Now for something slightly different, in the sense that I ordinary refrain from this sort of post but I’m feeling compelled to do it.* I will have to come back to the details of this later, but I wanted to throw out the basics now and see what you think. And by ‘come back to this later’ I mean, write something proper–with footnotes and everything. This also means I’m not interacting with any scholarship at this point; this is just me.
Last night, while doing my evening read of the Greek NT (as you do), I came to the following passage and became curious about a seemingly incidental detail. Here’s the passage (1 Thess 1.6-7):
καὶ υ͑μεῖς μιμηταὶ η͑μῶν ε͗γενήθητε καὶ τοῦ κυρίου, δεξάμενοι τὸν λόγον ε͗ν θλίψει πολλῇ μετὰ χαρᾶς πνεύματος α͑γίου, ὥστε γενέσθαι υ͑μᾶς τύπον πᾶσιν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ε͗ν τῇ Μακεδονία καὶ ε͗ν τῇ Αχαϊᾳ.
and you became imitators of us and of the Lord, having taken hold of [or received] the word amongst great tribulation with [the] joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you yourselves became an example for all the faithful in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For this post, I’m leaving aside the textual issues in order to focus on other things.** Let’s begin with a question: is the result clause of 1.7 linked with the participial phrase of 1.6b, the main clause of 1.6a or the whole of 1.6? Now let’s see what happens when we focus on each one.
If it is linked with1.6b, then it seems as though the example set refers to the circumstances–and especially the manner–in which the Thessalonians received the word (i.e. the gospel). Thus, the example to others reveals how one behaves or responds in the face of affliction or persecution (i.e. ‘with the joy of the Holy Spirit]). If linked with 1.6a, then it would seem as though the example refers to the solidarity between the Thessalonians believers, the apostles (i.e. the ‘us’) and the Lord (i.e. Jesus). In other words: the Thessalonians are examples to others because they imitate (i.e. reflect) the apostles, who in turn reflect Christ.
However if the result clause of 1.7 is linked with the whole of 1.6 (which is what I think), the emphasis would seem to fall on the logical (if not necessary) connection between the ideas of relationship (or, identity) and response (or, behaviour). In other words: like Christ and the apostles, the Thessalonians endure persecution (or, ‘great tribulation’) with joy; they neither complain, retaliate nor run into hiding; and that sort of steadfastness is not only commendable but worthy of respect (cf. 1 Pt 3). As a result, in imitating Christ and the apostles in how they respond to affliction, they become an example for other who might also be experience similar pains.
One final point that leads me to think 1.7 refers to the whole of 1.6 is the seemingly incidental mention of the Holy Spirit. As far as I can tell, for Paul the Spirit is not only the means by which believers are identified with Christ but also the agent through whom believers receive strength to endure trials and tribulations.
* My hesitance is linked with my lack of confidence.
** For those curious, by ‘textual issues’ I mean: 1) the two witness that insert a καὶ between χαρᾶς and πνεύματος, thus giving the reading: ‘with joy and by [the] Holy Spirit’. And 2) the singular use of τύπον instead of the expected τύπους, in the light of the plural personal pronoun associated with it. In other words, it just seems strange for Paul to say, ‘you [plural] became an example [singular]’; it would be better to say, ‘you [plural] became examples [plural].’