January 30: 1 Thess 1:5; 2:2, etc

In these notes on the earliest Christian usage of the eu)aggel- word group, we turn now to the letters of Paul. First Thessalonians is generally regarded as the oldest of his surviving letters, dated perhaps from the late 40s. Thus it represents important evidence for early Christian use of the noun (eu)agge/lion) and verb (eu)aggeli/zomai). The noun occurs 6 times (1:5; 2:2, 4, 8-9; 3:2) and the verb once (3:6). The first occurrence is in the opening section (exordium) of the letter, the conclusion of a long sentence in Greek, spanning verses 2-5, and which has the following outline:

  • “We give (thanks to God) for (his) good favor always about all of you… (v. 2)
    • remembering your work of trust/faith… (v. 3)
    • having seen/known…your (bei)ng gathered out (by God) (v. 4)
      • (in) that [o%ti, i.e. for/because] our good message [eu)agge/lion]…” (v. 5)

Verse 5 is a climactic o%ti-clause, though many translations will render it as a separate sentence in English. Here is the clause in full:

“that our good message did not come to be unto you in (an) account [i.e. word] only, but also in power and in the holy Spirit, [and] (very) much in the full carrying (out of it), even as you have seen what (kind of messenger)s we came to be [among] you, through you [i.e. on your behalf].”

There is a subtle chiasm to this complex clause:

    • the good message came to be unto you
      • in an account (i.e. word, preaching of the Gospel)
        • in power and
          • the Holy Spirit
        • the full carrying out of it (i.e. with confidence/assurance)
      • “what kind of…” (i.e. our character as ministers of the Gospel)
    • we came to be among you (as messengers)

From a chronological perspective, verses 2-5 work backward, indicating the effect of the Gospel message:

    • Believers in the present (“we give thanks…about you”)
      • Their work and demonstration of faith up to this point (“remembering…”)
        • Their election, lit. being “gathered out” by God [as believers in Christ] (“having seen…”)
          • The preaching of the Gospel (“our good message unto you…among you, through/for you”)

This, I think, provides a convenient snapshot of how Paul understands the word eu)agge/lion: it is the message regarding Christ, which Paul (and his fellow ministers) have been preaching, and which has led (through the work of the Spirit) to people becoming believers in Christ. The expression “our good message” can easily be misunderstood, as though Paul were taking an undue position of prominence; indeed, some copyists appear to have found it problematic, and modified it to “the good message of God“, used elsewhere in the letter (cf. below). But in verse 5, the emphasis is on Paul’s (and the other missionaries’) role in proclaiming the message, putting it (in the exordium of the letter) on a personal basis.

After this, the noun eu)agge/lion is used four times in the narratio (historical/narration section) of the letter, in verses 2, 4, 8, and 9, and again in 3:2. Contrary to the expression “our good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion u(mw=n) in 1:5, here we find instead “the good message of God” (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= qeou=). The genitive can be understood several ways: (a) possessive [i.e. belonging to God], (b) attributive/descriptive [i.e. having a divine character], (c) indicating content [i.e. about God], or (d) ablative [i.e. coming from God, as its source]. The New Testament usage overall suggests the latter—a subjective genitive in the sense that the “good message” comes from (i.e. sent or brought about by) God. Regarding Paul’s use of the noun here, we may note that:

    • the “good message” is something spoken (i.e. preached/proclaimed) by Paul and his fellow missionaries to others (v. 2)
    • the missionaries were entrusted with the message by God (v. 4), as a result of God’s own thought and consideration
    • the message is tied to the sacrificial service (on God’s behalf) of the messenger (v. 8)—”we thought it good to give over to [i.e. share with] you not only the good message of God, but also our own souls”
    • the proclamation of the message is something which takes place over a considerable period of time (not just in one or two meetings), and as the result of considerable labor (v. 9)

In the narratio of his letters, Paul’s often relates the background of his missionary labors, summarizing and reminding his readers of what was done (and is being done) on their behalf in the proclamation of the Gospel. In 1 Thessalonians there is less of a defined rhetorical structure (compared with Galatians, for example). A long narratio (2:1-3:5) is followed by the central message of the letter, which is rather brief (3:6-13), being primarily exhortational in nature, with no specific issues or controversies to be addressed. Additional instruction is provided in 4:1-5:11. The final occurrence of the noun eu)agge/lion is found at the close of the narratio (3:2), where the expression has again changed to be “the good message of Christ” (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= Xristou=). Here the genitive is best understood as meaning “about Christ, regarding Christ”, which will be discussed further in the next note.

Thus Paul uses the noun in three different genitival expressions, each of which refers to a different aspect of the meaning of the word:

  • our good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion u(mw=n)—i.e. the message which we were entrusted by God to proclaim
  • “the good message of God (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= qeou=)—i.e., the message which comes from God, and which comes about because of what God has done
  • “the good message of (the) Anointed {Christ} (to\ eu)agge/lion tou= qeou=)—i.e., the message is about Jesus as God’s Anointed, and what God has done through him.

What is clear, however, is that, by the late-40’s the noun eu)agge/lion appears to have a relatively well-defined technical meaning—i.e. as a message about Jesus Christ—which Paul does not need to clarify for his readers. Interestingly, the related verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used in 1 Thessalonians in the general sense (of good tidings generally, 3:6), and does not carry the same technical meaning as the noun. This contrasts with the frequent Lukan usage of the verb (discussed in the previous note).

The authorship of 2 Thessalonians remains disputed by (critical) commentators, with many believing the letter to be pseudonymous. However, if the Pauline authorship is genuine, the letter was presumably written around the same time as 1 Thessalonians, and may even be the earlier of the two letters. The noun eu)agge/lion occurs twice in 2 Thessalonians (1:8; 2:14). The usage in 2:14 follows that of 1 Thess 1:5 (cf. above), using the expression “our good message” as the means by which God “gathered out” (i.e. called/chose) the Thessalonian believers. In 1:8, we find the more expansive expression “the good message of our Lord Yeshua”, which seems to serve as a kind of shorthand for the (true) Christian faith as a whole. While a bit unusual, the use of eu)agge/lion in the undisputed letters occasionally approaches this comprehensive meaning and may reflect a genuine Pauline development of the term.