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«The Holy Spirit as the Controlling Dynamic in Paul’s Role as Missionary to the Thessalonians SNTS New York, 2011 Trevor Burke Moody Bible ...»

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The Holy Spirit as the Controlling Dynamic in Paul’s Role as

Missionary to the Thessalonians

SNTS New York, 2011

Trevor Burke

Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Il


I would like to begin this paper by putting what I have to say within the wider context of

Pauline studies. The study of Paul‘s mission and his role as missionary has undergone

something of a resurgence of interest in recent years as evidenced by the steady flow of

monographs.1 This is due in part to the renewed appreciation among Pauline interpreters that the apostle must first and foremost be understood as a pioneer missionary.2 Add- itionally, Paul‘s letters were crafted within the cut and thrust of his missionary activity and travels and it is important to also keep this in view. Whereas in the past the Acts of the Apostles―an important historical source to be sure but a secondary one nonetheless ―has been the backcloth against which to understand Paul‘s role as missionary, there remains more work to be done in the Pauline Corpus. Paul‘s letters have not yet been sufficiently mined as regards his understanding of his mission or role as missionary.3 Most of the recent studies on Paul‘s mission, however, have focused on the proclamat- ion or preaching of the apostle and the vital role this has to play in the formation of his communities. L. J. L. Peerbolte, for example, in his monograph Paul the Missionary states: ‗As a result of Paul‘s proclamation of the gospel, new communities developed consisting of Jews and pagans alike. He was called and urged by God to proclaim Christ‘.4 Peerbolte goes on to conclude: ‗Throughout his ministry Paul considered the proclamation of the gospel, the Christ event, to be his prime task‘.5 There is little doubt about the importance of Paul‘s preaching as missionary—the apostle is careful to emphasize this in his founding of the church at Thessalonica: ‗our gospel came to you… with words‘ (1 Thess. 1:5a). Indeed, a little later in the same letter the apostle reminds his converts how ‗you received the word of God, which you heard from us‘ (2:13). Paul also explains the significance of the preached word to the church at Corinth, another comm- unity he had founded, as follows: ‗I proclaimed to you the testimony about God…for I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified‘ (1 Cor. 2:4a).

1 E.g., L. J. L. Peerbolte, Paul the Missionary (CBET 34; Leuven: Peeters, 2003), p. 255; Eckhard J.

Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008); Paul Barnett, Paul, Missionary of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

2 Eckhard J. Schnabel, ―The Theology of the New Testament as Missionary Theology: The Missionary Reality of the Early Church and the Theology of the First Theologians,‖ SNTS, Halle, August, 2005, pp1For an approach which primarily employs the Pauline letters, see Trevor J. Burke and Brian S. Rosner (eds.), Paul as Missionary: Identity, Activity, Theology and Practice (LNTS, 420; London: T & T Clark, 2011). This paper is a slightly revised form of my essay which carries the same title in the aforementioned volume.

4 Lietaert Peerbolte, Paul, p. 255.

5 Lietaert, Peerbolte, Paul, p. 254.

1 Whilst it is clear the preached word played a primary role in Paul‘s missionary endeavour in establishing is communities, what has been overlooked in current research in this area is the role of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit has seemingly little or no part to play.6 This oversight, what one scholar has described as ‗a major lacuna in Pauline missions studies,‘7 is surprising for two main reasons at least: first, in the above mentioned texts Paul also writes: ‗Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction‘ (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:5b). Similarly, in 1 Cor. 2:4b Paul asserts: ‗My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power‘ (cf. Gal. 3:3). This neglect, moreover, is remarkable for a second reason, namely, that at the beginning of the twentieth century and in a ground-breaking work, Roland Allen, the British missionary, argued that Paul‘s entire missionary enterprise was driven and governed by the Holy Spirit.8 Allen‘s work, to be sure, was mostly based on a reading of the Acts of the Apostles, a secondary source to the Pauline corpus, and more focused on missionary praxis than theology, nevertheless his thesis was a healthy corrective and, according to Eckhard Schnabel, ‗still needs to be read in the twenty-first century‘.9 Unfortunately, Allen‘s insights have largely gone unheeded in recent Pauline mission studies.

The aim of this essay is to address this neglect and in doing we shall consider 1 Thessalonians, the earliest extant letter of Paul, where the word pneu'ma occurs on five occasions (1:5, 6; 4:8; 5:19, 23), four of which refer to the ‗Holy Spirit‘ and one to the human spirit (5:23). Though these incidences are not numerous what is more significant to note is that the Spirit, or rather the role and work of the Spirit, functions as a literary inclusio or as ‗book-ends‘ to the whole epistle (cf. 1:5; 5:19)—Spirit-matters are discussed by Paul at the beginning (1:5-6) and conclusion of the letter (5:19-21). We will consider both these texts as well as the important reference to the Spirit in the middle-section of the letter of the letter (4:3-8) and two other less obvious allusions (i.e., 2:13 and 4:9) where the Holy Spirit, I believe, is also in view and which merit discussion.

6 Two other recent monographs which do well in addressing Paul‘s role as missionary but where the Holy Spirit is also overlooked are Barnett, Paul,; Schnabel, Paul; Similar neglect is also evident in other works where there is a chapter or chapters treating this dimension of Paul‘s ministry―see Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter O‘Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth (NSBT, 11; Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 2001);

Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove:

InterVarsity Press, 2001).

One important exception to this is the insightful essay by Don N. Howell to which I am indebted and which was a springboard for this essay, ‗Mission in Paul‘s Epistles: Genesis, Pattern, and Dynamics,‘ in W. J.

Larkin and J. F. Williams (eds.), 6th ed. Mission in the New Testament: An Evangelical Approach (ASMS, 27; New York: Orbis, 2003), pp. 63-91.

7 Howell, ‗Mission in Paul‘s Letters,‘ p. 83.

8 Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? A Study on the Church in the Four Provinces (London: Robert Scott Roxburgh House, 1912).

9 Schnabel, Paul, p. 13. Oddly enough, Schnabel after providing a eulogy of Allen‘s work spends almost five hundred pages neglecting the importance of the work of the Spirit! On the other hand, he devotes over fifty pages addressing ―The Missionary Message of the Apostle Paul‖.

2 I. Paul’s Spirit-Empowered Proclamation as Missionary and the work of the ‘Soteriological Spirit’10 in the Conversion of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:5-6) The earliest references to the Spirit are in 1:5, 6 the opening thanksgiving11 section of the epistle (1:2-10). Here Paul repeatedly reminds the Thessalonians of the evidence of their conversion, the triad of graces of faith, hope and love (1:3) in their lives. In v. 4 Paul provides the first of two reasons for giving thanks, namely that the Thessalonians have been elected by God. The second reason12 is ‗because our gospel did not come to you in word only but with power and with the Holy Spirit and with much conviction‘ (v. 5). The emphasis in the early part of this verse is on Paul‘s proclamation of the gospel rather than the Thessalonians‘ reception of it13 where he states ‗our gospel did not come to you in word only‘ (toV eujaggevlion hJmw'n oujk ejgenhvqh eij" uJma'" ejn lovgw/ movnonv, 5). Paul here introduces the first part of a correlative construction ou*k…e*n logw/ monon which serves the purpose of underscoring that the message did come via the apostle‘s mouth, that is, ‗in word‘ or through his proclaiming it to them. Paul was the human conduit or mouthpiece whom God used to preach the good news to the Thessalonians.

In v. 5, however, and in the latter half of the above correlative construction Paul also goes on to say how his proclamation came not in word only ‗but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with much conviction.‘ Both the proclaimed word and the dynamic Spirit play indispensible roles in Paul‘s message as missionary, a matter about which he would have been well aware given that the Old Testament—the apostle‘s Scriptures— provides ample evidence of the Spirit at work through the prophetic word. For example, the Spirit is the dynamic power in creating (e.g., Ps. 104: 30), leading (e.g., Num. 11:17), revealing (e.g., Isa. 11:2), and as a presence (e.g., Ps. 139:7), However, by far ‗the largest category for the Spirit in the Old Testament relates especially [to] speaking forth of the word of God’ (e.g., 1 Sam. 10: 6, 10; Ezek. 2:2).14 These two, moreover, the Spirit and the spoken or prophetic word are working in tandem in Micah whom, we are told was ‗filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin‘ (Mic. 3:8). Paul clearly stands in line with this Old Testament tradition, for the Spirit is none other than the ‗Spirit of Prophecy‘ at work in Paul‘s ministry in a number of important ways in this letter. The Spirit is at work in the initial proclamation/revelation (1:5) but also in the conversion/salvation (1:6) of the 10 I owe the expression ‗Soteriological Spirit‘ to Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994), p. 846. Although I use this expression in relation to the initial conversion experience of the Thessalonians, salvation is a holistic term and need not be restricted to this alone but is the entire saving process (e.g., sanctification etc.) until the Day of Jesus Christ.

11 1 Thessalonians is unique among the Pauline letters for the number of thanksgivings – in addition to this one there are two others in 2:13 and 3:9 respectively.

12 Others understand the o@ti functioning epexegetically.

13 Victor Paul Furnish, ‗The Spirit in 2 Thessalonians, in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins: Essays in Honour of James D. G. Dunn, (eds.) Graham N. Stanton, Bruce W. Longnecker and Stephen C. Barton (Grand Rapid: Eerdmans, 2004), pp. 229-40 (230 n.6). In v. 6 the emphasis is on the Thessalonians‘ reception of the good news.

14 Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), p. 432.

–  –  –

a. Paul‘s Spirit-Empowered Proclamation As noted, the Spirit is active through Paul‘s proclamation, a point made clear in the second part of the correlative statement in v.5b―‗but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with much conviction‘ (ajllaV kai V ejn dunavmei kaiV ejn pneuvmati aJgivw/ kaiV (ejn) plhroforiva/ pollh'/)‘. This construction suggests that Paul is not playing the proclamation of the word over against the work of the Holy Spirit but that both are important.

However, there does seem to be greater stress in the latter half of the construction for whilst the particle ajllaV is usually understood as a strong adversative, this is ―weakened,‖ especially when it is preceded by ou* movnon.16 Rather than there being a simple contrast, the latter half of this construction is accentuated and emphasizes the role and empowering work of the Spirit by bringing the whole verse to a climax.17 Paul uses the same correlative construction in the next chapter of the letter (ou* movnon …a*llaV kaiV 2:8; cf. 1:8) with equal effect where once again he is not so much contrasting the proclamation of the gospel over against the sharing of his own life with the Thessalonians (ouj movnon toV eujaggevlion tou' qeou' ajllaV kaiV taV" eJautw'n yucav", ‗not only the gospel but our lives as well,‘ 2:8). Rather, there seems to a greater emphasis on the latter half of the verse which especially focuses on Paul‘s heavy personal investment and sacrificial living whilst he was among the Thessalonians. Indeed, there is good reason for Paul stressing his close, personal involvement with the Thessalonians during his missionary activity among them given the fact that he had been so suddenly and forcibly removed from them.

In brief, the latter half of the correlative construction in 2:8 is intensified.18 15 Archie Hui, ‗The Spirit of Prophecy and Pauline Pneumatology,‘ TynB 50.1 (1999), pp. 93-115 (110).

Here I am working with Hui‘s broad definition of the phrase ‗Spirit of Prophecy‘ (p. 105).

T. Paige, ‗Holy Spirit,‘ in (eds.), Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and his Letters (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), pp. 404-13 (409), rightly makes the connection when he states that ‗the Spirit accompanies his initial missionary preaching‘. P. T. O‘Brien, Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical Theological Analysis 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), p.41, writes: ‗The gospel is fulfilled not simply when it is preached in the world but when it is dynam- ic ally and effectively proclaimed in the power of the Spirit‘. Unfortunately, neither Paige nor O‘Brien elaborate any further on the importance of the Spirit in Paul‘s missionary preaching or how the Spirit continues to be at work in other ways in Paul‘s communit- ies.

16 J. Moulton, W. F. Howard, N. Turner, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, vol. 3 (Edinburgh, 1908-63), p. 329.

17 E. Schwyzer, Griechische Grammatik, auf der Grundlage von K. Brugmann’s Griechischer Grammatik, 3 vols. (München, 1960), p. 633. Schwyzer states regarding the formula ou* monovn…a*llaV kaiv that there is ‗nicht…ein Gegensatz anzunehmen,‘ p. 633. BDF, 448, 6 also comment in relation to the latter half of the correlative construction that it is ‗used to introduce an additional point in an emphatic way‘. A. T.

Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research (New York, 1947), p.

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