1 Thessalonians 4:4: Breaking the Impasse -- By: Jay E. Smith

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 11:1 (NA 2001)
Article: 1 Thessalonians 4:4: Breaking the Impasse
Author: Jay E. Smith


1 Thessalonians 4:4: Breaking the Impasse

Jay E. Smith

Dallas Theological Seminary

The crux interpretum τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος κτᾶσθαι ἐν ἁγιασμῷ καὶ τιμῇ in 1 Thess 4:4 has traditionally been understood in one of three ways: (1) “acquire a wife for himself in holiness and honor” (nab); (2) “live with your wife in a holy and honorable way” (tev); and (3) “control your own body in holiness and honor” (nrsv). These three views are thoroughly evaluated, and new evidence, especially concerning the referent of σκεῦος as well as the semantic force of the present infinitive κτᾶσθαι, is brought to bear on the problem. This analysis suggests that by τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος κτᾶσθαι ἐν ἁγιασμῷ καὶ τιμῇ Paul means that each one is to control his or her own body in holiness and honor or, perhaps more specifically, that each one is to control his or her sexual organ in holiness and honor.

Key Words: κτάομαι, σκεῦος, כלי, vessel, body, sexual, organ, wife, possess, acquire

The meaning of the obscure phrase τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος κτᾶσθαι in1 Thess 4:4 has long puzzled interpreters. Two major questions are at issue: (1) the referent of σκεῦος, and (2) the meaning of the verb κτάομαι. From antiquity two major interpretations have been proposed for σκεῦος. Augustine and Theodore of Mopseuestia, for example, held that σκεῦος referred to a man’s wife, while Tertullian, Ambrosiaster, Chrysostom, and Theodoret understood it as a reference to one’s body.1 Two major interpretations have also been

proposed for the meaning of κτάομαι. The present infinitive κτᾶσθαι is understood to have either ingressive force (“to obtain,” “to acquire”) or durative force (“to possess,” and hence, “to control” or “to live with”), which is normally expressed by the perfect tense.

These various options have been combined into three main interpretations of the phrase τὸ ἑαυτο...

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