Translation commentary on 2 Thessalonians 1:1 – 1:2

As in the case of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, the statement of presumed triple authorship, that is, from Paul, Silas, and Timothy, may be misleading, for it is obvious from the letter itself that Paul is the real author. It may be necessary in some languages to translate “from Paul, together with Silas and Timothy,” or “from Paul, with Silas and Timothy joining in,” or “I, Paul, am writing to you with the help of Silas and Timothy.” It is often necessary to introduce a verb such as “write to” or “send this letter to” in order to combine the statement of authorship with an indication of those to whom the letter is directed.

There are only two differences between these verses and 1 Thess. 1.1 (see the notes).

First, the word our is added (God our Father), clearly including both the senders of the letter and those who will receive it. The appositional expression God our Father must be expressed in some languages by means of a relative clause, for example, “God, who is our Father.” Some translators feel that it is necessary to identify the figurative meaning in our Father and mark it as a simile, for example, “God, who is like a Father to us.” However, this is usually not necessary.

The second addition is less readily seen in Good News Translation than in the more literal Revised Standard Version:
1 Thess. 1.1b
Grace to you and peace.
2 Thess. 1.2
Grace to you and peace
from God the Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ.

Good News Translation restructures the sentence in 2 Thessalonians, using the word give to bring out the meaning of the preposition “from.”

In a number of languages it is relatively meaningless to say “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Since this is essentially a petition expressing a desire for God’s response and blessing, it must sometimes be represented as a prayer, for example, “I pray that God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ may give you grace and peace,” or “… be gracious to you and cause you to experience peace.”

In both verse 1 and verse 2, God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are closely linked by the use of a single preposition: literally “in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” in verse 1, and “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” in verse 2. Barclay‘s translation, “who belong to God our Father and to the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1), and “from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 2), does not convey this close link. However, in some languages it is grammatically essential to repeat the preposition (cf. Bible en français courant of v. 1, and Biblia Dios Habla Hoy of both verses).

While the weight of the Greek manuscript evidence seems to favor “God the Father” as the more correct reading, many manuscripts do have God our Father. In some languages the translator will have no choice, since kinship terms such as “Father” must have an expressed possessor.

Though it may very well be that the expression grace and peace reflects Christian greeting in its Greek and Semitic forms, it is certainly not enough merely to say “greetings to you.” The fact that grace and peace are to come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ indicates clearly that Paul has something more in mind than mere Christian greeting. It is sometimes very difficult to find the appropriate translation of grace and peace for this type of context. Some translators employ “may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ show you their love and call you to be at peace,” or “… be kind to you and cause you to rest within you hearts.” In this type of context “peace” is not so much the peace of reconciliation with God as the normal blessing which comes to a man who is a child of God.

Commentators have often noted that Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians is less warm and affectionate than his First Letter. This is generally true, and many of the indications of emotion which were mentioned in the notes on the first letter are absent or less frequent in the second. There are, however, exceptions to this general rule. In proportion to their length, Paul addresses his readers as brothers as often in the second letter as in the first. The emotive tone of 2 Thess. 1.3-12 is also as high as that of the first letter.

One indication of high emotive content in Paul’s letters is the length of his sentences. In the original Greek, the sentence length is generally greater than in most modern languages, but it is particularly great when Paul’s argument or appeal reaches a climax. In 2 Thessalonians, only three sentences are more than two verses in length. One of these (2.8-10) is central to the main theme of the first part of the letter, and another (3.7-9) is central to the main theme of the second part. By far the longest sentence in the whole letter is in this section: it runs without a break from verse 3 to verse 10. It is no coincidence that this is also the passage in which Paul expresses most strongly his affection for the Christians in Thessalonica, and his confidence that, despite all the attacks upon it, their faith will continue to stand firm.

Different languages have other ways of indicating high emotion. For example, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch puts an exclamation mark at the end of the first sentence, and emphasizes the evangelists’ “boasting” in verse 4 by putting it at the beginning of the sentence (“with pride we tell…”). Knox uses a rhetorical question in verse 6 (“or do you doubt that there is justice with God…?”)

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

Translation commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:5

As apostles, Paul and his companions (see 1 Thess. 2.7) have to give directions, even commands, to young churches, but Paul turns immediately to prayer that Christ himself will guide his readers. The central meaning of the Greek word rendered lead is “direct” or “guide.”

Expression introducing prayer, like may the Lord, are falling out of use except in church circles. Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch (cf. Bijbel in Gewone Taal) has “we ask the Lord.” One may also simply say “we pray to the Lord,” or “we pray that the Lord will….”

You into a greater understanding is literally “your hearts.” (On “hearts,” see 1 Thess. 2.4.) It is an open question whether Paul would have thought of this term as a metaphor, but this would be the case in many modern languages. Since “heart” can sometimes mean “mind” and refer therefore to intellectual, not just emotional, activity, Good News Translation interprets “heart” as a person’s ability to understand. But that an understanding of God’s love and Christ-given endurance involves more than the intellect alone, is clear from the context.

In some other languages also it may be necessary to replace “hearts” with a more literal expression. Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch has “your thoughts,” and Biblia Dios Habla Hoy “may the Lord help you to feel the love of God.” Since the introduction of “hearts” or even “minds” in this context may be misleading, it is better in some languages to translate “I pray that the Lord will guide you to love God.”

The love of God and the endurance that is given by Christ are literally “the love of God” and “the endurance of Christ.” Both expressions can have more than one meaning. “The love of God,” in Greek as in English, may mean “love for God” or “God’s love” (for man). Most traditional translations leave the question undecided, and most modern translations (except Bible en français courant) take the phrase to refer to God’s love for man, for example, Barclay “the way in which God has loved you,” Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch “the love which God has shown to us” (cf. Moffatt Phillips New English Bible “God’s love”). Good News Translation‘s translation may appear to allow either possibility, but the expression into a greater understanding is more appropriate if God’s love for man is in mind, rather than man’s love for God. (Also, the possible parallel with the endurance that is given by Christ points to the former interpretation.) The main argument in favor of the translation “love for God” is that the context seems to speak of a movement of the Thessalonians toward God, for literally the wording is “lead your hearts to” (or “into” or “unto”) “the love of God.” But it must be admitted (1) that the word translated “to” may also (though more often in John than in Paul) have the meaning “in,” and (2) that “the love of God” in Paul usually means God’s love for man. If one wishes to translate “the love of God” more explicitly as “God’s love for people,” one may restructure the first part of verse 5 as “I pray that the Lord may cause you to experience God’s love for you,” or “… how much God loves you,” or “… the fact that God loves you.”

The meaning of “the endurance of Christ” is likewise uncertain. The phrase is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. The endurance may either be directed from the believer to Christ or from Christ to the believer. In the first case, the meaning will be “patient waiting for Christ” (King James Version). This would fit in well with 2.1-12, and there are many Old Testament texts which speak of waiting patiently for the Lord. “Patient” in modern English suggests a more passive attitude than the Greek, but “endurance” is linked with “hope” in 1 Thess. 1.3, so King James Version‘s “waiting” (implicit, though not printed in italics) may be justified. If one follows this interpretation, it is possible to say “that the Lord may cause you to wait patiently for Christ’s coming.” It is often not sufficient simply to say “to wait for Christ.”

On the other hand, “the endurance of Christ” may mean either “the endurance which Christ gives” (as in Good News Translation and Bible en français courant) or “the endurance which Christ showed (while on earth),” as in Barclay “all that Christ triumphantly went through for you” (cf. Phillips “the patient suffering of Christ” and Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch).

Unless there are strong reasons to the contrary, it seems natural to understand “the love of God” and “the endurance of Christ” in the same way, that is, either both as a movement from believers or both as a movement toward believers. Bible en français courant is unusual in taking the first phrase as a movement toward God, and the second as a movement toward believers.

If Christ is regarded simply as the goal of the endurance or reliance, one may translate “that the Lord may cause you to rely completely on Christ,” or “… depend completely on Christ.” However, if it is understood as experiencing the kind of endurance with Christ demonstrated, then one may say “that the Lord may cause you to remain firm in the same way that Christ remained firm,” or “… endure even as Christ endured.”

There is a very complicated problem involved at this point in that the Lord (a reference to Christ) is the primary causative agent and the endurance is itself either given by Christ or is something experienced by him. It may be misleading to refer to “the Lord” as the primary agent at the beginning of verse 5 and to introduce “Christ” later in the same verse. If, however, one translates “I pray that the Lord will cause you to have love for God and firm reliance on him,” the final pronoun “him” will likely be understood as referring to “God,” and not to “Christ.” Therefore it may be necessary to invert the order of the petitions so as to read: “I pray that the Lord will cause you to rely completely on him, and to experience love for God.”

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

Translation commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1

The word translated concerning provides a good example of the dangers of trying to find a one-for-one correspondence between expressions in the original language and in the receptor language. The Greek word huper, translated concerning, has several meanings which can be distinguished by the grammar of the sentences in which they occur and do not concern us here. Two other meanings are (1) “for,” “on behalf of,” “for the sake of” (as in 1 Thess. 5.10: “Christ … died for us”); and (2) “of,” “about,” “concerning.” The second meaning, which is almost certainly the correct one here, is quite different from the first meaning of the same word, but very close to one meaning of a different Greek word, peri, which Good News Bible translates “about” in 1 Thess. 5.1 in a similar context (cf. 1 Thess. 4. 9, 13). What matters for the translator is not only, or even primarily, the word used in the original, but the meaning which best fits the context.

Good News Translation marks the beginning of a new section by putting concerning at the beginning of the sentence, and many translators make a similar change in the order of the original. Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch goes further, and restructures the whole verse: “You are waiting, brothers, for our Lord Jesus Christ to come, and for us to be united with him for ever. We beg you, however….” This clearly and attractively separates (1) the statement of the new theme and (2) Paul’s urgent request to his readers, which is expressed in verse 2-3a.

In some languages there is a serious problem involved in relating the introductory statement beginning with concerning and what follows in verse 2. It is not that Paul is begging the Thessalonians concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but that he does not want them to be confused about that coming. In a number of languages it may be necessary to place the phrases beginning with concerning immediately after an expression corresponding to confused. Another way of handling this problem is to begin this section by saying “Now I wish to speak concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ….” In this way one can introduce in a very normal manner what is essentially a new topic.

On the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, see the notes on 1 Thess. 2.19. Our being gathered together to be with him recalls 1 Thess. 4.17. The only significant difference is that 1 Thess. 4.17 mentions both the act of being gathered together with Christ (v. 17a) and the state of remaining permanently with him (v. 17b), whereas the present verse speaks of only the first aspect. To be is not explicit in the original.

Since Paul wants to state very clearly that the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is in the future, it is important in some languages to restructure the statement in such a way as to make this quite evident, for example, “Concerning the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ will be coming back and we will be gathered together with him,” or “… he will gather us together with himself.” It is often necessary to indicate clearly that this is a reference to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and not a reference to the first time that he came into the world.

I beg you may be rendered in some languages as “I urge you strongly,” “I plead with you,” or “I speak to you with my heart.”

As in many contexts, brothers may be rendered as “fellow believers” or “you who also believe in Jesus Christ.”

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

Translation commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:16

On the form may the Lord, see the note on verse 5. Here, as in verse 5, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch has “we ask the Lord.” Normally a request to God must be introduced by an expression such as “we pray” or “I pray.”

The Lord … who is our source of peace is literally “the Lord of peace,” a Hebrew idiom rather like Barnabas’s nickname “Son of Consolation,” that is, “he who consoles.” The meaning is not that the Lord (Jesus) is himself at peace, but that he gives peace (cf. Bible en français courant “who gives peace,” Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch “from whom all peace comes,” Bijbel in Gewone Taal “from whom peace comes”). Good News Translation‘s our source of peace perhaps narrows the meaning too much. If our is expressed at all, it must be inclusive in meaning, that is, including the Thessalonians as well as Paul and his companions. Our source of peace must be rendered in some languages as a causative expression, for example, “he is the one who causes us to be at peace,” or, expressed idiomatically, “… causes us to sit down in our hearts,” or, expressed negatively, “… causes us no longer to worry.”

On peace, see 1 Thess. 1.1.

There is no difficulty in at all times (cf. Jerusalem Bible “all the time”), but the text corresponding to in every way is uncertain. Some manuscripts have “in every place,” as in 1 Corinthians 1.2; 1 Thess. 1.8; and other passages. In every way, less common in Greek, is more likely to be correct and is followed by virtually all translators. At all times may be rendered as “always,” but it may also be appropriately rendered as “under all circumstances” or “in every situation.”

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

Translation commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:12

A problem similar to that of verse 11 exists also in verse 12. Here translations are divided between expression the idea of purpose (Revised Standard Version “so that all may be condemned,” cf. Moffatt Jerusalem Bible New English Bible Biblia Dios Habla Hoy Traduction œcuménique de la Bible) and the idea of result (Good News Translation the result is, cf. Phillips Translator’s New Testament Bijbel in Gewone Taal Bible en français courant). Knox and Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch divide the sentence in such a way that neither relation is explicit. Here, as in verse 11, the element of purpose fits the context better. Paul is not only saying that unbelief results in condemnation, but that this is all part of God’s purpose. To indicate the concept of purpose, it may be necessary to refer back to the activity of God mentioned in verse 11, for example, “God did that so that all … will be condemned.” Result may be expressed specifically as “hence all … will be condemned.”

As in verse 11, believed includes an element of personal truth (like love the truth in v. 10). The Hebrew word for “truth,” which often underlies New Testament usage, refers to that which is firm and can be relied upon.

As in the case of verse 10, it may be necessary to render the truth as “the true words” or “the true message,” and even to add something about the content of the message, namely, “about our Lord Jesus.”

“To take pleasure in” something does not merely mean to enjoy the object. As in Mark 1.11, there is an element of will and choice. In the present verse, therefore, Jerusalem Bible translates “chose wickedness” and Barclay has “deliberately chose sin.” Have taken pleasure in sin may be rendered as “are happy when they sin,” or “sin and are glad that they have sinned.” Perhaps the simplest equivalent in some languages is “like to sin.”

In a number of languages it may be necessary to reverse the order of the negative and positive statement and say, for example, “the result is that all who like to sin and who do not believe the truth will be condemned.”

The Greek word translated condemned by itself means simply “judge,” but here the context requires the meaning condemned. Compare Romans 2.12b, where there is a close parallel with “are lost” in verse 12a; cf. also 1 Corinthians 11.31-32. The passive expression will be condemned may be made active by introducing God as the agent, for example, “God will condemn them,” “God will pronounce them guilty,” or “God will say, You are guilty.”

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

Translation commentary on 2 Thessalonians 1:3

Our brothers, here as in many other places, serves the double function of indicating affection and marking the beginning of a new section. Here the word comes rather later than usual in the Greek sentence, but some translations move it either right to the beginning (Good News Translation Translator’s New Testament Bijbel in Gewone Taal Biblia Dios Habla Hoy) or nearer the beginning (e.g. Barclay Luther 1984 La Sainte Bible: Nouvelle version Segond révisée), to give greater emphasis or a smoother style. In a number of languages it may be necessary to render our brothers as “our fellow believers,” “those who believe together with us,” or “you who are also believers.” In some translations it may be even necessary to employ a general term with the meaning of “relative,” rather than the more specific term “brother,” in a context such as this. “Brother” would seem, in some languages, to eliminate women from the fellowship of the believing community.

This verse is similar to 1 Thess. 1.2 (see the notes). There is no difference in Greek between the first always in that verse and at all times in this verse. We must thank God at all times is stronger and more formal than the simple we always thank God of the first letter. Must implies moral obligation and personal duty, rather than being forced to do something because of outward pressure. Moffatt translates “we are bound,” Knox “we owe a constant debt,” and Barclay “it is nothing less than a duty.” Phillips‘ translation, “Nowadays I always thank God for you not only in common fairness but as a moral obligation!”, combines the Greek expressions corresponding to Good News Translation‘s must and it is right, though reversing the order. There is, however, nothing in the Greek corresponding to “nowadays,” which appears to read into the translation a particular interpretation of the difference between 1 Thess. 1.2 and 2 Thess. 1.3.

Thankfulness is often expressed in translation in somewhat idiomatic forms, for example, “our hearts are so happy,” “we speak about kindness,” or “our heart is full to you.”

For you means “concerning you”; the faith of the Christians at Thessalonica is the subject or content of Paul’s thanksgiving. Knox‘s misleading translation, “on your behalf,” appears to be based on the Latin. It is not followed by the more modern Roman Catholic translations, such as Jerusalem Bible, or by interconfessional translations such as Traduction œcuménique de la Bible and Bijbel in Gewone Taal, which are based directly on the Greek text. In some languages for you must be expressed as a causative relation, for example, “we must give thanks to God at all times because of you,” or “… because of what you have done,” or even “you are the ones who cause us to be obliged to give thanks to God at all times.”

It is right for us to do so is literally “as is right” (or “proper”). This phrase emphasizes the idea of obligation contained in we must thank God. The translation of Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch and Bijbel in Gewone Taal, “we have every reason to do so,” goes a little further than the explicit meaning of the text, but makes a natural transition to the next part of the verse, in which Paul does state the reason why he and his companions feel they must give thanks. It may be difficult to render literally it is right for us to do so, since the reference of “it” could be misleading. One may need to translate “when we give thanks, we are doing what is right,” or “such giving of thanks is right.”

The word rendered because or “for” in most translations may also mean “that” (cf. Zürcher Bibel), which would give the meaning: “We thank God … that your faith is growing.” This rendering is less likely, but the difference in meaning is slight. Phillips leaves the logical connection to be inferred by the reader, which is perfectly natural in current English: “… I always thank God for you…. Your faith has made such strides … that we actually boast about you.”

There is a difference of metaphor, but little difference in meaning, between the expressions translated is growing so much and is becoming greater. Is growing so much suggests organic growth, for example, the growth of a plant. It is a rare and emphatic word, one of Paul’s compounds using the Greek prefix huper-, which is the equivalent of the English and Latin super-. Just as in Romans 8.37 Paul describes Christians as “more than conquerors” (literally, they will “super-conquer”), so here, he says that the Thessalonians’ faith is “super-growing.” Is becoming greater is a commoner and therefore less emphatic expression, which suggests the idea of a container being filled.

In several languages one cannot say your faith is growing, but one can say “you believe more and more,” or “you increasingly trust in Christ.” Similarly, love must be expressed in some languages as a verb, and therefore one must sometimes render the final clause of this verse as “the way in which you love one another is becoming greater,” or “you love one another more and more.”

The love each of you has for the others is more emphatic in Greek than in most translations. It is literally “the love of each one of you all for one another” (cf. Rigaux).

In the second part of this verse Paul mentions faith and love (see also 1 Thess. 1.3), but not hope. The general commentaries suggest possible reasons for this omission.

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

Translation commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:6

The text of this verse is in doubt at two places. First, King James Version Moffatt Knox Revised Standard Version Phillips New English Bible Translator’s New Testament Rigaux, etc., use a text which reads our Lord Jesus Christ, while the reading of the UBS Greek text, followed by Jerusalem Bible Barclay Best Bijbel in Gewone Taal Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, omits our. The manuscripts which omit our are few in number but they are “great authorities” (Rigaux, p. 703). Despite the textual problem, it is not possible in some languages to translate “the Lord”; rather, one must always use our Lord so as to specify the relation which Christ has to those to whom he is Lord.

Second, the text translated we gave them (literally “they received from us”) is uncertain. The three main variants are (1) “they received,” a difficult reading with good manuscript support, followed by Translator’s New Testament Bible en français courant Best Rigaux as well as Good News Translation and the UBS Greek New Testament; (2) “you received,” an easier and therefore less probable reading followed by most translations, including Revised Standard Version New English Bible Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Bijbel in Gewone Taal; and (3) King James Version‘s “he received,” which is not well attested. The difficulty about “they received” is that it does not, strictly speaking, agree with “every brother” earlier in the verse; but “every brother” is clearly plural in meaning, as Good News Translation‘s all brothers shows.

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ must be modified in some languages if it is to be comprehensible. One may say, for example, “as representing our Lord Jesus Christ,” or “on the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or even “because this is what our Lord Jesus Christ would say.” In this context Paul is obviously asserting that he is speaking on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ.

General commentaries discuss what may have been involved in “keeping away from” the brothers whom Paul criticizes, or in “having nothing to do with” them (v. 14). The expression Paul uses in this verse simply means “to put a distance between oneself and someone else.” Keep away from is entirely adequate (cf. Revised Standard Version Jerusalem Bible; Moffatt “shun,” Knox Translator’s New Testament “have nothing to do with,” Phillips “don’t associate with,” New English Bible “hold aloof from,” Barclay “withdraw yourselves from”). It is important to avoid an expression which would suggest “put out of your company,” “excommunicate,” or “thrust aside.” The focus here is not on forceable exclusion of such persons from the fellowship, but on refusal to associate with them. Note that in this statement they are still regarded as brothers, which may be translated as “fellow believers.” One may therefore render this expression as “have nothing to do with all of those fellow believers who are living a lazy life.”

It may not be possible in some languages to speak of living a lazy life, but it is usually possible to say “who are lazy,” though this is not precisely what Paul is saying. A closer equivalent may be “who refuse to work,” or “who do not work as they should.”

Instructions in Greek is the singular noun “tradition.” Paul has used it in the plural in 2.15. The whole phrase is literally “keep (yourselves) away from every brother lazily walking and not according to the tradition which they received from us.” “Walk” is a common Hebrew idiom for “behave.” “Tradition” in this context does not imply antiquity; it is simply the handing on of something which did not originate with Paul himself. Paul must therefore be referring to the body of teaching (in this context, concerning behavior rather than doctrine) which he shared with the other apostles, and which he no doubt believed went back to Jesus himself. In 1 Corinthians 15.3 the same word for “received” is used, and Good News Translation‘s I passed on translates the verb which corresponds to the noun used here for “tradition.” However, the 1 Corinthians passage consists of doctrinal teaching. The ethical teaching had already been given by Paul to the Thessalonians, either during his visit or in an earlier letter or both (cf. v. 4), and the lazy “busybodies” had heard it together with the rest of the community. This teaching, as Paul will soon emphasize, had been confirmed by the apostles’ example. However, it is difficult to include something so personal as an example within the “tradition” itself (though cf. Best, p. 335), especially since Paul insists in verse 9 that he had the right to behave differently. The translation “tradition” (King James Version Knox Revised Standard Version New English Bible Jerusalem Bible Barclay Translator’s New Testament) misleadingly suggests antiquity and formality. Good News Translation‘s instructions (cf. Bijbel in Gewone Taal Bible en français courant Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Biblia Dios Habla Hoy; Moffatt “rule,” Phillips “teaching”) does not by itself convey the idea of “handing on,” but this is expressed by some translations in other ways (Bible en français courant “the teaching which we transmitted to them”; Translator’s New Testament “the tradition which we passed on to them”).

Other key words in this verse have been already discussed. For command, see the introduction to this section and the notes on 2 Thess. 3.4. For living a lazy life, see the introduction to this section and the notes on 1 Thess. 5.14.

It may be difficult in some languages to have two relative clauses both attributive to brothers. The second relative clause, who do not follow the instructions that we gave them, is an indirect amplification of the first, who are living a lazy life. The logical relation may be expressed in some languages as “who are living a lazy life; in this respect they do not follow the instructions that we gave them,” or “… this mean that they are not following the instructions we gave them.”

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

Translation commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:2

Paul states the reason for his concern about the Christians at Thessalonica. They are in danger of believing, on insufficient grounds, that “the Day of the Lord” had already come. This leads Paul to explain in some detail what he believes that Day will be and to speak of the events which must first take place—events so public and dramatic that everyone will know they have occurred.

The exact meaning of this verse can best be reached by looking at its wider context and at the general situation of the Thessalonians. Like most Christians in the generation following the death of Jesus, they are living in a state of high expectation that Jesus would soon return and the final judgment would take place. Paul shares these beliefs. His only concern is that the Thessalonians do not become so excited that they accept without question anything they might hear or read on this subject.

In this setting, it is possible to define more closely the meaning of the expressions translated be … confused in your thinking and upset. Out of context, the most common meaning of be confused in your thinking in English would be “not to reason correctly,” but this is not the main element in the meaning of the Greek. Upset suggests sadness and often annoyance, but again this is not the meaning of the original.

Be confused in your thinking is literally “be shaken from (your) mind,” (cf. King James Version‘s and Revised Standard Version‘s unidiomatic “shaken in mind”). Biblical thought never separates the mind from the rest of human nature, but for Paul the word translated “mind” or thinking normally means “man using his powers of judgment,” and this meaning fits the context well. The state of mind from which Paul wants to save his readers is not simply one of terror (cf. Knox “do not be terrified out of your senses”) nor insanity (cf. Translator’s New Testament “shaken out of your senses”), but neither is it merely logical confusion, as Good News Translation might suggest, still less a change in one’s way of thinking, as in Biblia Dios Habla Hoy. La Sainte Bible: Nouvelle version Segond révisée “shaken in your good sense” and Barclay “thrown off your balance” are closer. Note that most translators either remove or replace the metaphor of shaking. New English Bible (cf. Traduction œcuménique de la Bible) has “lose your heads.” Most languages are rich in metaphors suggesting various degrees of mental disturbance.

The passive expression not to be so easily confused combined with an implication of means (by the claim that) is the basis for some rather extensive changes in some languages involving the introduction of a reference to human agencies, for example, “do not let those who claim that the Day of the Lord has already come easily confuse you in your thinking.” This type of construction may, however, involve a number of syntactic complications, and therefore it may be necessary to employ a further restructuring, for example, “Some people say that the Day of the Lord has already come; but I beg you, brothers, not to let such people confuse you in your thinking or upset your thoughts.”

Upset is a rare and strong word. It is used in a similar context in Matthew 24.6 and Mark 13.7, where Good News Translation translates “troubles.” Here the stress falls, no longer on the Thessalonians’ judgment, but on their emotions. The context does not explicitly refer to fear, and Barclay‘s “not to get into a state of panic” is too strong and possibly misleading, though fear is certainly involved in the Gospel verses just referred to. An equivalent of upset is in many languages “to twist” or “cause to turn,” for example, “do not let them twist your thoughts,” or “do not let them turn your thoughts around.” This seems to be a far more common expression than the idea of upsetting or turning something upside down. One can in some languages employ “do not let them trouble you in your thoughts,” or even “do not let them cause you to worry about whether your thoughts are right.”

Commentators correctly point out that the word translated easily (literally “quickly”) does not always refer to time. Paul almost certainly does not mean either “so quickly after my last visit” or “so quickly after my last letter.” However, in this context the meaning may still include a time element (cf. Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch). A possible paraphrase would be “as soon as you hear or read some report that the Day of the Lord has come, don’t immediately accept it without question, or let it disturb you emotionally.” Although the disturbance of judgment is mentioned before the emotional disturbance, the first is probably the result of the second, and it may therefore be preferable in some languages to reverse the order in translation.

So easily is simply “easily” in the original. The addition of so suggests (1) that the Thessalonians have already been led astray and (2) that Paul is blaming them. The first suggestion may be correct; otherwise, why should Paul discuss the subject in such detail? It is possible that the neglect of work mentioned in chapter 3 was linked with a belief that the Day of the Lord had already come. However, Paul may have found it more tactful to speak of a real situation as if it were only a possible danger. For this reason, too, it may be better to avoid the suggestion that Paul is blaming his readers, though some scholars detect a note of impatience in verse 5. Later in this letter Paul makes a clear distinction between the Christian community as a whole, which needs teaching and practical advice (3.6, 13), and certain members of the community, who, though still to be treated as brothers, are directly condemned (3.11-12, 14-15).

On the Day of the Lord, see notes on 1 Thess. 5.2. There is no textual basis for King James Version‘s “day of Christ,” though no doubt for Paul the Old Testament “Day of the Lord” had become also the day of Christ, and “the Lord” in Paul’s writings normally means “Christ.” Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch has “the day on which the Lord comes,” clearly referring to Christ. Translator’s New Testament and Traduction œcuménique de la Bible add a note to explain “day of the Lord.”

In place of has come, a few translators (Knox, following the Latin, cf. King James Version) have “is close at hand.” The Greek verb can have this meaning in other tenses and in other contexts. In past tenses, however, it means “has arrived,” and in Romans 8.38 and 1 Corinthians 3.22 the same verb is contrasted with events still to come. Rigaux (p. 653) describes the translation “is imminent” as “a commentary,” having no linguistic basis.

The rest of verse 2 mentions the possible causes of the Thessalonians’ disturbance. Most commentators agree that there are three of these: (1) a “spirit,” (2) a “word,” and (3) a “letter.” (2) and (3) are occasionally taken together, to make a twofold contrast between a spoken utterance and a written message contained in a letter. This is unlikely, mainly because the Greek sentence contains three parallel expressions, and also because the term translated “word” often refers to a spoken message, as in 1 Thess. 1.6 (cf. Acts 20.38).

On the other hand, there seems rather to be a contrast of meaning between spoken messages (1) and (2) above and the written message (3). This is emphasized by Good News Translation and Bible en français courant. The two spoken messages, on this interpretation, would therefore be (1) the kind of ecstatic prophecy described in 1 Corinthians 14 (though this is nowhere else described as “a spirit” without qualification), and (2) a nonecstatic message of preaching or teaching. In the New Testament, neither ecstatic prophecy nor teaching is always accepted as coming from God (see 1 John 4.1). The translation of “spirit” as “prediction” (Knox, Phillips) is too narrow; Traduction œcuménique de la Bible has “prophetic revelation.” Bible de Jérusalem, which had “prophetic words” in its first edition, widens this to “manifestations of the Spirit” in the second.

Most translations take perhaps it is thought … that we wrote it in a letter to mean that a forged letter, falsely claiming Paul as its author, was circulating, and that this letter contained the statement that the Day of the Lord had come. It is true that verse 3 refers to a deliberate attempt to deceive the Thessalonians. However, the Greek (literally “by a letter as by us”) can also imply that a genuine letter by Paul (presumably 1 Thessalonians) had been misunderstood to mean that the Day of the Lord had come. (There was probably not much time, either since the writing of 1 Thessalonians or even since Paul’s visit, for a forgery to be written and circulated and to come to Paul’s knowledge.) Paul may not even be referring to any letter actually in existence, but be putting his readers on their guard against the danger of being influenced by such a letter (cf. Moffatt Knox Phillips “any … letter,” Barclay “some letter”). Good News Translation is right to leave these various possibilities open.

It is not certain whether Paul means that:
1. the “letter,”
2. the “word,” and the “letter,”
3. the “spirit,” the “word,” and the “letter”

were supposed to be “from us” (Revised Standard Version). Most translations from King James Version to Translator’s New Testament choose the first possibility, and this is the simplest solution. Phillips and probably Bible de Jérusalem agree with Good News Translation in choosing the third, while Knox, Barclay, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Zürcher Bibel choose the second. The main argument for this compromise solution is the difficulty of deciding what could be meant by a prophetic utterance wrongly supposed to come from Paul and his companions. The devices used by translators to show which of these three possibilities they have chosen are varied and interesting. They include:

1. In languages where it is possible, a singular (Bijbel in Gewone Taal Biblia Dios Habla Hoy Luther 1984 La Sainte Bible: Nouvelle version Segond révisée Le Nouveau Testament. Version Synodale) or plural (Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch Bible de Jérusalem) verb equivalent to “come (from us).”

2. Repetition or nonrepetition of such words as “some” and “any” (Jerusalem Bible “any prediction or rumour or any letter,” contrast Knox “any spiritual utterance, any message or letter”), cf. New English Bible Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch.

3. Restructuring, as in Good News Translation, Bible en français courant Zürcher Bibel (whose use of square brackets is however not to be recommended): “… neither through a [prophetic] spirit nor through a supposedly-from-us-coming word or [such] a letter.”

4. Punctuation (e.g. King James Version “neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us,” cf. Barclay “some message…, or some statement or some letter”).

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