Translation commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:1

The dates at which Paul wrote his various letters are usually uncertain, and they are not very important for the translators. There is, however, good reason to believe that 1 and 2 Thessalonians, in that order, are the first two of Paul’s letters to survive. It is also fairly certain that 1 Thessalonians was written about fifteen years after Paul’s conversion, that is, early in the year 51 or late in the previous year. Paul was writing to young Christians, but he himself was already an experienced evangelist.

All of Paul’s letters follow the normal Greek pattern of stating at the beginning the name of the sender(s), the name of the person(s), to whom the letter is addressed, and a greeting. Paul, however, fills this conventional form with a new and Christian content. The introduction to this letter is the shortest we have in any of Paul’s letters to a church. Some early copyists, followed by the older translations, apparently found the ending of verse 1 too abrupt and so added “… from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” or a similar phrase (cf. 2 Thess. 1.1), but these words are probably not original here.

Three people are mentioned as senders of the letter: Paul, Silas, and Timothy. They had visited Thessalonica together, and they were together in Corinth while the letter was being written (see Acts 17.1–18.5). The repeated use of “we” in this letter, more frequently than in any other of Paul’s letters, shows that the message comes essentially from all three senders. Especially in the first three chapters, they refer continually to experiences they have lived through together. But there is no reason to think that either Silas or Timothy had much share in the actual writing of the letter. The sentence structure, vocabulary, and style are similar to those of Paul’s other letters, and in a few places (2.18; 3.5; 5.27) he speaks in his own name, using the first person singular.

In translating this opening salutation, it is necessary in many languages to introduce a verb indicating that the three are writing or sending the letter. Thus it may be necessary to translate “We who are Paul, Silas, and Timothy write to you people in the church at Thessalonica.” Since Paul is essentially the author of the letter, one may find it preferable in some languages to translate “I, Paul, together with Silas and Timothy, write to you people….” If a language requires the identification of Paul as “I” and of Paul together with his companions as “we,” it is almost inevitable that the people of the church at Thessalonica be addressed as “you.” This will fit quite readily with what is said in verse 2.

Here and in other places (for example, 2 Corinthians 1.19), Paul calls one of his companions “Silvanus,” but there is no doubt that this is the same person who is called “Silas” in Acts. Good News Translation and Bible en français courant rightly recognize this by using the form Silas everywhere; most older translations (also some modern ones, including New English Bible Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch New American Bible Translator’s New Testament) do not.

The repeated conjunction “and” (“Paul and Silas and Timothy”) of the Greek text is reproduced in older translations (for example King James Version Luther 1984 La Sainte Bible: Nouvelle version Segond révisée), but not in Revised Standard Version New English Bible Le Nouveau Testament. Version Synodale Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Bijbel in Gewone Taal. The repetition should not be made in translation unless it is natural to the receptor language.

At the time this letter was written, Thessalonica (now Salonika) was the most important city in Macedonia; but Paul writes, not to the population in general, but to the Christians in the city. The Greek word translated “church” does not refer to a special building (Christians met for worship in one another’s homes) but to the coming together of people, in this case of Christians. Best accordingly translates “the Christian community of the Thessalonians”; Knox “the church assembled at Thessalonika”; Good News Translation the people of the church in Thessalonica; Bible en français courant “the members of the Church of Thessalonica.” In some languages the only satisfactory equivalent of “church” in this context is “believers in Jesus Christ” or “followers of Christ” or “those who trust in Jesus Christ.” Such a rendering may be particularly important in situations where the common word for “church” identifies a building. Furthermore, the Greek word translated “church” indicates a group which recognizes itself as a group, and not just a collection of individuals. If possible, this fact should be reflected in translation.

The context shows clearly that Paul is not writing to the church universal but to the local gathering of Christians. In some languages, though not in Greek, this distinction is reflected in a difference of spelling, between “Church” (capital C) and “church” (small c) respectively. Since this distinction disappears when the passage is read aloud, it is better not to rely on it to make the meaning clear.

The Thessalonians are here mentioned for the first time. The Greek text marks this as new information by omitting the article (literally “the church of Thessalonians”). In Thessalonica may need to be translated in some languages with a classifier, for example, “in the city of Thessalonica.”

Grammatically it would be possible, but it would almost certainly be wrong, to link who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ with what follows, giving the translation: “May grace and peace be yours in God Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul often does speak of Christian individuals or groups as being “in Christ” or (less often) “in God,” and sometimes he uses both expressions. What does he mean? Clearly his use of “in” is figurative. For Paul Christ is a person, not a kind of gas physically diffused through the atmosphere. In some passages, it is possible to think that Paul is speaking of the mystical identification of two individuals; but that is not possible here, since he is referring to the whole Christian community. Who belong to God (Good News Translation cf. Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch) is the essential meaning of this phrase. This may be rendered in some languages as “who are God’s possession,” “whom God possesses,” or even “who are God’s.”

In some languages the phrase God the Father poses a difficulty, especially if the term for “Father” must indicate whose father. In such cases it may be necessary to say “who belong to God our Father” or “to God who is our Father.” In languages which make a distinction between exclusive and inclusive first person plural, the inclusive form should be used, since Paul clearly includes the Thessalonian Christians with himself and his companions among those to whom God is Father.

Christ was originally not a proper name but a title, corresponding to “Messiah” and meaning “the Anointed (One).” For Paul, however, as for us, it is usually a proper name. In this and most other Pauline passages, Christ should therefore be transliterated and not translated.

For some languages the term Lord is not a title which can readily be added to the name of Jesus Christ, because it expresses a relation between men and Christ. Therefore, it may be rendered as “Jesus Christ who controls us” or “… who commands us,” equivalent in some languages to “Jesus Christ our chief.”

Paul wishes his readers grace and peace, as he does in all his letters. The context does not narrow the meaning of these words, which should therefore be taken in their widest sense. There is a considerable overlap of meaning between them. Grace here means, not physical gracefulness and not a specific favor, but God’s willingness to look upon Christians as his people, and to give them good gifts, such as forgiveness. In secular Greek peace meant the cessation or absence of war, just as it usually does in modern English. Paul, however, uses the term to mean a right and harmonious relationship among men or between men and God, a total well-being which God himself gives. Good News Translation Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch New English Bible, like older translations, retain the traditional nouns, grace and peace.

Some scholars view the phrase grace and peace in this type of salutation as being a combination of a Greek and a Semitic greeting. At any rate, it is certainly a distinctive expression, and no doubt it has wide usage among the members of the early church. In view of the distinctive value of the expression, it is not easy to do justice to all the meaning which may be involved. In some languages an appropriate equivalent may be “May God be good to you and show you his peace” or “May God show goodness to you and cause you to have peace.” Since “peace” in this context suggests general well-being, it is expressed in some languages in a figurative way, for example, “May you be able to sit down in your heart” or “May you rest in happiness.”

In some languages it is difficult to express a wish or prayer such as may grace and peace be yours without indicating clearly the relation between the one who desires such a blessing for others and the agent, who is God. Therefore one may need to translate this clause as “I pray to God that he will be good to you and make you to have peace.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Thessalonians 3:3

The word translated turn back is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. Of its possible meanings in New Testament or later times, the most appropriate here is “disturbed” (Best), “shaken” (Translator’s New Testament Barclay), “unsettled” (Jerusalem Bible). Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch interestingly transfers “your faith” from verse 2: “He was to strengthen and encourage you, so that no one should let himself be turned aside from the faith.”

In some languages there may be no meaningful connection between “turning back” and “faith” or “trusting.” Therefore it may be necessary to say “so that none of you would give up believing,” or “… would cease trusting Christ.”

These persecutions (already mentioned in 1.6 and 2.14) must often be rendered as “the way in which you have suffered persecution,” or “the ways in which people have caused you to suffer.”

You yourselves know. Good News Translation follows the Greek closely here in emphasizing you by the addition of yourselves; but the emphasis really attaches to the whole phrase; there is no contrast with any other group of people. Moffatt transfers the emphasis to know: “You know that well” (cf. Knox Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch). Barclay (cf. Translator’s New Testament) emphasizes both elements: “You yourselves well know.” Bijbel in Gewone Taal, like Moffatt, emphasizes the whole phrase by transferring it to the end of the sentence: “that you know.”

Such persecutions are part of God’s will for us. Good News Translation and Bible en français courant make explicit a reference to God which is implicit in the text, which could be translated almost literally “that is why we have been put here.” Here, as in many places, the passive implies an activity of God. References to “our appointed lot” (New English Bible, cf. Revised Standard Version), like the use of the verb “destined,” wrongly suggest an impersonal fate, which is far from Paul’s way of thinking. The context shows that here “we” includes Paul, his companions, and the Thessalonians. In the next verse, however, the Thessalonians are excluded from “we.”

The rendering of such persecutions are part of God’s will for us must be done with care. Otherwise the reader may think that God himself had purposely planned or even organized the persecutions against the Christians in Thessalonica. In some languages it may be necessary to say “God has permitted these persecutions to come to us,” or “God has allowed these people to cause us to suffer.” It is sometimes possible to speak of “God’s will” as being “God’s plan,” for example, “God’s plan for us includes our being caused to suffer.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:4

Paul’s use of figurative language raises several problems here. First, there is a transition from the Day in the sense of an unknown time at which God will bring history to its climax, to the day (v. 5) as an image of the openness of Christian living. This transition is indicated in Good News Translation by capitalization of Day in the first sense, but this device is inadequate to convey the distinction to anyone who only hears the passage read aloud. The second sense of day is well established by verse 5. The implication in verse 4 is that Christians have nothing to fear from that final Day in which everything will be known and judged, because they already live lives in which there is nothing to hide.

Second, the image of a thief reappears in a sense which cannot be defined until a decision is taken about the meaning of the word translated take … by surprise. This verb, in the meaning required by the context, may include the following elements: (1) being seized, so that one cannot escape; (2) being overtaken or surprised (as a traveler in Mediterranean latitudes could be overtaken unexpectedly by the sudden arrival of night); (3) suffering harm. All elements fit the present context well, but which is the translator to choose as central? (1) takes up the idea expressed in verse 3b, (2) reverts to the idea of verses 2-3a, and (3) takes up the thought of verse 3a (destruction). Most translations agree with Good News Translation in taking (2) as central, and this may well be correct. However, (1) is the common meaning of the verb where the context does not define it in some other way (but compare John 12.35).

If the translator chooses such an expression as “seize” or “catch,” he must be careful to make the two terms of the comparison clear. The meaning would not be: “the Day should not catch you as a thief is caught,” but “the Day should not seize you as a thief seizes someone” (for example, the occupant of the house he is about to rob).

The relation between the two parts of this verse is left open or implicit by Good News Translation (cf. Bible en français courant), which links them only by and. The relation indicated by the Greek is one of reason and result, for example, “you are not in darkness, and so you should not be surprised…,” or “since you are not in darkness, you should not be surprised….”

You … are not in the darkness is a figurative expression, and as such it may be difficult to render literally in some languages, since darkness may have nothing to do with either ignorance or the wrong kind of life. It may be important to change this metaphor into a simile, for example, “but you do not live as it were in the darkness,” or “… in the night.” One may also translate as “but you do not live as those who are ignorant of God and who sin.”

It is impossible to say in some languages “the day will take you by surprise,” since surprise is not something that a person experiences with regard to a particular day. Therefore, one may need to restructure this latter part of verse 4 to read “and therefore you will not be surprised when the day of the Lord comes, as a thief might surprise someone when he (the thief) grabs him.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:2

Again, Paul follows the negative statement of verse 1 with a positive one, marking the contrast with an emphatic “but.” In this case, however, the form of the sentence does not correspond to its content. The reader may expect some statement about the success of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica, and Paul may have intended to say something of this kind when he began dictating the sentence; but a new idea now occurs to him, and he abruptly changes the subject. Not until verse 13 does Paul come back to the theme of his visit and its results. In these circumstances, Good News Translation rightly leaves the misleading “but” untranslated. Phillips Jerusalem Bible Bible de Jérusalem Barclay Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Bible en français courant Knox Moffatt Translator’s New Testament do the same, New English Bible (cf. Bijbel in Gewone Taal) emphasizes the misleading conjunction by rendering it as “far from it,” and so gives the impression that Paul is illogical (since he could have preached “frankly and fearlessly” and still have had a “fruitless” visit). Bible de Jérusalem and Jerusalem Bible, on the other hand, somewhat overemphasize the change of theme by beginning a new paragraph at verse 2.

The repetition of you know, so soon after you yourselves know in verse 1, shows that Paul is conscious of the change of theme; his readers know both that the visit to Thessalonica was not a failure and that the previous visit to Philippi had not been easy.

Two statements are included in this verse: (1) “we were illtreated and insulted in Philippi”; and (2) “God gave us courage to tell you the Good News.” The relation between these statements is not explicit in the Greek, and the Revised Version translates the sentence with such slavish faithfulness to the form that the content could easily be misunderstood: “having suffered before … at Philippi, we waxed bold….” The reader is likely to misunderstand the first statement as a reason and the second as a result (that is, “we had suffered so much in Philippi that nothing could frighten us in Thessalonica”), but that is not what Paul means. The courage of the evangelists did not come from their previous experience but from a new strengthening by God. Virtually all commentators and translators, therefore, take the first statement as meaning “although we suffered before in Philippi.” Good News Translation divides the sentence.

What happened to the evangelists in Philippi is described in Acts 16.12-40. Mistreated in Greek is the normal word for “suffer,” with a prefix meaning “before.” A pluperfect is clearly needed in English, since there is a double backward reference from Paul’s present situation in Corinth to his visit to Thessalonica, and the further back to Philippi. Before we came to you in Thessalonica (cf. Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Bijbel in Gewone Taal etc., but not Biblia Dios Habla Hoy) is implicit. Paul is mainly thinking, no doubt, of the attack by the crowds (Acts 16.22), the official whipping, and the discomfort of being fastened in the stocks. Insulted includes also the nonphysical aspects of the bad treatment Paul and Silas had received, something which, according to Acts 16.37, Paul had resented as deeply as the physical mistreatment.

There is, however, considerable overlap between the two terms. The Greek word which Good News Translation translates insulted in this verse is translated mistreat in Acts 14.5. It refers generally to insolent and outrageous behavior. In many languages mistreated can be translated as “caused us to suffer” or “caused us pain,” while insulted may be rendered as “spoke to us with bad words” or “spoke to humiliate us.” In some languages it may be necessary to indicate the agents of the mistreatment and insults, and therefore one can say “how the authorities had mistreated us and insulted us.” “The authorities” would be “the government officials” or “the local rulers.”

It is always possible to identify Philippi in this context by a classifier, for example, “in the city of Philippi.”

Opposition represents a Greek word which can refer either to the effort of one individual or (more often) to a struggle between two or more people, as, for example, in an athletic contest. Revised Standard Version Phillips Bible en français courant etc., like Good News Translation, take the latter meaning, and this seems to fit the context better. Moffatt comes down firmly for the first meaning and translates “in spite of all the strain.” Even if this interpretation is correct, Paul would still be thinking of his need for courage. Good News Translation‘s translation links verse 2b with 2a and verses 8-9. The idea of opposition may be expressed as a verb, for example, “even though many people were opposed to us, yet our God gave us courage to tell you the Good News that comes from him.” The opposition may be stated even more specifically, for example, “even though many people tried to make us stop talking,” or “… tried to prevent us from telling the Good News.”

There is some overlap of meaning between the verbs translated gave us courage and tell, since each of them refers to speaking. The first word, with its related noun, refers in nonbiblical Greek to democratic freedom of speech and to the openness of close friends in speaking to one another. In the Greek Old Testament, this verb describes the frankness of Job’s protests to God. In the New Testament, it indicates both the Christians’ confidence in approaching God and the confident and outspoken way in which the apostles preached (cf. Ephesians 6.19 f.; Philippians 1.20; and often on Acts). The second edition of Bible de Jérusalem changes “confidence” to the stronger term “boldness.” Barclay translates here “freely and fearlessly,” New English Bible “frankly and fearlessly.” The context suggests that our God probably still means the God of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, though a wider reference is not impossible.

The concept of courage is frequently rendered by a idiomatic expression, for example, “to have a strong heart,” “to be brave in our insides,” “to not fear anyone,” In some instances, our God gave us courage may thus be rendered as “our God took fear out of our hearts.”

The Good News that comes from him is literally “the gospel of God.” The form is similar to “word of the Lord” (Revised Standard Version) in 1.8, but the meaning is different (see the comments on that verse). The message is about the Lord Jesus Christ, but it comes from, God. Taking the two expressions together, Christ is the content of the Christian message, but God the Father is its source. The latter should be specified in translation, as Good News Translation and Bible en français courant do here and also in verses 8 and 9 (cf. Romans 15.16). “From God” should certainly not be omitted, as Phillips does here and in verse 9, and as Moffatt and Jerusalem Bible do in verse 8. (On the Good News, see the comments on 1.5.)

While it is most important to indicate the source of the Good News, it may not be possible in some languages to speak of it as “coming,” since only agents that are able to move about may be said to come. Accordingly, that God is the source may be indicated by such an expression as “the Good News that God caused us to hear,” or “… caused us to know.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:1

Finally must be understood as a transitional, equivalent to a phrase such as “in conclusion.” It must not be understood in the sense of “you finally learned.”

Sometimes Paul’s thought is so concise that it is difficult to follow; sometimes it includes repetition for the sake of emphasis. We find both these features in this verse.

First, there is repetition. There is no significant difference of meaning in this context between beg and urge, but the two words reinforce each other (like Phillips‘ “beg and pray”). There are other ways of conveying emphasis; Bijbel in Gewone Taal, for example, has “we ask you most seriously.”

Second, there is a train of thought which is compressed to the point of obscurity. Omitting the transitional words which have been discussed above, the sentence may be broadly analyzed into the following statements, in the approximate order of the Greek: (1) We ask you in the Lord Jesus to behave as you should in order to please God. (2) We already told you how should behave in order to please God. (3) You are behaving in this way now. (4) We want you to do so still more. Even such a preliminary analysis shows that item (2) comes before the others, both logically and in time, that it is naturally followed by (3), and that (1) and (4) are closely related, (4) intensifying part of the meaning of (1). This is the basis for the restructuring and consequent change of order adopted by Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch and Bijbel in Gewone Taal. The main emphasis falls on item (4), with a secondary stress on item (1). The Greek conveys this by putting (1) at the beginning of the sentence and (4) at the end. Good News Translation achieves the same effect in different ways. First it “de-emphasizes” item (2) by you learned and item (3) by of course, indicating old or assumed information, and suggesting that the main thrust of the verse is still to come. Then items (1) and (4) are combined, and emphasized by the introductory words and now.

Most translations link in the name of the Lord Jesus with we beg and urge you. This is the most probable interpretation. Paul speaks on behalf of Jesus and with his authority. However, the words the name of are implied, and it is possible to link in … the Lord Jesus with you, and translate, as Barclay does, “… to urge upon you as a Christian fellowship.” The order of words in the Greek (literally “we beg you and urge in the Lord Jesus”) makes this unlikely, as does the close parallel with by the authority of the Lord Jesus in verse 2.

In a number of languages, it is impossible to translate literally in the name of the Lord Jesus and convey real meaning, because so many languages simply do not use the expression “in the name of” as a reference either to the authority of a person or to the source of a communication. The closest equivalent in some languages is “and now, as persons who speak on behalf of the Lord Jesus, we beg you earnestly.” It may also be possible to relate “the Lord Jesus” to this urgent request by making him the ultimate source of information, for example, “because of what the Lord Jesus has said, we now urgently beg you.” In general, however, it is best to render in the name of the Lord Jesus as an indication of representation, that is, the apostles spoke on behalf of the Lord Jesus as representing him. This is probably the most satisfactory way of indicating that the ultimate authority rests with Jesus, a point which is clearly made in verse 2.

You learned from us is literally “you received from us.” Paul refers here and repeatedly later (vv. 2, 6, 11) to teaching he gave during his visit (not to what he has written earlier in this letter). The word “received” is often almost a technical term for the attitude of those to whom the Christian message is handed on (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.1). Paul has received it from Christ (cf. v. 2) and he transmits it to others. New English Bible brings this out by translating: “We passed on to you the tradition of the way we must live to please God.”

How you should live must in some languages be closely related to general conduct, since it is not existence which is in focus, but the manner in which people behave toward one another. It may be necessary, therefore, to translate as “how you should act toward one another,” or “how you should act toward people,” in order to indicate the broadest possible range of behavior and not merely attitudes toward and actions involving fellow Christians.

How you should live in order to please God is translated literally in Revised Standard Version. “To live” and “to please” are not, however, two parallel activities, but they are related as means and purpose, and most translations recognize this. To please God may be rendered as “so that God will be happy,” “so that God will look upon what you do as good,” or “so that what you do will make God content.”

In some languages it is not easy to reproduce satisfactorily a close equivalent of of course. In this context one may introduce the fact of the Thessalonians’ having lived in a proper way by saying “I know this is the way you have been living.”

The way you have been living is in the present tense in Greek (cf. New English Bible “you are indeed already following it”), and there is no suggestion that the Thessalonians have just changed their way of life for the worse. Paul is stressing the continuous aspect of their Christian living. This sentence is missing in some manuscripts (cf. King James Version), but this omission is almost certainly due to a scribal error.

King James Version‘s “abound more and more” faithfully reproduces a redundancy which is a little strange in Greek, just as in English, and which Good News Translation and many other translations therefore avoid. Paul uses here the same verb which in 3.12 (see notes) was translated make … become … great.

To do even more is an excellent rendering in English, but it poses certain problems in other languages if to do simply refers to living. In fact, it is not an increased amount of living but an increased quality of life which is indicated. Therefore one may need to translate “to do even better,” or “to behave toward other people even better.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:15

In this verse, as at the end of verse 14, Paul’s concern widens to include non-Christians. No one and to all people make this clear. To one another means “to fellow-Christians.”

English, like Greek, can naturally use the metaphor see in the sense of “take care” or “make sure.” In New Testament Greek, as in modern English, the metaphor is dead or dying, but in continues in certain negative expressions, for example, “see that (something) does not happen.” It is therefore often appropriate to translate it by a literal equivalent. (See also the notes on 5.19 for the translation of metaphors.)

See that no one pays back wrong for wrong may need some restructuring. This is particularly the case with the introductory expression see, for example, “prevent people paying back wrong for wrong,” or “do not permit people to pay back wrong for wrong.” On the other hand, it is possible that this admonition is directed to each individual, in which case one can translate “no one should pay back wrong for wrong.”

The phrase pays back wrong for wrong is a very condensed expression involving a number of complex relations. These are expressed in various languages in quite different ways, for example, “exchange one bad deed for another bad deed,” or “give back a bad deed when one has received a bad deed.” It may, in fact, be necessary to be even more explicit, for example, “No one should do wrong to someone else just because that person has done wrong to him.”

Greek dictionaries commonly distinguish between the words for good used here and in verse 21. The word used here tends to mean “morally good” or “physically sound,” while the word used in verse 21 tends to mean “good to look at, attractive, beautiful.” In this context, however, they have virtually the same meaning, and Good News Translation therefore translates them both by good.

At all times may be translated as “always,” but since in Greek it is a relatively strong term in an emphatic position, one may translate it as “regardless of the circumstances” or “regardless of what happens.”

Make it your aim may be translated as “try earnestly” or “endeavor strongly.”

To do good to one another may be equivalent to “help one another.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:13

A literal translation of the first part of this verse would be “and for this (reason) also we give thanks to God unceasingly.” “And” and “also” represent the same Greek word, here used twice. Most translations omit the first “and,” but Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation retain it. Some New Testament writers, under Hebrew influence, begin sentences frequently with “and.” Mark is an extreme example of this tendency. Paul begins with “and” less frequently, but he does it more often than modern writers of English do. When Paul uses “and,” it is likely to have more significance that when Mark uses it, and therefore a greater impact on his original readers. Where he does begin sentences with “and,” his purpose is often to indicate a division of medium importance, to introduce a new development, but one which is nevertheless related to what has gone before. He is saying, in effect, “Don’t forget what I have just told you, but bear it in mind while I tell you something more.” Compare Romans 13.11; 1 Corinthians 2.1; 3.1; also 1 Corinthians 12.31b (though here there is an implied contrast with what precedes, and Bible en français courant and Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch translate “but”). In modern English, “and” sometimes has a similar function of marking a transition within the treatment of a given theme, and that is how Good News Translation uses the word here.

A related question is whether the words “for this (reason)” refer back to a reason for thankfulness which Paul has already mentioned, or forward to a fresh reason he is about to state. It is curious to note that the French Bible de Jérusalem takes the phrase as backward-looking (“that is why, on our side, we never stop thanking God that…”), and the parallel English Jerusalem Bible takes it as forward-looking (“another reason why we constantly thank God for you is that…”). The context does not provide an easy answer to the problem. It would be difficult to relate Paul’s thanksgiving to what he has been discussing immediately before, since 2.1-12 has been concerned with Paul’s own activity, and not with the Thessalonians’ response. It would be quite possible, on the other hand, for Paul to be recalling and summing up the reasons for thankfulness which he has mentioned in 1.2-10. There are certainly points of contact between 2.13-16 and earlier passages; the references to the effectiveness of the Thessalonians’ faith (1.3, cf. 2.13b), to the warmth of their response (1.6, cf. 2.13), to the theme of imitation (1.6, cf. 2.14), to the power of the Christian message (1.5, cf. 2.13), and to the persecution experienced by the Thessalonians (1.6, cf. 2.14) and by Paul himself (2.2, cf. 2.15).

Together with these similarities, however, there are differences of both content and emphasis. The passage beginning when we brought you God’s message is more than a summing up of what has gone before. Paul has not said earlier that the Thessalonians received the Christian message as the word of God (God’s message), nor has he draw the parallel with the sufferings of Christians in Judea (v. 14). It is therefore probably better to understand “for this (reason)” as pointing ahead to the words which follow.

The problem then becomes one of making it clear to the reader of the translation that the reference is forward-looking The English pronoun “this” is frequently backward-looking. Good News Translation (cf. Translator’s New Testament Bible en français courant Bijbel in Gewone Taal) tries to override this tendency by replacing “this” with there is and by adding another (there is another reason), at the cost of perhaps over-emphasizing the differences between verses 13-16 and the preceding passage. Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch makes the forward reference unambiguously clear by reversing the order of 13a and 13b; “When we brought you God’s message, you received it … as God’s word…. For this we thank God unceasingly.” Because of the difficulty in indicating the direction of reference in the phrase “for this (reason),” the solution adopted in the German translation Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch is highly recommended, that is, “When we brought you God’s message … you heard and accepted it…. Therefore, we thank God…,” or “… because of this we thank God,” or “… because of what you did we thank God.” Many languages lack a noun such as “reason” (as used in the present context), but they can always express a causal relation by some type of conjunction or arrangement of clauses.

The second “and” of verse 13 has been understood in at least three ways. The first interpretation, suggested by the order of the Greek words, is to take we and “and” (“also”) closely together, suggesting “we, like other people, give thanks,” but the context does not support this interpretation. Many translations (including King James Version Luther 1984 Bible en français courant) render the second “and” as “also,” but relate it to “for this reason.” This rendering fits well with taking “for this reason” as forward-looking and with emphasizing the distinction between the present passage and what has gone before. However, Moule (167) gives reason for suggesting the translation “that is in fact why we give thanks,” linking the Greek “and” with “we give thanks.” New English Bible follows this interpretation with its “this is why we give thanks.” It is probably the most satisfactory of the three solutions.

When we brought you God’s message, you heard it and accepted it. The text expresses very concisely the following basic structures: (1) you received the word, (2) you heard the word, (3) we brought the word, (4) the word came from God, (5) you accepted the word. The logical order would appear to be (4), (3), (2), (1), (5). The structure of the Greek emphasizes (5), which is technically “new information,” while (1), expressed in a subordinate participle, is assumed or old information. But what precisely is the distinction in meaning between (2), (1), and (5) and what is the relation between them? The relation is not contrastive (the contrast is expressed later in the verse) but unfolding: each statement in the series is defined more clearly by the one which logically follows it. To hear the word (2) does not imply any response, positive or negative: (1) and (5) make it clear that the response was active and positive. (1) in Paul’s vocabulary is a technical term for receiving something that is handed on, in this case the Christian message. Among the first Christians, as in Judaism, a close personal relationship was set up between the teacher or rabbi and his pupils, as living links through which a tradition was handed on. Much more is involved than the passive receiving of information. The use of a word evoking this relationship is a point of contact with 2.7b-12. Between (1) and (5) there is considerable overlap of meaning, but in (5) the implied setting is that of a host welcoming a guest, rather than that of a pupil receiving wisdom from a teacher. The two verbs reinforce each other. Good News Translation (cf. Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch) combines them in the one word accepted.

Not as man’s message but as God’s message, which indeed it is. So far, the different elements in the transmission of the Christian message have been closely intertwined in Paul’s thought. Now Paul makes two closely related statements, the first of which includes a subordinate contrast:
(1) you received it
(a) as a message from God,
(b) not as a (mere) message from men:
(2) it really is a message from God.

In (1) the emphasis is on the Thessalonians’ welcoming response to the message. Paul is not here concerned to deny what he has just affirmed, that the message did in one sense come from or through human messengers. There is no corresponding negative statement in (2), such as “it really is not a message from men.” Nor does (2) mean merely “what I am telling you is true: it is a word of God,” but “it is in reality a word of God.” Indeed, as most translations make clear, refers to the truth of the Christian message itself, and not to Paul’s statement about it.

A more literal translation, “you received not a word of men but … a word of God,” would be misleading, as even King James Version realizes (“ye received it not as the word of men”), since Paul is here speaking of the Thessalonians’ response.

It is extremely difficult in some languages to render this second sentence of verse 13 in such a way as to do justice to the intricate interrelations. The problems are made more complex by some of the lexical difficulties which may be encountered. For example, in some languages one cannot speak of “bringing a message.” Rather, it is necessary to say “to come and speak a message”; obviously, “to bring a message” involves both coming and speaking. Furthermore, it is often difficult to speak of “a message from God,” since it must be more clearly indicated that God is the original source of the message. Therefore, when we brought you God’s message must be rendered in some languages as “when we came and told you what God had told us to say.” At the same time one should avoid a translation which would imply that Paul and his colleagues were simply repeating verbally what God had dictated to them.

You heard it and accepted it. In many languages to “accept a message” is equivalent to “believe a message.” Hence, “you heard what we said and believed it.”

In order to make clear that this message was “not man’s message,” it may be necessary to be more specific, since a literal translation of this expression may seem to be a denial of Paul and his colleagues as human messengers. It may be necessary to introduce the positive statement about the message being God’s message, before introducing the negative statement, not as man’s message. Hence, one may be required to translate “you believed it as a message which God spoke, and not as words which just came from people.”

Which indeed it is may be added directly to God’s message (as in Good News Translation), or it may be made a separate sentence, for example, “Indeed these words do come from God.”

For God is at work in you who believe can also mean “for it (the message) is at work in you who believe.” Most translations follow this second interpretation, though New English Bible mentions the first in a footnote. The idea of a word having an active power of its own is common in both Old and New Testaments (e.g. Jeremiah 23.29; Isaiah 49.2; Ephesians 6.17; Hebrews 4.12; Revelation 1.16). The difference of meaning between the two interpretations is slight, since Paul has just said emphatically that the message comes from God. However, if the second interpretation is chosen, this will have consequences for the translation of “word” or message. The idea of a “word” acting or working is strange in English outside of church circles. The reference is (1) to a spoken, not to a written message; (2) to a complete message, not to an individual word; (3) to a message which produces effects (Biblia Dios Habla Hoy “gives its results”). Bijbel in Gewone Taal links the last part of this verse closely with what precedes, making explicit a logical relation which is implicit in the Greek: “That it [the word] is indeed [from God] is proved by the effect is has on you believers.”

The verb translated is at work regularly refers to the activity of God or a supernatural power. The Good News Translation translation is almost certainly correct. The Bible de Jérusalem note “is made active” (explained as God acting by his word in the believers) and Moffatt “proves effective” follow a less natural understanding of the Greek, and it is significant that the translators who follow this line either feel the need to add an explanation (like the note in Bible de Jérusalem) or to phrase their translation in such a way that it becomes almost indistinguishable from the first interpretation (like Moffatt).

If one adopts the interpretation “the message which is working in you who believe,” it may be rendered as “the message is producing results in you who believe,” or “… has an effect…,” or “… is influencing you….”

However, the interpretation which makes God the agent of the activity within the believer is usually easier to translate, since God as an agent “who works in people” is far more understandable than “the message working in people.” Because of the indefiniteness of this activity, it may be necessary to say “for God is doing something in you who believe,” or “for God is changing you who believe.” It may be impossible to use here a word meaning literally “to work,” since this might imply physical labor. It is God’s activity to change and modify people’s thoughts and behavior that is referred to.

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:12

Good News Translation transforms a relation of means and purpose (“in order to win the respect”) into one of means and result (in this way you will win the respect), but the two are never clearly distinguished in Greek. The latter seems to be more natural in several western languages, especially when a new sentence is begun at this point (cf. La Sainte Bible: Nouvelle version Segond révisée Bible en français courant Bijbel in Gewone Taal; Phillips “the result will be a reputation for honesty”; Barclay “then the people outside the church will admire your life and conduct”). The original “in order to” is clearly related, not to just as we told you before, but to the appeal to do even more, and to the detailed instruction in verse 11. Paul is not explaining directly the purpose of his teaching, but the purpose of the behavior he is recommending.

The transitional in this way may be effectively translated in some languages as a conditional, for example, “if you do this.” The relation to what follows, namely, you will win the respect of those who are not believers, will then express the result. Win the respect of is a rather complex concept which must often be expressed in quite a different way, for example, “you will cause those who are not believers to honor you,” or “you will make those who are not believers say, These believers are good people.”

Those who are not believers is literally “the (plural) outside.” It is very close in form to the English “the outsiders,” but does not have the unfavorable implications of this expression. The concept shows that Paul means “those outside the Christian brotherhood,” and Good News Translation is right to make this explicit. Both pagans and non-Christian Jews are intended.

You will not have to depend on anyone for what you need means literally “so that you may have need” either (a) “of nothing” or (b) “of no one.” Meaning (a) is followed by King James Version and New English Bible “may never be in want” (cf. Phillips New American Bible Zürcher Bibel Biblia Dios Habla Hoy), and (b) is followed by Revised Standard Version Knox Translator’s New Testament (cf. Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch La Sainte Bible: Nouvelle version Segond révisée Le Nouveau Testament. Version Synodale Bible de Jérusalem Bible en français courant Traduction œcuménique de la Bible). Bijbel in Gewone Taal has “knock on no one’s door for support”; Jerusalem Bible (improbably) “though you do not have to depend on them.” The underlying question is really: “What is Paul’s main fear for the Thessalonian Christians? That they will go hungry? Or that they will live as parasites on other people, even non-Christians?” The second alternative seems to fit the situation more exactly, but the first is a more frequent meaning of the Greek term used here. Dependence upon other individuals may often be expressed idiomatically, for example, “don’t just eat other people’s food,” “don’t go from meal pot to meal pot,” or “don’t be a guest every day.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1976. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .