1 Thessalonians: 5:23-24, Part 1

map of greece1 Thess 5:23

(1 Thess. 5:23 ESV) 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To “sanctify” is to make holy. In the NT, “holy” generally does not refer to ritual holiness but to actual holiness.

“Holy,” of course, means “set apart,” as we covered already, and in this case, Paul’s emphasis is on being blameless at the Second Coming.

“Blameless” does not mean perfect but free from accusation. The word was often used to describe the attributes of the ideal public servant. The idea isn’t to be sinless (which is quite impossible) but to have no disqualifying traits. That is, “holy” focuses on the positive attributes — to be like the Holy One, Jesus — whereas “blameless” focuses on the elimination of negative attributes — all with the goal of being Christ-like.

Obviously, Paul hasn’t forgotten that he’s the apostle of grace, but he doesn’t want us to sin in reliance on grace, which is a form of rebellion and potentially damning. We are to strive to be as much like Jesus as possible, and not use grace as an excuse to be satisfied with something less than complete holiness. We never declare ourselves good enough so that we need not continue to grow in Christ.

Paul’s reference to “your whole spirit and soul and body” should not be taken as defining three separate elements of humanity. A close study of the scriptures will show that these words define heavily overlapping concepts.

It is precarious to try to construct a tripartite doctrine of human nature on the juxtaposition of the three nouns, πνεῦμα [spirit], ψυχή [soul] and σῶμα [body]. The three together give further emphasis to the completeness of sanctification for which the writers pray … . The distinction between the bodily and spiritual aspects of human nature is easily made, but to make a comparable distinction between “spirit” and “soul” is forced. Few would care to distinguish sharply among the four elements “heart” (καρδία), “soul” (ψυχή), “mind” (διάνοια) and “strength” (ἱσχύς) of Mark 12:30 (amplifying the threefold “heart, . . . soul, and . . . might” of Deut 6:5).

F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word BC 45; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 130.

This is sometimes used as an argument for a trichotomous view of man (e.g. Thomas), as against a dichotomous view, but this is probably unjustified (cf. Mark 12:30 for a fourfold division and 1 Cor. 7:34 for a twofold one). Paul is not analysing the nature of man, but uttering a fervent prayer that the entire man be preserved. 

Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale NTC 13; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 108.

It’s too easy to define these terms as they’re used in modern English rather than how they’re used in the scriptures. For our present purposes, it’s enough to point out that, in the scriptures, the words carry very fluid meanings that often overlap. Context is always important. For example, “soul” (psyche or nephesh) can refer to living, or even dead, bodies.

[Shedd] argues that Psa. 16:10 and Acts 2:31 use soul to mean body and points out that in Lev. 19:28; 21:11; 22:4; Num. 6:6; 19:11, 13; Hag. 2:13, the Hebrew word nephesh, “soul” is translated properly by “dead body.” 

Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, 2002, 204.

1 Thess 5:24

(1 Thess. 5:24 ESV)  24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Notice that Paul isn’t saying that we must be faithful and we must surely do it. He credits God with our ultimate success. Now, the verses just covered plainly require us to play a role, but we are not alone. We don’t achieve our salvation by ourselves.

The faithfulness of God, in fact, is one of Paul’s great themes throughout his writing. He has a good deal to say about the gospel message concerning Jesus the Messiah, but the most significant thing about Jesus is that in him the living God has put into effect his faithfulness to the entire creation, to Israel, and to each member of the human race.

Paul has a good deal to say about the life of the church, its unity, its suffering, and its witness before the world; but the most significant thing about the church is that it is the company of people held in existence and maintained in truth not by human will or effort but by the sheer faithfulness of God.

Paul also has a lot to say about the calling of the individual Christian, to be holy in body, soul and spirit. But this never degenerates into a sense of the Christian simply trying hard to behave and hoping for the best. It is always backed up, as it is here, by the faithfulness of God. ‘The one who calls you is faithful.’

Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 134.

 

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to 1 Thessalonians: 5:23-24, Part 1

  1. Price Futrell says:

    I think you over looked the main thought of this passage… Sanctification is a PROCESS toward holiness.. In 2:13 we see as you mentioned that it is GOD who is at WORK in us.. It seems I recall that you’re not a fan of the concept of sanctification. Excuse me if i remember incorrectly. But, sanctification is a YUGE and yet under appreciated concept.. Perhaps it is because we are such black and white people… You’re either wrong or you’re right… Why do we bang our bibles over the heads of people who are working through the process toward the goal ? We treat nothing in life, no mistake, with as much contempt as we treat spiritual imperfections. Perhaps we have a glimpse inside the type A personality of Paul.. at least his compassionate side… to see that he is praying that God will teach us through our trials and errors…that the “process” will bring us closer to the “holiness” that you describe. Maybe patience is a Kingdom concept that we ignore?

    And usually isn’t “spirit” considered different than “mind, will, emotions ?” I see no reason to try to avoid defining each separately, especially the body.. Here we have Paul praying for our good health…our overall good health.. Perhaps we as a church would do well to pay attention to the admonition to try and keep our body’s in good condition ? The church is the most unfit group of people on the planet and not worthy of example.

  2. JohnF says:

    I remain a trichotomist: body / soul / spirit. We’ve been down this path before. Is it beneficial to review once again? In general terms, Satan tries to claim us through the “body” while God call to us through our “spirit” — the soul is the battle ground. The old “cartoon” of good and evil sitting on left and right shoulders, both whispering to the mind, is not altogether poor theology.

  3. Dwight says:

    JohnF. I agree the scriptures refer to three parts to a man, but only one part to God and or Jesus, spirit, that is until Jesus became flesh. Does this mean God doesn’t have a soul or isn’t a soul? No, it probably means that God doesn’t have a soul that needs saving. The goal of man is to be spiritual in connection with God who is Spirit.

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