Posted by: chuckbumgardner | April 27, 2008

Summary of Exegetical Research on 2 Thess 3:6-16

In my thesis, I spend a chapter working through the exegesis of 2 Thess 3:6-16.  Following is the summary statement which ends the chapter and pulls together my understanding of the passage.

After addressing eschatological error in Thessalonica in 2 Thess 2, Paul makes a transition to addressing the Thessalonians about an ongoing ethical problem in the church. With authoritative language, he commands the Thessalonian majority to withdraw from each fellow-believer who is maintaining a disorderly lifestyle, that is, one not in accord with the apostolic tradition which Paul and company had delivered to the Thessalonians. His authoritative language (and previous commendation on their obedience) likely anticipates a possible reluctance on their part to follow through with his instructions.

Paul commands the majority to withdraw from the disorderly because they were well aware that Paul and his associates had not lived in a disorderly manner while in Thessalonica. That is, the apostolic team had not been freeloaders, but instead engaged in toilsome manual labor in order that they would not unduly burden the newly planted church. It was not that Paul, as an apostle, did not have the right to be remunerated in his gospel ministry by his converts; it was instead that he desired to provide the Thessalonians an example to follow as to working for one’s own sustenance. In providing this model, Paul practiced what he preached, for he had repeatedly instructed the Thessalonians in this regard when he had been with them, by reiterating a specific portion of the apostolic tradition: “If any will not work, do not let him eat.” By apostolic example and by apostolic catechesis, the Thessalonians clearly understood that it was normally incumbent upon Christians to earn their own livelihood. Paul thus makes his case that it was essential for the Thessalonian majority to address the problem of the disorderly, who in the face of repeated admonition were flouting this aspect of proper Christian living.

Paul is addressing this situation because a report had reached him concerning the disorderly: they were not working for a living, although apparently able to do so, but were meddling in the affairs of others. Turning to the disorderly, Paul commands them to work quietly and support themselves, and to cease being parasites upon the benevolent.

Turning back to the Thessalonian majority, Paul instructs them not to be weary in doing what is good. His exhortation is likely a reference to their ongoing confrontation of the disorderly, although it may involve continued benevolence to those with legitimate needs. Paul sets forth the possibility that some might not obey what he enjoins in the present epistle, a reference which likely is to be contextually limited to the command just given to the disorderly. Such people are to be publicly identified in order that the majority might not associate with them. Paul envisions that such a response to the disobedient will cause them to be ashamed. Along with his instruction not to associate with the disobedient, Paul gives the Thessalonians a caveat: they are not to consider such people to be enemies, but they are instead to admonish them as brothers. This admonition is best understood to be in the context of the steps of church discipline leading up to expulsion, not in the context of an excommunicated person.

As Paul makes a transition to the closing of the letter, he likely has in mind the potential for increased conflict in the church due both to the behavior of the disorderly and to the necessary disciplinary steps to be taken. Thus, he asks that Jesus would give the Thessalonians peace at all times and in all ways, and that his presence would be with them.


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