«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
Additionally, this collective view should evoke a particular response from historical Christian congregations. In relation to the content of 2 Thessalonians, according to Chrysostom, this means that the realisation of the source should cast out all pride from the Christian,171 especially when the reader/hearer comprehends that pride is a characteristic of Antichrist.172 Furthermore, as Christ corrects the slothful in Thessalonica through Paul, so he continues to do so with the current reader/hearer.173 This perspective of Scripture’s origin must necessarily have a reality-shaping effect on the Christian community such that the lives of Christians cohere with the divine discourse— particularly as it relates to Christ’s Lordship and reverent fear of God as God.174 Chrysostom’s basic perspective of God as “biblical author” appropriately orients readers toward Scripture’s subject matter.
John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 3 (PG 62:484).
Whether this occurs exclusively in the context of a gathered congregation or every instance reading of Scripture is unclear. It is important to note, though, that Chrysostom encouraged private reading of Scripture. See John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St.
John 11 (NPNF1 14:38).
John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 3 (PG 62:484).
John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 1 (PG 62:470).
John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 3 (PG 62:484-85).
II. Reading Canonically: The Manner Because of this view of divine authorship, Chrysostom, like his contemporaries, reads 2 Thessalonians canonically.175 That is to say, he situates within the larger divine discourse of the body of biblical literature.
Like modern commentators, the bishop of Constantinople looks to other Pauline letters for assistance in clarifying the content of 2 Thessalonians, but he goes beyond this. Locating the apocalyptic of 2 Thess 2:1-12 in the context of Matt 24-25 (similar to a number of modern theologians176) Chrysostom aims to clarify that, though the specific instant of Christ’s return is unknown, there are certain “signs” that will precede it. The greatest sign, according to Chrysostom, is the proclamation of the gospel “to all nations” (Matt 24:14).177 This suggestion resolves the apparently conflicting eschatologies in the NT and even in Paul, which cannot be resolved by 2 Thessalonians alone.
While associating the characteristic of pride with Antichrist, Chrysostom looks elsewhere in the canon to explicate the Lord’s opposition to this trait, and therefore the necessity of the Christian to purge it from their life.
He finds overwhelming support in Sirach,178 which describes not knowing the Lord as “the beginning of pride” (Sirach 10:12-13)179 that leads further to O’Loughlin provides a helpful description of canonical reading in the early Church. T.
O’Loughlin, “Christ and the Scriptures: The Chasm Between Modern and Pre-modern Exegesis,” The Month 31 (1998): 480–81.
For example, Fritz W. Röcker, Belial und Katechon: Eine Untersuchung zu 2 Thess 2,1-12 und 1 Thess 4,13-5,11 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 365–69; Peter Stuhlmacher, Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments, vol. 2 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1999), 54–59.
Chrysostom, In Epist. ii ad Thess. 1 (PG 62:469-70).
The Antiochene OT canon in the period of Diodore through to Theodoret clearly included Sirach. See Robert C. Hill, Reading the Old Testament in Antioch (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 19–25.
Sirach 10:12-14 is generally considered the basis for the “classical theological tradition that pride is the root of the evil in the rebellion against God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together; Prayerbook of the Bible, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 5 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 111.
“passions,” such as fornication (23:17) and the abuse of wealth (11:15).180 Alternatively, quelling pride comes about through accepting the Scripturallypronounced reality and applying the divine discourse (both in terms of reading Scripture and conversing about biblical truths; 20:20).181 Elsewhere, Chrysostom takes Paul’s request for prayer from the Thessalonians (2 Thess 3:1-2) and extends this request into a general instruction for Christians to pray for their deacons, priests, and bishops. The analogy might be made from the above verses alone, but Chrysostom provides explanatory grounds from other texts. He calls his entire congregation to pray because “the gift bestowed upon us by means of many” (2 Cor 1:11) results in the generous distribution of grace by God on the supplicants for their collective virtue, especially through the effect God works in the Christian leader by means of those prayers.
Furthermore, Chrysostom perceives the Christian life in terms of warfare against Satan and himself as a general in the battle, requiring the aid of many foot soldiers to overcome the powerful enemy. He compares the desire of the Israelite army for David (2 Sam 21:17) to what his own congregation should be for him, namely that in their desire to relieve an “old man” with many responsibilities by battling on his behalf. Here, the overwhelming responsibilities182 of a metropolitan priest (potentially bishop) breech the surface of Chrysostom’s speech. He adds that the prayers of the John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 1 (NPNF1 13:378-79).
John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 2 (NPNF1 13:383).
In addition to regular preaching at several churches in the city, Chrysostom had numerous responsibilities. At Antioch, any time not spent teaching and caring for his flock was taken by Flavian. At Constantinople, Chrysostom had the additional responsibilities of overseeing several monastic groups, entertaining visiting bishops, mediating between the emperor and high-ranking officials (and the Goths), intervening in ecclesial disputes in neighbouring sees, and administering the episcopal funds. Mayer and Allen, John Chrysostom, 41–52; For a more detailed account of the extent of his responsibilities at Constantinople, see Kelly, Golden Mouth, 115–80.
congregation sustain the leader, taking up the rhetorical question of the prophet, “Do the shepherds feed themselves?” (Ezek 34:2 LXX). To drive the point home, he notes the powerful effectiveness of the prayers of others for Peter (Acts 12:5) and looks at promise of Christ to be with “two or three gathered in [his] name” (Matt 20:18). If Christ is with such a small group, will he not much more be with Chrysostom’s massive congregation?183 All of this Chrysostom utilises in order to exegete a specific request that Paul made to a specific congregation, thereby developing his appeal into a rudimentary doctrine of prayer.
We might add to this one final point, namely that Chrysostom frequently reads trans-canonically with the Church by frequently enlisting the same Scriptures as other Fathers have to aid them in their reading of 2 Thessalonians. As an example, Chrysostom notes that the “deceit of the unrighteous” is exemplified in the way that the wicked choose Antichrist (2 Thess 2:10), even though he will state firmly, “I am not from God”— precisely the opposite of what Christ asserts about himself. Chrysostom sees Christ predicting this in saying, “I come in my Father’s name, but you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, though, you will receive him” (John 5:43).184 i. Contemporary Scholarship Beginning with this final example, Theodoret also cites John 5:43 following a quotation of 2 Thess 2:10.185 He potentially relied on Chrysostom for this connection, but it is more likely that this reflects a common patristic John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 4 (NPNF1 13:391-92).
Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 4 (PG 62:487).
Theodoret of Cyrus, “2 Thessalonians,” 130.
sentiment regarding the Antichrist.186 Theophylact (d. 710) likewise follows this pattern,187 but his commentary largely copies from Chrysostom.
Nevertheless, this reflects Chrysostom’s ongoing influence.
Returning to the relationship of 2 Thessalonians and the Synoptic Apocalypse, all of Chrysostom’s contemporaries who comment on the epistle relate these two texts in some manner.188 Only Theodoret follows Chrysostom in his emphasis on the preaching of the gospel to all nations as an essential sign to precede the arrival of Antichrist.189 Predictably, we see this point taken up in Theophylact,190 and then transformed in Calvin’s commentary on 2 Thessalonians (see below). This is a significant, provocative suggestion for the horizon of expectations of Chrysostom’s day.
Lastly, Chrysostom’s excursus on prayer is unmatched in the contemporary literature. The divine origin of Scripture affords Chrysostom the freedom to move through the canon in order to unpack the reasons for such a prayer and the necessity of extending it to the apostolic legacy. Thus he surpasses the horizon of expectation of his then contemporary readers, though his interpretation remains within the hermeneutical paradigm of the early Church.
ii. Modern Scholarship Chrysostom’s view of Scripture, both in terms of origin and the necessity to read canonically, is not unique. Any other theologian of the age Ambrosiaster includes John 5:43 in his commentary on the epistle, though he associates it with the exaltation of the Antichrist (2 Thess 2:4), and uses it as evidence that, because Jesus said this to the Jews, the Antichrist will arise from amongst the Jews.
Ambrosiaster, “Commentary on 2 Thessalonians” in Ambrosiaster, Commentaries on
Galatians-Philemon, trans. and ed. Gerald L. Bray, Ancient Christian Texts (Downers Grove:
InterVarsity Press, 2009), 115.
Theophylact, In epistolam ii ad Thessalonicenses (PG 124:1345) Theodore of Mopsuestia, “In epist. ii Thess.,” 51; Theodoret of Cyrus, “2 Thessalonians,” 128 and 129; Severian von Gabala, “Fragmenta,” 333.
Theodoret of Cyrus, “2 Thessalonians,” 129.
Theophylact, In epist. ii ad Thess. (PG 124:1344).
would reveal a similar view and methodology. When compared with modern biblical scholarship, however, Chrysostom stands out as somewhat anomalous.
Fee is a fair representation of modern biblical interpretation for the purpose of providing an example. In his commentary on 2 Thessalonians, Fee is content to explicate the epistle through OT intertextual references,191 in relation to the NT for the purpose of clarification of a rare term,192 with attention to the other Pauline literature,193 and with specific emphasis on 1 Thessalonians. Yet he does not make connections across the canon between shared ideas or terms.
This is not a contention that Fee rejects a notion of Scripture as divinelysourced. Rather, it shows that he construes it in different terms than Chrysostom and that the two have different aims exegetical aims.
The two points are hardly separable. For Fee, the central aim of commenting on 2 Thessalonians is to understand what Paul was originally saying to the Thessalonians.194 The divine source might be vaguely implied by the fact that commenting assumes the authoritative status of the epistle. A doctrine of Scripture is not definitively worked out in this commentary, but it seems that the instruction in the epistle is to be taken as somehow analogous for the modern Christian. Scripture is a resevoir of ancient meaning.
Alternatively, Chrysostom expects to hear the voice of God in every interaction with Scripture. Exegesis is anticipatory. God certainly spoke in the E.g. Fee, Thessalonians, 252 and 261–62.
E.g. Ibid., 281.
E.g. Ibid., 301.
“Here is another Pauline moment which as a whole helps us better to understand the nature of the final outcome of the gospel itself, while at the same time giving us insight into the ‘everyday’ nature of living Christ in a very pagan culture.” ibid., 242. Witherington offers even less than analogy in his introduction to the epistle, which situates the letter historically and seeks to understand it in those terms. He attempts something akin to Fee in his “Bridging the Horizons” sections, in which he describes the theological application of a particular aspect of the letter for the present. For the entire epistle, however, he offers only two such sections on the topics of “apostasy” and “work.” Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 29–36, 226– 29, and 263–65.
past, but he continues to exert his freedom to speak through it in any engagement with it. “Analogy” is not a strong enough term for Chrysostom, nor does it appropriately capture what is happening. The bishop certainly desires to grasp what Paul was saying to the Thessalonians, as this provides helpful limits to the interpretation, but he hears the clarifying discourse of God throughout Scripture and recognises the pastoral need of his congregation to be shaped by the reality articulated in 2 Thessalonians, particularly, and Scripture as a whole, generally. The disappearance of Chrysostom’s emphases can be attributed to the shift of hermeneutical aims and the location of meaning from the subject matter of Scripture to history.
2.5. Monastic/Ascetic Influences As Chrysostom received his theological education primarily in the askētērion of Diodore and Carterios,195 and in his monastic retreat to the region of Silpios,196 much of the above discussions could be subsumed under the category of monastic/ascetic influences on Chrysostom’s reading of 2 Thessalonians. This background, however, has a decided influence on his reading with attention to pride and with his concern for the poor. Situating him within this context will help us to better understand the particular attention that he dedicates to these topics.
I. Pride The term “pride” does not feature in 2 Thessalonians. Chrysostom generates the discussion initially in his first homily while providing an overview of the motivations for writing and the content of the epistle. He notes particularly the centrality of Antichrist197 in Paul’s discussion, the Kelly, Golden Mouth, 18–20.
The tradition of reading the “man of lawlessness” as Antichrist was well-established by the time of Chrysostom. The beginning of this tradition can be traced at least as early as doctrine given thereof, and the manner in which the specific information about this character serves rhetorically to encourage198 the Thessalonian Christians.