Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Did Timothy Evangelize the Apostle Paul?


6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 

I’ve been working on my commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians lately, and have spent some time thinking about the above verses. Translations usually break 3:6-8 into four separate sentences. But in Greek these verses are all one long sentence that seem to burst from the apostle’s pen. Having just confessed his deepest fears about the Thessalonians and their ongoing perseverance in the faith (3:5), Paul shifts the narrative with the sudden announcement of Timothy’s return (3:6).

But the verbiage Paul uses to describe Timothy’s report is a bit unusual. What the NIV has translated in 3:6 as “brought us good news” is actually the Greek verb euaggalizō which outside of the Bible does carry the basic meaning of “bringing good news.” In the New Testament, however, it became a technical term for “proclaiming the gospel.” But since 3:6 is the only occurrence without direct reference to “preaching the gospel” or Jesus Christ, many commentators identify this as the only non-technical use of the verb in the New Testament and do not associate the idea of “gospel” with it. Yet with the range of other terms that Paul could have used instead of euaggalizō it’s possible that he chose the verb purposefully to make a play on the word.

I wonder if Paul perceived Timothy’s report as more than “good news;” perhaps he felt “evangelized” by the report since it strengthened his faith in God. Timothy’s report about the Thessalonians’ “faith and love” (3:6) was a source of “encouragement” for the apostles (3:7) which caused them to “really live” (3:8) and to acknowledge the impossibility of offering enough thanks to God for the “joy” that they brought him (3:9). Faith, love, encouragement, life, and joy are all elements commonly associated with the results of preaching the gospel. Just as Paul’s announcement of the “good news” to the Thessalonians (1:5) caused them to experience “faith and love” (1:3, 4) coupled with “joy” (1:6) and a turn to the “living God” (1:9), so too the “good news” that the Thessalonians had not abandoned the faith brought the very same experiences to Paul.  I. Howard Marshall sums it up this way:

 “The preaching of the gospel includes the news that Jesus Christ is proved to be a mighty Saviour in the experience of those who respond to the Christian message; knowledge of this can lead non-believers to faith and believers to thanksgiving and deeper faith.” (1 & 2 Thessalonians, 94)

Understanding the word as only having a technical meaning in the context of missionary work strips away the important point that Paul makes elsewhere that the establishment and preservation of the church is God’s activity (Best, 140). In reality, the gospel is preached whenever the story of what God is doing is told whether it be told in the context of unbelievers or believers. The message of the gospel is not merely about how God brings salvation, but how God sustains it.

3 comments:

  1. That'll preach. I appreciated the extension of 'evangelize' to include the good news of God's actions in more than salvation.
    When is that commentary due to publish?

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    1. It is not due until 2014, but I hope to have it done before then. It has been hard to have any concentrated time to work on it. But I am on sabbatical starting in June and plan to dedicate 6 months to it.

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  2. Appreciated your comments, John! The traditional evangelical view of evangelism as only being for the unbeliever is too narrow ... It is also for equipping and building up of the saints... much like Paul's experience / reaction to Timothy. Your comments are very encouraging. Thx

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