were they Gentiles, or fully-converted Macedonian proselytes to Judaism, or local ethnic-Judeans?

For the passage in question to work for me as original to the letter, I think the opposition in Thessalonica needs to be those defending Jewish practices.

Paul identified his Thessalonian followers as former idol worshipers ---

… how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9)

I suspect that much of the local opposition that Paul’s followers faced came from Jews, including fully-converted proselytes to Judaism of non-Judean ethnicity. For Paul’s Thessalonian followers to be attracted to his system that offered full participation with the great and ancient God of Israel, they were likely already attracted to that ancient culture before Paul came along.

In Paul’s day, Gentiles in the Diaspora were encouraged to participate in many synagogue activities, and many Gentiles throughout the Greco-Roman world fully-converted to Judaism. 1/

And it was not at all uncommon for Gentiles participating --- to the extent permitted for the uncircumcised --- in local Jewish synagogues, while continuing to practice their own “pagan” rituals in other settings. 2/

While Paul filled their heads with his claim that they could be full-participants with the God of the Jews without being circumcised, I think local Jewish friends and neighbors and local Macedonian converts to Judaism that had endured the knife would have strenuously objected. After all, circumcision was the sign of the everlasting covenant between God and his people.

It seems Paul’s Thessalonians were not contemplating going full-monty like some among the Galatians. And with the most widely-accepted order for Paul’s letters (that I agree with in this specific case), 1 Thessalonians was written before Galatians. Paul had not yet heard about the problem among the Galatians, and apparently didn’t think the Thessalonians were attracted to the drastic action of full conversion.

But the Thessalonians may have clung to their claims of full participation, and it certainly may have been local Jews or fully-converted Macedonian proselytes that were hassling them.

Further thoughts ...

The kind of rebuke seen in this passage in question is just what one might expect from one giving some cold-comfort and encouragement to those experiencing outside opposition.

‘You’re not alone’
‘They’re just dirty rotten scoundrels’
‘They even drove us away, and are trying to prevent us from saving Gentiles’
‘They’ll get their comeuppance, and already have’

I think a vehement rant from Paul as a way to bolster the put-upon Thessalonians is certainly within the realm of possible solutions. If the passage was written by Paul, the message was some encouragement for a small group of hassled followers --- not something to be read from the pulpit in pre-war Germany to a congregation of Nazi sympathizers.

Did Paul write the passage? I think it’s possible.

robert j


1/ The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians, Georgi Dieter, 1986, see the second chapter titled, “Missionary Activity in New Testament Times".

2/ See the last several lines in this article in the Jewish Encyclopedia for the situation in Asia Minor ---
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/asia-minor
Other evidence might be seen in the work of Goodenough, and perhaps even in the mystical, Hellenized Philo.
Last edited by robert j on Sat Jan 12, 2019 3:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Giuseppe
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Re: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

Post by Giuseppe » Fri Jan 11, 2019 12:24 pm

What I find surprising and supporting interpolation, is just the contradiction of the passage with the first assumption behind who would like the authenticity of the passage: the Jewishness of the author.

I don't refer to the paradox of a Jew who hates the Jews. It is not a paradox (only, read the OT).

I refer to the paradox of a Jew who is waiting avidly the divine anger on the Jews, and on the Jews alone.

Could the Pagans - not still converted - be more innocent in the eyes of a Paul "The Jew", than the same (even if deicide) Jews? And be more innocent insofar the anger wasn't going to fall on them, but on "the Jews"?

Here is the difference between this Paul (of 1 Thess 2:14-16) and the prophet X of OT: the prophet X of OT wants the punition of Israel but in order to punish even more the Pagans (after the predicted correction of Israel). Paul of 1 Thess 2:14-16 wants the punition of Israel and of Israel alone: no major punition of the Pagans is in view.

And this is strange.
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

robert j
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Re: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 --- Interpolation or Not?

Post by robert j » Mon Jan 14, 2019 11:18 am

robert j wrote:
Fri Jan 11, 2019 11:44 am
Until about a year ago, I accepted that 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 was most likely an interpolation, without much question ... But I’m no longer prone to so readily dismiss the passage as an interpolation.

The entire passage in question (followed by thoughts on specific portions) ---

For you became imitators, brothers, of the churches of God in Judea being in Christ Jesus. For the same as them, you also suffered from your own countrymen as they also did from the Jews, who having killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and having driven us out, and not pleasing God, are also set against all men, hindering us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, so as always to fill up their sins. Now the wrath has come upon them to the utmost. (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)

...

The kind of rebuke seen in this passage in question is just what one might expect from one giving some cold-comfort and encouragement to those experiencing outside opposition.

‘You’re not alone’
‘They’re just dirty rotten scoundrels’
‘They even drove us away, and are trying to prevent us from saving Gentiles’
‘They’ll get their comeuppance, and already have’

I think a vehement rant from Paul as a way to bolster the put-upon Thessalonians is certainly within the realm of possible solutions. If the passage was written by Paul, the message was some encouragement for a small group of hassled followers --- not something to be read from the pulpit in pre-war Germany to a congregation of Nazi sympathizers.

Did Paul write the passage? I think it’s possible.
Paul was not immune to angry rants against the Jews ---

Watch out for the dogs, watch out for the evil workers, watch out for the mutilators. For we are the circumcision, those worshiping in the Spirit of God, and glorying in Christ Jesus, and not trusting in the flesh … (Philippians 3:2-3)

I think two additional phrases from the passage in question in 1 Thessalonians --- in addition to those discussed in my post above --- could benefit from further discussion. I plan to continue with that as time allows.

perseusomega9
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Re: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

Post by perseusomega9 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 1:31 pm

What if we just date 1 Thess to post Jewish War, now no need for interpolation

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Ben C. Smith
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Re: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

Post by Ben C. Smith » Mon Jan 14, 2019 2:22 pm

perseusomega9 wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 1:31 pm
What if we just date 1 Thess to post Jewish War, now no need for interpolation
Given that 2 Thessalonians is generally thought to be based upon 1 Thessalonians, I myself would like to see 2 Thessalonians 2.1-4 explained to my satisfaction as dating to after the War.
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Re: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

Post by perseusomega9 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 2:27 pm

That's a good question you posed, now I feel compelled to read that 8 page thread.

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Re: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

Post by perseusomega9 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 6:46 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 2:22 pm
perseusomega9 wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 1:31 pm
What if we just date 1 Thess to post Jewish War, now no need for interpolation
Given that 2 Thessalonians is generally thought to be based upon 1 Thessalonians, I myself would like to see 2 Thessalonians 2.1-4 explained to my satisfaction as dating to after the War.
So a coincidental observation, I was just listening to Robert Price's latest Bible Geek podcast and the dating of Thessalonians was brought up by a listener, and he mentioned the old Dutch radical observation (cant remember Baur/Bauer/von Mannen) that the give away is the explicit instruction to read it in the assembly, IOW, not his or the radicals interpretation as he set forth but my inference, is that Paul was already being read as scripture so this is a later attempt at co-opting Paul who'd originally be writing to his partisans knowing they would be advocating his position without being told to do so explicitly.

Edit to add: his podcasts are a lot of fun for inspiration on scholars to read, I know I have a library of close to a 100 books just on his recommendation. Yeah we all know he writes on mythicism but even he doesnt take it as seriously as his opponents think he does.

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Re: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

Post by Blood » Mon Jan 14, 2019 6:51 pm

FransJVermeiren wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 7:26 am

The interpolated text (verse 14-16) is written after 70 CE, as verse 16b ‘But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!’ refers to the destruction of Jerusalem at the end of the war against the Romans. Paul’s career ended before the war.
More likely IMO that the entire thing was written after AD 70, hence not an interpolation.
“The only sensible response to fragmented, slowly but randomly accruing evidence is radical open-mindedness. A single, simple explanation for a historical event is generally a failure of imagination, not a triumph of induction.” William H.C. Propp

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Re: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

Post by Ben C. Smith » Mon Jan 14, 2019 7:34 pm

perseusomega9 wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 6:46 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 2:22 pm
perseusomega9 wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 1:31 pm
What if we just date 1 Thess to post Jewish War, now no need for interpolation
Given that 2 Thessalonians is generally thought to be based upon 1 Thessalonians, I myself would like to see 2 Thessalonians 2.1-4 explained to my satisfaction as dating to after the War.
So a coincidental observation, I was just listening to Robert Price's latest Bible Geek podcast and the dating of Thessalonians was brought up by a listener, and he mentioned the old Dutch radical observation (cant remember Baur/Bauer/von Mannen) that the give away is the explicit instruction to read it in the assembly, IOW, not his or the radicals interpretation as he set forth but my inference, is that Paul was already being read as scripture so this is a later attempt at co-opting Paul who'd originally be writing to his partisans knowing they would be advocating his position without being told to do so explicitly.
Do you mean this verse?

1 Thessalonians 5.27: 27 I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.

Unless I am missing something, why can the founder of a church not ensure that his letter be read to the entire church, especially given that not everybody would be literate and copies would be tedious and/or expensive to produce?
Edit to add: his podcasts are a lot of fun for inspiration on scholars to read, I know I have a library of close to a 100 books just on his recommendation. Yeah we all know he writes on mythicism but even he doesnt take it as seriously as his opponents think he does.
Make no mistake: I really like reading Robert M. Price. A lot. But I do not agree with much/most of what he proposes, and yes, I agree with you that he is not dogmatic: he does not take a hard line.
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perseusomega9
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Re: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

Post by perseusomega9 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 7:44 pm

Yes to your first response granted I haven't read the original argument and only have Price's 2-3 sentence summary. But my impression from his synopsis is that it's trying too hard, we know his Corinthian correspondees ( for example) would advocate his position, no need to be so over-the- top explicit it making sure its liturgically read. Again, I haven't read the original argument, not even sure if there's an english translation, just makes me go hmmm

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