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Theodoret of Cyrus, “2 Thessalonians,” 126.

John of Damascus, In epist. ii ad Thess. (PG 95:920) Chrysostom’s voice, which, as we shall see, offers another perspective of the text from modern interpreters without doing it violence.

ii. Modern Scholarship Modern scholars might regard Chrysostom’s reading of the thanksgiving with caution for making too much out of a stylistic feature of Greco-Roman epistles.93 At the same time, though Paul’s letter generally adheres to the conventions of his socio-historical context, he modifies it for the particular purpose of the letter. Thiselton helpfully remarks on the importance of observing the difference between the “expected convention of the thanksgiving form and Paul’s distinctive use of it.”94 O’Brien supplements this by noting the functional importance of the thanksgiving for Paul’s message and that it would not be unnatural to assume that Paul was actually thankful to God for the reasons he mentions in the letter.95 Chrysostom’s assertion that Paul’s thanksgiving demonstrates his humility and its orientation of his readers toward God does not factor into the modern understanding of epistolary rhetoric. This importantly expands the horizon beyond the rhetorical function of thanksgivings to a reading that correctly attends to the “Someone” beyond Scripture that motivated its writing.96 III. Exegeting the Apostle’s Virtue Later in the same homily, Chrysostom cites the fearful description of the Lord arriving “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God” (1:8) as a means of encouragement to the Thessalonians to know This might be traced early on to Paul Schubert, Form and Function of the Pauline Thanksgivings, BZNW 20 (Berlin: Töpelmann, 1939).

Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NIGTC (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 2000), 87. Emphasis original.

Peter Thomas O’Brien, “Thanksgiving and the Gospel in Paul,” New Testament Studies 21 (1975): 145–46. For a more in-depth discussion, see Peter Thomas O’Brien, Introductory Thanksgivings in the Letters of Paul, vol. 49, NovTSup (Leiden: Brill, 1977).

Bruce L. McCormack, “Historical-Criticism and Dogmatic Interest in Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis of the New Testament,” Lutheran Quarterly 5, no. 2 (1991): 214.

that by their faithfulness they will avoid the “condemnation and vengeance”97 of hell experienced by their afflicters. Further, it encourages them to endure in affliction. Chrysostom comments, however, that Ὁ σφόδρα ἐνάρετος is not compelled to faithfulness, or “virtue,” through fear of hell or “the prospect of the kingdom, but on account of Christ himself; just as Paul was.”98 Within the early Church’s virtue-matrix of faith, hope, and love, with the last of these reflecting the height of virtue, Christians on varying stages of maturity are compelled to obedience through one of the above traits.99 This verse describes both the doctrine of the final Judgment and functions as an aid for those on a lower stratum of virtue (faith) until they graduate to subsistence in “perfect love”100 for the sake of Christ alone. Paul is the exemplar the σφόδρα ἐνάρετος.

This point on the character of Paul resurfaces when Chrysostom proposes that Christians hold this terrifying doctrine of hell and judgment constantly before their eyes. Again, he suggests this as a transitional stage in the Christian life that should eventually lead to despising all things, including hell, in the same manner as Paul. Chrysostom chastises his congregation and John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 2 (PG 62:476).

Ibid., 476.

This matrix is largely built upon 1 Cor 13:13, but the early Church also substantiated this perspective with 1 Thess 1:3, 5:8 (cf. 2 Thess 1:3, which omits “hope”); Heb 10:22-24;

and 1 Pet 1:20-23. For similar perspectives of the nature of faith, hope, and love in the early Church, see Augustine, Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, trans. Thomas S. Hibbs (Regnery Gateway, 1996); Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 1:39:43 (NPNF1 2:534);

Augustine, Treatise on Grace and Free Will 34-38 (NPNF1 5:458-60); John Cassian, Conferences 11:6-13 (NPNF2 11:416-422); Cyprian of Carthage, Treatises 1:14 (ANF 5:425and Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4:7 (PG 8:1264-65). See especially Cassian and Clement who appear to substitute “faith” with “fear” in a manner quite consistent with Chrysostom.

Different from theologians like Basil, Chrysostom places “perfection of love within the reach of every Christian,” thus universalising what was often reserved for the Christian elite. Eric F. Osborn, “Love,” ed. Everett Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York: Routledge, 1999), 695. Chrysostom proffers similar comments in his Homilies on 1 Corinthians 34:5 (NPNF1 12:203-204); he also elevates love above faith in Homilies on Hebrews 19 (NPNF1 14:454-57).

himself for not even being willing to bear a discourse on hell, which is for their advantage, while Paul despises it altogether for “the sake of the love of Christ.”101 A shift away from reading the NT theologically accounts for the vanishing of Chrysostom’s voice on this point and an emphasis on “authorial intention” renders it difficult to revive. Without a more inclusive interpretive paradigm, biblical historicism excludes any truth in Chrysostom’s reading.

IV. The Influence of Pauline Language In the third homily, Chrysostom takes up a discussion on pride despite the fact that the topic does not appear in 2 Thessalonians. In part, this can be traced to the traditions of earlier Fathers. Yet, Chrysostom also exhibits substantial influence from Paul’s interaction with the church at Corinth. He uses the language of being “puffed-up” (φυσιόω) to describe the wicked, who will witness the glorification of those whom they afflicted in this life at the Parousia.102 Instead of limiting its usage to the confines of the Church,103 Chrysostom extends this description to non-believers who have taken part in the persecution of Christians. In this case, Paul’s vernacular has a clear effect on the practical dimension of Chrysostom’s homily. The influence of this Pauline concept is decidedly missing from the commentaries of Theodore, Theodoret, and (the fragments) of Severian. This is likely due to the fact that Chrysostom employs it for a dual, rhetorical-pastoral purpose, which is less of a concern for the commentary writers.

V. The Apostle as Imitative Model In his fifth homily, Chrysostom holds up Paul as the touchstone of how one ought to conduct themselves in their occupation. The apostle, being the only one with the “right to be idle” because of his great evangelistic work, John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 2, 478.

John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 3 (PG 62:480).

See 1 Cor 4:6, 18, 19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4.

refused this right so that he would be able to give to others.104 He substantiates this with the point that Paul called the Thessalonians to follow his example (3:7), revealing that the model teacher “ought to be one more of life than of word.”105 Certainly, this reading is guided by the text itself, but Chrysostom’s concentration on the point betrays his allegiance. Paul is not just the model for the Thessalonians, but for every Christian.

VI. Writing an Epistle in the Walls of Prayer Finally, Chrysostom notes the phrase “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (3:18) is Paul’s prayer (εὐχή) for the congregation.106 Though Theodore does not observe likewise, Theodoret at least calls it a “blessing” (εὐλογία).107 In closing with this prayer, Chrysostom sees Paul accomplishing two things: 1.) he reveals that everything that the Thessalonians did was spiritual, and; 2.) by ending in the same way that he began “guarding with strong walls what he had said elsewhere, and laying safe foundations, he brought it also to a safe end.”108 In regard to the former point, Chrysostom recognises a profound theological concept in a simple expression. In the latter, he sees the caution of a great theologian, structuring his work with clear purpose.

Chrysostom’s esteem for Paul affects his homilies from their structure to the language he employs therein. His contemporaries, though they undoubtedly regarded Paul highly, do not reflect this level of influence or dedication. Related to his esteem for Paul, but also grounded in his educational background, is the bishop’s rhetorical reading of 2 Thessalonians.

John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 5 (PG 62:494).

Ibid., 497.


Theodoret of Cyrus, Epist. ii ad Thess. (PG 82:673) John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 5 (NPNF1 13:398).

It is related in that, though Chrysostom regards Paul as a simple man, he observes the rhetorical tools that the apostle intuitively employs.

2.3. Reading Rhetorically

Another important influence on Chrysostom we have hinted at earlier:

his rhetorical training and attention. Like his esteem for Paul, it can in part be traced to his birth and life in Antioch. The training in rhetoric for the theological scholars of Antioch was a given. As mentioned in the background above, early Christian scholars subjugated classical rhetorical tools to the special content of Scripture without losing attention to the rhetorical tools and intent of the text or failing to use them in their homilies. From the rhetorical schools came the primary emphasis on attention to the effect on the audience.109 Mayer and Allen describe a few of the rhetorical tools of the trade as: repetitions of a word or phrase at the beginning of a clause (epaphanora), anticipating audience answers, juxtaposition of phrases (parison), stating a point negatively then positively (arsis), pretended doubt (diaporesis), and the use of particular metaphors.110 Chrysostom’s division of each homily on 2 Thessalonians into two sections might be viewed as a rhetorical structure in general terms. More specifically, however, Chrysostom attends to the rhetorical strategy of Paul in his exegesis. In keeping with the audience-oriented nature of Antiochene rhetoric, I look primarily at the effects that Chrysostom sees Paul achieving in his epistle.

I. Rhetoric: Aim and Function Young, Biblical Exegesis, 81 and 253.

Mayer and Allen, John Chrysostom, 20–21; Mitchell, The Heavenly Trumpet, 25.

Chrysostom is particularly fond of metaphors. Medical and agricultural metaphors are standards of the rhetorical trade that he employs in his third homily (PG 62:483 and 484, respectively).

–  –  –

Thessalonians, distraught in their affliction, by praising them for their endurance and comforting them with the hope of the future. Rhetorically (and collectively), these elements encourage the Thessalonians to remain resolute in their faith. Chrysostom adds that Paul includes the detailed description of Antichrist in this letter to buttress his encouragement, “For the weak soul is quite fully assured, not simply when it hears [about something], but when it learns something in detail.”111 The bishop looks at the text in terms of both meaning and the function (i.e. evoking a particular response).

i. Contemporary Scholarship Theodoret appears to follow Chrysostom directly in reading this as comfort by means of future expectation, even using the same term, τῶν µελλόντων,112 as Chrysostom. Severian as well notes the comfort extended by (future) “justice and great reward of Christ.”113 It is possible that this was simply a common idea applied to 2 Thessalonians at the time, however, Theodore omits such a note in his argumentum.

ii. Modern Scholarship The emphasis on the larger function of the letter likely reflects the rhetorical training of Chrysostom (and Theodoret) and the lack of such instruction accounts for the relative absence of this consideration in many modern commentators. Even with the recent surge of rhetorical criticism this attention to the rhetorical effect on the community often does not feature.

John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 1 (PG 62:469). This unfolding of Paul’s rhetoric should also have an effect on Chrysostom’s readers.

Even the form of the verb is the same in the two works; John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 1 (PG 62:469); Theodoret of Cyrus, epist. ii ad Thess. (PG 82:657). The idea of encouragement by means “of the future hope” is clearer in Theodoret than in Chrysostom.

Severian von Gabala, “Fragmenta,” 332.

Wanamaker, who sees the epistle as deliberative rhetoric, approaches Chrysostom’s perspective when he observes, “The prospect of the righteous judgment of God in the near future was integral in maintaining the faith and commitment of new Christians when they encountered opposition from those around them in the face of the behavioral demands of the new religion.”114 Indeed, this prospect is integral in maintaining faith, but he does not appear to ask about the effect that the repetition of this doctrine would have on a community under the duress of persecution. Furthermore, deliberative rhetoric is employed primarily to “persuade the readers to think and act differently in the future,”115 and does not necessarily include encouragement.116 On the other hand, Menken, who reads the epistle rhetorically, aligns himself with Chrysostom by the end of his reading of the first chapter when he comments, “We have to realize that [the gospel] serves to encourage the addressees to remain steadfast in their distress.”117 He implies that the gospel includes the description of the eschaton in 2 Thessalonians.

The same difficulty in observing the encouraging dimension of this letter is witnessed in modern commentators not influenced by a Greco-Roman rhetoric. Best denies that the prospect of the future functions to encourage. He argues, “it is instead an assurance that if they remain firm in persecution God will accept them.”118 Yet Fee counters, “It is this future certainty that is Wanamaker, Thessalonians, 223.

Ibid., 48.

Witherington is similar. He comes closest to Chrysostom when he says Paul “reassures” the Thessalonians that they are on the positive side of judgment. Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 198.

Maarten J. J. Menken, 2 Thessalonians, New Testament Readings (London:

Routledge, 1994), 92.

Ernest Best, A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1972), 256.

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