K:JNWTS 31/1 (May 2016): 37-39

Book Review

Jeffrey A. D. Weima, 1-2 Thessalonians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. 736pp. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-0-8010-2685-0. $54.99.

Weima's commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians is thorough, stimulating and well researched. Pastors, students and scholars of all sorts would be benefited by using it. In this work, he considers various interpretations of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, analyzes them and gives solid reasons for his opinions. Because of the detailed nature of this commentary, some will think it gets bogged down in detail at certain points. But many others will appreciate the fine tuning in their attempt to understand the text in all its richness. The commentary is written within the Reformed tradition, but its scope is broad and deep, interacting with top scholars in the field such as Abraham Malherbe and many others.

In fact, one of his more interesting discussions is his interaction with Malherbe and the school of interpretation that followed him on 1 Thessalonians. Malherbe argued that Paul was not defending himself, but instead was simply giving himself as an example for the Thessalonians to follow. Weima presents extremely detailed exegetical arguments to show that Paul in fact is defending himself in this epistle, thus bringing serious questions to a major aspect of Malherbe's claim. In our opinion (and perhaps even in Weima's), this does not mean that through his apology Paul does not also present himself as an example to be followed, as long as we recognize that it is in Christ Jesus that he presents himself. That is, Paul as a representative of Christ draws the believers in Thessalonica into union with himself so that they may be drawn into union with Christ (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:6; 3:12; 5:5).

We have a couple of reservations about the work. The first involves Weima's tendency to use epistolary analysis to the neglect of rhetorical analysis. This may be a matter of conviction on Weima's part, but numerous New Testament scholars have shown that the analysis of letters using epistolary criteria does not exclude rhetorical analysis. That is, while there are unique conventions of letter writing in antiquity, those trained in rhetoric might use the rhetorical skills to expand and develop their letters. Many New Testament scholars believe this is represented in the apostle Paul, who writes some of the longest letters of the Roman era.

Second and more importantly, we would encourage Weima to reflect more deeply on the present and transcendent aspects of eschatology as they are semi-realized in the life of the church (in 1 Thessalonians). There is an already as well as a not yet to Paul's eschatology. And Paul places this already in antithesis to the structures of this world. For instance, in accordance with his latter use in Romans (Rom. 15:33; and the "God of Hope" bringing present peace, Rom. 15:13), the "God of Peace" (1 Thess. 5:23) has an already (2 Thess. 3:16) dimension as well as a not yet perspective (Rom. 16:20, 1 Thess. 5:23). The fact that the "God of Peace" (1 Thess. 5:23) spreads his wings backward (so to speak) to the present is suggested by the fact that it is the God of Peace who sanctifies his church, even now (1 Thess. 5:23), leading up to their final sanctification at the last day. Paul's present encouragement to peace in the same chapter (1 Thess. 5:13) is an encouragement to live out of the God of Peace who sanctifies them. This peace is a semi-eschatological realization of the final peace of God. As such, this present peace partially stands in antithesis to Rome with its promises of present earthly peace and safety (found at the beginning of chapter 5, 1 Thess. 5:3). (Weima expounds this latter verse in its historical context with clarity.) There are certainly more clear hints of semi-realized eschatology in this letter. Unearthing these would encourage Weima and others to also reflect more on the Christocentric aspect of the text. As we see it, Christ is present from heaven above for the sake of his church (1 Thess. 1:10) in contrast to the idolatry of this age. From heaven, Christ calls the church to further participate in his life through his apostle (1 Thess. 1:6; 3:12; 5:5).[1]

Weima has certainly shown himself to be an able exegete, following the evidence and changing his position when the text presses him to do so. One example that we were pleased to see is that solid arguments have led him to change his interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 1:5 since his shorter 2002 commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. There Weima took a more recent interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 1:5, arguing that the church's "afflictions" (2 Thess. 1:4) are "a plain indication of God's righteous judgment". That is, even though they are Christians they must experience in their suffering God's judgment. In the present commentary under review, Weima lists scholars holding this view and presents sounds arguments showing that this position is mistaken. Consistently with Paul's other writings, the suffering of Christians are not an expression of God's judicial punishment. Other interpreters, including Gregory Beale, believe that it is "your perseverance and faith" (1 Thess. 1:4) that are a plain indication of God's righteous judgment, thus avoiding the interpretation that the Christian's sufferings are a sign of God's wrath.  Along the lines of this interpretation, one might argue that Christians (in their perseverance and faith) are an indication of God's righteous judgment in that these characteristics indicate that they have been justified in the midst of their sufferings. (By contrast, the suffering of the wicked indicates that they will be condemned.) Weima does not move in this direction. Instead, following the 2006 commentary of Ben Witherington, Weima now takes the view that the "indication of God's righteous judgment" refers instead to what follows. When God repays "with affliction those who afflict you" (2 Thess. 1:6) and "gives relief to those who are afflicted" (2 Thess. 1:7), this will be an "indication of God's righteous judgment" (1 Thess. 1:5). We are not here intending to adjudicate between Weima's interpretation and Beale's, but instead to note that Weima has changed his view when the evidence (primarily that Paul does not view Christian suffering as an expression of God's wrath) has pressed him to do so. Whether the alternative he suggests (following Witherington) is the best alternative remains up for discussion. The point is that here we see how the careful spade work of this diligent exegete has lead him to develop his own understanding of these two epistles. And his commentary (which is the result of this labor) is sure to have the same effect on many of its readers.

All in all, Weima's commentary is an important work, exemplary of his careful and painstakingly scholarship on 1 and 2 Thessalonians, a labor of love for the church. Weima is to be commended for his work and this commentary should not be neglected. It is a gift of God to his church, which we should appreciate and learn from with great thankfulness in God in Christ Jesus.

—Scott F. Sanborn

[1] For further reflection on the semi-eschatological dimension in 1 Thessalonians, we refer the reader to James T. Dennison, Jr., "Eschatology and the Structure of 1 Thessalonians" in Kerux 19/3 (Dec 2004): 31-35.