The Letters to the Thessalonians

By Cara, Robert J. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2003 | Go to article overview

The Letters to the Thessalonians


Cara, Robert J., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


The Letters to the Thessalonians. By Gene L. Green. PNTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002, xl + 400 pp., $42.00.

Gene Green, Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, has produced a firstclass, scholarly commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians that is consistent with a high view of Scripture and evangelical theology. The main emphasis of this commentary is an interest in Greco-Roman sources and socio-economic background.

Green's interest in Greco-Roman background is consistent throughout the commentary. A large and useful part of the introduction concerns information on Thessalonica per se, including detailing what actual literary and archaeological sources are extant concerning Thessalonica. Within the commentary proper, there are many quotes and multiple references to Greco-Roman parallels.

Two other recent major commentaries on 1-2 Thessalonians have a similar emphasis on Greco-Roman sources and socio-economic background: Charles Wanamaker's in the NIGTC series (1990) and Abraham Malherbe's in the AB series (2000). (Green did not have access to the Malherbe commentary, but he did have access to Malherbe's voluminous other works in this area.) Given the similarities, how do these three differ methodologically? Green differs from Wanamaker in that Green rejects using ancient rhetorical categories as a major hermeneutical key for Pauline letters. (I heartily agree with Green here.) Green is more similar to Malherbe in their use of literary sources, though Malherbe puts more weight on parallel philosophical discourses to aid exegesis.

All three of the commentaries interact with the newer socio-economic emphasis by some that patron-client relationships are the basic glue that held Greco-Roman society together. A patron had money and social access that he gave to a client. A client in return gave honor and loyalty back to the patron. According to this newer view, many NT passages need to be reinterpreted within this framework. For 1-2 Thessalonians, Malherbe tends to reject this thesis, Wanamaker uses it to explain some passages, but Green uses it consistently to understand many passages.

According to Green, the client-patron relationship explains better, for example, the use of "faith" in 1 Thess 1:3 (the client showed faith/loyalty to the patron); the "thanksgiving" in 1 Thess 3:9 (thanksgiving was a debt owed to the patron); the identity of the leaders of 1 Thess 5:12-13 as patrons; the imperial cult and its relationship to 2 Thess 2:1-12 (the imperial cult in Thessalonica was especially important due to Rome's patronage to Thessalonica); and God as the patron who will protect us, his clients (2 Thess 3:3). The patron-client relationship especially explains the idle-worker discussions of 1 Thess 4:11-12 and 2 Thess 3:6-15. The idle workers were clients who were receiving money from their patrons. This explains their lack of motivation to work, not a misunderstanding of eschatology.

Concerning introductory matters, Green has traditional conclusions. Paul is the primary author (with his companions) of both 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and 1 Thessalonians was written first (contra Wanamaker). …

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