Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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1 Thessalonians 4

Supplemental Commentary:


4, 1-12:  Exhortation to Chastity and Charity.  God's will concerning their conduct is that they should become holy by observing the precepts of Christ.  All sins of the flesh are to be avoided.    1.  Make even greater progress: literally, "to abound more."    3.  Immorality: the common pagan approbation and practice of immorality made it necessary for Paul to stress its malice and warn his converts to avoid it.  Cf. 1 Cor. 5, 11; 6, 9.13.15-20; 1 Tim. 1, 10.

4.  His vessel: it is uncertain whether "vessel" refers to a man's body or to his wife.  The first seems preferable.  St. Chrysostom, Theodoret, Tertullian, Cornelius A Lapide, as well as many moderns understand "vessel" in the sense of "body."  Hence Paul is saying: "Let a man control the unruly passions of his body."  Actually "vessel" stands for body in 2 Cor. 4, 7.  Paul's own use of the term, therefore, favors the meaning "body."  Profane authors, e.g., Cicero and Lucretius, refer to the body as a vessel.  The meaning "body" fits in well with the context.  Having said: "You should abstain from immorality," he at once gives the reason, namely, because the body is to be sanctified by holy use, and is not to be dishonored by sexual sin.  Cf. 1 Cor. 6, 13, "The body is not for immorality."

Others, e.g., St. Augustine, St. Thomas, Estius, as well as many moderns, take "vessel" in the sense of "wife."  St. Augustine, following the reading "possess a vessel," interprets as "make a proper and faithful use of marriage."  Cf., however, 1 Cor. 7, 2, where Paul says: "have his own wife," and not "have his own vessel."  Others believe that the Greek verb has the meaning, "acquire" rather than "possess."  Hence they translate: "Acquire a wife, take a wife."  Wives are to be acquired in a holy and honorable manner.

6.  In the matter: the Vulgate reading may also mean "in business."  But the context, which is concerned with avoidance of sins of impurity, favors the rendering "in the matter."  Cf. 4, 11; 1 Cor. 6, 1; 2 Cor. 7, 11; 2 Tim. 2, 4.  The offense to be avoided is the sin of adultery.    8.  These things: i.e., this teaching.    10.  That is, towards all the Christian communities in Macedonia.    11.  Minding your own affairs: literally, do your own work, i.e., tend to your daily duties and occupations.  He is referring especially to those who indulge in idleness because they believed the Second Coming of Christ was at hand.


4, 13-18:  Witnessed by the Dead.  At the Second Advent of Christ the just shall rise first, and then both the living and the risen just shall be taken up in the air to meet Christ and share alike in everlasting life.  The time of Christ's Second Coming is unknown and uncertain.  Vigilance, therefore, is necessary.    13.  Those who are asleep: i.e., the dead.    14.  After so understand the words: "we believe that."  Fallen asleep through Jesus: those who die united to Jesus by grace shall share in His glorious resurrection.  There is a necessary bond between the resurrection of Christ and that of the just.  Cf. 1 Cor. 15, 13-16.20-21.50-55.  Through Jesus can also be construed with bring.    15.  The evident meaning of Paul's words here is that the just who are alive at the last day will pass into the glorified state without experiencing death.  This meaning is supported by the Vatican Codex reading of 1 Cor. 15, 51: "We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed."

In the word of the Lord: either the teaching of Christ, such as that recorded in Matt. 24, 31.36.44; or a special revelation given to Paul.  He is insisting that his teaching on the parousia is that of Christ Himself.  This point is helpful for an interpretation of the words which follow, because Christ did not teach that the parousia was imminent.

We who live, who survive (also 17): the traditional interpretation, namely, that Paul is expressing ignorance as to the time of the parousia, and is not asserting, nor implying that he and his readers will survive until the parousia, is supported by the true notion of inspiration, the rules of logic, the usage of Greek grammar, and a decision of the Biblical Commission.  (1) The Catholic notion of inspiration required that no erroneous statement be made by the sacred writer.  Paul, therefore, writing under inspiration cannot erroneously assert that he and his readers will be alive at the parousia.  (2) The rules of logic do not permit one to say that although Paul teaches no error, he nevertheless, by his form of expression, indicates that his personal opinion was that the parousia was imminent.  No such indication or connotation can be admitted.  The same words of Paul cannot be interpreted to mean lack of knowledge as to the time of the parousia, and also conviction, conjecture, personal opinion, or implication that the parousia is imminent.  (3) Greek syntax permits one to translate: "we, if we be alive, if we survive," and such a translation removes all difficulty.  Or, Greek grammar through the figure of enallage, whereby one person of the verb is substituted for another, permits one to regard the pronoun "we" as equivalent to "they."  We Christians, i.e., those who shall be alive, who shall survive.  This figure also occurs in 1 Cor. 11, 31-32, where "we" is used in place of "you."  (4) In its decision of June 18, 1915, the Biblical Commission declared that Catholic exegetes are not permitted to say that on the question of the parousia Paul is expressing his own human views into which error and deception can enter.  Catholic interpreters, therefore, maintain that on the subject of the Second Coming of Christ Paul is setting forth Christian doctrine and not personal opinion or conjecture.

Paul teaches the Thessalonians that those living at the Second Coming of Christ will have no advantage over those who have died, because the living will not go before them to glory nor receive glory without them.  The Thessalonians, therefore, need not grieve over the lot of the dead.

16.  The cry of command, voice of archangel, and trumpet of God, probably signify the same thing, namely, God's command to the dead to arise.  Cf. Matt. 24, 30 f; Luke 21, 27; Acts 1, 11; 2 Thess. 1, 7.

Confraternity Bible:

Exhortation to Chastity and Charity  1 Moreover, brethren, even as you have learned from us how you ought to walk to please God---as indeed you are walking---we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus to make even greater progress.  2 For you know what precepts I have given to you by the Lord Jesus.  3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from immorality, 4 that every one of you learn how to possess his vessel in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and overreach his brother in the matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all these things, as we have told you before and have testified.  7 For God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.  8 Therefore, he who rejects these things rejects not man but God, who has also given his Holy Spirit to us.

9 But concerning brotherly charity there is no need for us to write to you, for you yourselves have learned from God to love one another.  10 For indeed you practise it towards all the brethren all over Macedonia.  But we exhort you, brethren, to make even greater progress.  11 Strive to live peacefully, minding your own affairs, working with your own hands, as we charged you, 12 so that you may walk becomingly towards outsiders, and may need nothing.

Witnessed by the Dead  13 But we would not, brethren, have you ignorant concerning those who are asleep, lest you should grieve, even as others who have no hope.  14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so with him God will bring those also who have fallen asleep through Jesus.  15* For this we say to you in the word of the Lord, that we who live, who survive until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.  16 For the Lord himself with cry of command, with voice of archangel, and with trumpet of God will descend from heaven; and the dead in Christ will rise up first.  17 Then we who live, who survive, shall be caught up together with them in clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall ever be with the Lord.  18 Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.


15: Those living at the Second Coming of Christ shall have no advantage over those who have died, because the living shall not go before them to glory or receive glory without them.