Pauline Paternity In 1 Thessalonians -- By: Trevor J. Burke
TynBul 51:1 (2000) p. 59
In 1 Thessalonians
Two aspects of Paul’s paternal relations, hierarchy/authority and affection, towards his Thessalonian ‘offspring’ are investigated against the first century Jewish and Graeco-Roman views of fatherhood. Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians was a hierarchical one, similar to that of the paterfamilias (head of the household) who assumed the responsibility for socialising his children into the community. As the founder-father of the community, Paul may have regarded the Thessalonian church as in some sense belonging to him. However, his superordinate position is tempered by a more gentle formulation in that he exercised paternal (as opposed to apostolic) authority towards his converts. Contrary to some views, there is an abundance of evidence in 1 Thessalonians to show that Paul was not averse to showing affection towards his converts. The apostle demonstrates his love in different ways, but it is his sudden physical separation from the Thessalonians—a severance that is akin to a ‘death’ or a ‘bereavement’—which calls forth an unprecedented display of tenderness. This also compares favourably with the response of ancient fathers when their offspring died. The article concludes that any proper view of Paul’s paternity needs to account for the dialectic between his superordinate status and the deep love he also felt for his ‘children’.
Despite the fact that the apostle Paul argues quite forcibly in favour of celibacy, he makes a surprising number of references to fathers and children in his letters (1 Thes. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 4:14-16; Phil. 2:22; Phlm. 10).1 None of the aforementioned address real fathers and their
TynBul 51:1 (2000) p. 60
offspring; rather they are all metaphorical, serving the purpose of defining Paul’s relationship between himself and his converts.
Traditionally, Paul’s self-identification as ‘father’ has been viewed as a natural role for him to adopt, given the fact that he was the founding-father of a number of communities, including the ekklesia at Thessalonica.2 For example, Robert Banks depicts Paul’s relationship to his spiritual offspring as one which is of a deep and personal nature and where he emphasises his pastoral care in the bringing of his converts to spiritual maturity.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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