Friday, April 17, 2009


(Building on previous posts.)

Some of the clearest parallels between Paul and Jesus are those between Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives as recorded in Matthew 24 and 25 and Paul’s writings in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Though Jesus’ same discourse is also recorded in Mark and Luke, the parallels are mostly seen in Matthew’s version. Paul wrote these letters around 51 AD, but most scholars date all the Gospels much later. Paul doesn’t quote directly, but he uses the same or similar words in quite a few places. I believe that there are too many parallels for us to just claim coincidence. If I am correct, then we must conclude either that Matthew’s gospel was written much earlier than is supposed (at least in an earlier edition), or that Paul had access to the same sources that Matthew used. Matthew was an eyewitness, though we have no record of Paul and Matthew ever having met.

Both Jesus’ discourse and Paul’s Thessalonians’ passages have to do with eschatology (last things). There is also at least one paragraph in Romans.

Romans 8:22: “… the whole creation groans together and suffers birth pains (sunodineo) until now.”
Matthew 24:8: “All these things are the beginnings of birth pains (odinon).”

2 Thessalonians 2:8, 9: “And then the lawless one will be revealed … whose coming will be according to the working of Satan in all miracles and signs and lying wonders (dunamei kai semeiois kai terasin pseudous).”
Matthew 24:24: “For there will arise false christs and false prophets and they will give great signs and wonders (semeia kai terata) so as to deceive if possible even the elect.”

1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4: “For you yourselves know perfectly well that the Day of the Lord is coming as a thief in the night (kleptes en nukti) … you brothers are not in darkness that the Day should overtake you as a thief.”
Matthew 24:43: “… if the housemaster had known in what hour the thief was coming …”
Also see Luke 12:39; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3; 16:15.

But the most interesting parallels are in the warnings, especially in the play between the words gregoreostay awake (usually translated watch) and katheudosleep.

1 Thessalonians 5:6, 7: “So then, let us not sleep as the rest. But let us stay awake and stay sober, for those who sleep, sleep in the night and those who get drunk get drunk in the night.”

1 Thessalonians 5:9, 10: “… our Lord, Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep we may come to life with Him!”

Matthew 24:42, 43: “Stay awake then, because you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.” “… he would have stayed awake …”

Matthew 25:5 (the parable of the 10 virgins): “And while the bridegroom was delaying they all dosed off and fell asleep.”

Matthew 25:13: “Stay awake then, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

The word gregoreostay awake is sometimes used literally in the New Testament, as in Jesus’ warnings to his disciples in the garden (Mark 14:37, 38, etc.), but it usually has the figurative meaning of “be watchful” or “be alert.”

Similarly katheudosleep or fall asleep, though sometimes used literally in the New Testament, often is used figuratively for spiritual dullness. Often, even when used literally, it still has that connotation as in Matthew 25:5 quoted above.

There is another Greek word for sleep, koimaomai, which is often used as a euphemism for death. Paul uses it in this way in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15. Jesus uses it as well in John 11:11-13. In fact, Paul always uses koimaomai for death and katheudo for spiritual dullness.

Some have attempted to find an exception in 1 Thessalonians 5:10 quoted above and would interpret it as meaning “whether we are alive or dead.” But both the context and Paul’s consistent usage would argue against this translation.

Why is this important? Because I believe this is a promise that gives us assurance. When Christ comes to take up His own, all of us who know Him by faith will be taken, whether we are in a state of spiritual alertness (gregoreo), or whether we are in a state of spiritual dullness (katheudo). Our position in Christ is not based on our behavior, but on His finished work.

Bill Ball

No comments: