«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
ii. Modern Scholarship Fee also picks up on Paul’s particular emphasis that these idlers are members of the Christian community.250 For Chrysostom, this was analogous to the Christian poor, and for Calvin the monastics. After exploring the first century context in which this admonition arose, Fee urges “divinely inspired caution when thinking about how a text like this applies in the kind of multicultural world in which” most modern readers have been raised.251 He argues that “work” cannot be understood in the same sense as in the first century because many in the Western context do not engage in manual labour in the same sense as Paul describes, yet they “work,” nevertheless. He contends, instead, that the emphasis should rather be placed on the unruly nature and refusal to work of these ‘busybodies’ which disturbs the peace of
the Christian community.”252 Fee does not associate the command to “never tire of doing what is good” (3:13) with what precedes as its conclusion, but instead argues that it is the heading for what follows. “Doing what is good,” then, becomes obeying the instruction of the letter and shunning the idle with the purpose of their restoration (3:14-15). This grammatical shift reinforces Fee’s vision of these idlers primarily as “disruptive” rather than needy.
Somewhat problematic for this reading, however, is Paul’s emphasis on “eating” (3:8, 10). If the idlers are simply disruptive, then how does depriving them of food accomplish any end and why point to his example of paying for his food? Nevertheless, Fee brings to bear an important point about the nature of work in a modern context as it relates to this text.
Additionally, the sixteen century contextual shift from Chrysostom to a Protestant context where few of the Christian poor are in their state simply because of a refusal to work and seek sustenance from their fellow believers means that Fee seeks an analogy elsewhere. He eventually settles on the difficulty of the fractured Church to enforce such regulations, but he encourages the churches that take this command seriously to admonish those who disrupt the community’s peace to do so in the spirit of 2 Thess 3:6-15.253 The perspectives of Chrysostom and Fee compliment one another, yet reveal their historical distance. Chrysostom’s Church did not face the complications of enforcing church discipline of modern Protestant congregations.
Wanamaker pursues a similar reading to Fee, though he dedicates specific attention to Paul’s concern over how the disorderly, “urban poor” might draw unnecessary attention from outsiders, rather than as conscious Ibid.
rebellion against authority.254 Unlike Fee, Wanamaker associates the command to “do what is good” (3:13) with what precedes and, like Calvin, sees this as directed at the well-behaved members of the community. He speculates as to whether this might be a way of preventing this group from giving to the genuinely needy, but quickly notes that this is not made clear by Paul. Instead, it is most likely that this is an exhortation to the readers not to behave like the disorderly.255 Remaining in historical abstraction, Wanamaker is unable to comfortably illustrate an analogous scenario.
Ronald Russell offers a sociological interpretation of this passage, arguing that the situation described reflects the poor Christians of Thessalonica entering into patron-client relationships with the wealthier Christians of the community without actually seeking to support themselves.256 This aligns him to a degree with Chrysostom, though it expands the understanding with some first century contextual insights. Malherbe, however, initially rejects this sociological reading of the passage, yet comes close to asserting the same point when he describes the scenario as reflecting many of the Thessalonian Christians taking advantage of the love of the community to avoid work.257 He helpfully notes that Paul’s admonition not to weary in doing good (3:13) is “a reference to the material support the church had given to their fellow members in need rather than to doing what is good in general” and that “Paul is warning against overinterpretation of his directions.”258 Here, a modern commentator comes closest to the perspective Wanamaker, Thessalonians, 281–82.
Fee, Thessalonians, 288.
Robert Russell, “The Idle in 2 Thess 3:6-12: an Eschatological or a Social Problem?,” NTS 34 (1988): 105-119.
Malherbe, Thessalonians, 32B:454–56.
of Chrysostom and sharpens his practical application in the living body of the Church.
On both the issues of pride and concern for the poor, it is clear how exegesis and contemporary context interact and lead to the final form of Chrysostom’s homilies. The theological impulses of his monastic/ascetic background give substance to his discussion of 2 Thessalonians and extend challenging, typically monastic morality to the average Christian. Such biblically-based living should not be restricted to a select group. Chrysostom’s incorporation of these concerns into his reading shows how this epistle serves as an answer to his contextual questions and expand the modern horizon of understanding by grounding it practically in the experience of the Church. His reading of the “idle” as “the poor” is a unifying thread through interpretive history and the modern interpretation are expanded by a complimentary ancient reading of the same passage.
2.6. Hell and Apocalyptic Similar to his appropriation of ascetic-moralism out of pastoral concern for his community, Chrysostom’s engagement with the topic of hell and apocalyptic material in his homilies on 2 Thessalonians is shaped by practical concerns. As this topic absorbs a great deal of Chrysostom’s attention, dominates the text of 2 Thessalonians, and features widely in the Fathers and elsewhere, we will have to exercise a degree of selectivity with the material.
I. Hell and Apocalyptic: 2 Thessalonians 1 As Paul’s letter turns toward the material related to the Day of the Lord, Chrysostom operates under the assumption that God has somehow revealed this material to the apostle. Concerning the end-time events generally, Chrysostom makes reference to the resurrection, the Judgment, the coming of Antichrist, and the biblical description of hell in his first homily as a partial summary of the eschatological material in the first and second chapters of 2 Thessalonians.259 He is not content, however, to let these points stands as doctrinal conceptions alone, but makes a crucial turn from theological abstraction to shaping the way one lives. This turn occurs in his description of false doctrines, sown by Satan, growing up in a person, so that they manipulate their worldview and lead to the neglect of significant points in Scripture (e.g. the renunciation of pride).260 Doctrine as theological abstraction is not sufficient for Chrysostom. He forcefully urges that the doctrine relating to the eschaton must affect the Christian living in the present. In truth, he desires that all Christians be compelled by the love of Christ into living in a manner consistent with the reality revealed in Scripture.261 Yet until that compulsion develops, he points to the terrifying doctrine regarding the judgment of the wicked and punishment in hell as a means of shaping the way that one views his/herself.
The terrifying description of God’s eschatological wrath means, for Chrysostom, that one ought to live in a manner properly oriented to this end. It is more than awareness; it is living acknowledgement.262 The emphasis on hell alone provokes the modern (Western) horizon, which tends to neglect or diminish this doctrine because of its offensiveness.
Elsewhere, Chrysostom makes note of the vengeance coming to the wicked (1:8), and insists that it encourages those who are afflicted because it John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 1 (NPNF1 13:377-79).
John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 2 (NPNF1 13:382 and 383).
John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 1 (NPNF1 13:379-80).
demonstrates the justice of God, but that it should not be a cause for the Christian to rejoice. Instead, he attempts to ground his congregation in the awareness that their salvation is one of grace, not merit. Furthermore, they ought to develop such thinking by concentrating on the blessing of the promised kingdom and the fearful reality of hell. In fact, Christians should concentrate more on the judgment and hell than the kingdom as a means of shaping their lives, “for fear has more power than the promise.”263 The provocation mentioned above is sharpened by this emphasis.
i. Contemporary Scholarship The holding of appropriate fear appears in the Martyrdom of Polycarp when, in his dialogue with the proconsul, Polycarp dismisses the threat of death by means of the flaming pyre: “You threaten with a fire that burns for an hour and after a short while is extinguished; for you do not know about the fire of the coming judgment and eternal torment, reserved for the ungodly.”264 Irenaeus quotes the entirety of 2 Thess 1:7-10 as evidence against Gnostic groups who speak incessantly about the mercy of the Lord in the NT and neglect the passages referring to his Judgment, so as to defend their belief that the demiurge is the god of the OT and entirely distinct from the Son and Father of the NT.265 For Irenaeus, teaching on the wrath of God in the Judgment is an essential part of Christian instruction.
“µᾶλλον γὰρ ὁ φόβος ἰσκύει τῆς ἐπαγγελίας.” John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 2 (PG 62:477).
The Martyrdom of Polycarp 11.2; cf. the introduction to “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” in Bart D. Ehrman, ed., The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1, LCL (Cambridge; London: Harvard University Press, 2003), 383.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.27.4 (ANF 1:501); Thiselton, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 193.
Similarly, Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373) points out that though the Lord tends to offer help in the form of persuasion, he also reproves with fearful means, like the “flaming fire” of the coming judgment (1:8).266 Of his Antiochene contemporaries, however, Theodoret sees the fearsome nature of the coming Judgment only as a means of encouraging the afflicted. He does not take the next step in turning it into a warning for Christians from falling away, or for forgetting their existence in a state of grace.267 The fragmentary nature of Severian’s commentary confirms that he agrees with Theodoret, but it is uncertain as to whether he sees the dimension of fear that this description of the Judgment should instil in Christians. His view of the event as an encouragement to the afflicted Thessalonians because it is punishment for their having been wronged,268 however, make it likely that he did not read this in the same manner as Chrysostom, who sees the Judgment as grounded in agnosticism and lack of response to the gospel (1:8), or, put differently, God’s concern for his own glory.269 Though writing without a particular reference to 2 Thessalonians, Basil shares this perspective of living in the fear of the Lord. In a letter to a widow (c. 374), Basil reminds the woman that “to whomsoever there is present the vivid expectation of the threatened punishments, the fear which dwells in such will give them no opportunity of falling into ill considered actions.”270 The striking resemblance of this language reveals that Chrysostom has taken up a Raised in the same region as Chrysostom, it is important to note both his shared view of Scripture for reproof and his understanding of “the Lord” as the source of all Scripture.
Ephraim Syrus, Three Homilies: On Our Lord 1.22 (NPNF2 13:314).
Theodoret of Cyrus, “2 Thessalonians,” 126–27.
Severian von Gabala, “Fragmenta,” 332.
“…δι᾽ ἑαυτὸν ἀνάγκη τιµωρήσασθαι αὐτός.” John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 2 (FCT 5:455).
Basil of Caesarea, The Letters 174 (Defarrari, LCL). Emphasis added.
topical discourse in the early Church, which is particularly appropriate to the tone of 2 Thessalonians and his view of “being worthy of calling” as a summons to martyrdom. Perhaps the only element that surpasses his horizon is his emphasis on divine grace.
Generations later, Calvin remains faithful to Chrysostom’s concern that the fearful doctrine of the Judgment and hell not be diminished. He avers, “Christ will avenge with the strictest severities the wrongs which the wicked inflict upon us.” He adds to this the note that God punishes the rebellious “for the sake of his own glory,”272 echoing Chrysostom, though this reading fits naturally with Calvin’s theology. He concentrates further on the terrible nature of hell in terms of its eternal duration, which signals that “the violent nature of that death will never cease.”273 ii. Modern Scholarship Malherbe reads this passage as pastorally motivated to comfort the Thessalonians within a framework in which God is just and personal vindication is forbidden. The primary aim of comforting the afflicted congregation is evident in the fact that Paul exercises restraint in describing the Judgment by only going into enough detail to serve his encouraging ends.
Malherbe extends his agreement with Chrysostom by showing that those who experience the wrath of God in the Judgment are ultimately culpable because they reject God, not because they afflicted the Thessalonian believers.274 Witherington fails to consider the aspect of comfort that this apocalyptic portion of the letter brings to the Thessalonians, or believers who suffer in general. Nevertheless, he underlines with Chrysostom and Malherbe Calvin, The Epistles of Paul, 391.
Malherbe, Thessalonians, 32B:398–401; see also his “Comment,” 406–8.
the eternal nature of hell in its dimensions of separation from God and in opposition to a doctrine of annihilation. For Witherington, the primary concern of this section, as the exordium, is to prepare the way for the propositio. That is to say, the Judgment (exordium) provides substantiating evidence for the claim that the eschatology troubling the Thessalonians is indeed false (propositio).275 Though Chrysostom describes this as an aim of Paul, the rigid adherence to Greco-Roman rhetoric leads to reading the epistle too narrowly. More attention could helpfully be given to someone actually trained in rhetoric and who seeks to understand what the text communicates about God (i.e. Chrysostom).