Biblical Commentary
(Bible Study)

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8



We would do well to stop occasionally to remind ourselves that chapter and verse markers were not part of the original text, but were added later to help us navigate the scriptures. They serve an enormously valuable purpose, but they sometimes create an artificial break in the text that hinders, rather than helps, our understanding.

That is the case here, with the beginning of chapter two. The chapter break obscures the fact that, in verse 1:5b, Paul began a defense of his ministry (and that of his colleagues, Silvanus and Timothy) that continues into chapter two. With his statement, “You know what kind of men we showed ourselves to be among you for your sake” (1:5b), he set the tone for that which follows.

Paul signals the continuing nature of his argument by using the word “for” (Greek: gar) in verses 2:1 and 2:3. That word points us to the text that preceded it, to include 1:5b-10.

Paul needed to defend his ministry at Thessalonica because opponents were challenging him. From his defense, we can deduce the nature of the accusations against him:

• The first accusation was that Paul’s exhortation (and that of his colleagues, Silvanus and Timothy) was in error or unclean or deceptive (2:3).

• The second accusation was that they had tailored their preaching to please their listeners rather than God (v. 4)—with flattery being one of their tools (v. 5a).

• The third accusation was that the motive behind their preaching was greed (v. 5b).

• The fourth accusation was that they were seeking personal glory (v. 6).

In his defense, Paul reminded the Thessalonian Christians that:

• They had “received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1:6).

• They had thereby become “an example to all who believe in Macedonia and Achaia… (and) in every place your faith in God has gone out” (1:7-8).

• Paul and his colleagues had received reports that these Thessalonian Christians had “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1:9-10).

Now, as we come to our text in chapter two, Paul concludes that “our visit to you wasn’t in vain” (2:1)—and that, despite having been persecuted for preaching the Good News in Philippi, he and his colleagues had nevertheless preached boldly in Thessalonica (2:2).


1 For you yourselves know, brothers, our visit to you wasn’t in vain, 2 but having suffered before and been shamefully treated, as you know, at Philippi, we grew bold in our God to tell you the Good News of God in much conflict.

For you yourselves know, brothers, our visit to you wasn’t in vain(v. 1). As noted in “The Context” above, the word “for” (Greek: gar) points us back to that which preceded this verse—the positive response of these Thessalonian Christians to Paul’s preaching—and their witness to Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond (1:5b-10).

In this verse, Paul begins to outline some things that they were NOT:

• Their work was NOT in vain (2:1).
• It was NOT characterized by error, uncleanness, or deception (2:3).
• Their preaching was NOT aimed at pleasing people instead of God (2:4).
• They did NOT use flattery (2:5a).
• They were NOT greedy (2:5b).
• They did NOT seek personal glory (2:6).

For you yourselves know” (v. 1a). Paul first used this phrase (or a variant) in 1:5, and will use it again in 2:2 and 2:5. He needs not introduce anything new in defense of his ministry. It is far better simply to remind these Thessalonians of that which they already know—that which they have seen with their own eyes and felt in their own hearts. They know that Paul is telling the truth. They just need a little reminder.

“brothers” (v. 1a). A wonderful, collegial way to address these fledgling Christians! Paul could lean on his credentials as an apostle and insist on the respect that he is due, both as an apostle and as the one who brought them to the Lord. Instead, he addresses them as brothers (which they are, in Christ) and equals (which they are as sinners, in need of God’s grace).

but having suffered before and been shamefully treated, as you know, at Philippi” (v. 2a). The story of their shameful treatment in Philippi is found in Acts 16:16ff. Paul had encountered a girl whose possession by a demon made her commercially useful to her owners, who used her as a fortune-teller. Paul exorcised the demon, ruining the girl’s potential for making money. The girl’s owners seized Paul, Silvanus (known in Luke’s writings as Silas), and made false charges against them to the magistrates (judges). The magistrates had Paul and Silvanus stripped, beaten with rods, and jailed. An earthquake freed them, but they remained with the jailer, converting him and his family. When daylight came, the magistrates issued word to release Paul and Silvanus, but Paul countered with charges that the magistrates “have beaten us publicly, without a trial, men who are Romans. Do they now release us secretly?” (Acts 16:37)—whereupon the magistrates, who had clearly exceeded their authority, begged Paul and Silvanus to leave the city, which they did.

we grew bold in our God to tell you the Good News of God in much conflict” (v. 2b). From Philippi, Paul and Silvanus went to Thessalonica, where they began their proclamation in a Jewish synagogue, converting some Jews, a multitude of Greeks (Gentiles), “and not a few of the chief women” (Acts 17:4). “But the unpersuaded Jews took along some wicked men from the marketplace, and gathering a crowd, set the city in an uproar” (Acts 17:5). They assaulted the house of Jason, one of the Christian believers—which leads us to assume that Paul and his colleagues were lodging there. Paul’s opponents made false charges against Paul and his colleagues, that they were acting “contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus!” (Acts 17:7). The magistrates required Jason to post bond, and Paul and his colleagues were forced to leave Thessalonica. They went from there to Berea (Acts 17:10 ff).

A bit later in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul will say:

“But we, brothers, being bereaved of you for a short season,
in presence, not in heart,
tried even harder to see your face with great desire,
because we wanted to come to you—
indeed, I, Paul, once and again—
but Satan hindered us” (2:17-18).

Faithful preaching often stirs opposition, because God’s ways run counter to the world’s ways. Faithful preaching will often run counter to monied interests. When wealthy and powerful people believe that their interests are threatened, they marshal their resources to counter the threat.


3 For our exhortation is not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in deception. 4 But even as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, who tests our hearts. 5 For neither were we at any time found using words of flattery, as you know, nor a cloak of covetousness (God is witness), 6 nor seeking glory from men (neither from you nor from others), when we might have claimed authority as apostles of Christ.

As noted above, in this section, Paul outlines a series of things that he and his work are NOT.

For our exhortation is not of error” (Greek: plane) (v. 3a). The Greek word plane can mean error or delusion, but it can go deeper and indicate deceit or fraud. No doubt, Paul intends here to defend his preaching against this whole range of meanings. He has not inadvertently made a mistake, and he has certainly not been guilty of deceit or fraud. He has been telling the truth—a truth about Jesus that many people didn’t want to hear.

“nor of uncleanness (Greek: akatharsia) (v. 3b). The word akatharsia connotes uncleanness, whether physical or moral.

The idea of clean versus unclean has its roots in the Torah, where God specified in great detail what was and was not clean with regard to food, bodily emissions, leprosy, and other things. While “clean” was often used with regard to ritual practices, it was also used with regard to a person’s behavior—behavior that had the potential to darken people’s understanding and to separate them from God (Ephesians 4:17-19; 5:3; Romans 1:24).

“nor in deception (Greek: dolos) (v. 3c). The word dolos has to do with fraud or deceit. Paul has been guilty of neither.

But even as we have been approved (Greek: (dokimazo) by God to be entrusted with the Good News, so we speak (v. 4a). We naturally look for recommendations or credentials when determining whom they should trust. After all, there are many competing interests that vie for our attention. Most are, to some degree, self-serving, and many are blatantly dishonest. Whom should we trust?

Paul says that he and his colleagues have been approved (dokimazo) by God. The word dokimazo includes the idea of testing, such as trial by fire, to determine authenticity. Paul is saying that God has tested him and his colleagues, has found them trustworthy, and therefore has stamped them with God’s seal of approval.

God has entrusted them with the Good News—not so that they might bury it and keep it in hiding, but so that they might proclaim it boldly (see the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14ff). That they have done.

not as pleasing men, but God, who tests (Greek: (dokimazo) our hearts (v. 4b). Here is that word dokimazo again (see v. 4a). Again, it suggests both testing and approval. Paul and his colleagues have passed God’s test and won God’s approval.

This brings to mind the words of Peter, who countered the high priest’s command not to preach about Jesus by saying, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

In this letter to the Thessalonians, Paul speaks of pleasing God rather than obeying God, but those two actions are part and parcel of the same thing. Faithful preaching is God-centered in the sense that God has given the message to be proclaimed and has chosen the messenger to proclaim it. The faithful preacher doesn’t allow him/herself to be distracted by crowds or popular fads. He/she is focused on the task at hand (proclaiming Christ)—and the one who entrusted him/her with that task.

The church is always tempted to tailor its preaching to cater to people—to adopt popular philosophies or fads—and to avoid unpopular subjects. One of my old professors once encountered a student who advocated this kind of preaching. When asked why, the student replied, “to win people!” The professor asked, “Win them to what?” Good question!

For neither were we at any time found using words of flattery, as you know (v. 5a). Flattery is the art of saying nice things about another person—or saying things that the other person wants to hear—with the intention of gaining something from that person. In short, flattery is deceptive and self-serving—practiced for personal gain. Paul says that he and his colleagues have not used flattery. These Thessalonians know that this is true. Instead of using flattery, Paul has spoken Godly truths that have often offended people. His approach has been the opposite of flattery.

nor a cloak of covetousness (Greek: pleonexia en prophasis) (God is witness) (v. 5). The Greek word pleonexia means covetousness or greediness. Covetousness is an inordinate desire for something that belongs to someone else—desire so intense that it has the potential to provoke the covetous person to do whatever is required to get the desired object. The last of the Ten Commandments prohibits coveting a neighbor’s house or wife or servant or ox or donkey or “anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). Colossians 3:5 equates covetousness with idolatry.

The word prophasis indicates a pretense used to cover one’s true motives. Greedy people often use pretense to make them appear more benign than they really are. Otherwise, people would have nothing to do with them.

Paul is saying that he and his colleagues have never resorted to pretense to hide a burning greed—because they have never been greedy. A powerful proof is the fact that Paul “worked night and day, that (he) might not burden any of you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). He worked as a tentmaker to pay his own way (Acts 18:3).

When speaking of flattery, he said “as you know” (v. 5a). Now, speaking of covetousness or greed, he says, “God is my witness” (v. 5b). His motives have been clear both to God and to those to whom he preached.

nor seeking glory from men (neither from you nor from others), when we might have claimed authority (Greek: dynamai eimi baros) as apostles of Christ (v. 6). The NRSV divides this differently—begins verse 7 with the last half of this verse.

Paul didn’t seek “glory from men” by calling attention to his rightful authority as an apostle. He was a humble servant who thought of himself as a clay vessel entrusted to embody the precious Good News of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:7).

“when we might have claimed authority” (dynamai eimi baros). This Greek phrase translates more literally as “had the power or the authority to be a burden.” Paul is saying that he and his colleagues could have expected financial support from those to whom they had brought the Good News of Jesus. However, as noted above, Paul worked as a tentmaker to provide his own support.

Paul uses the word “apostles” (plural). I have been unable to find another reference to Silvanus (known in Acts as Silas) or Timothy as apostles. However, there were several more apostles than the original twelve—to include Paul. Luke refers to “the apostles, Barnabas and Paul” (Acts 14:14). Paul refers to “James, the Lord’s brother” as an apostle (Galatians 1:19). Paul refers to Epaphroditus as an apostolon (Philippians 2:25). So when Paul says, “we might have claimed authority as apostles of Christ,” it seems likely that he regarded Silvanus as an apostle—and possibly Timothy as well.

The word apostle comes from the Greek word apostolos. It means “sent one” or “the one who is sent.” Jesus was sent by the Father (Mark 9:37), and Jesus sent the apostles to continue his work.


7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children.

8 Even so, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not the Good News of God only, but also our own souls, because you had become very dear to us.

But we were gentle (Greek: eipioi or neipioi) among you, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children (v. 7). In verses 3-6, Paul emphasized what they were not. Now he begins to tell what they have been and are.

There is a question about the word that is translated “gentle” here. The Greek word eipioi means gentle and neipioi means infants. The best manuscripts use neipioi (infants), but that word doesn’t seem to fit. The word eipioi (gentle) fits more nicely, but might have been a later scribe’s attempt to “fix” a verse that didn’t seem to make sense.

In either event, the meaning is clear enough. Paul and his colleagues were concerned for the well-being of these Thessalonian Christians—as caring for their welfare as the mother of an infant is for her baby’s welfare. This, of course, is a powerful image, because the devotion of mothers to their infant child tends to be total. A mother who had to choose between her life and the life of her baby would almost always sacrifice her own life to save her baby.

Even so, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not the Good News of God only, but also our own souls (Greek: psyche), because you had become very dear to us (v. 8). Paul and his colleagues gave a twofold gift:

(1) the Good News of God and
(2) their own souls.

The Greek word psyche is related to the word for breath, and is usually translated soul. Paul and his colleagues weren’t just physically present with the Thessalonians. They weren’t just going through the motions of caring. They had given the Thessalonians their souls. The Thessalonian Christians “had become very dear” to them.

Pastors develop that kind of deep affection for people in their congregation. I have been in ministry more than fifty years, but my thoughts often go back to the people in my first parish. It was a small rural church, sometimes referred to as a “student church” because I was a “student pastor.” I think about Webb, a lonely old man living in his tiny house. I think about a couple whose twelve-year-old daughter died in surgery. When I parked my car in front of their house, the father came running to me with open arms, crying “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” I remember a young man who had just begun college—but his dreams were shattered by a long-distance phone call from his father. I remember a family of four, three of whom were afflicted with serious ailments of various sorts—but who nevertheless exuded joy in living—and who treated me as an honored guest in their home.

I had no idea at the time that, fifty years later, I would still care so much about those people—but I do. Most of them are dead now—but alive in my heart.

So when Paul tells these Thessalonian Christians that they had become very dear to him, I believe him. I can imagine how deeply embedded they were in his heart.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.


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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan