STUDY BOOK OF 1 THESSALONIANS FROM INTRODUCTION TO BIBLE
THE BIBLE IN CHRISTIANITY
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have many beliefs in common, both adhering to the truths expressed in the Apostles’ Creed and the doctrines crystallized and codified at Nicea and Chalcedon (regarding the Trinity and Christology, respectively). However, they have serious differences in their understanding of doctrines such as Scripture, salvation, purgatory, Mary, and the church.
THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE
Though all the books of the Protestant Bible are found in the Catholic Bible, the Catholic Bible contains additional books (e.g., Tobit, Judith) not found in the Protestant Bible, and additional sections in certain books (e.g., Esther, Daniel) that it otherwise shares in common with the Protestant Bible. These additional books and sections—called the Apocrypha—are all related to the OT. (See The Apocrypha.) The Catholic Bible’s NT and that of the Protestant Bible are identical in all aspects.
How did this difference come about? It should be recalled that what Christians now call the “Old Testament” was once the entire Bible of the Jews and was originally written in Hebrew. Beginning in the third century b.c., a Greek translation of this Hebrew Bible was undertaken. Called the Septuagint (Gk. “seventy”; often abbreviated lxx; see The Septuagint), it is more extensive than Hebrew Scripture, and its additions are called the apocryphal (or hidden) writings, or the Apocrypha for short. Beginning in the second century a.d., a Latin translation of the entire Bible was undertaken. The version of the OT that was originally translated was the Septuagint, not the Hebrew Bible. As the church in the West began to adopt Latin as its primary language, the Latin translation including the Apocrypha became its Bible.
In a.d. 382 Jerome embarked on a new Latin translation of Scripture, called the Vulgate. As he commenced his work on the OT, he translated from the Hebrew Bible. He considered only the writings in the Hebrew Bible to be authoritative Scripture, and he knew that the Apocrypha never had a place in the Hebrew Bible. However, Augustine urged Jerome to include translations of the apocryphal writings. As the Vulgate became the church’s new Bible, the apocryphal writings were increasingly regarded as part of canonical Scripture. Several church councils around the beginning of the fifth century a.d.ratified the Latin Vulgate. Thus, the OT with the Apocrypha (together with the NT) would be the Bible of the church. This view would go without significant challenge until the Reformation.
In the sixteenth century, one of the major disagreements between the Roman Catholic Church and the new Protestant movement was the canon of Scripture. (See The Canon of the Old Testament.) Protestants insisted that the church’s OT should match the shorter Hebrew Bible, not the Septuagint with its additional apocryphal writings. They argued that the Jewish Bible, which did not include those writings, had been the Scripture used by Jesus and the disciples; therefore, it must be considered the basis for the church’s Bible. Also, some of the apocryphal writings included incorrect historical or chronological information, and had been considered unsound by the early church. Thus, the Reformers dismissed the Apocrypha from the canonical OT.
Because of this development, the Protestant Bible was different from the Roman Catholic Bible. The effects of this were far-reaching, as the Protestant churches appealed to canonical Scripture alone as the ultimate, divine authority to establish their beliefs and practices. Because the Apocrypha was considered noncanonical, it could not be used as the basis for church doctrine. This meant, e.g., that belief in purgatory and the practice of praying for the dead (which were supported by 2 Maccabees 12, a passage in the Apocrypha) were without biblical support and were therefore discontinued by Protestant churches.
In summary, the Roman Catholic Bible is different from the Protestant Bible because of the presence of the Apocrypha in the Catholic OT. This divergence was the result of significant disputes about the proper source for the Bible’s translation, the range of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture, and the limits of the Word of God as used by Jesus and his disciples. This continues to be a major difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
THE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE
Another important matter separating Roman Catholics and Protestants is over the interpretation of the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church insists that the prerogative to determine the proper and authoritative interpretation of Scripture belongs solely to its magisterium, or teaching office (consisting of the pope and bishops). This was a decision that the Council of Trent made (in 1546) in response to the growing Protestant movement. Trent decreed “that no one relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held and holds.” Thus, the Roman Catholic Church claims that it possesses the sole right to give the correct interpretation of Scripture.
Protestant churches do not have such an authoritative teaching office to decide correct and authoritative interpretations. Rather, they urge all believers to engage in careful and responsible interpretation of the Bible by observing sound interpretative principles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with the help of divinely ordained and gifted elders (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9) or pastor-teachers (Eph. 4:11), also taking account of the way other believers have interpreted texts, especially in published commentaries that have interacted with the history of prior interpretation. Protestantism rejects the Roman Catholic magisterium and insists on personal Bible study because of its conviction that Scripture is clear and is necessary for all Christians, who are also made competent by the Holy Spirit for such an interpretative task. In an encouraging development since Vatican Council II (1962–1965), more and more Roman Catholics are becoming involved in Bible study and familiarizing themselves with Scripture.
THE SUFFICIENCY AND AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE
Another important difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants concerns the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. From its beginning, the early church viewed Scripture as the sole and sufficient source of authoritative revelation from God. This meant that all Christians were to give their attention to the Bible, finding in it the very words of God that are to be believed and obeyed, just as God himself is to be believed and obeyed. Furthermore, it meant that God does not require or prohibit anything of Christians that is not contained in Scripture either explicitly or by implication.
But a change took place in the latter part of the Middle Ages. As the Catholic Church permitted other sources to lay claim to the title of authoritative truth, a multiple-source notion of divine revelation arose. This consisted of written Scripture, church tradition, and the magisterium (see above). This meant that Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation and becoming Christlike. And Scripture is not the only authority for the church. It must be supplemented by tradition—teachings that Christ passed down orally to the apostles, and from them to their successors, the bishops, in the Catholic Church—and by the Church’s teaching office. Against this disturbing trend the Protestant motto sola Scriptura—Scripture alone!—was sounded. More than a motto, however, this “formal principle of Protestantism” became a decisive point of division between Protestantism and Catholicism. It meant that Scripture alone is absolutely authoritative for doctrine and practice, and following Scripture alone is sufficient to please God in all things.
THE DOCTRINE OF SALVATION
Many more differences arise because of these foundational issues of the canon of Scripture, proper biblical interpretation, and the sufficiency and authority of the Bible. Another key area, the Protestant doctrine of salvation, also differs from its Catholic counterpart. According to the Protestant understanding of Romans 3:21–4:8 and 5:15–19, justification is the act of God by which he declares a sinful person to be no longer under judgment for his or her guilt, but forgiven and righteous instead, because the sin-bearing righteousness of Christ is accredited to the person (see also 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). This declarative act is not based on any inherent goodness or any personally achieved righteousness of the sinful person, and it does not render that person morally transformed (other divine acts achieve this). Rather, justification is grounded solely on the grace of God as expressed by the atoning death of Christ. Furthermore, this gracious provision can be appropriated only by faith; salvation cannot be merited by human effort in whole or even in part through moral conduct or religious activity (Eph. 2:8–9).
The Roman Catholic understanding incorrectly extends justification to include other acts of God in salvation: “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man” (Council of Trent, Decree on Justification 6). Accordingly, justification remains a work in process which increases or decreases in relation to the degree of inward renewal of the sinful person, rendering any assurance of salvation impossible in this life. In addition, justification is said to be conferred in (infant) baptism and continued and increased through the other Catholic sacraments. Thus, a cooperative effort between God’s grace and human effort is established so that a sinful person not only expresses faith in Christ’s atoning death but also, moved by love and the Holy Spirit, merits eternal life through participation in the church and good deeds. Protestants have considered this a very serious difference, since this faith-plus-human-effort view of justification is so different from the true gospel message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone (Rom. 4:4–5, 16; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8–9).
THE DOCTRINE OF ESCHATOLOGY
This divergence in the doctrine of salvation leads to a difference in eschatology, or personal future hope. For Protestants, only two eternal destinies await human beings: eternal life for all who are justified by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone (John 3:16; Rom. 8:1, 33–34), or eternal condemnation for all who reject this salvation (John 3:18; 2 Thess. 1:5–10). Although Roman Catholics agree with Protestants concerning these two eternal destinies, they add a third destiny: temporal punishment in purgatory for all who are on the way to final bliss. “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030). Purgatory is this temporal punishment as a means of final purification.
Protestants deny this doctrine. It is based on an apocryphal writing (2 Macc. 12:45, which is not canonical Scripture) and on misinterpreted biblical passages (Matt. 12:31; 1 Cor. 3:15). Furthermore, the doctrine is the logical outgrowth of the Roman Catholic misunderstanding of salvation. Purgatory makes sense with a view of justification that combines a declarative act of forgiveness with inward renovation, for if this latter renewal process is not sufficiently advanced, such a sinful person will need further purification in purgatory.
However, in the Protestant view, through justification God declares sinful persons to not be penally liable, now or ever, but righteous. He does so by the forgiveness of their sins through the cross and by the imputing of Christ’s righteousness to them in and through their union with him. Therefore there can be no purging punishment in purgatory after death due to being imperfectly purified in this life. At death, with their sanctifying process completed in that moment, Christians go to be with Christ in endless joy. The Protestant doctrine of justification leaves no room for a doctrine of purgatory, because it has no need for it.
THE ROLE OF MARY
Whereas Protestantism rivets attention on Jesus Christ, Roman Catholicism adds to this singular focus some attention to Mary, his mother. In terms of her personal history, Catholics believe in Mary’s immaculate conception (she was “preserved from all stain of original sin” from the moment of her conception; Ineffabilis Deus), her complete sinlessness, her perpetual virginity, and her bodily assumption to heaven immediately after death (she “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory”;Munificentissimus Deus).
Because of this personal history and her inseparable union with her Son, “the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” (Lumen Gentium 62; “invoked” means “prayed to”). Catholicism honors her maternal mediation and spiritual motherhood, affirming that Mary cooperates “in the birth and development of divine life in the souls of the redeemed” (Credo of the People of God). Furthermore, “the Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship” (Marialis Cultus 56) as seen in the 17 festival days annually dedicated to her and the 50 “Hail Mary” prayers in the set of prayers known as the rosary.
Protestant churches acknowledge the unique role Mary played. While they agree that she is in a true sense theotokos (“God-bearer,” i.e., the one to whom she gave birth is fully God), admire her faith and obedience (Luke 1:26–38), acknowledge her suffering (Luke 2:35; John 19:25–27), and call her “blessed” (Luke 1:48), they repudiate the above-stated Catholic beliefs about her. Protestants, as did the other early disciples, recognize that Mary struggled to understand the significance of her Son Jesus (Mark 3:20–35; Luke 2:25–35; 11:27–28; John 2:1–11; 19:25–27). She also confessed that she was in need of a “Savior” (Luke 1:47) and bore other children after Jesus (see note on Matt. 13:55–56). Protestants maintain that the claims made by Roman Catholicism about her share in her Son’s mediation, and the fitness of praying to her, are either the result of poor interpretation of Scripture or arise from unchastened church tradition.
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH
Protestantism and Roman Catholicism also differ on the role of the church as a means of the grace that is necessary for salvation. At the heart of the Catholic doctrine of the church is the idea of thesacramental economy: As Redeemer, Jesus Christ accomplished salvation through the Paschal (Easter) mystery—his passion, death, and resurrection—that occurred in history and that gave birth to the sacramental reality of the Church. As High Priest, he continues to accomplish salvation through the Church, working originally through the apostles and now through their successors, the bishops, who teach, govern, and sanctify the Church through the gospel and the seven sacraments. Thus, it is through the Roman Catholic Church alone that the fullness of salvation is extended to a sinful world.
This teaching is held to be particularly true because the Church dispenses the grace of God through its sacraments, which are necessary for salvation: baptism (which regenerates a sinful person who in most cases is an infant); confirmation (by which the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is conferred); the Eucharist (which represents the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, a reality that is ever-present in the Catholic Mass, as the bread and the wine are transubstantiated into his body and blood through the power of the Holy Spirit at the request of the priest); penance (or reconciliation for all post-baptismal sins); marriage; holy orders (for men ordained to the priesthood); and the anointing of the sick.
No Protestant denomination or church has a view of the church that even remotely resembles this Roman Catholic idea of the sacramental economy. Furthermore, Protestants have always rejected the notion of seven sacraments, maintaining that only two—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—were ordained by Christ (Matt. 26:26–29; 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:17–34), with accompanying tangible signs (water; bread and wine).
Despite the many points of doctrine they hold in common, there remains a vast difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Their Bibles are different, their idea of interpretation is different, and their view of Scripture’s clarity, authority, sufficiency, and necessity is different. And because of these differences, Protestant and Roman Catholic theologies also diverge on the crucial doctrines of salvation, purgatory, Mary, and the church.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF ORTHODOXY
Orthodoxy comprises a range of autocephalous and autonomous churches, the Russian and Greek being the most prominent. During the first millennium a.d., the Latin West and the predominantly Greek-speaking East drifted apart linguistically, culturally, and theologically. Rome’s claims to universal jurisdiction and its acceptance of the filioque clause in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed led to severed relations.
In the following years, many countries in the East, overrun by the Muslims, had limited freedom, both politically and ecclesiastically. Constantinople, or Byzantium (modern Istanbul), the capital of the Christian East, was conquered in 1453. In the twentieth century, Orthodoxy in Russia and Eastern Europe lived under Communist rule, suffering intense persecution. Orthodox churches include about 218 million adherents today, compared to 1.1 billion Roman Catholics and about 830 million Protestants.
Orthodoxy’s doctrinal basis is the teachings of the seven ecumenical councils (between a.d. 325 and 787), with reference especially to the Trinity and Christology. Evangelicals agree with most of these dogmatic decisions. The division in 1054 was prompted by objections to the pope’s endorsement of the addition of the Latin term filioque (“and the Son”) to the Nicene Creed, so that it said that “the Holy Spirit … proceeds from the Father and the Son” (a reference to the eternal relations between the Son and the Holy Spirit).
Orthodoxy is highly visual, with icons dominating its churches. Its ancient liturgy, rooted in the fourth century, is central to its theology and life.
POSITIVE ELEMENTS OF ORTHODOXY THAT EVANGELICALS CAN LEARN FROM
The Orthodox liturgy is full of Trinitarian prayers, hymns, and doxologies; the Trinity is a vital part of belief and worship, whereas in the West it often appears as little more than an arcane mathematical riddle. Paul describes our relationship with God in Trinitarian terms: “through [Christ] we … have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18).
UNION WITH CHRIST AND GOD
Crucial to Orthodox theology is “deification,” in which humans (while remaining humans) are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, transformed by divine grace, and in this sense become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Though talk of deification sounds alarming to many evangelicals, the difference is largely one of emphasis. Orthodoxy has maintained a focus on the union of the three persons in God, the union of deity and humanity in Christ, the union of Christ and the church (central in the NT, e.g.,John 14:18–24; 17:20–23; Eph. 1:3–14), and the union of the Holy Spirit and the saints. In contrast, the West has often emphasized the juridical aspects of doctrine, such as the doctrines of atonement and justification.
FREEDOM FROM CONCERNS RAISED BY THE ENLIGHTENMENT
Due to its historical avoidance of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century (with its emphasis on the primacy of reason), Orthodox theology never became preoccupied with unbelieving critical challenges to and revisions of the faith, which in the West have often bred a detached, academic approach to theology divorced from the life of the church. This is evident in Orthodoxy’s firm belief in heaven, hell, and the return of Christ—topics that many in the West (esp. among more liberal Protestant groups) have sidelined due to possible embarrassment. There is strong commonality here between evangelicals and the Orthodox.
UNITY OF THEOLOGY AND PIETY
In Orthodoxy, the knowledge of God is received and cultivated by prayer and meditation aided by the Holy Spirit, in battle against the forces of spiritual darkness. Therefore, asceticism and monasticism have had a contemplative character in Orthodoxy. By contrast, since the Enlightenment, Western theology has centered in academic institutions, many of them unconnected to the church. Orthodoxy has profoundly integrated liturgy, piety, and doctrine.
AGREEMENTS BETWEEN EVANGELICALISM AND ORTHODOXY
The ecumenical councils’ declarations on the Trinity and Christ show the extensive agreement between Orthodoxy and evangelicalism, despite their disagreement on the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. Although they have different emphases, Orthodoxy and evangelicalism agree on the Bible’s authority, on sin, and on the fall (however, the Orthodox do not accept the specific Augustinian doctrine of original sin). They also agree on Christ’s death and resurrection (although the Orthodox regard the atonement more as conquest of death than payment for the penalty of sin), the Holy Spirit, the return of Christ, the final judgment, heaven, and hell.
Historically the justification controversy of the Reformation was not an issue in the Eastern church, but there is generally an underlying consensus between the East and several Reformation doctrines in the West. Eastern patristic writers occasionally spoke of salvation as a gift of God’s grace, and of faith as a gift of God; the famous Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) attests to Orthodoxy’s rejection of good works contributing to justification. In a similar way, there are echoes in the West of something like the Orthodox doctrine of “deification”—which is no more incompatible with justification by faith than are the doctrines of sanctification and glorification.
Additionally, the Orthodox doctrine of the church resonates with many evangelical concerns. Orthodox opposition to Rome is underlined by Cyprian’s stress on the unity of the church, the parity of bishops, and the equality of all church members—a model of the church close to post-Reformation Anglicanism.
EVANGELICAL MISUNDERSTANDINGS OF ORTHODOXY
Orthodoxy’s use of icons (visual representations of Christ and the saints) has bothered evangelicals, who argue that it can easily tend toward idolatry and worship of images of God. However, the Second Council of Nicea (a.d. 787) emphatically denied that icons are worshiped. Following John of Damascus, it distinguished between honor (Gk. proskynēsis) given to saints and icons, and worship (Gk. latreia) owed to the indivisible Trinity alone. Icons are regarded as windows to the spiritual realm, betokening in the church’s worship on earth the presence of the saints in heaven. Moreover, the idea of image (Gk.eikon) is prominent in the Bible. The whole creation reveals the glory of God (Ps. 19:1 ff.; Rom. 1:18–20).
On Scripture and tradition (the teaching of the church), both sides appeal to both sources. There is an overwhelming biblical emphasis in Orthodox liturgy—the Bible has been translated into the local vernacular wherever Orthodox missionaries have gone—while the Reformation did not ignore tradition but had a high view of the teaching of the church. The issue is not the Bible alone vs. tradition; it is which has the decisive voice, the last word over the other? For evangelicalism, the Bible is unequivocally the Word of God (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:16), while all human councils may err, and therefore the Bible must finally judge the tradition that seeks to expound it. For Orthodoxy, however, the decisions of the early church councils and church fathers often function in practice as equal to the Bible in authority.
ORTHODOX MISUNDERSTANDINGS OF EVANGELICALISM
The Orthodox confuse the Protestant doctrine of predestination with Islamic fatalism. The Bible teachesboth the absolute sovereignty of God and the full responsibility of man, God’s decrees contemplating the free actions of secondary causes. As such, the Orthodox idea that the doctrine of predestination is monothelite, short-circuiting the human will, is misplaced.
Many Orthodox polemicists accuse evangelicals of ignoring the church’s part in salvation. However, the classic Protestant confessions attest that the church is integral to the process of salvation, the Christian faith being found in the Bible and taught by the church. Orthodoxy at this point confuses classic Protestantism with later individualist views.
THE EASTERN TENDENCY TO DOWNPLAY THE PREACHING OF GOD’S WORD
Largely due to historical events (the depredations of Islam) and despite Orthodoxy’s heritage of superlative preaching (Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen), worship in the East is more visual than worship in evangelical churches. Sermons are part of the liturgy, but the focus is as much on the icons and the symbolic movements of the clergy. Gregory of Nyssa stressed God’s visible revelation in creation, along with the ambiguity and inadequacy of language.
The way Calvin resolved this question was to understand the knowledge of God in auditory terms: God’s Word must be heard by us in faith. For Calvin, God reveals himself in his Word by the Holy Spirit. In the Word read and proclaimed, God addresses us personally. We cannot see him but we hear him. Moreover, his verbal revelation is true and reliable.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SCRIPTURE AND TRADITION
For Orthodoxy, tradition is a living, dynamic movement, the Bible existing within it and not apart from it. Orthodoxy also believes in biblical authority but as part of a larger whole. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the ultimate authority.
THE PALAMITE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY
The influential archbishop of Thessalonica, Gregory Palamas (1296–1359), promoted a distinction, later widely accepted in Orthodoxy, between the unknowable essence (being) of God and his “energies.” But this view has driven a wedge between God in himself and God as he has revealed himself, threatening our knowledge of God with profound agnosticism, since we have no way of knowing whether God is as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. This formulation defies rational discourse, since it tells us that we cannot say anything definitive about who God is, with the result that the Christian life is reduced to noncognitive mystical contemplation. It introduces into God a division, not a distinction.
THE VENERATION OF MARY AND THE SAINTS
Orthodoxy considers it possible, legitimate, and desirable for Christians to ask Mary and other departed saints to intercede with God on their behalf. But neither Jesus nor Paul ever suggest that this is possible.
The point is not that request for prayer is made to saints as such, for all Christians ask living saints to intercede with God for them. What evangelicals object to is the belief that departed saints can receive our prayers and so intercede on our behalf. The Bible does not encourage us to put our hope in the prayers of departed saints; it directs our hope to Christ, his return, and the resurrection, not to contact with saints departed (1 Thess. 4:13–18; cf. 1 Samuel 28; 1 Chron. 10:13; 1 Tim. 2:5).
Orthodoxy insists that the incarnation mandates icons of Christ, since God has chosen to reveal himself in human form. Evangelicals are equally emphatic that the second commandment prohibits the use of images in worship, and many think that using icons of Christ as aids to worship oversteps acceptable boundaries in that regard. Both sides claim the other is heretical; Orthodoxy considers evangelicals guilty of Manicheeism, entailing a deficient view of matter, while evangelicals argue that icons of Christ imply a Nestorian abstraction of Christ’s humanity. (Manicheeism holds that there are two coequal realities, spirit and matter, which are respectively good and evil. Nestorianism is a heresy that separated Christ’s divine and human natures.)
SYNERGISM IN SALVATION
The East has a vigorous doctrine of free will and an implacable opposition to the Reformed teaching on predestination and the sovereignty of God’s grace in Christ. In this aspect, Orthodoxy is farther away from the Reformation than is Rome. The difference in respective weighting of grace and the human will is far-reaching. It entails differing understandings of the extent of human sin and the nature of Christ’s work.
COMPARED WITH ROME, HOW FAR AWAY FROM PROTESTANTISM IS ORTHODOXY?
There are ways in which Orthodoxy is closer to classic Protestantism than is Rome. Both were forced into separation from the Roman Church, and both agree in their opposition to the claims of the papacy. The structure of Orthodox churches is much closer to that of Reformed churches, especially the Anglican church. The Orthodox recognition of the parity of all believers, and the autonomy and autocephalous nature of local churches, is far closer to Reformed polity than is the Roman hierarchy. Hence, Orthodoxy does not have the same accumulation of authoritative dogmas as Rome. Moreover, the Orthodox stress on the Bible opens up a large commonality of approach.
There are, however, ways in which Orthodoxy is further removed from evangelicalism than is Rome. Protestantism shares the Roman Catholic understanding of the Trinity. Orthodoxy’s stance on thefilioque controversy, and its distinction between the essence of God and the divine energies, produce a different form of piety. Western faith is centered in Christ; the East’s is more focused on the Holy Spirit. As Orthodox theologian Kallistos Ware put it, Rome and Protestantism share the same questions, but supply different answers; with Orthodoxy, the questions themselves are different.
Liberal Protestantism can best be understood if one begins with a brief look at the thinkers most influential in its development.
Liberal Protestantism arose out of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. To understand liberalism and its view of the Bible, one must grasp something of this Enlightenment influence. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) produced what he called a “Copernican revolution” in epistemology (the study of how one comes to know what is known). In contrast to the geocentric Ptolemaic worldview (the sun and other planets were understood to orbit around the earth), Copernicus had correctly come to see the solar system heliocentrically (the planets, including the earth, orbit around the sun). Kant’s thinking underwent a similar massive paradigm shift. He had believed thatexternal objects determine what one sees and claims to know about the world. But Kant came to believe that one’s mind contains certain structures called “intuitions” (e.g., space and time) and “categories” (e.g., cause and effect) that provide all the color, shape, relations, location, temporality, and spatiality that one “sees” of the external world. A person may think, e.g., that he is seeing a towering green fir tree out the window, but in fact he simply cannot know what he is seeing. All he can know is that his mind is producing the colors, shapes, relations, and other aspects that give him the impression of what he claims to “see” as a fir tree. Therefore, the towering green fir tree is, in a very real sense, the creation of the person’s own mind. Yes, something is “out there,” but what is actually seen, in the way that it is actually seen, is the result of the mind “shaping” the external data into what the person perceives.
Kant distinguished, then, between two realms of reality. The noumenal realm referred to the actual external world that exists outside of the mind (what Kant called “the thing in itself”). Of this realm nothing can be known except that something external “is” (i.e., exists). Just what it is—e.g., how big or tall, or what color or shape—cannot be known at all. The phenomenal realm, however, is “the thing as it appears.” Whatever that “thing in itself” is, at least a person can know this: it appears to him as tall and green with broad, sweeping branches, and so it appears to him to be a fir tree. So “the thing in itself” cannot be known, and one can know only “the thing as it appears.”
The German theologian almost universally recognized as the father of modern theological liberalism, Friederich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), was heavily influenced by Kant’s philosophy. Schleiermacher applied the same “Copernican revolution” to theology that Kant had applied to epistemology. Schleiermacher proposed that the study of God must consider both the noumenal and phenomenal realms of knowledge. Certainly God himself would rightly be located within the “noumenal realm” (the realm of the “thing in itself” that would be beyond human ability to know). As many in the mystical tradition of the church had already affirmed, God is beyond human comprehension or knowledge and exists in a “cloud of unknowing.” Schleiermacher adapted this tradition within the Romanticism of his day and combined it with Kant’s notion of God existing within the noumenal realm. God “in himself,” then, cannot be known. But in the “phenomenal realm” (the realm of God “as he appears” to someone), God can be known. That is, although one cannot know God as he actually is, one can know his ownexperience of God.
Schleiermacher resisted the “cultured despisers of religion” of his day. From the very fact that religious experience is universal and has always been an integral part of the experience of human cultures through time, he argued that it is evident that humans generally have this phenomenal experience of God. In fact, argued Schleiermacher, religion rightly understood should be seen as one’s own “feeling of absolute dependence” before some supreme deity. Theology, then, cannot be the study of God himselfbut should rather be understood as the study of the human experience of God, in different ways and throughout different cultures. Theology does not attempt to describe God objectively but rather expresses ways in which thoughtful religious people experience their personal “God-consciousness” or “feeling of absolute dependence.” The religious liberalism stemming from Schleiermacher, then, was “immanentalistic” (i.e., that God-awareness, not God himself, is the heart of religion) and “anti-authoritarian” (i.e., that subjective experience takes precedence over Scripture, tradition, church declarations, and creedal statements).
THE EFFECT OF LIBERALISM ON THE DOCTRINE OF SCRIPTURE
The implications of this liberal shift from the study of God to the study of humanity’s religious experience were enormous. One very important part of this shift was a radically different view of the Bible. Previously, the Bible had been thought of as divine revelation. That is, the God who created humankind and sent his Son to redeem them from their sin had actually revealed truth about himself and his plan of salvation, and this revelation was given in God’s own Word, the Bible. But with Schleiermacher’s Copernican revolution in theology, the Bible could no longer be “God’s word,” since God cannot be known and no word from him is possible. What is the Bible, then? For Schleiermacher and the liberal tradition that followed, the Bible was the product of various religious cultures and peoples, who recorded their own experiences with God as they imagined him to be. The Bible, then, contributed more directly to a “sociology of religions” inquiry than it did to a traditional “theology” (i.e., study of God). Since the Bible was merely the product of human cultures, over vast times, and through ancient and primitive understandings of the world, it certainly could not be understood as presenting truth that would be binding on anyone today, even if it did contain certain religious insights helpful for people of all times. Much less should the Bible be seen as divine truth, since God is beyond anyone’s tangible grasp, and no book—including the Bible—could be God’s word to humanity.
The nineteenth century, then, saw this liberal view of the Bible extended as historical-critical approaches to study of the Bible were developed. Two areas that received especially heated criticism were (1) the biblical teachings on the origins of the world and of human and other life on earth, and (2) the biblical teachings regarding Jesus’ eternal existence, supernatural origin, miracles, atoning death, and bodily resurrection. A naturalistic understanding of the world had begun to prevail among the educated elites in Europe and America, and the very notion of supernatural intervention through miracles was deemed both unscientific and unnecessary in accounting for the world. The publication by Charles Darwin (1809–1882) of On the Origin of Species (1859) signaled for liberals not only the negation of miracles in explaining life but the end of any need for God’s supernatural intervention in any form in accounting for life here on earth.
Another German theology professor, Albrecht Ritschl (1822–1889), took Schleiermacher’s insights and applied them particularly to the question of the meaning of Jesus’ life. For Ritschl, Jesus was the supreme embodiment of God-consciousness and God-dependence. While being threatened by hostile forces, Jesus nonetheless trusted absolutely in God’s love and power. He is therefore the Archetypal Man, a model for affirming value and worth in dependence on God. For Ritschl, the moral value of Christ and Christianity was central, for this provides the means by which contemporary people, in the community of the church, may overcome hostile pressures by dependence on God. So even though the historical facts of Jesus’ life could never be known or verified, the moral value of Jesus’ life constitutes the religious significance of Jesus for people today.
ADOLF VON HARNACK
German theologian and historian Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930), raised in the home of an orthodox Christian scholar, was influenced by Ritschlian liberalism. He came to see the orthodox Christian tradition as being wrongly preoccupied with doctrines and standards of belief while missing the primary thrust of Jesus’ teachings, namely, the moral responsibility to live out the righteousness of the kingdom. One must separate the essential “kernel” of the gospel (i.e., Christ’s kingdom and its victory over evil) from the dispensable “husk” of the gospel (i.e., changing forms of life and thought). When this is done, the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man is exposed for every new generation, and the law of love is seen to govern all relationships.
THE EFFECT OF LIBERALISM ON OTHER DOCTRINES
Given the prominence of Darwinist evolutionary theory and historical criticism (which attacked the historical reliability of the Bible) at the beginning of the twentieth century, liberalism was clearly prevailing over the defenders of orthodoxy. Under attack by liberalism were such cardinal doctrines as the special creation of Adam and Eve, the literal fall of Adam into sin, the virginal conception of Christ, the incarnation of Christ as fully God and fully human, the miracles that Christ and others performed, the substitutionary atoning death of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ—and underlying all of these, the full divine inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture, which teaches these doctrines as historically and theologically real and true. And of course, since conceptions such as sin, wrath, and hell were rejected, the gospel of liberalism was morphed into the so-called social gospel. Saving of souls was replaced with relieving people’s present physical and social needs. The “good news” that liberals proclaimed was of a loving God who, through Christ’s example of care for the poor and outcast, calls his people to help bring in the kingdom by showing love to others. The growing liberalism of the mainline Christian denominations of the early twentieth century was pervaded by an optimism regarding human nature that casts off human sinfulness and depravity, and an exclusive attention to God’s love that turns a deaf ear to notions of God’s anger and just judgment. Human reason had replaced revelation as the only reliable source for knowledge, and scientific naturalism had made it clear that the supernaturalist dogmas of orthodoxy simply had to be discarded if Christianity was to survive in this brave new world.
A BLOW TO THE OPTIMISM OF LIBERALISM
The outbreak of the First World War was a blow to the optimistic outlook of liberalism. Many younger liberals became disenchanted with their heritage and followed the lead of Karl Barth (1886–1968) and Emil Brunner (1889–1966) toward a somewhat more conservative movement called “neo-orthodoxy.” But liberalism’s influence continued, particularly through the mainline denominations and many prestigious institutions of higher education. Gordon Kaufman, for over 30 years professor of theology and divinity at Harvard Divinity School, in 1981 published a book whose title beautifully captures the liberal mind-set—The Theological Imagination: Constructing the Concept of God. Since liberalism does not have divine revelation to read and study, and since it regards the Bible as a collection merely of human opinion and experience of God, theological liberals are left with only their own experience, reason, and imagination. Replacing the divine revelation in Scripture on which evangelicals depend is the imagination of their own human minds. Rather than receiving the revelation of God, they construct from their own thoughts the concept of God that they believe is most helpful to an ailing world.
Protestant liberalism continues to have significant influence. It represents the underlying theological position held by most of the leadership and professors in the theological seminaries of several mainline denominations in the United States (such as the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church–USA, and the United Church of Christ), though all these denominations still have some conservative evangelical congregations, teachers, and people within them as well. In addition, Protestant liberalism is the most common viewpoint in campus ministry offices in secular universities, and also among the professors who teach the Bible in religion departments of those universities. (Campus parachurch ministries, however, tend to be more in line with evangelical Protestantism.)
But liberalism’s disregard for the church’s long-standing claim that Scripture is divinely inspired and authoritative has left its adherents with an authority residing only in their own minds, and with understandings of what is acceptable that are mere echoes of secular values. Reason replaces revelation, cultural relativism replaces absolute truth, human optimism replaces divine salvation—and in all this, the gospel and historic orthodox faith is lost. The sad heritage of liberalism is a warning to all Christians to continue firm in the conviction that Scripture alone is God’s inspired and authoritative Word from which one learns the truth that alone can set people free.
REFORMATION (16TH CENTURY)
Evangelical Protestantism arose out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The commitment of Martin Luther (1483–1546) to sola Scriptura—i.e., to “Scripture alone” as the only absolute and ultimately authoritative written revelation of God—along with other factors, brought about a separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholicism had understood other sources of revelation to be equal in authority to Scripture. Catholics understood the Bible to include several apocryphal books in addition to the 66 books accepted by Protestants as canonical Scripture; significantly, they also extended infallibility to church dogma pronounced by the magisterium (the pope and the bishops) and by the pope when speaking ex cathedra (lit., “out of his chair”). (This latter point was formally defined only in 1870, but most Catholics had taken it for granted since the Middle Ages.) This Roman Catholic extension of infallibility and authority was the backdrop for sola Scriptura, one of the heart-cries of the Reformation. This proclaimed Scripture alone as possessing complete infallibility and exclusive absolute authority for the church. One tangible effect of the Protestant commitment to the exclusive divine authority of Scripture for faith and practice was the diligent and courageous production of numerous translations of the Bible into the native languages of various countries and peoples. Protestants believed then, as now, that the Bible is for all the people of God. Only as people can read and study the Bible for themselves will they be able to learn well the teaching of God’s Word and, in the manner of the Bereans of old (Acts 17:11), be able to assess various and divergent views of Scripture being advocated.
PROTESTANTISM (17TH–18TH CENTURIES)
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the rise and spread of various Protestant groupings that formed into denominations, some more directly tied to the “magisterial Reformers” Martin Luther and John Calvin (1509–1564) (e.g., Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Anglicanism), and others that were indebted to that tradition yet differed from both Luther and Calvin, particularly in the doctrines of the church and salvation (e.g., Methodists, Baptists, Mennonites). But what these various Protestant groups had in common was a continued commitment to the Bible as the final written revelation of God, in contrast to the Roman Catholic tradition from which they all had retreated. Especially important during these centuries was the Protestant Scholastic reinforcement of the full divine inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture. Pastors and theologians such as William Ames (1576–1633), John Gerhard (1582–1637), John Owen (1616–1683), John Quenstedt (1617–1688), Francis Turretin (1623–1687), Peter von Maastricht (1630–1706), Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), and John Wesley (1703–1791) strongly defended the full inspiration and authority of Scripture. While differing, sometimes vigorously, on what Scripture taught on various doctrines, they affirmed the truthfulness and authority of the Bible to which they appealed. The sixteenth-century cry of sola Scriptura was echoed with force and vitality in the various seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Protestant traditions stemming from the Reformation.
PROTESTANT LIBERALISM (19TH CENTURY)
The rise of Protestant liberalism in the nineteenth century had a chilling effect on Christian confidence in the Bible as fully divine and authoritative. Following principles made popular in the Enlightenment (an 18th-century intellectual movement in European and American philosophy and culture), liberal scholars and teachers such as Friederich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), Albrecht Ritschl (1822–1889), and Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930) called into question the historicity of the narrative accounts in both the OT and the NT, and they rejected the Bible’s many claims to be testifying to God’s supernatural activity. As a result, a line of demarcation was established over the divine authorship and full infallibility and authority of the Bible, with liberal Protestants rejecting it and evangelical Protestants accepting it. Add to this the rising liberal biblical scholarship and the developments in evolutionary biology through the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin (1809–1882), and one can clearly understand the mounting pressure that evangelicals faced in defending their long-standing conviction that Scripture is God’s Word and hence is utterly true.
FUNDAMENTALISM (19TH–20TH CENTURIES)
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the outbreak of what came to be called the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. The conservative and evangelical defenders of the truthfulness and authority of Scripture eventually came to be known as “fundamentalists” because they devoted themselves to defending and preserving for the church the most fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith that were being denied and ridiculed by so-called “modernists” (i.e., liberals). Influential scholarly defenders of Christian orthodoxy in the face of mounting liberalism included B. B. Warfield (1851–1921), R. A. Torrey (1856–1928), and J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937). They labored hard to interact with liberal attacks against the fundamentals of the faith through their teaching, preaching, and prodigious efforts in writing.
A massive project was undertaken in 1909 to assemble a formidable collection of essays written by recognized conservative scholars defending the major doctrines being assailed by liberals. The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, published in 12 volumes from 1910 to 1915, was mailed to pastors and missionaries throughout the world. These volumes contained no fewer than 90 chapters defending against liberal higher criticism such doctrinal fundamentals as the historicity and truthfulness of the Bible, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, the saving death of Christ, and justification by faith, as well as a number of chapters devoted to the errors of liberalism, Darwinism, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and other false teachings of the day. Hope was high that liberalism might thus be answered and that a strong orthodoxy would prevail in mainline denominations and churches.
The 1920s saw only increased conflict, however, between fundamentalists and modernists. In religious institutions of higher education and within the mainline denominations, fundamentalist positions and arguments were routinely rejected in favor of more “tolerant” understandings that accorded with modern learning. The most symbolically important defeat to fundamentalism came with the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925. John T. Scopes was tried for his teaching of Darwinist evolution in a Tennessee public school. Defending him was Clarence Darrow, a highly respected Chicago lawyer, and prosecuting the case against him was William Jennings Bryan, well known both as a fundamentalist Presbyterian and for his national political involvements. Although Bryan won the case against Scopes, Darrow publicly ridiculed Bryan’s fundamentalist position in ways that were picked up by the national media and published throughout the country. As a result, fundamentalism was decisively rejected by intellectual elites as a repressive and backward set of views, resistant to modern learning and advancement. Along with this rejection of fundamentalism was a rejection of the fundamentalist commitment to the inerrant Bible, the only absolutely authoritative written revelation from God.
The next 20-plus years witnessed a marked departure from the aggressive and culture-confronting approach of the earlier work of Warfield, Torrey, and Machen. Post-1925 fundamentalism came to be characterized more by retreat and separation from the culture than by an effort to engage and transform that broader culture. While fundamentalists continued to hold fast to the authority of Scripture, they knew that their views of the Bible and its teachings were largely rejected by the increasingly secular media and schools of higher education. As a result, they tended to become more isolationist, regularly highlighting the Bible’s call to “come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17, kjv). Furthermore, because of liberalism’s advocacy of the “social gospel” in place of the traditional Christian gospel of faith in Christ for personal salvation from the wrath of God because of human sin, fundamentalists tended to view most kinds of social involvement with a high degree of suspicion, fearing that the “saving of souls” might be displaced by caring for human physical and social needs. In short, the fundamentalism of the decades immediately following the Scopes trial retreated from any aggressive intellectual engagement on behalf of the Bible’s truth with the culture’s most educated elites, and also withdrew from any intentional effort to address the physical and social needs of society.
EVANGELICALISM (20TH CENTURY)
Responding to this trend were people such as Harold John Ockenga (1905–1985) and Carl F. H. Henry (1913–2003). Ockenga and Henry were typical of a group of young evangelicals in the 1940s who were fully in agreement with fundamentalist commitments to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and its attending orthodox beliefs, yet were deeply disturbed by the fundamentalist retreat from culture. Henry wrote what would become a clarion call to fundamentalists to reengage the culture, both intellectually and socially. His first published book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947), questioned the separatist mind-set of fundamentalism. Henry called for a new and vibrant defense of evangelical faith in the face of the best (or worst) that liberals could produce, and for a recommitment to join social action with gospel witness such that true evangelical love and care for others might be manifest along with sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Also in 1947, Ockenga and Charles E. Fuller (1887–1968) cofounded Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, California) with hopes that a vibrant intellectual evangelical approach to the study of Scripture might take place in full engagement with and in response to liberal scholarship. Charter faculty members were Wilbur M. Smith (1894–1977), Everett F. Harrison (1902–1999), Harold Lindsell (1913–1998), and Carl Henry. In 1956, under the auspices of L. Nelson Bell and Billy Graham, Henry became the first editor-in-chief ofChristianity Today, a magazine intended to bring evangelical scholarship and editorial commentary into evangelical homes across the country, much as The Christian Century had for decades conveyed more liberal viewpoints predominantly to those in mainline denominations.
Much health and vitality was evident in the evangelical movement of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. Consider just some of the organizations and institutions that began during these years: Tyndale Fellowship and Tyndale House (1944) in the UK, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (1947), the Evangelical Theological Society, World Vision (1950), the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (1950), Campus Crusade for Christ (1951), Fellowship of Christian Athletes (1954), the National Association of Evangelicals, Bible Study Fellowship (1959), Youth With A Mission (1960), Operation Mobilization (1960), National Black Evangelical Association (1963), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (1969), Food for the Hungry (1971), Prison Fellowship (1976), and Focus on the Family (1977). So strong was the evangelical presence throughout the country that Newsweek declared 1976 “The Year of the Evangelical.”
Along with this growth and increased influence, however, some of the underpinnings of biblical authority were eroding. On December 1, 1962 (so-called Black Saturday), Fuller Theological Seminary took steps to remove “inerrancy” from its doctrinal statement regarding Scripture, and this was just one notable indication of a divide within various segments of evangelicalism between those who understood divine inspiration to entail biblical inerrancy and those who denied this. So in the 1960s and 1970s, evangelical growth was paralleled by evangelical division over the inerrancy of Scripture.
In 1977 a prominent group of concerned conservative evangelicals met to design a meeting to take place the next year to define the “inerrancy” of Scripture. The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy met in Chicago in October 1978 for the first of what would be three summits. Out of this first summit came “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” the most widely used and definitive statement on its subject for the conservative evangelical movement. At its November 2006 annual meeting, the Evangelical Theological Society adopted the Chicago Statement as its own defining declaration of the inerrancy of Scripture.
EVANGELICAL PROTESTANTISM TODAY
Evangelical Protestantism today consists of hundreds of denominational groups and parachurch organizations, and represents numerous theological streams (such as the Bible-believing segments of Reformed, Arminian, Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, dispensational, Restorationist, charismatic, and Pentecostal groups as well as many independent groups with mixtures of these traditions). In spite of the differences among these traditions, evangelicals are united in the belief that the Bible is not a merely human record of people’s religious experiences (the position of Protestant liberalism) but is actually the Word of God.
Under the large umbrella of those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God remains a continued division over what the divine inspiration of Scripture entails. Some deny the complete truthfulness of Scripture, and this inevitably leads to rejecting certain biblical teachings that one finds objectionable for one reason or another. Others, usually referred to as conservative evangelicals, continue to uphold, defend, and celebrate the full truthfulness of Scripture, since it is, in part and in whole, the very inspired (lit., “breathed out”) Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16). Clearly, the evangelical heritage that stems from the Reformers through the early fundamentalist defenders of the Bible to the fathers of contemporary evangelicalism would call readers to affirm, with them, the complete truthfulness of all that the Bible teaches, for all of the Bible is none other than the full Word of God.
EVANGELICAL PROTESTANTISM AND GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY
Although often regarded as a Western religion, Christianity (which had its birth in Asia) has always been much broader than its European expression and is today a genuinely global religion. During the first two centuries of the Christian era, the centers of Christianity were in Syria, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. The faith spread rapidly, so that by the second century a.d. the church was in India, and Christians were in major centers of the Persian Empire. Christian communities were in Ethiopia by the fourth century and in China by the seventh century. It was only after about the fourteenth century that Europe, and later North America, became the heartland of Christianity. Even after the rise of Western European Christianity, however, Christian communities continued to exist elsewhere, including in lands conquered by Muslims in Arabia and Persia.
Furthermore, during the last half of the twentieth century Christianity experienced a dramatic shift in demographics, so that by the early twenty-first century roughly two-thirds of all Christians were located—not in Europe and North America—but in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The Christian church has experienced explosive growth in places such as China, South Korea, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana. Many factors contributed to this change, including the decline of Christianity in parts of Europe, the modern missionary movements of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, and the evangelizing efforts of indigenous Christians.
The Bible has been central to the growth of the Christian church worldwide. Early Protestant missionaries such as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Hudson Taylor were motivated by the message of the Bible and convinced that all people should have the opportunity to respond to it. Moreover, from early times the Bible has been translated into local languages, and the Protestant missionary movements of the past three centuries have emphasized biblical translation. The translatability of the Bible into local languages (1) is a recognition of the capacity of all people in all cultures to understand and respond to the Word of God in their own language; (2) gives dignity to local linguistic and cultural expressions; and (3) provides resources for social change. Thus, there is remarkable diversity within global Christianity today, historian Lamin Sanneh observes:
More people pray and worship in more languages and with more differences in styles of worship in Christianity than in any other religion. Well over three thousand of the world’s languages are embraced by Christianity through Bible translation, prayer, liturgy, hymns, and literature. More than 90 percent of these languages have a grammar and a dictionary at all only because the Western missionary movement provided them, thus pioneering arguably the largest, most diverse and most vigorous movement of cultural renewal (p. xx).
While the rapidly growing Christian communities in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are in some ways distinctive, and not simply mirror images of denominations and movements in the West, they also have much in common with Western evangelicalism. Most are theologically conservative and embrace worldviews which acknowledge the reality of the supernatural. Most have not been influenced by Enlightenment rationalism and higher-critical approaches to Scripture; they regularly take the Bible in a straightforward manner, with utmost seriousness.
Protestant Christianity is undergoing massive cultural shifts and realignments worldwide, but there are common commitments and institutions which provide cohesion to those identifying themselves as evangelicals. The Lausanne Movement and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) have been significant in shaping evangelical identity worldwide, and both are based upon strong commitments to the full authority of the Bible. The Lausanne Movement, which grew out of the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, produced the Lausanne Covenant, widely recognized and accepted as a statement of evangelical theological commitment unifying Christians across the globe. The Covenant embraces “the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority” of the Bible as the “written word of God, without error in all that it affirms.” The WEA is an international network of churches in over 120 nations and over 100 international organizations which together represent over 400 million evangelical Christians worldwide. The WEA statement of faith affirms belief in the Bible as “divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy” and “the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.”
Although there are significant differences among evangelicals throughout the world, they are united by a common commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all of life and the authority of the Bible as God’s divinely inspired written revelation.
AUTHOR AND TITLE
Paul is widely regarded as the author of 1 Thessalonians, as evidenced by how compatible the vocabulary, style, and theology are with his other letters. The mention of Silas (“Silvanus”) and Timothy as co-senders (1:1) may indicate Paul’s care to present the missionaries as a united band in order to offset any Thessalonian disappointment that Paul had not come to visit them again but had sent Timothy instead (see 2:17–18; 3:1–2, 6, 11).
Most scholars today date 1 Thessalonians to a.d. 49–51, early in Paul’s 18-month stay in Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1–18). Only a small minority of scholars, who do not regard Acts as historically dependable, place it in the early 40s a.d. The Delphi Inscription—a letter from the emperor Claudius to the city of Delphi—dates Gallio’s proconsulship of Achaia to a.d. 51–52, and Acts 18:12–17 mentions Gallio, toward the end of Paul’s Corinthian stay.
The most prominent theme in 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Jesus. It is mentioned in every chapter of the book (1:10; 2:19–20; 3:13; 4:13–18; 5:1–11, 23–24). At Jesus’ future coming, the dead in Christ will rise and will be caught up along with the living to meet the Lord in the air (4:15–17). Unbelievers will be subject to his wrath, but Christians will be delivered from this, inheriting salvation instead (1:10; 5:2–4, 9–10). Those who are destined to participate as saints (lit., “holy ones”) in the second coming must be holy and blameless (3:11–4:8; 5:23), and God, who is faithful, will produce holiness in the lives of those whom he calls (5:24).
PURPOSE, OCCASION, AND BACKGROUND
Thessalonica was the proud capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and had a population of over 100,000. Its natural harbor and placement on the busy east-west Egnatian Way as well as key north-south trade routes meant that it was a flourishing center of trade and philosophy. It was a free city and was governed by local officials called “politarchs” (cf. Acts 17:6, 8). Religiously, the city was committed to the Greco-Roman pantheon and the imperial cult; Egyptian cults were also prominent. There was a sizable population of Jews in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5).
Paul, Timothy, and Silas preached in the Thessalonian synagogue over three Sabbaths, and a number of Jews and God-fearing Gentiles believed (Acts 17:4). First Thessalonians 1:9–10 suggests that Paul subsequently spent some weeks ministering fruitfully to pagan Gentiles. However, rioters instigated by Jewish opponents dragged Jason (Paul’s host) and some other Christians before the politarchs and charged them with sedition against Caesar (Acts 17:5–8), forcing the missionaries to leave Thessalonica prematurely (Acts 17:9–10). Paul was concerned for the new Christians, and therefore a few months later he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:1–2, 5; see note on Acts 17:15). Catching up with Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5), Timothy updated him on the Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 3:6).
Timothy reported that generally the church community was doing well. However, not everything at Thessalonica was rosy. Some members of the church had died (4:13), and because they were not fully informed about what would happen to deceased Christians at Christ’s return (3:10; 4:13), some apparently thought that those who had died would miss out on the second coming, and they had plunged into hopeless grieving for them (4:13).
In addition, Timothy related to Paul a Thessalonian question about the timing of the day of the Lord(5:1–2). A number of scholars believe that the query reflected restless impatience or a false sense of security, but this view is countered by Paul’s repeated assurances in 5:4–5, 9, along with the lack of threat or warning in 5:1–11. Paul reassures the Thessalonians that they are destined not for wrath but for salvation on the day of the Lord. Some think that the Thessalonians were concerned that they would be unprepared for Jesus’ return, but 4:3–8 suggests that they were not concerned enough about holy living. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that these new Christians were questioning their own final salvation in view of the recent unexpected deaths (4:13). They may even have wondered whether the deaths were an expression of divine disapproval.
Whatever the specifics, clearly the Thessalonians needed reassurance about those who had died (4:13–18) and about their own destiny at the second coming (5:1–11).
The Thessalonians seem to have been vulnerable in other ways too. They had not expected the initial persecution to continue unabated for so long (3:3–4; cf. 2 Thess. 1:5–7). Moreover, they missed Paul, apparently disappointed that he himself had not yet returned to see them (1 Thess. 3:6–10).
Yet another problem in Thessalonica demanded Paul’s attention: some Christians were bringing the church into disrepute by depending on wealthier Christians to provide for them rather than earning their own living (4:10b–12; 5:14; cf. 2 Thess. 3:6–15). It is possible that this problem was a result of the Thessalonians’ erroneous thinking about the future. However, it may simply be that some church members were selfishly and lazily exploiting the charity of wealthier members to avoid having to work.
When Paul heard Timothy’s generally positive report, he was filled with joyful relief and was eager to encourage the embattled and discouraged Christians and to answer their questions. So he immediately began composing 1 Thessalonians (1 Thess. 3:6–8). Paul’s main purpose was to repair the hope of the Thessalonian Christians in the wake of the unexpected deaths of people in their congregation and to reassure them that both the dead and the living were destined to be saved at the second coming (4:13–5:11). Related to this was his desire to reassure the Thessalonians that they were among those elected by God for salvation (1:4; 5:24).
Paul also wished to underline the missionaries’ authenticity as preachers of the gospel of God (1:5; 2:1–12; 2:17–3:10) in the face of real or potential questions relating to his lengthy absence (2:17–3:10), the unrelenting persecution (3:3–4), and the unexpected deaths (4:13). Paul also sought to encourage the Thessalonians by explaining that persecution is normal for the Christian (3:3–4). In addition, Paul is calling the recently converted, predominantly pagan community to sexual holiness (4:3–8) and the idle members of the community to gainful employment (4:9–12).
It also seems that Paul is seeking to undo their heavy dependence on him by urging the church to respect and defer to its own ministers (5:12–13). This can be seen in his forbidding the despising of prophesying (5:19–22), his emphasizing Timothy’s credentials (3:2), and his presenting the missionaries as a team (hence the use of the first person plural through much of the letter).
HISTORY OF SALVATION SUMMARY
Christians should look back on the accomplished salvation of Christ, which fulfills OT promises, and look forward to the second coming, which consummates the promises. (For an explanation of the “History of Salvation,” see the Overview of the Bible.)
|1. The wrath of God comes on those who reject the gospel.||2:16; 5:3|
|2. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the basis for the Christian’s hope.||4:14; 5:10|
|3. Christians are destined not for wrath but for salvation at Jesus’ coming.||1:10; 5:4, 9|
|4. Christians who die will participate fully in the second coming.||4:14–17; 5:10|
|5. Those who respond to the gospel have been elected by God in prehistory and called by God, and they continue to be called by God throughout their earthly lives.||1:4; 2:12; 4:7; 5:9, 24|
|6. Christians should live lives of comprehensive holiness.||3:13; 4:3–8; 5:23|
|7. Christians must never shirk their responsibility to work.||4:9–12; 5:14|
|8. The authenticity of the gospel is confirmed by the integrity of its preachers.||1:5; 2:1–12|
|9. Joy, especially in suffering, is a mark of the Christian.||1:6; 5:16|
|10. Christians experience the realities of the prophesied new covenant.||4:8–9|
|11. Faith, hope, and love are essential and universal traits of the Christian.||1:2–3; 5:8|
First Thessalonians is an informal epistle that contains all of the usual ingredients of NT epistles. It is a public letter in the sense of being addressed to a whole group, but at many points it reads more like a personal letter to an individual, as it highlights the relationship between author and recipients. The purpose of letters is usually to inform, and this letter informs the Thessalonian church about Paul’s feelings toward them, events in his own life, and Christian doctrine and practice.
Distinguishing literary features include: a strong apologetic and autobiographical element; exuberant expressions of thanksgiving for people who are living the Christian life correctly; repeated direct addresses to the recipients of the letter; extended teaching on the second coming of Christ, so that even some of the moral exhortations are related to that doctrine; and the conclusion of each chapter with a reference to Christ’s second coming.
THE SETTING OF 1 THESSALONIANS
c. a.d. 49–51
Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians from Corinth near the end of his second missionary journey. Paul and his companions had established the church in Thessalonica but were forced to leave by opponents of the gospel. Later, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to check on the church there, and Timothy’s report led Paul to write this letter. Thessalonica enjoyed privileged status as the capital of Macedonia and was located on a natural harbor along the busy east-west Egnatian Way.
- Opening (1:1)
- Thanksgiving and Encouragement (1:2–3:13)
- Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians’ faith, love, and hope (1:2–3)
- Paul’s confidence in the election of the Thessalonians (1:4–2:16)
- Paul’s defense of the missionaries during their absence (2:17–3:10)
- A pastoral prayer for the Thessalonians (3:11–13)
- Instruction and Exhortation (4:1–5:28)
- On pleasing God (4:1–12)
- On the second coming of Jesus (4:13–5:11)
- On community conduct (5:12–22)
- Prayer, assurance, and conclusion (5:23–28)
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS
1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
7 So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
1 For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:
2 But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.
3 For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:
4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.
5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:
6 Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.
7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
8 So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:
11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
14 For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:
15 Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:
16 Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
17 But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.
18 Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.
19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
20 For ye are our glory and joy.
1 Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
2 And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:
3 That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.
4 For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
5 For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.
6 But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you:
7 Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:
8 For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.
9 For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;
10 Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?
11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:
13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.
7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
10 And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;
11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;
13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.
14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
25 Brethren, pray for us.
26 Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.
27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
¶ The first epistle unto the Thessalonians was written from Athens.