2 Thessalonians: 2:15-16 (apostolic tradition and hope)

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2 Thess 2:14-15

(2 Thess. 2:14-15 ESV)  14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

“To this” refers back to “saved” in 2:13.

The calling was “through our gospel.” This is, I believe, no more complex than a reference to the preaching of the gospel. See Rom 10:9-17 where Paul asserts that faith comes by hearing, hearing by preaching, and preaching by missionaries.

“The glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” is a reference to being in the presence of Jesus in the New Heavens and New Earth. Thus,

What is to be obtained is, in 2 Thes. 2:14, “the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This idea is fundamental in Pauline thought, as Rom. 8:17, 29f.; 1 Cor. 15:43; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; and 1 Thes. 2:12 show. According to Rom. 3:23, “All have sinned and lack the glory of God.” … Thus when Paul talks about obtaining the glory of Christ he has in mind the eschatological transformation of the people of God into the form of Christ’s divine existence. In an ultimate sense this was associated with the resurrection for Paul, as 1 Cor. 15:43 and Phil. 3:21 demonstrate.

Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 267–268.

“Traditions” is a tricky word. To the modern ear, “tradition” sounds like man-made rules, and thus something far from binding. The same word is used in the Gospels for the so-called Oral Law of the rabbis — which they considered more binding than the Torah itself, on the theory that the Torah was often difficult to understand and apply, and so the Traditions serve to make the rules clear and so easy to obey.

As shown by Matt 15:2-6, Jesus disagreed and refused to bind the Traditions when they added rules not found in the Torah itself. Hence, he refused to require his disciples to wash their hands before eating due to the fear of some dust on their hands being from an unclean source. The Torah’s rules of ritual cleanliness are just not that strict, and God is not impressed when we pile rules on each other just to show our dedication to rule keeping.

On the other hand, Paul’s teaching to his converts was largely oral — as was essential in a semi-literate age. He calls his own teachings “traditions,” evidently in parallel to the rabbinic oral law — except that Paul’s teachings are truly law, because Paul, as an apostle, has an authority the rabbis did not have.

Thus, Paul can say —

(1 Cor. 11:2 ESV) Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.

(2 Thess. 3:6 ESV) Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

Now, some would argue that this body of unwritten apostolic teaching has been passed down generation to generation and may be recovered by study of the early church fathers. Thus, the teaching of 3rd Century and later church leaders should be considered binding — if they are teaching against instrumental music. But not if they are teaching a single bishop over the elders, female deacons, combining the love feast with communion — each of which is evidenced in the church fathers long before anything was written about instrumental music — making the whole exercise extremely subjective.

If the apostles left us an oral tradition of teachings in additional to the NT, no one has found it. Indeed, if you read the early church fathers, there are any number of documents that claim to be based on apostolic teachings, and each is plainly not based on First Century teachings. I covered the question extensively some time ago:

New Wineskins: A Thought Experiment on Sola Scriptura and the Historical Argument, Part 1

New Wineskins: A Thought Experiment on Sola Scriptura and the Historical Argument, Part 2

New Wineskins: A Thought Experiment on Sola Scriptura and the Historical Argument, Part 3

2 Thess 2:16-17

(2 Thess. 2:16-3:1 ESV)  16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,  17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.  

The question often comes up in Sunday school class whether we should pray to God the Father only or may we also pray to Jesus, the Son of God? Paul prays to both in this passage.

The prayer begins, May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, making both God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ the objects of the petition and so placing them on the same plane. The christological implications are evident.

Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 330.

Many of our preachers insist that it’s sin to pray to Jesus — which makes no sense to me in light of the many references by Paul and Peter to Jesus as YHWH (e.g., 1 Cor 10, Acts 2:21 with :36).

Regarding “eternal comfort and good hope” —

[T]he issue here in v. 16b is the final destiny of the believers, their eschatological hope, which should become the lens through which they seek to face their present circumstances. This destiny is described, on the one hand, as eternal encouragement and, on the other, as good hope. This last expression was quite common in ancient literature and frequently referred to “high hopes” that were firm and ripe with the expectation of being fulfilled. But it could also refer to life after death, and even the happiness associated with it.

Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 331.

That is, eternal comfort means the comfort the believers will have in eternity. They should live in light of the promises — the hope — of a better life in the New Heavens and New Earth.

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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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2 Responses to 2 Thessalonians: 2:15-16 (apostolic tradition and hope)

  1. JohnF says:

    I would not concur that the traditions of the apostles can be “discovered” by reading the ECF. We can “see” or understand at least some of them in the practice of the early church, and perhaps the “echo” of them in the ECF. But the entire history of the church, from the 1st century churches onward onward has been digression from the apostle’s teaching and doctrine (Galatians is prima facie evidence). Acts 1 speaks of Christ speaking to the apostles of “things concerning the kingdom of God.” They spent their very lives in implementing His “orders” (v.2). We are well served by looking to their examples; we ignore their examples / teachings / precedents / traditions at (at least some) peril.

  2. Dwight says:

    JohnF, I believe that Jay was arguing that the ECF do not carry the weight of the apostles, because they are at times at odds with the apostles teachings. But his point is that we mine the ECF for agreement as if they are the apostles when we want to while ignoring their other teachings that are less than inspired, thus we go to them for instrumental music and not for other teachings that should be just as authoritative.

    Jay, 2 Thess. 2: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”
    isn’t put forth as a prayer, but more of a hopeful statement.
    While it may not be wrong to pray to Jesus, because Jesus is God, the impetus of prayer was always directed to God, the Father. Jesus directed the apostles to pray thus “Our Father who art in heaven….”. In I Tim.2:5 Hebrews we are told that Jesus was the mediator between God and man.

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