Sexual Gratification in 1 Thess 4:1-8 -- By: Robert W. Yarbrough

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 20:2 (Fall 1999)
Article: Sexual Gratification in 1 Thess 4:1-8
Author: Robert W. Yarbrough


Sexual Gratification in 1 Thess 4:1-8

Robert W. Yarbrough

Robert W. Yarbrough is Associate Professor of New Testament and Chair of the New Testament Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

The goal of this article is to see what light study of biblical language and backgrounds might shed on several perennial puzzles found in 1 Thess 4:1–8. The gist of current scholarship on the Thessalonian correspondence implies that NT rhetoric and archaeology would be among the most likely and fruitful sources of knowledge. It is therefore necessary to touch these bases before passing on to considerations that probably carry more weight in the end.

Recent developments in rhetorical criticism have raised questions about the kind of communication we are dealing with in 1 Thessalonians overall. Understanding of individual parts, like 4:1–8, depends somewhat on the outcome of this discussion. Steve Walton recently brought current research up to date, citing major players like George Kennedy, Abraham Malherbe, Robert Jewett, Bruce Johanson, Thomas Olbricht, F. W. Hughes, Bruce Winter, Karl Donfried, Charles Wanamaker, and others.1 Three suggestions that Walton isolates are worth noting.

First is the observation by I. Howard Marshall that 1 Thessalonians is most of all a measured piece of pastoral encouragement.2 To the extent this is true, and to the extent that Paul’s aims in writing might have caused him to break with the normal bounds of classical rhetoric (assuming for now that he even knew or observed them in any formal way), we should work cautiously and inductively toward building cases for the influence of rhetorical categories on what Paul says. To do otherwise—to interpret individual sections of this letter in the light of external categories not clearly documented in the actual content of Paul’s epistle—would risk letting the tail of presumed method wag the dog of stated message.

Second, we should note Helmut Koester’s suggestion that 1 Thessalonians does not fit classical categories very well and is in any case a pioneering instance of a genre—Christian letter—that at its time of composition had few if any established rhetorical

conventions to follow.3 Again, to the extent he is correct, we are justified in tempering our exuberance over the value of novel rhetorical critical findings for interpreting any given portion of a Pauline ...

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