Grace Theological Journal 9.2(1988) 163-190
Copyright © 1988 by Grace Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.
THE LITERARY UNITY OF
1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-5:11
TRACY L. HOWARD
1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 has been a fertile source of debate
among both pre- and posttribulational advocates. Yet often wrong
assumptions are made by the exegete when he/she approaches this
important eschatological text of Paul. One of those assumptions is
that 1Thessalonians -18 and 5:1-11 describe two entirely differ-
ent eschatological events. Coupled with this is the assumption that
Paul describes both events through a diachronic time scheme. How-
ever, Paul in no way attempts to differentiate two events in this
passage. Instead, Paul's eschatological presentation is very general or
even "aoristic" in focus. This conclusion is drawn in some measure
from a clear literary unity that characterizes the passage.
* * *
First Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 is one of the longest and earliest
eschatological sections in the Pauline corpus. The passage con-
tains a discussion of both the Parousia of Jesus and the Day of the
Lord couched in the imagery of apocalyptic contemporary to the first
century. The descriptions of these apocalyptic events along with their
apparent imminent nature has raised numerous theological questions.
Discussions related to Paul's view of imminency, his concept of
eschatological development, and his use of apocalyptic imagery fill
the literature. Another question which immediately emerges from an
analysis of this text is whether the events described in -18 and
5:1-11 are to be viewed as distinct or in some sense equivalent. D. G.
Bradley proposed that 1 Thessalonians -18 and 5: 1-11 were indi-
vidual examples of the literary form topos.1 According to Bradley,
"the distinctive characteristic of the topos is that it is composed of
1D. G. Bradley, "The Topos as a Form in the Pauline Paraenesis," JBL 72 (1953)
164 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
more than one sentence dealing with the same subject.”2 Further-
more, the topos is an independent form which is self-contained and
has a loose or even arbitrary connection with the context.3 Hence
both 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 5:1-11, according to Bradley, deal
with two similar though quite different situations. G. Friedrich has
raised the problem of the authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. He
sees such incongruity between 5:1-11 and the preceding passage, -
18, that he concludes that 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 is inauthentic, a
non-Pauline interpolation.4 Other such as Harnisch5 and Schmithals,6
though accepting a Pauline authorship, argue that Paul wrote 1 Thes-
salonians 5:1-11 at a later date when the community became agitated
by Gnostics. I the context of the pretribulational and posttribulational
rapture debate, a distinction between the two texts is sometimes
suggested. For example, Walvoord, a pretribulationist, writes:
The fact that the rapture is mentioned first in chapter 4 before the day
of the Lord is presented in chapter 5 is significant. The important
subject was the rapture, including the resurrection of the dead in Christ
and the translation of living believers. The rapture is not introduced as
a phase of the day of the Lord and seems to be distinguished from
it…Accordingly, it is clear that 1 Thessalonians 5 is not talking
specifically about the rapture, but about another truth.7 (Italics added.)
3Criticism has been offered on specific points of Bradley’s thesis. V. P. Furnish
says that Bradley’s attempt to show this is not successful and adds: “There are few
passages in the Pauline letters which cannot be related in some significant way to
particular problems and needs the apostle is confronting” (The Love Command in the
likewise criticized Bradley’s view. Terence Y. Mullins narrows Bradley’s definition by
showing that the topos Has three essential elements: injunction, reason, and
discussion (“Topos as a NT Form,” JBL 99 [1980’ 541-47); John C. Brunt has argued
additionally that appeal to the topos form to show that advice is not directed to a
specific situation is not valid (“More on the Topos as a New Testament Form,” JBL
104  495-500). Brunt’s criticism is important. In reference to this paper, an
appeal to the form topos is simply not sufficient to indicate an isolated or arbitrary
unit. Thus although 1 Thess 5:1-11 may reflect the form of topos, such does not of
necessity argue for its isolation from 1 Thess 4:13-18 if other contextual features
4 Gerhard Friedrich, Die Briefe an die Galater, Epheser, Philipper, Kolosser, Thes-
salonicher und Philemon, NTD, vol. 8 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1976)
5 Wolfgang Harnisch, Eschatologishe Existenz: Ein Exegetischer Beitrag zum
Sachanliegen von 1.
Thessalonischer , FRLANT, vol. 110 (
Denhoeck and Ruprecht, 1973) 77-82.
6 John F. Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation: A Biblical and
Historical Study of Posttibulationism (
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-5:11 165
This feeling of disparity between 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and
5:1-11 raises the need for a thorough evaluation of the entire section
in order to see whether such disparity is real or only apparent. Is
there a disjunction between the two texts or does 1 Thessalonians
constitute literary as well as theological unity? In order to
evaluate the literary and theological unity of the entire pericope,
several questions must be addressed:
1. Does Paul’s purpose change from -18 to 5:1-11, or does
it remain the same throughout the pericope. In other words,
does Paul maintain a parenetic purpose or shift his purpose at
2. Is the subject matter the same in -18 and 5:1-11? Related
to this question is the significance of peri> de< in 5:1. Does this
phrase constitute a major break in Paul’s subject matter? If so,
does this disjunction automatically suggest the disparity that
many attempt to support?
3. Are there any stylistic parallels between -18 and 5:1-11
that would suggest literary unity throughout both passages,
namely, the repetition of a pre-Pauline credal formula or
perhaps an inclusio?
4. Is there internal consistency throughout -5: II? If it could
be shown that (or at least a major portion of it) is
closely parallel in structure and arrangement to another uni-
fied pericope in the New Testament, this would suggest the
essential unity of rather than a disjunction at 5:1.
5. Is there any evidence of theological change from -18 to
5:1-11, namely, is there any distinction between parousi<a,
“Parousia” and “h[me<ra kuri<ou, “Day of the Lord?” If not, why
does Paul change his terminology to describe the same event?
Furthermore, if there is no distinction, what then is the nature
of Pauline eschatology as presented in ?
The purpose of this study is to address these questions and to set
forth reasons that support the literary unity of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-
5:11. Limitation of space forbids a detailed exegetical analysis of the
entire pericope. Thus while it is necessary to present an exegetical
1976) 115; see also Paul D. Feinberg, “A Response to ‘The Case for the Posttribulation
Rapture Position’ by Douglas J. Moo,” in The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribula-
tional?, ed. Richard R. Reiter (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984) 226.
Feinberg argues that Paul clearly intends some kind of distinction between 1 Thess
-18 and 5:1-11.
166 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
analysis of some texts, elsewhere the discussion will be a presentation
of the results of the exegetical work done in the passage.
The phrase literary unity is understood to mean that an author,
in this case Paul, conveys the same subject matter with a unified
purpose throughout a given text without a major disjunction in either
subject matter or purpose. It will be proposed that Paul deliberately
employs certain literary devices to accomplish the task of communi-
cating a unified message. There are several features which suggest that
1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 is to be regarded as one unified pericope.
PAUL'S PARENETIC PURPOSE
Both 1 Thessalonians -18 and 5:1-11 are parenetic in pur-
pose. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-5:22, Paul amplifies the instruction he
gave while at Thessalonica in light of information he received from
Timothy. In this portion of the letter he considers their life and faith
in the community. For this reason, this entire section of the epistle
has been called parenesis.8 However, the passage does not comprise
one subject but several.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Paul addresses the issue of sexual purity (4:3-8) followed by
an exhortation to love one another (4:9-12). He then shifts his fo-
cus to a lengthy eschatological discourse which constitutes the heart
of his parenesis.9 Two major issues comprise this discussion. The first
is the relation of the dead to the Parousia (-18), and the second is
the ethical responsibility of those alive in view of the coming Day of
the Lord (5:1-11). The purpose of Paul's discussion in 1 Thessa-
lonians 4:13-5:11 is not primarily theological but eschatological issues
are addressed in view of ethical concerns. Paul's purpose in -18 is
stated explicitly in verse 13. For that reason, a more detailed exami-
nation of verse 13 is appropriate in order to clarify his parenetic
Paul introduces a transition in thought which is indicated by the
particle de< as well as the phrase ou] qe<lomen de> u[ma?j a]gnoei?n a]delfoi<,
"now we do not desire you to be ignorant brethren." This phrase is
used elsewhere by Paul to introduce a new topic.10 Specifically, Paul
8Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible: Supplementary Volume, s.v. "Parenesis," by
D. Schroeder, 643. Schroeder defines parenesis as a "technical term to refer to all
general exhortations of an ethical nature."
9Edgar Krentz, "1 Thess.: A Document of Roman Hellenism" (unpublished paper
presented to the Thessalonians Seminar, National Meeting of the Society of Biblical
Literature, December 1979) 15.
10Cf. 2 Cor 1:8; Rom ; ; 1 Cor 10:1; 12:1.
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF I THESSALONIANS 167
desires these believers not to be ignorant "regarding those who have
fallen asleep," peri> tw?n kekoimhme<nwn.11 From the use of peri>12
following a]gnoei?n, it is evident that the problem these believers faced
centered on the fortune of the faithful departed (tw?n kekoimhme<nwn).13
Thus it is likely that the cause of their sorrow was not disappointment
over the nonarrival of the Parousia, as Best suggests,14 but rather
anxiety over the issue of whether the Christian dead would suffer a
disadvantage at the Parousia.15 The question still remains why Paul
11 The perfect kekoimhme<nwn has better geographical distribution (DFG M) than
the present koimwme<nwn (x A B 33.81) and is preferred. There is little difference in
meaning in view of Paul's overall purpose. The perfect would reflect the present state of
those who had already died whereas the present would suggest a continual process
during which various ones died at different times.
12peri< with the genitive denotes the object or person to which the action refers or
relates; see BAGD, 644.
13 koma<w was used literally in both non-biblical and biblical Greek to denote the
activity of sleeping (Homer, Odyssey, 12.372; [LXX] Gen 19:14; 28:11; 1 Esdr 3:3; Tob
2:9; 1 Macc 11:6; Matt 28:13; Luke 22:45; John 11:12; Acts 12:6). However, koima<w
was also used metaphorically in antiquity in the sense of death (Homer, Illiad 11:241;
[LXX] 3 Kgs [the idiom "to sleep with one's fathers" occurs 33 times in the [LXX];
cf. 2 Macc 12:42-45; in this text the phrase "fallen asleep in godliness" closely resem-
bles the use found in 1 Thess 4:13). In the New Testament, fourteen out of eighteen
occurrences of koima<w are references to death, and interestingly, all of the Pauline uses
are in this category (1 Cor ; ; 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thess , 14, 15 [of the 9
occurrences in Paul, 7 appear in two major eschatological texts, 1 Cor 15 and 1 Thess
4]). The use of sleep for death is probably a euphemism (see Ernest Best, A Com-
mentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians [
Row, 1972] 185; F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, WBC [
1982] 95; H. A. A. Kennedy,
implicit concept of that from which one would awaken (Bruce, 96), although it is quite
true that the word meant this in contemporary Jewish writings (cf. 2 Esdr , "and
the earth shall give up those who sleep in
of the joy experienced by the righteous in their habitations immediately after death and
before they are awakened; see also 1 Enoch 100:51; 2 Apoc. Bar. ). The problem
with seeing an implicit idea of awaken is that the metaphor of sleep as death occurs in
works unacquainted with a resurrection
hope (R. H. Charles, Eschatology [
Schocken Books, 1963] 132, n. 1. For example, in Catullus 5:4-6 one reads, "Suns may
set and rise again. For us, when the short light has once set, remains to be slept the
sleep of one unbroken night."). Thus such a metaphor does not arise from the idea of a
body left behind while the soul departs to a continued existence elsewhere or from the
notion that the sleeping person will afterwards wake up to new life. Certainly the
metaphor is in harmony with resurrection
the Thessalonians [
similarity in appearance between a sleeping body and a dead body, i.e., restfulness and
peace normally characterize both (TDNT, s.v. "kaqeu<dw," by A. Oepke, 3:433).
14 Best, Thessalonians, 203.
15 Bruce, Thessalonians, 95; W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (reprint ed.,
Testament (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966) 108-09; Williams Neil, The Epistle of Paul to the
168 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
would have had to deal with this issue in this particular community.
A couple of reasons may be suggested.
First, it is possible that this is an issue on which the Thessalonian
Christians had not been adequately informed.16 While with these be-
lievers it is possible that Paul had not discussed the relation of
survivors to the dead at the Parousia. Apparently some of the be-
lievers had died since the time of Paul's visit and, consequently,
questions had arisen concerning the relation of the faithful departed
to the Parousia.
Second, it is possible that a subtle polemic is offered against a
contemporary teaching that advocated the advantage of those alive at
the inauguration of the Messianic Kingdom. One of the main currents
of eschatological thought in Judaism was that the Messianic King-
dom would be the consummation of world history and its scene
would be this earth, albeit an earth transformed in different ways.
Davies says that "according to the earliest sources only those alive at
the advent of the Messiah would be judged and could participate in
the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom.”17 In 4 Ezra the author gives
a vision of the Man rising from the sea; in this vision the pre-
existent Messiah, following the annihilation of His enemies, gathers a
multitude of his own remnant to himself. 4 Ezra 13:22-24 says:
As for what you said about those who are left, this is the interpretation:
He who brings the peril at that time will himself protect those who fall
into peril, who have works and have faith in the Almighty. Understand
therefore that those who are left are more blessed than those who have
died.18 (Italics added.)
The suggestions of a polemic against such teaching would help to
explain the anxiety growing out of the possibility that those who died
did not have the same advantage as those who were alive at the
Parousia. This might also explain why Paul uses such emphatic
Thessalonians (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950) 99; Beda Rigaux, Les Epitres
Aux Thessalonioiens (Paris: Librairie Leoffre, 1956) 527.
16 Bruce, Thessalonians, p. 95; James E. Frame, A Critical and Exegetical Com-
mentary on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, ICC (
17 Davies, Judaism, 287.
18 B. M. Metzger, "The Fourth Book of Ezra: A New Translation and Introduc-
tion," in vol. 1 of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth
(Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1983) 552; see also 2 Apoc. Bar. 70.1-
71-1. It is not out of the question that such a view may have been held by scribes prior
to A.D. 70 and that the Thessalonians had been influenced by such a view through their
exposure to the synagogue (cf. Acts. 17:2-4).
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF THESSALONIANS 4:15-5:11 169
language as, "we who are alive and remain until the Parousia will by
no means precede those who have died" (cf. v. 15, ou) mh> fqa<sw-
men).19 One, however, need not suppose with Schmithals that the
community was misled by gnosticizing visitors who completely denied
the future resurrection hope.20
The purpose of Paul's desire for these believers not to be ig-
norant regarding those who had died is that "they might not grieve as
those who do not have hope," i!na mh> luph?sqe kaqw?j kai> oi[ lipoi<
oi[ mh> e@xontej e]lpi<da. The i!na should be taken as introducing pur-
pose rather than result.21 This is the only purpose statement in -
18 and it is related to pastoral or parenetic concerns, namely, that
these believers "might not grieve." The verb lupe<w normally conveys
the idea of "grief, distress, sadness, or sorrow.”22 The negative mh>
with the present subjunctive may suggest in this context the desire for
the cessation of an action already in progress. Those in this com-
munity were in the process of grieving over loved ones who had died,
apparently for fear that they might suffer disadvantage at the Parou-
sia. Paul is thus attempting to comfort them in this grief (cf. ).
Paul further qualifies his purpose by a comparative clause intro-
duced by kaqw>j kai<. He states that his desire is that these believers
not grieve ''as also the rest who do not have hope," kaqw>j
koipoi> oi[ mh> e@xontej e]lpi<da. Two alternatives are possible for the
interpretation of kaqw<j. First, it is possible to take the comparative
particle as introducing a comparison of manner.23 This would mean
that Paul did not desire this congregation to grieve in the same way
as those who have no hope. The second possibility is to take kaqw<j in
an absolute sense.24 This would mean that Paul is telling those at
Thessalonica not to grieve at all as do unbelievers who have no hope.
Such an absolute sense would not exclude sorrow over the loss of a
19 The construction ou' mh< with the subjunctive fqa<swomen here expresses emphatic
20 Walter Schmithals, Paul and
the Gnostics, trans. John E. Steely (
Abingdon Press, 1972) 160-62.
21 BAGD, p. 376; i!na most frequently denotes purpose rather than conceived result,
although at times it becomes very difficult to distinguish the two. The problem is that
the semitic mind was reluctant to distinguish between the purpose and consequence,
particularly in light of God's actions (cf. M. Zerwick, Biblical Greek, trans. Joseph
Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek [
24 John Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the
Thessalonians (reprint ed.,
1977) 145-49; Frame, Thessalonians, 167; Neil, Thessalonians, 92; D. E. H. Whiteley,
Thessalonians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969) 68.
170 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
loved one, but it would preclude sorrow as far as the Parousia is
The discussion to this point reveals Paul's parenetic purpose for
writing 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. He is not attempting to set forth an
isolated eschatological discourse but is addressing a very practical
problem within the community that involved eschatological concerns.
Paul desires to communicate a message of comfort, a message that
promises resurrection for departed believers by virtue of their identifi-
cation and union with Christ. This same union also provides the basis
for the translation of those who are alive at His Parousia (cf. ).
That the hope of resurrection to be with Christ is grounded in the
resurrection of Christ Himself26 is made evident in verses 15-17.
Because Christ arose from the dead, those believers who have died in
the Lord prior to the Parousia will in no way experience any dis-
advantage when Jesus comes. Instead, they will actually precede those
who are alive at that time (-17).
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Paul's parenesis continues in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. In -18
he addresses the issue of the position of the dead in Christ at the
Parousia with the purpose of comforting those alive. He now shifts
his emphasis slightly to address the ethical responsibilities of living
believers in light of the coming Day of the Lord. Instead of address-
ing the time in which the Day of the Lord will come, he states that no
one knows the times and the seasons (twm xro<nwn kai> tw?n kairw?n)
25 Best, p. 186. The reason why such a grief is precluded is because it is a
characteristic of "those who do not have hope." Most likely this denote unbelieving
humanity outside of Christ (cf. Eph 2:3, 12). The concept of hope for Paul is especially
related to the promise of blessedness and joy the believer will experience at the
Parousia (cf. Titus ). That this hope is not connected simply to a belief in the
after-life is clear. It is evident from Greek writers, both pagan and Jewish, that there
was a belief in an after-life (Plato in Gorgias, 524D states that the individual should
not be judged except after death for then the soul is separated from the body; then the
soul strips out of the deceiving clothing of the body and it can be judged justly; cf.
Cratylus, 403B. Furthermore, there also existed a hope in view of death in Jewish
circles; cf. Philo, de Virtutibus, 76; Legum Allegoriarum, , 59; he also held the
Greek view that the nakedness of the soul after death was desirable; see Wis 3:1-4:
"But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch
them...yet is their hope full of immorality"; also it is evident that resurrection was an
aspect of rabbinic theology; cf. Sota 9.15; Sanh 10:1). However, the believer has been
identified in a union with both the death and the resurrection of Christ (cf. Rom 6:3-
5). Because of this union, those believers who have died will be raised to be with Christ
when He returns at the Parousia. This is a hope about which the pagan world knew
26 A Theological Word Book of the Bible s.v. "Hope," by Alan Richardson;
NIDNTT, s.v. "Hope," by E. Hoffmann, 2:242.
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF I THESSALONIANS 171
of its coming because it comes ''as a thief in the night" (w[j kle<pthj e]n
nukti<) (vv. 1-2). Paul is telling the Thessalonians that they do not
need someone to write to them concerning the times and the seasons
of the Day of the Lord because it is not for any person to know this
information.27 However, what they should know is that the Day is
coming and one's preparation for it is dependent on that person's
spiritual condition. Paul says that those who ate unbelievers will be
overtaken in surprise and will by no means escape judgment (v. 3).28
Paul shifts his emphasis in verse 4 to address the relation of the
Day of the Lord to the believing community.29 Paul employs an
indicative-imperative model in his discussion. He first tells these
believers what they are in verses 4-5 (indicative) and then he exhorts
them to live out what they are in verses 6-8 (imperative). In verses
4-5 Paul says that believers are not in darkness (e]n sko<tei) but
instead are sons of light (ui[oi> fwto<j).30 Christians are not a part of
the darkness in which the unbelieving world lies. They are instead
identified with Christ. Thus as a result (i!na)31 they will not be in a
27 Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation (Zondervan Publishing
House, 1973), pp. 107-08; also John A. Sproule, "An Exegetical Defense of Pretribu-
lationism" (Th.D. dissertation, Grace Theological Seminary, May 1981) 157.
28 This is the second time Paul uses ou] mh< with the subjunctive (e]kfu<gwsin) in this
eschatological discourse for emphatic negation (cf. ).
29 The shift to believers from humankind in general is indicated by the adversative
use of de> as well as the change to the second person u[mei?j along with the vocative
30 The imagery of light and darkness is frequently used throughout ancient litera-
ture. The figures of "darkness" (j`w,H) and "light" (rOx) are found in the Old Testament
to denote two opposing ethical spheres in which sinners and believers exist (darkness:
Job 29:3; Isa 2:5; Mic 7:8; light: Job 22:9-11; Pss 74:20; 82:5). The use of light and
darkness in relation to eschatology and
ethics became especially strong at
well as in Jewish apocalyptic material (see IQS ; esp. -16; which
describes two categories of humanity: one of light and the other of darkness. The text
says in , "In these [two] classes all the hosts of their generations have a share; in
their [two] ways they walk and the entire work of their activity [falls] within their [two]
classes, according to everybody's share, large or small, in all times forever"; then in 26,
"He knows the work of their actions in all times [of eternity] and He allots them to
mankind for knowledge of good [and evil], this deciding the fate of every living being,
according to his spiritual quality...visitation," [Italics added], The Manual of Disci-
pline, trans. P. Wenberg Moller [
nologie Der Qumran Texte [
light and darkness in Jewish apocalyptic, see T. Naph. 2:7-10; T. Benj. 5:3; 1 Enoch
61:12; 108:11). The antithesis of light and darkness is also frequent in the New
Testament, particularly in Paul (Rom 1:21; 2:19; 13:11-13; 1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 4:6; 6:14).
In Paul these figures seem to portray a position or sphere in which one exists by virtue
of whether or not that person is in union with Christ.
(31) Although i!na normally introduces purpose, most of the grammarians list this as
a rare example of result; cf. BDF, #391.5; Zerwick, #351-52; Moule, p. 142; A. T.
172 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
state that the Day may surprise them as a thief (w[j kle<pthj). In
addition to calling these believers ui[oi> fwto<j, Paul also says they are
"sons of the day" (ui[oi> h[me<raj). The Day has not yet arrived but
believers in Christ are sons of the day already by a form of realized
eschatology. Paul's eschatology for the most part assumes a frame-
work of the aeons, one present and one to come.32 However, for Paul
the Christian, the age to come has been inaugurated in the death and
resurrection of Jesus who is the first fruits of many to follow (cf.
-14; 1 Cor ). Those who are believers, by virtue of their
identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, now live
paradoxically in two worlds. Although they still live in the present
age there is a sense in which they are a part of the age to come,
children of the Day. Those, on the other hand, who have not come to
the light but still live in darkness will be caught off guard by the Day
when it comes. That believers have some kind of relationship to the
Day of the Lord seems to be without question. Paul clearly says that
when this event breaks into human history those who are in the light
and who are sons of the day will not be surprised. He does not say
that they will not be surprised because they will not be here.
Paul has emphatically stated that Christians and non-Christians
belong to different spheres of existence; the former are new creations
(2 Cor ; Ga16:15). Having made this clear he can move directly to
his purpose, namely, his parenetic concerns. The Christian is able to
respond differently than the non-Christian to the apocalyptic situa-
tion. The transition to exhortation is made by the Apostle through a
tactful change in verse 5b from second to first person (from e]ste< to
e]smen) suggesting that Paul includes himself in the exhortation he
offers in verses 6-8.
The introductory phrase a@ra ou#n in verse 6 is strongly inferential
and always indicates a new stage in the argument in Paul (cf. Rom
5:18; 7:3, 25; 8:12),33 in this case a move to parenesis. As Best notes,
this parenesis "is based on what Christians are as ‘sons of light.’",34
Robertson, A Grammar of the New Testament in Light of Historical Research (Nash-
ville: Broadman Press, 1934) 998.
32 Cf. Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6, 8; 3:18, 2 Cor 4:4; Gal 1:4; Eph 1:21; 2:2, 7; 3:9;
tological framework which is frequently found is that of the two ages, i.e., the present
age which is evil and rebellious (2 Esdr 7:50; 4:27; 6:7-9; 2 Enoch 66:6) and the age to
come, or Blessed Age (2 Enoch 58:5; 61:2; 2 Apoc. Bar. 44:12; see also Isa 65:17; Jer
31:10-14; Zech 14:7; Dan 7:22; 12:9, 13); for a good discussion of this concept at
vol. 5, pt. 2 (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1968) 296-302; see also Davies, Judaism, 317-
18 (cf. Sanh 10).
33 Best, Thessalonians, 211; BAGD, 103.
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF I THESSALONIANS 4:13-5:11 173
While "sons of light" may be a proper designation to the new age,
Christians are not yet completely in that age and still have to deal
presently with the struggles of this age. Paul thus exhorts these
believers to spiritual alertness through a series of hortatory subjunc-
tives. He first exhorts them not to sleep (mh> kaqeu<dwmen) but to be
awake (grhgorw?men) and alert (nhfw?men) (v. 6). Paul desires them
not to sleep because such behavior is a characteristic of this age.35
Instead they are exhorted to exhibit a behavior which is ethically
upright.36 In verse 8 Paul reiterates the indicative-imperative model.
Because the believer is characterized by the Day,37 he is exhorted to
be vigilant (nhfw?men) in view of the coming Day of the Lord.38
Paul's parenetic focus is quite clear. From the use of the metaphors of
wakefulness and sobriety it is apparent that Paul desires the believer
to exhibit a certain character at the Day of the Lord; he is not simply
suggesting an attitude of sober awareness of what is happening but
moral sobriety. This idea is not uncommon in Paul, particularly in
1 Thessalonians. In 3:13 and 5:23 he writes that the believer will stand
"before" Jesus (e@mprosqen) when the Parousia occurs, and it is His
desire that the believer be "blameless" (a]me<ptouj). This would mean
that the Day of the Lord and Parousia impose similar ethical demands
on the believer and would also suggest their similarity, if not their identity.
It has been shown that Paul's purpose in both 1 Thessalonians
4:13-18 and 5:1-11 is similar, namely, parenetic. He is not concerned
about eschatological details but instead how eschatology relates to
ethics. He does not attempt to give any future chronology but instead
is concerned about how a future event (the Parousia/Day of the
35 BAGD, 388; the figurative nuance is also found in classical Greek with a
derogatory sense; the term serves to indicate defective concentration or a deficient
action (cf. Plato, Ion, 536b).
36 B. N. Kaye, "Eschatology and Ethics in I and 2 Thessalonians," NovT 17 (1975)
49; grhgore<w and nh<fw occur elsewhere in eschatological contexts (grhgore<w: Matt
24:42; 25:13; Mark , 35, 37; Luke ; I Pet 5:8; nh<fw: I Pet 4:17); for an
excellent discussion of nh<fw and its eschatological flavor see TDNT, s.v., "nh<fw," by
O. Baurenfiend, 4:936-39; also Evald Lovestam, Spiritual Wakefulness in the New
Testament (Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1963) 54. The word was used in non-biblical Greek
as sober in contrast to drunkenness (Aristotle, Politics, 1274b); however, in Corpus
Hermeticum it was used metaphorically for sober mindedness (see 133.11; 171.22; in
both of these texts the contrast is made with meequ<w, also used metaphorically). It
would appear that Paul is employing a similar nuance, namely, a sober expectancy in
view of the coming Day of the Lord.
bility of moral behavior as drunkenness denotes the abandonment of self control and
responsibility" (Parousia, 74).
37 The participle o@ntej should be taken as causal.
38 The translation "vigilant" is suggested by the military figures employed in v. 8
(qw<raka and perikefalai<an).
174 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Lord) affects the present lifestyle of believers. Nevertheless, that each
passage (4:13-18 and 5:1-11) is parenetic would certainly not be
sufficient to demonstrate literary unity were it not for the fact that
each passage deals with the same subject matter, namely eschatology.
Thus the similarity in subject matter gives the second basis for advo-
cating the literary unity of the entire pericope.
SIMILARITY IN SUBJECT MATTER
Although Paul began his parenetic discourse in 4:1, he does not
discuss eschatology until 4:13. Furthermore, he leaves his discussion
of eschatology in 5:12 to address general community ethics. Thus in
4:13-5:11 one might suggest that the same subject and event are
described, albeit from two different perspectives. There are, however,
two factors which must be addressed in conjunction with this propo-
sal. The first is the structural problem of peri> de< in 5:1 and the second
is the problem of equating Parousia with Day of the Lord.
According to some, the use of peri> de< proposes a sharp contrast
in thought, thus introducing a new response to a question asked by
the Thessalonian community.39 Others prefer to see it as introducing
a shift to new subject without necessarily any reference to a response
to a question. For example, Paul Feinberg says:
the connective is not simply de< but peri> de<. The subject need not be so
different that they are in contrast, but there is not simply the continua-
tion of the same subject. This is Paul's typical way of introducing a
new topic (e.g., 1 Thess. 4:9, 13). Paul clearly intends some kind of
distinction here.40 (Italics added.)
It is puzzling that Feinberg lists 4:13 as an example of the use of peri>
de< when actually only de< occurs there. One, however, might agree
with some of what Feinberg has suggested. There is a sense in which
peri> de> does introduce a contrast; particularly in lists of similar things
it brings about a clearer separation.41 However, such does not hamper
a proposal of literary unity for the passage. One could easily argue
that in 5:17 peri> de< does not necessarily introduce a new subject but
rather a different ethical concern in light of the same subject, namely,
comfort regarding the Parousia in 4:13-18 and exhortation to spirit-
ual alertness in light of the Parousia/ Day of the Lord in 5: 1-11. Also,
39 See C. E. Faw, "On the Writing of First Thessalonians," JBL 71 (1952) 217-32;
J. R. Harris, "A Study in Letter-Writing," Expositor, series 5, 8 (1898) 161-80; the
suggestion of a response to a letter is based on the way Paul uses the phrase in 1 Cor
7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1 and 16:1.
40 Feinberg, Response to Moo, 226.
41 BAGD, 171.
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF I THESSALONIANS 4:13-5:11 175
that Paul continues the same subject might be suggested by the way
in which he employs peri> de< both in 4:9 and in 5:1. In 1 Thessalonians
4:6 Paul warns against transgressing (u[perbai<nw) and defrauding
(pleonekte<w) one's brother. These activities are the very opposite of
"brotherly love" (filadelfi<a), activities that Paul desires these be-
lievers to avoid. Paul then picks up the theme of "brotherly love" in
4:9 which he introduces with peri> de<. He says, "now concerning the
love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for
you yourselves are taught by God to love one another." Best ac-
knowledges the connection between the preceding discussion, i.e.,
defrauding a brother, and the concept of "brotherly love" in verse 9.
He says, "Here the break must be Paul's movement from a general
statement on brotherly love to the nature of that love in a particular
situation.”42 Likewise, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul writes on the
subject of the Parousia. Then in 5:1 he continues the same subject
(although now he addresses the time of the Parousia) which he also
introduces by peri> de<. He writes, "now concerning the times and the
epochs (of the Parousia), brethren, you have no need of anything to
be written to you, for you yourselves know full well that the Day of
the Lord will come as a thief. ..." In both instances (4:9 and 5:1)
peri> de< picks up the preceding theme and reintroduces it with addi-
tional discussion. Note the structure indicated in Chart A.
1 Thess 4:3-8 (defrauding one's 1 Thess 4:13-18 (Parousia-believing
brother in the context of sexual dead will experience no
1 Thess 4:9 peri> de< "brotherly love" 1 Thess 5:1 peri> de< “times and
[ou] xrei<an e@xete gra<fein u[mi?n] ----à[ou] xrei<an e@xete u[mi?n gra<fesqai]
[ga>r] -------------------------------à ga>r
au]toi> u[mei?j qeodi<daxtoi< e]ste au]toi> a]xribw?j oi@date
Because peri> de< is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:9 it is reasonable to
look for parallels with its use in 5:1. The chart above suggests that
possibility. However, it is also possible that peri> de< finds a parallel in
42 Best, Thessalonians,
171; see also George Milligan,
Thessalonians (London: Macmillan Co., 1908) 52; he says, "From impurity, which is at
176 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Matthew 24:36. In both 1 Thessalonians 5:1 and Matthew 24:36 peri>
de< introduces statements that describe the unknowable character of
the Parousia/Day of the Lord. Also, the fact that Matthew rarely
uses peri> de< (only here and 22:31) may suggest that the phrase was
part of an oral tradition upon which both Matthew and Paul drew
and should not be considered simply a stylistic inclusion on the part
of each writer. Other parallels in language between 1 Thessalonians 4
and 5 and Matthew 24 and 25 (as will be discussed later) might
likewise support this suggestion. If 1 Thessalonians 5:1 and Matthew
24:36 are parallel, this might help to explain how Paul uses peri> de< in
5:1. For example, Matthew 24:29-31 describes the coming (Parousia)
of the Son
day..." (peri> de> th?j h[me<raj e]kei<nhj). The obvious question is what .
day? In 24:37, this is answered by employing the phrase h[ parousi<a
out? ui[ou? tou? a]nqrw<pou; here the reference is to the Parousia of the
Son of Man, the same event he portrayed earlier in verses 29-31.
There is no change to a different subject but instead a shift in
emphasis in light of the same subject, namely, the coming Parousia.
Matthew, like Paul, also moves to a series of ethical injunctions
regarding alertness in view of the unexpected character of the Parou-
sia of the Son of Man (cf. Matt 24:42, 44; 25:13). Hence the literary
structure of both Matthew and Paul exhibit interesting similarities.
Although the phrase peri> de< remains a problem, it is certainly
not overwhelming to the proposed thesis of literary unity. Yet, there
is another problem which must be answered if it is concluded that
Paul is portraying the same event but with a difference in focus or
emphasis; the problem is Paul's shift in terminology from Parousia in 1
1 Thessalonians to Day of the Lord in 5:2, 4. Such a difference in
terminology might lead to the notion of disparity between the two
sections, 4:13-18 and 5:1-11. However, if Parousia and Day of the
Lord are references to the same event why does Paul change his
The basic meaning of parousi<a is either presence43 or arrival.44
In the hellenistic world the word came to have particular associations
with the arrival of a central figure. It denoted the ceremonial arrival
of a ruler to a city where he was greeted with honors of one kind or
another.45 The "parousia" was more than the physical act of arrival.
It also included the attendant ceremonies with which the ruler was
root so cruel and selfish, the Apostles pass by a subtle link of connexion to the practice
of brotherly or Christian love, admitting frankly at the same time the Thessalonians'
zeal in this respect."
43 2 Macc 15:21; 3 Macc 3:17; 2 Cor 10:10; Phil 2:12.
44 Jdt 10:18; 2 Macc 8:12; 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 7:6-7.
45 In Tebtunis papyrus 48:14, a description is given of plans "in connection with the
king's visit," pro>j th>n tou? basile<wj parousi<an; cf. Corpus Hermeticum (Poimandres)
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF I THESSALONIANS 4:13-5:11 177
honored.46 In the New Testament the word takes on a technical sense
for the future advent of Christ. Out of its twenty-four uses in the New
Testament sixteen relate to the future advent of Christ.47 However,
outside of the Thessalonian correspondence, 1 Corinthians 15:23 is
the only passage in which Paul speaks of Christ's Parousia.48 For this
reason Deissmann sees a close association between Paul's use of the
word and the technical sense it attained in the hellenistic world.49 Yet,
it is very possible that Paul conceives of the Parousia in 1 Thes-
salonians 4:15-17 as the coming of the Son of Man described in
Matthew 24:27, 37, 39. This is suggested by the use of parousi<a in
both contexts. As Best points out, "in the primitive community Jesus
comes to be identified with the Son of Man and since the Son of Man
is an eschatological future figure and has to still appear Jesus must
return as the Son of Man and in the epistles this is interpreted either
as the Parousia of Christ or as the Day of the Lord.”50 This eschato-
logical coming of the Son of Man involves not only the glorious
manifestation of Christ but can also mean judgment.51 However, in
1 Thessalonians, Paul's use of parousi<a has very positive connota-
tions for the believer (cf. 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-17; 5:23).
The fact that the eschatological coming of the Son of Man
Involved judgment on sinners may explain why Paul shifts his termi-
nology to Day of the Lord in 5:2, namely, because of the judgment
motif he introduces in this verse. In the Old Testament the phrase
hvhy MVy denotes a decisive intervention of God for judgment and
1.26a; 1.127.17; a similar use is found in Josephus, Antiquities, 111.80, 202; IX. 55;
XVIII. 284. For a good discussion of this nuance of parousi<a see TDNT, s. v. "parou-
si<a," by A. Oepke, 5:858.
46 Deissmann notes that when an event of this nature occurred, coins were minted,
money was collected, and even in the case of Hadrian, a new era was reckoned (Adolph
Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East (reprint ed.,
House, 1978) 368-73.
47 Cf. Matt 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1;
Jas 5:7, 8; 2 Pet 1:16; 3:4, 12. For a discussion of synonymous terms also used for
Christ's future advent, see Gundry, Tribulation, 158-59.
48 Elsewhere in Paul's letters parousi<a always refers to the arrival of a human
being; cf. 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 7:6; 10:10; Phil 1:26; 2:12; in the last of these three texts
Paul refers to himself; for a treatment of this concept, see Robert Funk, "The Apostolic
Parousia: Form and Significance," in Christian History and Interpretation: Studies
Presented to John Knox, ed. W. A. Farmer, C. F. D. Moule and R. R. Niebuhr
(Cambridge: University Press, 1967) 249-68.
49 Deissmann, Light, 372.
50 Best, Thessalonians, 350-51; also H. J. Schoeps, Paul: The Theology of the
Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History, trans. Harold Knight (
51 L. Cerfaux notes the similarity in descriptions between the eschatological coming
of the son of Man in 1 Enoch and that of Christ (the Son of Man) (Christ in the
description of the coming of the Son of Man in the New Testament as well as in Jewish
178 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
deliverance.52 It can refer to a near event or to the final climactic
event, although it is not always clear that the prophets distinguished
the two.53 Yet, while the Day is frequently described as one of
judgment,54 deliverance for the people of God is also delineated as
part of the Day.55 In the New Testament there is great variety of
expressions for the Day (which consistently refers to the end of the
age) and it is evident that there is no fixed terminology.56 The Old
Testament idea of the Day of the Lord is thoroughly Christianized in
Paul and hence the blessing associated with it is directly connected to
one's relationship with Christ. Those who are in Christ anticipate His
presence or Parousia whereas those who are outside of Christ will be
overtaken in judgment, a motif in harmony with the phrase h[me<ra kuri<ou.
The question then is what does this imply regarding the literary
unity of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5: 11? Instead of Paul presenting two
different events, it is suggested that Paul is presenting a single escha-
tological event from two perspectives. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Paul describes this event as a time of blessing for Christians and
hence uses the term [arpisi<a whereas in 5:1-3 he describes the
judgment this event brings and thus uses the phrase h[me<ra kuri<ou.
Paul's eschatological presentation might be considered aoristic in that
it says nothing about whether these aspects (blessing and judgment)
are in actuality on different parts of a chronological time line. Fur-
thermore, he says absolutely nothing about a seven year Tribulation
period although his presentation certainly allows for it. A challenge
can be raised to Gundry who, while equating Parousia and Day of
apocalyptic material is probably under the influence of the Danielic figure in Dan 7; see
1 Enoch 48:2, 7; 49:2, 4; 51:3; 62:5; 69:27, 29; 71:16. Particularly interesting in this
regard is 1 Enoch 69:26-29 in which the revelation of the Son of Man is described. It is
said to be a great blessing for the righteous and judgment for sinners.
52 C. H. H. Rowley, The Faith
(London: SCM, 1956) 178-200.
53 Dougias J. Moo, "The Case for the Posttribulation Rapture Position," in The
Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational?, ed. Richard R. Reiter (
Zondervan Publishing House, 1984) 183.
54 Amos 5:18-20; Joel 1:15; Isa 13:6,9; for a good discussion of the "Day of the
Lord" in the Old Testament and its connection with judgment, see TDNT, s.v. "h[
me<ra," by Gerhard von Rad, 2:944-47.
55 Isa 27; Jer 30:8-9; Joel 2:32; 3:18; Obad 15-17.
56 Moo lists at least eighteen different expressions that refer to this concept; the
most noticeable are: 1) "The day of Christ" (Phil 1:10; 2:16); 2) "The day of our Lord
Jesus" (2 Cor 1:14); 3) "The day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6); 4) "The day of our Lord
Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1 :8); "The day of the Son of Man" (Luke 17:30). It is particularly
interesting the way Paul, when referring to the Day, can combine "Lord" and "Christ"
in one expression (1 Cor 1:8); similarly "Lord" and "Jesus" (2 Cor 1:14). As Moo says,
"surely this suggests that since for Paul Jesus Christ is the Lord, he uses terms such as
"Day of the Lord" and "Day of Christ" interchangeably," Posttribulation Rapture,
248, n. 27.
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF I THESSALONIANS 179
the Lord, places these events at the end of the Tribulation period. In
other words, he assumes a Tribulation framework in his discussion of
1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11.57 However, nowhere does Paul mention
the Tribulation. Moo recognizes this and is more cautious in his
appraisal, though not disagreeing with Gundry's conclusions. He
writes, "The fact that the Tribulation seems not to be part of the Day
suggests that it precedes all these events, but this is not certain.”58
What can be said is that Paul presents the Parousia and the Day as "a
general denotation of the great future that dawns with Christ's com-
ing.”59 Chart B may help to visualize the difference between the
proposal offered here and the position of Gundry and Moo.
PROPOSAL GUNDRY/MOO SCHEME
(Either is Possible) Day of the Lord
7 Year Tribulation 7 Year Tribulation
Day of Lord (Armageddon
or 7 Year Tribulation)
Exchatological Event-Aoristic Eschatological Event-Precisely at the
End of the Tribulation
-Paul makes no statement as to
where each aspect falls on the time -Paul assumes a 7 year Tribulation
line, however, his presentation allows and thus is focusing only on the End
for either pre- or post- Tribulation- of this time line. This demands a
ism. The presentation is general posttribulational rapture if Parousia
and unrefined, hence the description and Day of the Lord are equated.
57 Gundry, Tribulation, 100-11.
58 Moo, Posttribulation Rapture, 184.
59 Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An
Outlines of His Theology (
Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975) 530-31; cf. also George E. Ladd, A Theology of the
New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 555.
180 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Neither the structural problem of peri> de< nor the shift in terms
from parousi<a to h[me<ra kuri<ou is sufficient to disprove the literary
unity of 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-5:11. However, in addition to the fact
that Paul's purpose and subject matter are the same in both 4:13-18
and 5:1-11, a third reason can be given which suggests the literary
unity of the entire passage.
PARALLELS BETWEEN 1 THESSALONIANS 4 AND 5
AND MATTHEW 24 AND 25
A significant reason to regard 1 Thessalonians as a
literary unit is based on Paul's use of apocalyptic symbols throughout
the passage. Many of the symbols which Paul uses can be found in
the Old Testament as well as in Jewish apocalyptic material.60 How-
ever, the imagery Paul uses bears a striking resemblance to the
eschatological teaching regarding the coming of the Son of Man in
the Olivet discourse of the synoptic gospels, particularly the Mat-
thean form. Although many of the symbols do occur in Jewish
apocalyptic, the figures appear in isolated texts but never all together
as one finds in the Matthean parallels.
That Paul is drawing on traditional eschatological material is
implied by his statement in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 in which he says,
"We say this to you by the word of the Lord." A number of solutions
have been offered for this difficult phrase.61 Hill is probably correct
when he writes, "May it not mean, as Rigaux and others maintain,
60 In the Old Testament (with reference to theophanic appearances and the Day of
the Lord) one find references to such imagery as trumpets (Exod ; ; Isa
27:13; Zech ) and clouds (Exod 19:6; 24:15-18; 40:34; 1 Kg , 11; Ps 97:2; Ezek
30:3; Dan 7:13; Joel 2:2). For a discussion of the use of contemporary apocalyptic
symbolism, see Neil, Thessalonians, 98. That Paul is not creating his own imagery can
be shown from its occurrence in Jewish apocalyptic material (e.g., the figure of
judgment as "travail upon an expectant mother" [cf. 1 Thess 5:3; Matt 24:8] can be
found in 1 Enoch 62:4 which says, "the pain shall come upon them as a woman in
travail, and she has pain in bringing forth;"" see also 4 Ezra -32; , 42.
Furthermore, some of the Pauline metaphors, such as waking and sleeping (cf. 1 Thess
5:6-7) are found also in classical Greek (e.g., Plato, Symp., 203a which says, "God with
man does not mingle: but the spiritual is the means of all society and converse of men
with gods and of gods with men, whether waking or sleeping" [kai> e]grhgoro<si kai>
kaqeu<dousi] [Italics added]).
61 J. Jeremias suggests that the phrase refers to an agraphon (Unknown Sayings of
the exalted Jesus given to the church through one of its prophets (possibly including
himself) ("The Genesis of Belief in an Imminent Parousia," JTS 14  106); Neil
states that Paul is drawing from a Jewish or Christian apocalyptic writing (Thes-
salonians, p. 98); Gunther Bornkamm says that the phrase means an apocryphal word
of Jesus which came into existence only in the post-Easter church (Paul trans. D.
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF I THESSALONIANS 181
that Paul goes back, not to a single saying of Jesus but to his
apocalyptic teaching as a whole, in order to validate his message and
clarify the issues which agitated some of his correspondents?”62 In
verse 15b Paul states a theological summary of "the word of the
Lord" which he then gives in the following verses, drawing on tradi-
tional material into which he inserts his own unique material to suit
his parenetic purpose.63 Yet, he does not stop at verse 17 in his use of
traditional material. He continues until 5:7. In fact, no less than
sixteen parallels occur between Matthew 24-25 and 1 Thessalonians
4-5. Note the following parallels:
1. Christ Himself returns (1 Thess with Matt 24:30).
2. From heaven (1 Thess with Matt 24:30).
3. With a shout (1 Thess with Matt 24:30 [in power]).
4. Accompanied by angels (1 Thess with Matt 24:31).
5. With the trumpet of God (1 Thess with Matt 24:31
[trumpet is unique to Matt in the synoptic tradition]).
6. Believers are supernaturally gathered to Christ (1 Thess
with Matt 24:31; 40-41).
7. Believers meet the Lord (1 Thess [a]pa<nthsij] with Matt
25:1, 6 [u[pa<nthsij and a]pa<nthsij]).
8. In the clouds (1 Thess with Matt 24:30).
9. The time is unknown (1 Thess 5:1-2 with Matt 24:36); it is
interesting to note that peri> de< introduces both discussions
regarding the fact that the time is unknowable.
10. Will come as a thief (1 Thess 5:2, 4 with Matt 24:43).
11. Will come at night (1 Thess 5:2 with Matt 24:43 [night is
unique to Matt in the synoptic tradition]).
12. Unbelievers are unaware of impending judgment (1 Thess 5:3
with Matt 24:37-39).
13. Judgment comes as travail upon an expectant mother (1 Thess
5:3 with Matt 24:8 [cf. RSV]).
14. Believers are not deceived (1 Thess 5:6 with Matt 24:4-5).
15. Believers are to watch (1 Thess 5:6 with Matt 24:42).
16. Warning against drunkenness (1 Thess 5:7 with Matt 24:49).
It should be noted that not only are the principal features of Paul's
discussion found in the Matthean account but even the order is sub-
stantially the same. Although there are several places in the parallels
62 David Hill, New Testament Prophecy (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979) 130-31.
63 For example, statements in the first person like h[mei?j oi[ zw?ntej oi[ perileipo-
menoi are possibly a reworking of the tradition as well as ku<rioj; instead of an original
ui[o>j a]nqrw<pou, Jeremias, Unknown Sayings, 80-83.
182 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
in which the material is drawn from what scholars call the traditional
Q material (cf. Matt 24:37-39; 43-44) or in which material is unique
to Matthew (cf. trumpet in Matt 24:31 and night in 24:43), there are
virtually no places in either Luke or Mark that contain parallels that
Matthew lacks. In other words, Matthew contains all the parallels
while the other gospels only contain several.
A few observations should be made regarding the parallel sym-
bols. First, these parallels do not begin at 5:1 or at and stop at
4:17. Instead, they begin at and continue to 5:7. Second, the fact
that the parallels are not identical always but do exhibit moderate
dissimilarity suggests that underlying both Matthew 24-25 and 1 Thes-
salonians 4-5 is an early tradition about the Parousia and resurrection
with which distinct apocalyptic figures were associated, i.e., trumpet,
cloud, thief, and others.64 The dissimilarity of the imagery in both
accounts may indicate that each writer has used the tradition to suit his
own individual purpose. Furthermore, if this is true, it might suggest a
tradition which is more dynamic (oral) rather than static (source/
The parallels here cited have been noticed by others, especially
those of the posttribulational persuasion,65 and have been used to
demonstrate the similarity between the events of Matthew 24-25 and
1 Thessalonians 4-5. Feinberg has recognized this to be a legitimate
problem for pretribulationalism and thus has attempted to respond to
it. He writes:
First, that there should be similarities between passages dealing with
the posttribulation return of Christ and a pretribulation Rapture of the
church should not surprise us. While the two events are different, they
are not entirely dissimilar. The two events may be similar, but they are
not the same. For me the fact that there are differences, even if they are
not contradictory, is more significant than the similarities. Second, the
similarities can be maintained only if we understand the passages in
their most general sense.66 (Italics added.)
Yet, Feinberg's effort is not convincing. He is quite atomistic in his
evaluation of the apocalyptic symbols used and as a result makes
64 Cf. J. B. Orchard, "Thessalonians and the Synoptic Gospels," Bib 19 (1938) 19-
42; see also G. Henry Waterman, "The Sources of Paul's Teaching on the 2nd Coming
of Christ in 1 and 2 Thessalonians," JETS 18 (1975) 105-13.
65 Cf. William E.
Doctrine in Christian Eschatology"
1967) 249-50; Gundry, Tribulation, 102-11; Moo, Posttribulation Rapture, 181; 190-
96. This writer observed these parallels independent of any of these works in "The
Literary and Theological Unity of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11" (unpublished M. A.
66 Feinberg, Response to Moo, 225.
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-5:11 183
some unguarded statements. For example, in his evaluation of the
parallel regarding the association of clouds with Jesus' coming he
writes, "In Matthew the Son of Man comes on the clouds, while in
1Thessalonians 4 the ascending believers are in them.”67 (Italics
added.) However, can one maintain this level of refinement when
dealing with such apocalyptic symbolism? It would appear that the
gospel writers did not because in the parallel accounts of Mark
and Luke one finds e]n nefe<laij; and e]n nefe<lh respectively.
Both of these phrases have the prepositions e]n (cf. 1 Thess which
likewise uses e]n) in contrast to Matthew's use of e]pi<. Also there is a
distinction between the plural (Mark ) and singular (Luke )
use of nefe<lh. It would seem that Feinberg has failed to consider the
parallel accounts of Matthew 24:30 in the other gospels. Another
example of Feinberg's criticism of parallels between the Olivet Dis-
course and 1Thessalonians 4-5 is his evaluation of angels in both
texts. He says, "In Matthew the angels gather the elect; in 1 Thessa-
lonians the Lord Himself gathers the believers.”68 However, an exam-
ination of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 reveals that there is not as much
dissimilarity as Feinberg suggests. Paul writes, o[ ku<rioj e]n keleu<s-
mati. . . katabh<setai, "the Lord will descend with a shout." Fol-
lowing this assertion there are two additional prepositional phrases
introduced by e]n and connected by kai<. Yet, these two phrases are
linked asyndetically to e]n keleu<smati and may suggest that the
"shout" or "command" is accomplished by means of the "voice of an
archangel" (e]n fwh^? a]rxagge<lou) and "the, trumpet of God" (e]n
simply using standard apocalyptic imagery in which the commands of
God can be given through the intermediary of angels (e.g. Rev.
7:2).”69 (Italics added.)
If the parallels are not as dissimilar as Feinberg states, then does
the proposal of parallels between Matthew 24-25 and 1 Thessalonians
4-5 demand a
posttribulation position as
contend? I would suggest that such an interpretation is not necessarily
conclusive. As has been proposed earlier, it is possible that Paul in no
way is working with a refined diachronic time scheme but instead is
presenting a general eschatological event which has two effects on two
qualities of people, believers and unbelievers. This general nature of
Paul's eschatological discussion is quite similar to the eschatological
presentation of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse. In that discourse there
is likewise no clear diachronic scheme but instead the portrayal is
67 Ibid., 225.
68 Ibid., 225.
69 I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2
Thessalonians, NCBC (
Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983) 129.
184 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
very general and unrefined. In fact, one could argue that not only is
Paul's presentation unrefined but that he has essentially followed the
methodology of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse. John A. Sproule,
regarding the prophetic methodology of Jesus, writes:
In that discourse (cf. Luke -28) the Lord describes the destruction
segments of the same historical event even though almost 2,000 years
have already intervened between those two events. If one compares
Luke 21:20, 21 with Matthew 24:15, 16, it appears to the reader that
and the appearance of the "abomination of desolation" (taken by
almost all as the event marking the middle of Daniel's seventieth week)
are the same event since both are immediately followed by the state-
"Then let those who are in
24:16; Luke 21:21). Yet they are apparently events separated in time by
almost 2,000 years also. In fact, one wonders if perhaps these two
events might not actually be a reference to the same event.70
Jesus describes the Parousia without placing it on a diachronic
time line. He portrays it as an event which will come at the end of the
age. Like Paul's presentation in 1 Thessalonians 4-5, Jesus' presenta-
tion of His Parousia could be described as aoristic. Thus one would
expect close similarities between the Matthean and Pauline accounts.
Paul was certainly acquainted with the essential content of Jesus'
discourses. As Sproule says, "Even though this discursive material
may have not been committed to writing when Paul was writing his
earliest epistles, it formed a significant portion of the oral tradition
with which Paul would be well acquainted since much of the oral
tradition had become fundamental to the very early Christian faith.”71
Therefore, it is suggested that the eschatological presentations of
both Jesus and Paul are in concord as to their unrefined and general
nature and that each describe the Parousia without any commitment
to a diachronic time scheme. Both presentations instead are more
qualitative in nature. If this is true then the parallels between 1 Thes-
salonians 4-5 and Matthew 24-25 do not necessarily support either
posttribulationism or pretribulationism. That would mean that it is
possible to embrace the viability of the parallels while still advocating
a pretribulational rapture position. Having proposed the viability of
such parallels, it "is necessary to evaluate how they support the literary
unity of the passage under discussion. It is important to note that the
parallels with the Olivet Discourse do not occur just in 1 Thessa-
lonians 4:13-18 or in 5:1-11 but as previously noted, run throughout
70 Sproule, Pretribulation Defense, 148.
71 Ibid., 150.
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF I THESSALONIANS 185
the entire passage. Furthermore, it should also be observed that these
parallels are more than verbal or semantic in nature but are also
structural, i.e., they exhibit similar arrangement. For that reason, I
would suggest that Paul follows basically the same structure in
arranging the parallels as does Matthew. The following table demon-
strates the relationship.
Matthew 24 and 25 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5
Parousia Event Parousia Event
Matthew 24:30 (Son of Man returns 1 Thessalonians 4:16 (Jesus returns
from heaven in power) from heaven with a shout)
Matthew 24:31 (Son of Man attended 1 Thessalonians (Jesus at-
by angels, a trumpet, and the tended by an archangel, a
elect are gathered trumpet, and the dead in Christ
Matthew 24:30 (Son of Man associ- rise)
ated with clouds) 1 Thessalonians (Jesus and
believers associated with clouds
Time of the Day Unknown Time of the Day Unknown
Matthew 24:36 (Nobody 1 Thessalonians 5:1 (Nobody
knows where the Day of His knows when the Day of the Lord
Parousia occurs; note the use of occurs; note the use of peri> de<)
Unexpected Nature of the Day Unexpected Nature of the Day
Matthew 24:43 (the Parousia 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (the Day of the
will occur as a thief in the night- Lord will occur as a thief in the
this is the only place in which a night)
parallel fails to correspond in 1 Thessaloninans 5:3 (unbelievers
order) are taken by surprise)
Matthew 24:37-39 (unbe-
lievers are taken by surprise)
Exhortations to Watch Exhortations to Watch
Matthew 24:42 * (believers are 1 Thessalonians 5:6 (believers are
to watch) to watch)
Matthew 24:29 (believers are 1 Thessalonians 5:7 (believers are
warned against drunkenness by implication warned to avoid
[spiritual] which is a quality of drunkenness [spiritual] which is
unbelief) a quality of the night [spiritual])
*The exhortation to watch is
also found in Matthew 25:13 fol-
lowing the parable of the Bride-
groom and the Virgins.
186 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
If one assumes the essential cohesion and unity of Matthew's
presentation of Jesus' discourse without disparity or disjunction (par-
ticularly at Matt 24:36), is it not reasonable to assume the same on
the part of Paul? For this reason it is suggested that Paul has
composed a single, uninterrupted, literary unit in harmony with Jesus'
eschatological presentation in Matthew 24-25. The similarity of both
verbal and structural parallels with Matthew strongly supports this
THE INCLUSIO BETWEEN 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-14 AND 5:9-10
A final reason for acknowledging literary unity between 1 Thes-
salonians -18 and 5:1-11 is the striking parallels which exist ,
between -14, 18 and 5:9-11. These two texts appear to be stylistic
brackets or borders for the entire pericope. There are two reasons for
arguing that 5:9-11 is an inclusio with -14,18.
First, it is possible that Paul employs a pre-Pauline credal form-
ula in both 4:13-14 and 5:9-10. In Paul writes, ]Ihsou?j a]pe<qanen
kai> a]ne<sth. The use of ]Ihsou?j rather than the more xristo<j
suggests that Paul is drawing from terminology not customary to his
normal vocabulary. Also Paul uses a]ne<sth rather than the more
usual h]ge<rqh. Paul uses e]gei<rw much more frequently in his letters
for resurrection, whether of Christ or of His people, a]ni<sthmi being
found only here, in 4:16 and in Ephesians 5:1472 On the other hand,
e]gei<rw is used forty time by Paul, normally in the passive.73 Inter-
estingly, it appears from patristic citations that a]ni<sthmi continued to
be used of the resurrection of Christ.74 Thus the infrequent occur-
rence of the terminology in 4:13-14 suggests that Paul is drawing on
foreign material. A pre-Pauline credal formula is also suggested in
5:10 by the phrase tou? a]poqano<ntoj u[pe>r h[mw?n. Bruce notes that its
similarity in construction to Galatians 1:4 (an articular participle
which is equivalent to a relative clause), which Bovon has discerned
to be a pre-Pauline formula, might suggest that we are dealing with
such a formula in 1 Thessalonians 5:10 as well.75 Havener likewise has
72 0ne could argue that a]ni<sthmi occurs in Pauline preaching in Acts 17:3. How-
ever, the use there may be Lucan since he frequently employs a]ni<sthmi (forty four
times in Acts aloe while using e]gei<rw twelve times).
73 Cf. Best, Thessalonians, 187; he states that the passive suggests that "Christ is
raised by God." However, note M. Zerwick who states a contrary view, Biblical Greek, #231.
74 Cf. Ign.
appear together, the same two words that occur in 1 Thess 4:14); Barn. 15:9 (a]ne<sth, the same
form as in 1 Thess 4:14).
75 Bruce, Thessalonians, 113; he cites F. Bovon, "Une formule prepaulinienne dans
l'epitre aux Galates (Ga 1, 4-5)," in Paganism, Judaisme, Christianisme, Melanges
offerts a M. Simon, ed. A. Benoit, M. Philonenko, C. Vogel (Paris: Boccard, 1978),
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF I THESSALONIANS 4:13-5:11 187
attempted to argue for pre-Pauline material in 5:10, particularly by
an evaluation of the phrase "who died for us," in verse 10a.(76) If it is
true that Paul is employing a credal formula here as well as in 4:13-
14, such would mean that Paul begins and closes his eschatological
discourse with a confession that the death of Jesus is the basis for
eschatological hope. However, it must be admitted that such an
evaluation regarding the pre-Pauline material is somewhat specula-
tive and inconclusive.
There is a second and much stronger reason for the presence of
an inclusio, namely, the close stylistic and semantic parallels found
between 4:13-14 and 5:9-10. Note the structure indicated in Chart C.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 18 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11
peri> tw?n xoinwme<nwn
v 14 vv 9-10
ei] . . . ]Ihsou?j a]pe<qanen kai> e@qeto . . . o[ qeo>j
a]ne<sth . . . o[ qeo>j dia> . . . ]Ihsou? Xristou?
tou>j koimhqe<ntaj tou? a]poqano<ntoj u[pe>r h[mw?n
dia> tou? ]Ihsou? a@cei . . . ei@te grhgorw?men ei@te
su>n au]t&? kaqeu<dwmen
su>n au]t&? zh<swmen
vv 15-17 (Explanatory/Confirmatory)
v 18 v 11
!Wste parakalei?te a]llh<louj Di>o parakalei?te a]llh<louj
(cf. Vv 13-17) (cf. v 10)
(76)Ivan Havener, "The Pre-Pauline Christological Credal Formulae of 1 Thessa-
lonians," SBLSPA, vol. 20, ed. Kent H. Richards (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981)
115; Harnisch has provided the most detailed reasons for a suggestion of a pre-Pauline
credal formula in 5:9-10. According to him, the signs of a stereotyped confession or
confessional fragment include: 1) the prepositional phrases "through our Lord Jesus
Christ" and "for us," 2) participial style in v. 10a, 3) the introductory o!ti in v. 9a, 4) the
word peripoi<hsij which is a hapax legomenon for Paul, 5) the use of the verb e@qeto in
the aorist, the tense most frequently used in confessional formulae (Eschatological
Existenz, 122-23. To this Havener adds a sixth reason: the use of h[ma?j, since credal
formulae frequently employ the first person plural of the personal pronoun (p. 117).
188 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Although the parallels do not exhibit identical order and form, their
semantic equivalence throughout argues for intentional parallelism.
In each passage the death of Christ (a]pe<qanen and a]poqano<toj) is
the basis for the believer's hope of life with Him. Each text stresses
the believer's presence "with Christ" (su>n au]t&). Each text asserts
that Jesus is the intermediate agent through whom God performs the
action (dia>…. ]Ihsou?). Also, God is the author of both actions (o[
qeo>j a@cei and o[ qeo>j e@qeto). Furthermore, in verses 13-17 the major
problem is the relation of the dead to the Parousia, i.e., verses 13-17
give the essential assertion, followed by an explanation in verses 15-
17. Then verse 18 follows with an exhortation "to comfort one
another." In the same manner, 1 Thessalonians reiterates the
same promise of -17, i.e., the believer will live with Christ, and
then verse 11 follows with the corresponding exhortation "to comfort
one another." There is, however, one obstacle to the parallelism and
that is the identification of the nuance of kaqeu<dw in .
Can kaqeu<dw be equated with koima<w in -141? Paul normally
uses koima<w when he employs the metaphor of sleep for the death of
the believer.77 Furthermore, he uses kaqeu<dw for spiritual insensibility
in 5:6. For this reason, Edgar78 and Kaye79 have argued that Paul
uses the verb with reference to spiritual insensibility in . However,
there is good evidence to the contrary, namely, that Paul uses the
verb to mean "death" and hence it is to be taken as a synonym with
koima<w in -14.80
First, although kaqeu<dw is not used elsewhere by Paul as a
metaphor for death, the verb is used this way in biblical Greek.
Particularly interesting is Daniel 12:2 (LXX) which says, "many of
them that sleep (tw?n daqeudo<ntwn) in the dust shall awake, some to
everlasting life, and some to reproach and everlasting shame.81 In fact,
in light of the eschatological nature of Daniel 12:2 (cf. zwh>n ai]w<nion),
it is possible that Paul is alluding to it and therefore employs the same
terminology (this would not be a problem given the aoristic nature of
Paul's eschatological presentation). The verb kaqeu<dw is also most
likely a reference to death in Mark 5:39, Matthew 9:24, and Luke
8:52. In these texts the account is given of Jesus raising Jairus'
daughter from the dead.82 One thing, however, is important, namely,
77 Cf. 1 Cor ; ; 15:6, 18,20,51; 1 Thess , 14, 15.
78 Thomas Edgar, "The Meaning of 'Sleep' in 1 Thessalonians ," JETS 22
79 B. N. Kaye, "Eschatological and Ethics in 1 and 2 Thessalonians," NovT 17 (1975) 52.
80 See Tracy L. Howard, "The Meaning of 'Sleep' in 1 Thessalonians -A
Reappraisal," GTJ6 (1985) 337-48.
81 The Theodotion text also uses tw?n kaqeudo<ntwn as a reference to those who
have died but who will experience resurrection (see The Septuaginta, ed. Alfred Rahlfs
88 For a full discussion of this point, see Howard, "The Meaning of 'Sleep,'" 340.
HOWARD: LITERARY UNITY OF 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-5:11 189
the nuance of "death" is not out of concord with the semantic field of
the verb kaqeu<dw. Second, the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 war-
rants the nuance of "death" for kaqeu<dw. To render it simply as
"spiritual insensibility" weakens greatly the preceding exhortations. If
one did give kaqeu<dw such a nuance, a paraphrase of verse 10 might be,
"although I desire you to maintain spiritual alertness in view of the
imminent Parousia, Jesus died so that whether we are spiritually insen-
sible or not, we still might live with Him." Bruce draws a similar
conclusion when he writes, "It is ludicrous to suppose that the writers
mean, 'whether you live like sons of light or sons of darkness, it will
make little difference: you will be alright in the end.' “83 (Italics added.)
The weakening of the previous series of hortatory subjunctives is
obvious (cf. vv. 6, 8). Third, Paul has already used kaqeu<dw in verses
6-7 in two different ways (v. 6 metaphorically and v. 7 Iiterally).84 Thus
for Paul to give it a nuance of "death" would not be surprising at all
since he has previously used the verb with two different nuances in the
same context. In fact, he may be employing an intentional word play
with the uses in verses 6 and 7. Fourth, the nuance of "death" for
kaqeu<dw in verse 10 is supported by the majority of both commen-
tators and lexicographers.85 Finally, as noted above, the numerous
parallels which already exist between -14 and 5:9-10 likewise I
argue that kaqeu<dw is parallel to koima<w in -14. Consequently, the
probability of an inclusio between -14 and 5:9-10 strongly sug-
gests the essential unity of the entire pericope.
It has been proposed that parallels exist between 1 Thessalonians
4-5 and Matthew 24-25. The suggestion has also been made that
Paul employs an inclusio between 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 and 5:9-
10. If both of these observations are combined Chart D offers a clear
display of the literary unity of the entire passage.
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-14
(Death of Christ as the Basis for Resurrection)
1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:8
The lnclusio Brackets (Verbal and Structural Parallels with
the Discussion of The Matthew 24 and 25)
Parousia/Day of the
Lord 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10
(Death of Christ as the Basis for Resurrection)
83 Bruce, Thessalonians, 114.
84 BAGD, 388.
85 See Howard, "The Meaning of 'Sleep,'" 346, n. 25.
190 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
It would appear that Paul has bracketed off his discussion of the
coming Parousia/Day of the Lord with a reminder that the basis for
the hope of believers (both alive and dead) is the death and resurrec-
tion of Christ. Such may suggest that this is the main issue behind the
entire eschatological discourse. Based on this hope, Paul can exhort
these believers to "comfort one another" (cf. and ).
Several reasons have been offered for taking 1 Thessalonians
as one literary unit and not as two distinct units separated
by peri> de< in 5:1. First, it has been suggested that Paul's purpose is
the same in both, namely, parenetic. Paul points out the different
effects the Parousia/Day of the Lord will have on those with different
spiritual conditions (believers and unbelievers). Second, Paul appears
to be describing a single aoristic event from two perspectives. For the
believer it will be a time of blessing and thus Paul uses the word
Parousia, whereas for the unbeliever it will be a time of judgment and
hence Paul shifts his terminology to Day of the Lord. The third and
fourth reasons are most significant. The parallels exhibited with the
Olivet Discourse along with the inclusio between 1 Thessalonians
4:13-14 and 5:9-10 support the present thesis, namely, that the entire
passage is a single literary unit. Thus there is no reason to regard
5:1-11 either as a non-Pauline interpolation, a passage written later
to counter gnostic threats, an example of the literary form topos, or
as a reference to a different situation and event than that found in
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