Archive for March, 2010

Majorities and Minorities

March 29, 2010

White culture: is there such a thing?  Are there certain aspects of “white culture” that are really actually more accurately viewed as “majority culture”?  What I am trying to say is how much of the cultural identity of white people is wrapped up in the fact that white people are the majority in the United States  and how much of it is actually “white culture”?

I have begun to realize lately that I do not feel as though I have a well defined cultural identity.  This is false of course and so this peculiarity has resulted in much reflection on my part.  In the past, I have come across the idea that there is resistance from the majority groups of the US to understanding minority culture.  When I first answered the question for myself I must be honest I say my answer was “because it is overwhelming.”  While there is some truth to that, I could not leave it there.  I met with a member of the administration here at Princeton Theological to discuss this and I realized that I was not taking into account how different groups perceive their need of their cultural identity.

To try to put words on what exactly I am trying to say, I will speak some about my time in the military.  After graduating college I was commissioned as an officer in the US Navy.  I served for a little over four years and completed 2 overseas deployments that lasted 6 months each.  There are joys and trials I experienced in this time and isolation was one of the largest hardships.  As a Christian, military service was challenging.  For one, being that I was on a smaller ship that did not have a chaplain.  We occasionally had chaplains that came onboard to conduct services but due to the ship’s mission it was often not logistically feasible for chaplains to come to our ship.  As a result, I served as the Protestant Lay Leader.  While there were other Christians onboard,  between standing watch, doing your regular job, participating in various training and qualification exercises, there was not much time where more than a couple people together for any type of Bible study or church services.  In addition, the fraternization policies of the military further isolated me.  For those who are not familiar with “fraternization,” this is the term used to discuss the nature and extent of relationships between Officers and Enlisted personnel as well as the relationships of those of higher rank with those of lower rank within these two groupings.  For instance, it is illegal according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice for an Officer to have a romantic or sexual relationship with an Enlisted person.  But fraternization dose not just address romantic or sexual relationships.  It is also not permissible for Officers to be close friends with Enlisted personnel even if it is “just” plutonic.  While it might seem harsh, and in a certain sense is, in life or death situations these types of relationships cloud decision making processes upon which the lives of others rest.  To get back to the point, I was isolated.  To put it another way, I was in the minority of people onboard my ship who considered themselves to be part of the culture of Christians.  I clearly saw the need I had (and still have) to be in community with fellow believers.  I suffered because I was isolated from Christian community.  And it seems to me that my experience, while merely an acute case, is enough to give me a small amount of perspective for those who are part of minority groups.  To use the terminology of my experience, those who are a part of a minority group are chronically isolated which as I see it would create a larger need to claim their cultural identity and seek out others who are also part of the minority group which they are a part of.

So what I am beginning to start to see is that while I, as a member of a majority group, can choose to place myself in a situation wherein I become a minority, those who are in minority groups do not have that choice.  Ever.  So while it is tempting to believe that white people do not know what it feels like to feel as though they are a minority, I beg to differ.  It seems to me that it is really that as part of the majority, I could go for weeks, months, even years depending on where one lives and where one chooses to go not ever stepping into a place wherein I become a minority.  There is always someone with whom I will be able to relate regarding concerns I have or questions that come up.  This is not always true for minority groups.

And so I would like to take this opportunity to repent and apologize for my lack of intentionality and complete inattention to the struggles of being a minority group.  It is still very uncomfortable for me to talk about race.  And it is still very hard for me to choose to become the minority in a group of people (i.e., being the only white person at the table during a meal).  But what I have decided is that discomfort is a small price to pay for the opportunity to get to know people who I would otherwise not necessarily get to know.

To end, I would ask for the grace of those whom I may offend in my discussion of race.  I assure you it is not intentional.  If I do offend, discourage, or negatively affect you by this post I would be most grateful if you let me know.  I appreciate the feedback and hope to have increased dialog about these issues.  Not talking about it saves face, but deepens the divide.


Summer 2009: Greek Language

March 13, 2010

A while back I wrote a post about my experience taking Greek at Princeton Theological Seminary last summer.  As a few folks have searched on this topic, I figured I would try to provide a bit more “information” as opposed to the “reflection” that post was.  This said, I am not a representative of the seminary and things this year may be different so please make sure you check the information on the seminary’s website once it is posted.

First off, Summer Language is not required for entering students.  There are quite a few that take a language during the summer, but it is not required.  There are advantages and disadvantages to taking it in the summer.  For those who are seeking ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), both Greek and Hebrew are required so it is nice to start your first fall semester having one of these two requirements met.  You also get to learn the campus, meet some people, get settled in, etc. if you come for summer language before your first year.  The down side is that they don’t call it “language intensive” for nothing.  It is definitely doable, but it is definitely difficult.  There is information from 2009 here. [I have removed that link as it no longer works.  HERE is the link for 2010.]

Summer Language courses at PTS are 8 weeks long.  During that time frame you cover two semesters worth of Greek (6 credits ).  Classes meet Monday through Friday from 8:30-12:15.  There is a 30 minute break in the middle.  On Wednesdays there was Chapel during this break.  There are two different Professors so it depends on who you take the course with, but here is what the breakdown of my class looked like:

8:45-10:00  Precepts: Quiz (or review of previous Friday’s exam; go over homework)
10:00-10:45  Break (Wednesday Chapel, 10:10-10:30)
10:45- 11:30  Plenary (Intro. to new material; question and answer time)
11:30-12:15  Precepts  (Questions on new material; Drills; Sight reading)

8:45-10:00  Exam**
10:00-10:45  Break (Extra time for exam if needed)
10:45- 12:15  Precepts

* This schedule changes for the last two weeks where the focus shifts from learning new information to putting it into practice in actual translation

** There was no test the first week with the Professor I had

The texts we used were:

  • Clayton Croy, A Primer of New Testament Greek
  • United Bible Societies Greek new Testament: A Reader’s Edition
  • W. Bauer, F.W. Danker et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (3d ed.)

The daily quizzes were a combination of vocabulary and paradigms and were not terribly difficult though did require studying.  The homework was challenging partially because of the concepts and partially because some many of the sentences are strange because they attempt to limit the homework to words and concepts already covered.  The exams were the most challenging aspect of the course and definitely gave me a run for my money.  There are tutors available and information about the who, where, and when is put out in class.  The quizzes were 20% of the overall grade, exams a whopping 50% and the remaining 30% is translation quizzes.  A note on grades, for those in the PC(USA) you will want to check with your presbytery to make sure they will accept “pass/fail” grades if you want to go that route.  As members of committees may change while you are in the ordination process, I highly recommend getting this information in writing.

Translation quizzes are given during the last week and a half of classes.  For me this was the most enjoyable portion of the course.  We translated 1, 2, and 3 John during class in small groups in the morning, went over it as a class with the professor after the break, and then were quizzed on it the following morning.

While Greek is hard in and of itself (for me anyway), I also had a hard time figuring out how to learn and memorize the material.  Here are some things I learned about half way through the class that I wish I would have known in the beginning:

  • Memorization – I took French in High School and College, but 1) that was a while ago and 2) the language was a bit more intuitive for me.  At first I tried to memorize just the endings of the paradigms (verb/noun forms) but that was not a good long term plan as things started to look and sound a like as time went on.  It would have been better to memorize the whole word, not just the ending or how it sounds.  This may sound like a no brainer, but when you are in the throws of an intense learning situation, I didn’t think about this initially.  Though you have to learn things a bit at a time, getting a hold of a paradigm sheet early on will be helpful.  There is a really good one on  Click on “Greek” on the top navigation bar and look in “Additional Resources” at the bottom of the page.  There is a direct link to it here.  There are also lectures on teknia that are helpful if you don’t understand the way something is being explained in class.  Having a copy of Mounce’s book The Basics of Biblical Greek on hand if you use his lectures.  This is available at the seminary library.
  • Flash Cards – There are flash cards available for purchase, but I would recommend making your own.  It was helpful for me to write out the words and helped me remember how to spell them, etc.  there are some who found the flash cards they purchased very helpful so you’ll have to feel it out.
  • Translations – It was hard for me to figure out how to organize my translations as first.  At first I ended up copying the Greek onto notebook paper and then leaving three lines in between each line of Greek.  I would write the meaning/definition of the word on one line, the gender, case, and number (singular or plural) on another line, and the tense, voice, and mood on another line.  This forced me to learn the ins and outs of the words instead of just “getting the homework done.”  After a while, I realized there were ‘woeksheets’ on the CD that came with the Croy book.  Those were very helpful and saved a lot of time.  So I recommend checking out that CD sooner rather than later.  : )
  • The brain – I learned a lot about the brain during summer Greek.  It is an amazing thing.  After being in class for 3 hours talking about the same topic, it was hard for me to jump right into the homework after lunch.  So I didn’t.  Others did, but I needed a break.  Once I jumped into the homework after a few hours, or sometimes, after dinner, there were many times where I would struggle through the homework.  The vocab and paradigms we have to memorize for the quizzes were not that bad, but I struggled with the homework.  And after struggling for a while one night I decided to go to bed and wake up early to finish the homework if I could.  The result was amazing. The homework was so much easier it was unbelievable.  Since our brains still process information when we are not intentionally focusing on something, when I gave my brain a chance to rest the results were phenomenal.   It seems counterintuitive, but it definitely worked for me.

One question I have gotten from people considering summer language is whether or not they will be able to work.  I will say, first of all, that I did not.  There are some who work, but for those who do it is only part time.  If you are just moving to the area, I would recommend not working.

Some thoughts on housing.  There is housing available during the summer but it is somewhat limited from what I understand.  There is an application online though I am not sure if the 2010 application is up yet.   If it is important to you to not have to move after summer session, I would call housing and ask about that.

One last note.  One class many people have taken after taking Greek is NT Exegesis.  I blogged about this a few days ago if you care to read more info, but here I will only say that I am very glad I followed up the language class with the exegesis class.  That said, there are some of my classmates who waited to take an exegesis class this Spring and I have not heard them complain about this.

Suggested Resources on 1 Thessalonians

March 9, 2010

One of the things I have learned at seminary is that buying a set of commentaries is not always the best way to go.  For those who are interested, here is a list of resources on 1 Thessalonians my prof put together for my NT Exegesis Class.

Best, Ernest. A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. Harper’s New Testament Commentaries.  New York:  Harper and Row, 1972.

Bruce, F. F. 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, Texas: Word, 1982.

Collins, Raymond.  The Birth of the New Testament:  The Origin and Development of the First Christian Generation. New York:  Crossroad, 1993.

________ .  Studies on the First Letter to the Thessalonians.   Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 66.   Leuven: University Press, 1984.

________ , editor.  The Thessalonian Correspondence. Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 87.   Leuven:  University Press, 1990.

Donfried, Karl Paul.  Paul, Thessalonica, and Early Christianity.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

________, and I. Howard Marshall. The Theology of the Shorter Pauline Epistles.  New Testament Theology.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Frame, J. E.  A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians. International Critical Commentary.   Edinburgh:  T. and T. Clark, 1912.

Furnish, Victor Paul. 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon, 2007.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts.  First and Second Thessalonians.  Interpretation.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998.

Juel, Donald H.  1 Thessalonians.   Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament.   Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1985.

Krentz, Edgar M.  “First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York:  Doubleday, 1992.  6:515-23.

Malherbe, Abraham J.  Paul and the Thessalonians:  The Philosophic Tradition of Pastoral Care. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987.

The Letter to the Thessalonians.  Anchor Bible.  New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Marshall, I. Howard.  1 and 2 Thessalonians.   New Century Bible Commentary.   Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983.

Morris, Leon.  The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians.   New International Commentary on the New Testament, revised edition.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1991.

Richard, Earl.  First and Second Thessalonians.   Sacra Pagina 11.  Collegeville, MN:  Liturgical, 1995.

Exegesis Paper on 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

March 6, 2010

Last week I blogged about the New Testament Exegesis class I took here at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Here is the first of two papers I turned in.  Before reading it, please note that the biggest thing that is wrong with this paper is that I used secondary sources entirely too much.  It ended up being more a commentary on the commentaries I used instead of an exegesis paper.  For those that have read the post about the class, it was prior to my ‘ah-ha’ moment with the baptism story.  My use of footnotes is not very good either.  I met with the teaching fellow for the class (a Ph.D. student who is now working on her dissertation) and was able to work through some of this so my second paper, which I will post later, is (I believe) a bit better.  The paper is preceded by my translation which I did not edit although I did receive a bit of feedback on a few small points in the translation.  As with some of my other posts, this one if definitely very long.


12We ask you, brothers and sisters[1], to appreciate those who labor among you and those who lead you in the Lord and admonish you 13and consider them with the greatest respect in love because of their work.  Live in peace with one another.  14We urge you, brothers and sisters, to admonish those who are disorderly, console those who are faint-hearted, be devoted to those who are weak, and be patient with all people.  15See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always pursue good for one another and for all people.
16Rejoice always,
17Pray incessantly,
18Give thanks in all things, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19Do not quench the Spirit,
20Do not despise prophecies,
21But rather test all things, hold fast to that which is good,
22And keep away from every form of evil.
23May the God of peace make you completely holy and keep your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—blameless in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do this.  25Brothers and sisters, pray for us.  26Greet all the brothers and sisters with holy kisses.  27I charge you in the Lord to read this letter to them!  28May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 is a highly organized conclusion to Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica.  The layout of the pericope summarizes what he has written to the Thessalonians so far in hopes of emphasizing his main points.  Paul uses the literary form of the letter to accomplish this as well as brevity, intentional linguistic shifts, and mnemonic devices.  Thus, in bringing all his points together in this conclusion, Paul provides the church in Thessalonica with a valuable resource for addressing current difficulties in the church at Thessalonica as well as a concise reflection on Christian living and worship.

Written in approximately 51 C.E., 1 Thessalonians is the oldest book of the New Testament canon.  Thessalonica, “capital of the province of Macedonia and thus the seat of the Roman administration,” was a politically significant place.[2] An “important port city of the Roman province of Macedonia” with “a long Greek history,” there was no lack of gods and goddesses to worship[3] in addition to the Imperial Cult.[4] The prevalence of cultic practices in addition to the internal evidence (cf. 1 Thess. 1:9) shows the church in Thessalonica consisted of converted pagans.  Unfortunately, shortly after Paul presents them with the gospel, he had to leave.  Bruce points out that as a result of this premature departure, “[Paul] believed that the new Christians in Thessalonica had received insufficient instruction to prepare them for the [Christian] life.”[5] As a result Paul writes “in lieu of a personal visit” since “several attempts which he made to return to them were thwarted (1 Thess. 2:18).”[6] Largely considered a paraenetic letter written by Paul as a “concerned missionary,”[7] other scholars argue that it is rhetorical while some say it is deliberative. Gaventa suggests that it is best understood as “consolidation or, to use Paul’s own language “upbuilding” (see, for example 1 Thess. 5:11)”[8] which “borrows elements from several of [these] positions.”[9] However this is parsed out, it is “not a letter of self-defense.”[10]

At first glance, it seems that the beginning of the pericope is not well defined.  The first two, maybe even three, verses could easily be included in the previous pericope covering the beginning of chapter 5.  However upon careful consideration, this pericope corresponds directly to the rest of the letter with the exception of chapter 1 which serves as an introduction to the letter as a whole.  Starting at 2:1 and continuing through 3:5, Paul addresses his ministry in Thessalonica.  This corresponds directly to 5:12-13a where Paul tells them to “appreciate those who labor among you and those who lead you in the Lord and admonish you and consider them with the greatest respect in love.”  Here the word “labor” (κοπιῶντας) is the word used to describe “apostolic labor” (see, for example, 1 Cor. 15:10, 16:16, Rom. 16:12, 6, Gal. 4:11).  This is an interesting parallel as Paul may ask this of the Thessalonian church because their leaders are serving them as he would if he were there.  Τhe word “lead” (προïσταμενος) seems to reflect back on this since it is understood to “combine the ideas of leading, protecting, and caring for.”[11] While some believe this could indicate a very early institution of ecclesiastical offices, since 1 Thessalonians is dated so early this is unlikely.  In addition, since it is here in its verb form, as opposed to the noun form (προστάτης), it “cannot be regarded as an official designation.”[12] Admonish the last part of this triplet of laboring, leading, and admonishing.  While the Greek (νουθετοῦντας) also has a sense of instructing or advising, admonish is preferred because of its clear use as such just a few verses later in 5:14.

Continuing on in 3:6-4:12, Paul vacillates between acknowledging their efforts “to live and to please God” (4:1) and encouraging them to continue doing so.  The parallel for this portion of the letter is found in 5:14-22.  In 5:14, Paul encourages not just the leaders, but rather the entire church to admonish the disorderly, console the faint-hearted, be devoted to the weak, and patient with all people.  Since Paul is encouraging them to reach out to these people, it is an indirect acknowledgment of their efforts to live a life pleasing to God.  They are not considered part of those groups but rather are asked to reach out to those who are.  The word “disorderly” comes from ἀτάκτους and requires a decision between English translations with significantly different connotations.  While one way to translate this word is “disorderly” another choice is “idlers” as it is interpreted in the New Revised Standard Version.  Since this word is related to τάσσω, which has a sense of bringing order to things, and “when used of a person,” as in this case, “the word generally refers to someone who is undisciplined or insubordinate, as when a soldier is found away from his post”[13] the interpretation of “disorderly” is likely what Paul intended.  After instructing the Thessalonians to admonish the disorderly, Paul tells them to console those who are “faint-hearted” or “small-souled” (ὀλιγοψύχος).  While Richard argues this term indicates some sort of “religious despondency,”[14] that seems to be something based on a 21st Century thought.  Considering Paul’s discussion of death in chapter 3, it is also possible a possible reference to those “who grieve over the loss of loved ones.”[15] As for “be[ing] devoted (ἀντέχεσθε) to those who are weak (ἀσθενῶν),” the phrase “be devoted” is fitting because the Greek has a sense of “having strong interest in” or “standing by” someone or something.  While “the term may generally apply to those who are vulnerable to pressures of various sorts,”[16] Gaventa believes this instruction could be a result of Paul’s “strong concern about the susceptibility of the Thessalonians to “the power of the tempter” (1 Thess. 3:5).[17] It is tempting to read the next injunction to “be patient with all people” as referring only to the disorderly, faint-hearted, and weak instead of acknowledging the possibility that Paul is instructing them to be patient with everyone. The later seems to be the case however since, as Bruce points out, when Paul writes his letter to the Galatians patience is “included in the ninefold fruit of the Spirit”[18] (Gal. 5:22) and as such should be exhibited towards all.

In 5:15-22, Paul returns to addressing the church in its entirety and encourages them with succinct instructions on Christian living and worship.  In verse 15 Paul instructs the Thessalonians, “see that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always pursue good for one another and for all people.”  A “classical imperative,” it is found “in almost identical terms in Rom. 12:17a” and has “OT antecedents (cf. Prov. 25:21).”[19] As Gaventa points out, “it is intriguing to see the freedom with which Paul employs traditional instruction to address a particular local situation.”[20] Continuing on Paul instructs the Christians in Thessalonica to “always pursue good for one another and for all people.”  As this is the second time in two verses Paul has used the παντα to indicate “all people” (v. 14 & 15), it seems as though Paul is encouraging a community that is “distinctive but not closed.”[21]

The editors have drawn verses 16-22 out of the text considerably by insetting the verses and allowing a separate line for each imperative phrase.  In addition, “each imperative phrase contains a word, usually the first word, that begins with a “p” sound (from the Greek letter pi).”[22] This alliterative technique gives this portion a rhyming effect and combined with the “content of these verses have provoked the suggestion that they represent an early form of church order, such as the one found in the Didache.”[23] While Paul uses similar language in Ephesians 5:20, since Thessalonians is widely believed to predate it, it is more likely that it is from another source.  As “Paul writes for the ear,”[24] it is also likely that he chose his words and kept his points brief to create a mnemonic devices that would assist those who heard this letter to retain his instructions.

The imperatives to rejoice, pray, and give thanks in verses 16-18 “clearly belong together.”[25] However “unlike those of the previous verse” Paul places the “focus on the adverbial constructions (implying attitude) rather than on the verbs.”[26] As Richard sees it, the terms “always,” in verse 16 “underscores Paul’s notion that joy is to be an attitude of Christian living.”  In this same way, “incessantly” is emphasized in verse 17 which “addresses the concept of prayer…as constituent of ecclesial inner life and attitudes.”  Lastly, placing the emphasis on “in all things” where once again “the adverb underscores the concept of attitude” rather than the action itself.[27] This linguistic shift seems intentional and could have easily served as a way for Paul to keep the attention of those who would hear his letter read aloud.  After these three imperatives, Paul states, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” in 18b.  Here Paul calls attention to what he has just said giving it power that goes beyond the words themselves, but rather rests on Paul’s assertion that it is God’s will that the people rejoice, pray, and give thanks.  These three items are inseparable and so important that they are “God’s will” for them.

Verses 19-22 shifts to what seem to be instructions for community worship, specifically the use of the spiritual gift of prophecy.  Still using short imperative phrases, “the first two are joined by their negative expression and the last three by their positive contrasts.”[28] In verse 19, one is left to determine what “Spirit” (πνεῦμα) Paul is referring to though the he seems to infer the Holy Spirit (hence the decision to use an uppercase “S”).  Even more confusing is Paul’s use of the word “σβέννυτε” which is translated “quench” in most English translations.  In all other cases where this word is used in the New Testament it is “related to figure of fire”[29] (cf. Matt. 12:20, Heb 11:34).  But how does one “quench” the Spirit?  Is it truly possible to snuff out the Spirit of God?  While this is the only place where “σβέννυτε” is used in reference to the Spirit, there are no other occurrences to compare Paul’s usage.  It seems however that verse 19 holds the key to answering these questions.  The word “προφητείας” in verse 20 seems to refer to the spiritual gift of prophecy, but does not say so explicitly and could also refer to “the words of the prophets” as it is translated in the NRSV.  The former seems the more likely translation since “προφητείας” is the same Greek work Paul uses in 1 Cor. 12:10, 13:2, and 14:22 when he is distinctly talking about the spiritual gift of prophecy.  He elaborates on the gifts of the Spirit extensively and specifically mentions that prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers (14:22) thus confirming that verses 19-22 are indeed intended as direction for worship.  With this in mind, it seems that “quenching the Spirit” occurs “when the prophet refuses to utter the message he has been given, or when others try to prevent him from uttering it”[30] as well as when the prophecy itself is “despised” or “rejected disdainfully” as stated in verse 20.  Paul’s inclusion of these verses is interesting considering he has not mentioned spiritual gifts in this letter.  As they are included in what seems to be an order of worship as mentioned above, it is possible that Paul rightly assumed his audience would infer the correct meanings to these simplified phrases.  Following these two negative imperatives, Paul encourages the Thessalonians how to avoid both “quenching the Spirit” and “despising prophecy” by encouraging them instead to “test all things, hold fast to that which is good” and “keep away from every form of evil.”  This is indicated with the inclusion of “but rather” in the translation above.[31]

The pericope ends with a closing prayer, or benediction, in verses 23-28 which simultaneously parallels and brings closure to Paul’s discussion about death and the coming of the Lord (παρουσίᾳ) found in 4:13-5:12.  Verse 23 presents the challenge of sorting through word order and deciding which phrases modify which verbs.  I believe Paul is saying, “May the God of peace make you completely holy and keep your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—blameless in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Paul usage of the image of the “body, soul, and spirit” is contested.  In Deut. 6:4-5, the shema emphasizes the oneness of God (Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one) in verse 4, and then in verse 5 the reader is presented with the human response to that oneness: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  With this in mind, it is possible that Paul would draw this image from his Jewish background and present the wholeness of a humans “being” in parallel fashion.[32] According to Richard, “Paul is not here speaking of holiness as an ethical process or as a social communal activity.”[33] Indeed verse 24 supports this idea in declaring rather absolutely that “the one who called you is faithful, and he will do this.”

At this point a rather significant and intentional shift is made grammatically.  Paul has been using imperatives extensively and in verse 23 shifts to optatives in the aorist tense.  This shifts his speech from injunctions to “prayer-wish.”[34] Paul is not instructing them to do anything at this point.  It seems rather clear in fact that Paul is indirectly communicating the human insufficiency to make ourselves completely holy.  In fact only “the one who calls you” is capable of “do[ing] this.”  Since Paul has been directing the church in Thessalonica to live a life that is pleasing to God, it seems to me that he used this dramatic literary shift to make sure those who read or heard his letter would be sure to pay attention and more likely to understand that complete holiness is only something God can bring about.  Similar use of the imperative-optative shift is found in Rom.15:1-6, 7-13.  Paul picks up in verse 25 with a request for prayer and tells them to “greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.”  While “it is agreed that the kiss was a common custom in Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures to show affection towards family members and friends and honor towards those of superior rank,” some believe this may have “served as an introduction to the Lord’s supper.” [35] Before ending his letter with a benediction, Paul emphatically charges them to read this letter to everyone.  Since it is very likely that this is Paul’s first apostolic letter, it is possible that he is “instituting a new practice and so one requiring strong language.”[36] However Bruce argues that “the most probable explanation is that Paul took over the pen at this point and added the adjuration and concluding benediction with his own hand.”[37] Whatever the case may be, this undoubtedly got their attention and communicated how important it was to Paul that they read the letter aloud to all.

The literary forms, intentional linguistic shifts, mnemonic devices, as well as the brevity of the imperative phrases throughout, are used skillfully to summarize and emphasize what Paul hoped to communicate to the church in Thessalonica.  Thus, in bringing all his points together in this conclusion, Paul provides the church in Thessalonica with a valuable resource for addressing current difficulties in the church at Thessalonica as well as a concise reflection on Christian living and worship.  As a result, the Body of Christ in Thessalonica, as well as the body of Christ in all historical and cultural settings, has a succinct version of straight forward, practical guidance on Christian living.


Bruce, F. F. 1 and 2 Thessalonians Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, Texas: Word, 1982.

Gaventa, Beverly. “Lecture: Translating 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28.” Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary, 2009.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. First and Second Thessalonians. CD-ROM ed. Interpretation. Loisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998.

Richard, Earl. First and Second Thessalonians Sacra Pagina 11. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1995.

[1] While the Greek word used here is “brothers,” as this letter is addressed to the church of Thessalonica as a whole I have chosen to make all references to “brothers” gender inclusive by using “brothers and sisters.”
[2] Beverly Roberts Gaventa, First and Second Thessalonians, CD-ROM ed., Interpretation (Loisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998), Author and Audience. [Note: As the CD-ROM version does not provide page numbers, I will reference this work using section headings instead.]
[3] Earl Richard, First and Second Thessalonians, Sacra Pagina 11 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1995), 2.
[4] Gaventa, Author and Audience.
[5] F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Texas: Word, 1982), xxv.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Richard, 292.
[8] Gaventa, Form and Purpose.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Bruce, 119.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Gaventa, Treatment of the Marginal.
[14] Richard, 270.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Gaventa, Treatment of the Marginal.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Bruce, 123.
[19] Ibid., 124.
[20] Gaventa, Conduct within the Community of Believers.
[21] Ibid., Form and Purpose.
[22] Ibid., Elements of Church Order.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Beverly Gaventa, “Lecture: Translating 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28,”  (Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary, 2009).
[25] Gaventa, First and Second Thessalonians, Elements of Church Order.
[26] Richard, 271.
[27] The use of adverbial construction to emphasize attitude rather than action used throughout this paragraph is taken from E.J. Richard’s commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the Sacra Pagina Series, 271.
[28] Richard, 272.
[29] Bruce, 125.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Bruce uses a similar convention in his translation.
[32] The discussion on the “body, soul, and spirit” imagery here is used extensively from Richard, 285.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Gaventa, “Lecture: Translating 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28.”
[35] Richard, 287.
[36] Ibid., 291.
[37] Bruce, 291.

Some thoughts on Discerning the Call

March 3, 2010

The title of this post might be more accurately stated “Some Random thoughts on Discerning the Call.”  I am writing this post in hopes that my experience thus far will be of help for folks who are also discerning a call to ministry.  Though in many ways my experience will ground this discussion largely in the framework of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), my hope is that some of my thoughts will be general enough to speak to folks in other denominations as well.  Much of this post is based on an e-mail I wrote to a friend who is also in the process of discernment.

As it stands, I am one step away from Candidacy.  I have met with (and gotten the thumbs up from) the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in my Presbytery and will be going before presbytery in April if all goes as planned.  That said, since ordination is the responsibility of the presbytery, this process will differ depending on what presbytery you are in.  While the backbone of the process will remain the same, some (or many) of the specifics will change.  There are some presbyteries that make additions to what the Book of Order requires on a case by case basis.  There are others that have formalized extra requirements for all candidates.  In most cases, it seems to me that the “extra” requirements are not anything you won’t have the opportunity to do at seminary, but they are specifically delineated and will hold you up from ordination if you don’t complete them.  In some cases, the seminary requires some of the items for graduation so they are no brainers.

So far as what I have experienced going through the process, my session has not had someone under care for quite some time so most of the folks on session were not as familiar with the process.  If there is a seminary in your presbytery, this will likely not be an issue as there will probably be LOTS of inquirers and candidates in these presbyteries! : ) As a result of the fact that my session was learning right along with me, initially my session and I walked through the process together. While some sessions assign a liaison before ever appearing in front of session (the first step in the process), my liaison was assigned after the session voted to endorse me as an inquirer. I have heard that some people select their liaison but in my case, she volunteered. Fortunately she is a wonderful liaison!  I submitted my Form 1 prior to my meeting with session and got advice before submitting the document but did it mostly on my own.  The questions on the forms definitely freaked me out (both for the inquirer form (FORM 1) and the candidacy form (FORM 5A)) but it seems to me that the forms are 1) a way to get an idea of your spiritual growth throughout the process and 2) to contribute to your spiritual growth throughout the process. Answering the questions has forced me to delineate my faith and as a result it has been strengthened. I became an inquirer in July 2008. When I was filling out my Form 5A in December 2009, I looked at my answers to my Form 1 and wanted to laugh. Having not been in the Presbyterian church for very long when I filled it out, I was grasping for straws when it came to the vocabulary to express my beliefs. This is something I still struggle with but being in the Presbyterian mecca of Princeton Theological Seminary has definitely helped. The forms are a way for session and the Committee to see who you are and not really to see if you can give the “right” answers.  Granted this is as I see it and if you wrote something about how you took a pilgrimage to Disney to get closer to Jesus they might raise their eyebrows, but at this point, they want to hear your story and they want to get to know who you are.  And when I say your story, I mean your faith journey and your sense of call thus far.

Having walked through the process thus far, it seems to me that there are two functions of the CPM: 1) serving as a gatekeeper and 2) serving as a support throughout the process. Sometimes their “support” may not feel that way, but being challenged, while not comfortable, is going to help with discernment just as much as the ‘atta-boys’ so to speak.  I no longer feel as much of the ‘gatekeeper’ mentality going on but feel more support.  I don’t think the ‘gatekeeper’ aspect of the community ever goes away, but after the committee gets to know you a bit, it will not be (or at least will not seem to be?) as prominent.

One thing I learned along the way totally changed the way I thought about things: you do NOT have to defend your call to anyone.  There are various aspects of your story that may make you feel as though you need to defend your call, so you will need to talk about how those things have played into your discernment process, but again, you don’t need to defend your call. It’s not even yours really…it’s God’s call on your life.  Or even God’s call on the life God has given to you to live.  There will be folks who will help you discern what that might mean or look like, but ultimately if God is calling you and you merely have to decide whether you will answer.  I don’t recommend running from a sense of call (just look at Jonah) but that’s an entirely different post.