The Literary Unity of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 -- By: Tracy L. Howard

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 09:2 (Fall 1988)
Article: The Literary Unity of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
Author: Tracy L. Howard

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 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 5:1–11 describe two entirely different eschatological events. Coupled with this is the assumption that Paul describes both events through a diachronic time scheme. However, Paul in no way attempts to differentiate two events in this passage. Instead, Pauls eschatological presentation is very general or evenaoristic in focus. This conclusion is drawn in some measure from a clear literary unity that characterizes the passage.

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First Thessalonians 4:13–5:11 is one of the longest and earliest eschatological sections in the Pauline corpus. The passage contains 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 4:13–18 and 5:1–11 are to be viewed as distinct or in some sense equivalent. D. G. Bradley proposed that 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 5:1–11 were individual examples of the literary form topos.1 According to Bradley, “the distinctive characteristic of the topos is that it is composed of

more than one sentence dealing with the same subject.”2 Furthermore, 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

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