My dictionary entry on mediation in the Bible is finally done, and I am left pondering what I should do with the rest of the summer in terms of writing. My proposal is to read through Paul's writings at about two chapters a day on average asking the following questions:
1. What definition of sin does Paul operate with?
2. How does he depict the relationship between a non-believer and sin?
3. How does he depict the relationship between a believer and sin?
If I go in my ordering, 1 Thessalonians is the first book in the NT Paul wrote, so I'll start there.
1 Thessalonians 1
The word sin is not used in this chapter. The chapter of course has several delicious tidbits. There is Paul's praise of their "work of faith" (1:3), which shows that faith "works."
1:5 seems to indicate that "power" of some sort accompanied the reception of the gospel by the Thessalonians.
1:6 indicates that the believers at Thessalonica encountered suffering as a consequence of their faith.
1:8 refers to their "faith toward God," which I believe is indeed the default of Paul's thought rather than faith in Christ. It is not that the two contradict each other. I'm only trying to listen to the way Paul formulated such things.
1:9 comes the closest to a sin reference. Under question 2, Paul mentions that they had formerly served idols.
1:9--Clearly the Thessalonian church is primarily Gentile--they used to serve idols.
1:10 gives us some soteriology. First is the mention that God raised Jesus from the dead (notice that God is the active one in this statement, as in Acts). Also, Jesus rescues us from coming wrath, presumably the coming judgment of the world that will ensue when the Son returns from heaven.
1 Thessalonians 2
2:10: Here Paul describes the way he and Silas and Timothy were to those who believed at Thessalonica: they behaved "holily, righteously, and blamelessly." In the category of question 3, Paul apparently believes that a believer can live righteously.
2:12: Part of Paul's teaching to them was for them to walk "worthily of the God who called you into His own kingdom and glory." Again, there is clearly a sense of ethical expectation here.
2:16: Here is the first mention of "sins" in Paul's writings. Notice that it is plural, not singular. He apparently has in mind as sins here the opposition of Jews in Jerusalem to the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, perhaps in addition to killing the Lord and the prophets. Sins here would appear to be opposition to God's will and plan.
Paul intriguingly says that wrath has finally come on them (if this is the right translation). What does he have in mind? This would be around 50-51. That's 10 years too late for Caligula, at least if we go with the sequence of Acts. Apparently the Roman procurator Cumanus killed some Jews during his tenure. Perhaps Paul has some recent event in mind.
2:2 confirms the sequence of Acts--persecuted in Philippi, continued to Thessalonica.
2:7--Paul identifies himself and at least Silas as "apostles," ambassadors sent on Christ's behalf.
2:9 seems to refer to Paul and Silas working night and day so that they would not have to rely on the patronage of the Thessalonians. We learn from Philippians 4:16 that the Philippians also aided Paul materially while he was in Thessalonica.
2:14--mention of the "assemblies of God" in Judea :-) This is a plural, showing that Paul tends to think of an assembly as an individual assembly.
The churches of God in Judea in Messiah Jesus apparently suffered from "the Jews." This is a very interesting reference since, well, they were Jews too. Is Paul thinking of the Hellenists (who were Jews too)? Is he using the word "Jew" in some sense like "Judean"? In any case, it would be wrong to read some full blown "parting of the ways" into this comment.
2:15--Paul indicates that he was "pursued out" of Judea by the Jews as well, those "who killed Jesus and the prophets." We might ask whether these are Christian prophets that Paul has in mind. It could of course be a reference to individuals like Stephen.
It would of course to build some sort of anti-Semitism out of this statement.
2:16--If we take Paul's comments straightforwardly, was he was already speaking to the Gentiles at that time or is he lumping all those Jews who have opposed him into this comment, including Judaizers?
2:18--Interesting that Paul singles himself out as having wanted to come to them. Does this imply anything about Silas?
Paul refers to "the Satan." This is the more apocalyptic version, as opposed to John and Hebrews' "Devil."
2:19--Paul expects the Lord to return while he and the Thessalonians are still alive. They will be a crown of boasting at Christ's return.
1. The operating definition of sin implied in these chapters is opposition to God. Idolatry is of course not worshipping God appropriately and violates the first commandment. Killing the Lord and his prophets is opposition to God's will.
2. Paul does not assume that the Thessalonians knowingly did not serve God prior to their turn to the true God. He does speak of their "election" (1:4). The Jews who opposed Christ and Paul may not know the truth either. Paul doesn't address the state of their knowledge.
3. Paul expects blamelessness and righteous living after a person trusts on the true God.