On the translation and meaning of 1 Thessalonians 2:6.

Were Paul, Silvanus and Timothy talking about dignity, or about a ‘right to be burdensome’?

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In 1 Thessalonians 2:6, a number of translators have interpreted the Greek text as referring to authority or dignity. But, some translations contain wordings which give the impression that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy were saying that they had a right to be “burdensome”. Compare these two translations:

1 Thessalonians 2:6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. (NASB95)

1 Thessalonians 2:6 nor seeking glory of men, neither from you, nor from others, when we might have been burdensome, as apostles of Christ. (EngRV)

So, really what does that verse mean and refer to? Were Paul and his companions talking about the dignity or authority which they had as Jesus’ apostles, or about a right to be “burdensome” in the meaning of living at the cost of others, as some have claimed?

This question is connected to the word baros in the Greek text.

Were Paul, Silvanus and Timothy talking about dignity, or about money?

The noun baros (barei) which we find in the Greek text of the above-quoted 1 Thessalonians 2:6, referred to “heaviness”, “weight”, in such meanings as “oppressiveness”, “trouble”, “burden”, “dignity”, “authority”. – It is clear that Paul and his companions were not oppressive, nor were they a trouble for the other saints. So, the question is, were they saying that they could have asserted their dignity or authority, as persons who had been sent and commissioned by Jesus? Or, were they talking about a “right to be burdensome”, in the meaning of living at the cost of others?

The context records what they said about being a burden:

1 Thessalonians 2:9 For you remember, brethren, our labour and toil: how, working night and day so as not to become a burden to any one of you, we came and proclaimed among you God’s Good News. (WEY)

Under the three following subheadings, it will be considered how the apostle Paul and his companions acted – where they got their sustenance.

How Paul, Silvanus and Timothy acted in Thessalonica.

The above-quoted 1 Thessalonians 2:9 shows that Paul and his companions worked, “night and day”, so that they would not be a burden to anyone. The same statement is found also in 2 Thessalonians 3:8 which says that they did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it. Let us consider some of the context.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, [a] brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, to withdraw yourselves from every brother who leads an idle life, instead of living according to the instruction you received from us. 7 For you know in what way you should imitate us, because we did not behave disorderly among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; rather, with labour and toil we worked night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 Not that we did not have the opportunity, [b] but we made ourselves a model for you to imitate. 10 Even when we were with you, we told you this: If someone does not want to work, neither let him eat. 11 But we hear that some among you are leading negligent lives, not working at all but being busybodies. 12 We charge and exhort [a] such persons, by our Lord Jesus the Messiah, to keep quiet and work and eat their own bread. 13 So, brothers, keep on acting in an upright way. 14 But if someone does not give attention to what we have said in this letter, mark that man and have no company with him, so that he may be ashamed. (BPT)

a Verses 6 and 12, “we command […] in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah” and “we charge […] by our Lord Jesus the Messiah” – as you can, this with working and not being a burden to others was not some “whim” that Paul and Silvanus and Timothy had. Instead, they were relaying a command from Jesus.

b Verses 8–9, “so that we would not be a burden to any of you—not that we did not have the opportunity” – many bible-translators have put into verse 9 such words as “power” or “right”, but it appears that in this case, the many-faceted noun exousia in the Greek text is used in the signification “chance”, “opportunity” – that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy were politely stating that they knew that the saints in Thessalonica were generous and would have allowed them to stay as guests, for free. Through that, they would have had the chance or opportunity (exousia) to “be a burden” to those people. But, they were relaying an instruction from the Lord – read all of verses 6–14 above – and so, they made it clear that they would not live at the cost of others. Verse 8, “nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; rather, with labour and toil we worked night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you”. – There is more on 2 Thessalonians 3:9 and its translation and meaning, in the article ema037.htm, including the appendix at its end.

Further: 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and 10–14 (quoted above) show that Paul and Silvanus and Timothy told the saints in Thessalonica to close out from their fellowship persons who did not follow the instruction which they had in the Lord’s name given them. That had a bearing on people who did not want to work but were “busybodies”. Verse 10, “if someone does not want to work, neither let him eat”. And also: Verse 14, “mark that man and have no company with him, so that he may be ashamed”. And again, Paul and his companions worked and supported themselves, so that they would not be a burden to anyone.

Important: At the same time, several passages in the Epistles and in the New Testament in general, make it clear that the saints were told to take care of the older generation, and orphans and those who because of old age, disability, sickness or poverty were not able to support or manage themselves.

How Paul acted in Corinth.

Even in Corinth, Paul worked. He was a tent-maker; that was his occupation.

Acts 18:1 After this, he left from Athens and went to Corinth, 2 where he found a Jewish man named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul came to them, 3 and being of the same occupation, stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. (HCSB)

There is also 1 Corinthians 9. The article ema058.htm takes a closer look at verses 14–18 in that chapter. Among other things, that article considers the words “even so did the Lord ordain that they which proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel”, and notes that it is generally agreed that those words probably refer to the occasion when Jesus sent the twelve and the seventy to the towns of Judea and Galilee (Matthew 10, Luke 10). Jesus gave the seventy the permission that they could accept a free bed for the night, and a free meal, if and when someone provided them that. But, there was no money involved. Those men were not paid. – See also verse 15:

1 Corinthians 9:15 But I have used none of these things. Neither wrote I these things that it should be so done unto me. It were better for me to die than [that] any man should take this rejoicing from me. (TRC)

So, it is clear that in Thessalonica and in Corinth, Paul supported himself through manual work.

A note: Many bible-translators have put into a number of places in the Epistles wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that Paul lived at the cost of others. But, a closer study of the New Testament, including the Greek text, shows that as long as he was a free man and in health, he supported himself through manual work. – Sometimes, when he was imprisoned or sick, he received some aid from other saints, but that is a different matter.

How Paul acted in Ephesus. Also: He warned about deceivers, ‘burdensome wolves’.

Acts 20 records an occasion when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem. He made a stop in Miletus and called the elders from Ephesus to come to meet him there. He reminded those elders that they knew how he had acted (verses 33–34–35). And, he gave them a number of instructions and warnings. He warned them, verse 29, that there would come forth deceivers, “burdensome wolves”.

Acts 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the assembly. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, You are familiar with, from the day when I arrived in Asia, after what manner I lived among you all the time […] 28 So, take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians over, to tend the assembly of God which he purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know that after my departure, burdensome wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Even from among your own selves shall arise men who speak perverted things, in order to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore keep watch, remembering that for three years, I did not cease to warn everyone, with tears, night and day. 32 And now I commit you, brothers, to God, and the word of his grace, who is able to edify you and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothes – 34 rather, as you yourselves know, these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in everything, that by working hard like this, we must support the infirm and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. (BPT)

Please note that that passage makes it clear that Paul had been on the giving side, and that he told those elders to copy his example in that regard. Please also note, verse 29, that he warned those elders that there would come deceivers on the scene. He called those deceivers “burdensome wolves”, Greek lukoi bareis, noting that they would not spare the flock. (The disciples were symbolically seen as Jesus’ “flock”.) It appears that he meant that those deceivers would live at the disciples’ cost.

Regarding the adjective bareis/barus in the Greek text of the above-quoted Acts 20:29 (lukoi bareis, “heavy wolves” or “burdensome wolves”) – yes, this verse refers to an economic burden. That is: Paul warned about persons who would make themselves a burden for the disciples.

The article ema026.htm has more on Acts 20. – The article ema018.htm sorts out the “tithe question”.

Summary.

A logical interpretation is that in the case of 1 Thessalonians 2:6 the noun baros (which had to do with “weight”) refers to “dignity” or “authority”.

1 Thessalonians 2:6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. (NASB95)

But, there is also the possibility that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy meant that even though they could have been a “burden” the way the seventy [c] had been, they had not been that, and would not be, either. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 shows that they worked “night and day”, so that they would not be a burden to anyone.

1 Thessalonians 2:9 For you remember, brethren, our labour and toil: how, working night and day so as not to become a burden to any one of you, we came and proclaimed among you God’s Good News. (WEY)

Also:

2 Thessalonians 3:8 nor did we eat any one’s bread without paying for it, but we laboured and toiled, working hard night and day in order not to be a burden to any of you. (WEY)

c Again: The permission which Jesus gave to the seventy (Luke 10, and probably also to the twelve, Matthew 10) when he sent them to the towns of Judea and Galilee, was that they could accept a free bed for the night, and a free meal, if and when someone provided them that. There was no money involved. Those men were not paid.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → esa095.htm

On the example the apostle Paul set, for others to imitate. → ema037.htm

Some notes on 1 Corinthians 9:14–18. → ema058.htm

Acts 20:35 – what the apostle Paul meant when he reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive. → ema026.htm

What is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church? → ema018.htm

On Galatians 6:6 and its translation and meaning. Does it refer to joining in in doing good, as the Greek text indicates, or sharing one’s goods with a preacher, as some translations make it seem? → ema047.htm

On Philippians 4:14–16. → ema107.htm

On 2 Corinthians 11:8, the translation “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them”. Was the apostle Paul paid for his proclaiming work? → ema097.htm


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