Review: 1-2 Thessalonians (BECNT)

Weima

It’s the difference between a fast food burger and a nice, marinated, slow roast pork. Between choosing cooking dinner with the microwave or with the crockpot. Between frozen and fresh. Some books out there today are weak on theology and exegesis. They’re products of the beliefs of the author’s culture. They require little work to produce, little effort to consume, and therefore little nutrition for one’s spiritual life. Other books are filled with years of thoughtful consideration for both the details and the big picture. They show maturity. They show care.

Some authors, like loggers or lumberjacks, take out the chainsaw, cut the tree down, call it art, and then call it a day. But there are others who, after cutting down the tree, take the best piece back home with them. They lay out the proper tools, mallets, gouges, chisels, and knives, and they carefully sculpt and create an image that no one else could sculpt (like an owl [there are about 55 pictures here and most of them are amazing] or a child on a donkey).

Jeffrey Weima has been working on this commentary for twenty years. For two short letters than constitute 8 chapters in the Bible, twenty years sounds like a long time. Perhaps too long. But Weima has a good excuse for taking that long. He really likes the Thessalonians letters. During this time he’s written An Annoted Bibliography of 1 & 2 Thessalonians after reading everything ever written on these two letters. Besides writing journal articles, book chapters (See CNTUOT), and a user-friendly commentary on these letters in Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.

Summary

As with all BECNT volumes, the introductory matters deal with authorship, the audience, and the purpose of the letter. Weima gives us the cultural and social background to Thessalonians. Why was the Thessalonian church persecuted? Because the city worship gods (so they received blessings from the gods) and they were loyal to Rome (so they received a favored status from Rome). For the new Christians to disavow the idols and turn to God (1 Thess 1.9) meant to dishonor both the city and Rome’s gods, and, ultimately, to be disloyal to the ever gracious Rome. Weima goes to great lengths in the Introduction and in the commentary to show how these social conventions influence the life of the Thessalonian church and how Paul writes (both of) his letters with love and encouragement to endure the persecution and to love one another. Weima agrees with the traditional view of Pauline authorship for both letters. He presents the opposing arguments and gives his rationale for his position.

After spending 60 pages on the Introduction, Weima spends the remaining 580 pages on the exegesis of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. As always there is a gray summary box at the beginning of each section. (Pretend the picture below us grey).

1. Gray Box Summary

Next Weima adds something I’ve never seen in a BECNT volume before, the Literary Analysis section. Weima reads 1&2 Thessalonians through a literary reading of the text, one that recognizes “Paul’s Letters as the result of a conscious composition, careful patterning, and the strategic use of literary conventions prevalent in his day”(56).

The Character of the Passage identifies the form of the material we’ll find in the section. Is this an encouraging section? One of rebuke? Thanksgiving?

2. Character of the Passage

The Extent of the Passage informs the reader of the boundaries of the section, where it begins and ends, and how he or she can know.

3. Extent

The Structure of the Passage shows the logic of Paul’s argument and how many sections (e.g., paragraphs or points) make up this passage.

4. Structure

This section ends with one final gray box that outlines the passage before us.

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Next is the Exegesis and Exposition where Weima shows the flow of Paul’s thought while taking into consideration the grammar of the text and social, cultural, and religious cues behind the text. Theological exposition is included. Each section ends with Additional Notes dealing with textual issues.

There are three excursuses throughout the book. “Is 1 Thess 1.9b-10 Pre-Pauline?,” “Textual Reading of 1 Thess 2.7,” and “The Restrainer of 2 Thess 2.6-7.” The first two of these don’t need to be read to understand the text. However, Excursus 3 will be interesting to many since it deals with the one who restrains. Weima lays out 7 different ideas and takes Michael the Archangel to be the restrainer.

The Result

Weima has put in a lot of time and a lot of work into this volume. And with time and dedication the reader can work through the volume and can know the letters to the Thessalonians from one of the best (the best?) scholars on these two letters. But one should remember that this is an Exegetical commentary. If you’re familiar with the BECNT series you know that the authors can’t always give a full reason for their positions.

In 2 Thess 2.9 speaks about the eternal destruction of God’s enemies. Weima takes this to mean “their unending ruin (i.e., their continuing punishment)” and not their complete annihilation (474). He gives three reasons for this stance with the first two backed up by Scripture. However besides the three statements given, there’s not much other reasoning to go on for those who are pro-annihilation (which I’m not, but I do like seeing the argumentation against it).

This is one example of many. But that’s the nature of the BECNT series as a whole. Sometimes the bigger theological issues can’t be explained in the volume. It’s unfortunate, but it’s simply not the aim of the series. Even still this is an immensely beneficial volume on Thessalonians. If Weima leaves any stones unturned, they’re very small indeed.

However there may be a degree in which this volume goes beyond the intended reach of the BECNT series. “For example, serious biblical expositors cannot afford to depend on a superficial treatment that avoids the difficult questions, but neither are they interested in encyclopedic commentaries that seek to cover every conceivable issue that may arise” (ix). Yet Weima has written almost 640 pages on these two letters, eight chapters in the whole Bible. There is a wealth of information here, but it does close in on an encyclopedic amount of information.

Recommended?

If you are working on weekly sermons, you won’t be able to use Weima’s commentary to it’s fullest (unless your sermons cover a few or a block of verses). If you are a teacher or a student you will be happy to know that there is a strong evangelical commentary on the letters of Thessalonians. There are contentious passages in Thessalonians, Weima does have his views, and you may or may not agree with them. But he backs it up with exegesis. I’m aware that Doug Moo is working on a theology of Paul (perhaps in the Zondervan series), but it would be terrific to see a theology of Thessalonians from Weima.  This volume is certainly aimed at the academic, and with a knowledge of Greek one will be able to make full use of this commentary. Weima makes a mature contribution to the BECNT series and gives us a greater knowledge of the Thessalonian letters.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 18, 2014)
  • PDF Sample

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to Baker Publishing for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

Jeffrey Weima

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Review: 1-2 Thessalonians (BECNT)

  1. Hey Spencer, I saw a critique that Weima doesn’t really devote much time to the Dispensational / Pre-Trib view on 1 Thess 4. Would you agree? It’s hard to believe one could write such a long commentary and not address it!

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    • Spencer

      Yeah, that’s true. He addresses the issue of the Restrainer in an excursus, and I’m not sure why he didn’t do something similar like that for the dispensational issue as it is a largely held belief by many. Perhaps he thought his points were good enough? I can’t say.

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      • Spencer

        One could watch this video. I haven’t watched it, but he takes the time to cover 1 Thess 4.13-18 and the rapture issues.

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  2. Pingback: BA Books & Authors on the Web – October 2, 2015

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