Volume 30 - Issue 3

For Now We Live: A Study of Paul’s Pastoral Leadership in 1 Thessalonians

By Marion Carson


Traditionally, evangelicals hold the apostle Paul in great regard and even awe. His life and letters, we are told, give a shining example of how to live as Christians. We are urged to observe how he deals with people, and his life of selfless service to God. We should imitate him, as he urged his congregations to imitate him. Given what we know of his activities, his teaching, and his influence on the emerging church and Christian history, this seems a reasonable thing to do. As far as his churches were concerned, Paul had a mandate from God and so had a right to exercise authority over them, always with their best interests at heart, and to expect obedience in return. By extension, if he deserved this respect and veneration, how much more does he deserve it from us today given what we know of his life and its legacy? This attitude of respect, however, can easily develop into a tendency to lionise Paul and to set him up on a pedestal as one above human weakness, ambition and petty politics. There is a feeling that it is not quite proper for us to question his motives and his actions, let alone his teaching. We should never find fault with the Apostle to the Gentiles. He is the evangelist, pastor and theologian par excellence, and to question his motives and actions is disrespectful and might be rather dangerous.

Many students who have been accustomed to thinking this way can find it hard when they are introduced to views which are critical of and less than friendly towards Paul. For example, the writers that we will consider here have suggested that he is manipulative, controlling and self seeking. Our evangelical instincts may make us want to avoid such views and ignore them completely, or react angrily against them, declaring them to be dangerous and misleading. Should we, however, warn against reading views of Paul which make us feel uncomfortable and challenge our cherished ideas? Our intuitive reaction may be to try to refute them, to exonerate Paul, to show that such a view is simply mistaken. But the truth is that we cannot speak for Paul as if he were here in a courtroom to be defended, because the evidence is too limited and the time gap too great. We could pretend that no one has ever said such a thing, and ignore the theories as unworthy of our time and effort to consider. That, however, would be to bury our heads in the sand and be arrogant as well as rather dishonest. They are serious charges, particularly for those of us who want to see Paul as a model for the Christian pastorate. That is the question I wish to address in this article. Given these charges, can we, as evangelicals, still say that we think Paul worthy of imitation now, in our present day?

This paper aims to take account of these criticisms, and to see if evidence supports them. Our primary source will be 1 Thessalonians, an epistle which is commonly acknowledged to give some insight into Paul’s work as the pastor of one of his churches. In it we see his account of his dealings with the brand new church in Thessalonica. From what we see, is he as benevolent and altruistic as we might like to think? Is he a fit example to follow? Or is he, as Elisabeth Castelli, Stephen Moore and Graham Shaw think, controlling and manipulative and thus of dubious value as a model of Christian leadership?1

Paul as oppressor?

Many scholars agree that in 1 Thessalonians Paul encourages his converts to persevere under pressure.2The nature of the pressure (thlipsis 1:6), however, is a moot point. It may be due to persecution from outsiders who are displeased at believers’ conversion from paganism.3 Or the term could be understood as referring to the ‘cognitive dissonance’ they have experienced following their conversion from a pagan background to a group with strong links to Judaism.4 It may be a mixture of both. Whatever the problem, Paul sees it as part of his role to ensure that the new community stands firm in its faith. He has given himself the task of nurturing its growth and unity and to do so he needs to boost their confidence, assure them of his love and concern, and fill gaps in their knowledge. He responds to their question regarding those in the congregation who have died (4:13ff.), reassuring his readers that their loved ones will not be at a disadvantage at the Parousia, but will be raised first. He warns against worrying about when the Lord will return, urging behaviour appropriate to their hope of salvation (4:8ff.), and adding some generalised exhortations for daily life (5:12ff.). Although he may have concerns about some who are idling away their time (4:11, 12; 5:14), he is pleased with them and wants them to continue encouraging each other.5 As part of his strategy of encouragement, Paul praises them for both receiving the word while enduring ‘much affliction’ and for their joyful attitude (1:6).6 They have remained a faithful and cohesive group.7 As a result, their conduct is exemplary for believers in Macedonia and Achaia (1:7).

Like Paul himself, they have stood firm in affliction. They have become imitators of him, and if he can do it, it is implied, so can they. This seems reasonable. He is a well-known figure and at this stage there are few leaders for them to follow. If they have a human model to look to (Paul), the group is likely to pull together and the risk of disintegrating under the strain lessened.8 In an attempt to encourage them further, he says that they are also imitating the Lord, who suffered and was rewarded for it. Thlipsis is part and parcel of the eschatological age, and the language of imitation helps to encourage believers to stay on the right track. Later, he will note that they are imitating the Judaean church. This has also suffered because it is among people who do not understand their conversion. The believers belong to a widespread movement and can take heart that Jewish converts in the leading church have had trouble from their own kinsmen just as they are experiencing in their pagan environment (2:14ff.).9 They are part of a wider community whose members learn to see new meaning in suffering and to practise perseverance and hope.10

Paul’s intention in using this mimesis motif seems wholly benevolent, however, not all agree with this. Why should the believers in Thessalonica suffer, it might be asked—what is good about it? Who is Paul to set himself up as an example anyway? Not only that, if everyone tried to copy Paul’s behaviour, would this not simply produce lots of clones, lots of little Pauls, with no real minds of their own? According to Elizabeth Castelli, this is exactly what Paul wants. For her, his use of mimesis smacks of an arrogant power-game: Paul is asserting his own position of power within the congregations. The idea of mimesis, in her view:

functions in Paul’s letters as a strategy of power. That is, it articulates and rationalises as true and natural a particular set of power relations within the social formation of early Christian communities.11

Noting that in Graeco-Roman culture mimesis always articulates a hierarchical relationship, she points out that while Paul may praise his converts for having imitated him, they will never be his equal: they will always be ‘derivations’ of the model. Moreover, if Paul is the example, and they should do as he does, any potential for dissension and subversive behaviour must be reduced considerably. For Castelli, such an attitude is suspect, since it seems designed to discourage individuality and difference among believers. She writes:

Paul’s invocation of mimesis indicts the very notion of difference, and thereby constructs the nature of early Christian social relationship: Christians are Christians insofar as they strive for the privileged goal of sameness. Christians distinguish themselves from those who are not Christians, who are not saved, precisely in this drive for sameness. Difference has only negative connotations in this mimetic economy.12

So, rather than seeing Paul’s use of the mimesis motif as positive and benevolent, Castelli suspects that widespread imitation of him will lead to the undermining of individual differences within the groups involved. Moreover, she suggests that Paul wishes to say that no deviation from the norm (i.e. the outward expression of a universal truth as set down by Paul) will be tolerated.13 Just as they received the Word of God passively, they must endure suffering passively. It is not accidental that this attitude will make them less likely to cause trouble themselves.

The first thing to note is that in criticising Paul as oppressive, Castelli is very much a child of her time. She acknowledges that she is influenced by the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s suspicion of the idea that power may be held by one person over another. Foucault wants freedom, and dislikes the notion that a few people—those who occupy positions of power—can enforce a society in which all must conform to a certain pattern, and behave and live in a certain way. Foucault is very suspicious of the danger which he thinks is inherent in power structures—that those who wield the power will only become concerned with their own vested interests. Writing, for example, on the treatment of the mentally ill, criminals and gays, Foucault maintains that society has tried to subjugate these different ways of being, finding them to be a threat, and banishing them or pretending they do not exist. In so doing, existing power structures are upheld and differences are extinguished—not for the good of those who suffer, but to serve the interests of those in power and the institutions they have created. There is in fact no universal reason for power to be wielded, other than to keep others under control, and as such is suspect.14 Castelli writes:

With Foucault, I reject the notion that there is anything universally human about cultural and social formations and institutions. Societies are organised and power relations emerge in response to very particular historical circumstances. Social formations and institutions are not inevitable forms produced by human necessity, but rather are changeable and arbitrary,—though they may well adhere to a particular logic found to be more or less persuasive at particular moments.15

If all institutions are merely products of their age, ‘changeable and arbitrary’, the idea of leadership itself becomes suspect, and no one has the right to have power over others. Thus, Paul’s claims to authority over his congregations appear questionable. He becomes an oppressive leader, because he tells people how to behave, denying believers the freedom to develop their individuality and coercing them into subjugating themselves to his control.16

Stephen Moore is similarly suspicious of Paul’s use of the mimesis figure. Using Foucaultian language, he sees an exercise of power that is designed to produce ‘docile bodies’. This kind of power (Moore calls it ‘pastoral power’) purports to be ‘for their own good’, but it is really an invidious attempt to control others.17He detects a hidden power strategy behind Paul’s instruction, which he finds distasteful, and he distrusts what he perceives as techniques designed to render the community ‘docile’, with no initiative, spontaneity or drive. If we reply that Paul is merely doing ‘God’s will’, Moore would say that the theistic claim makes Paul’s attempts to exercise authority even more questionable. If the very existence of God is questioned, Paul’s appeal to theology as a rationale becomes an exploitation of the gullibility of those over whom he is wielding authority, and renders the charge of personal ambition difficult to refute:

To appeal to one’s own exemplary subjection to a conveniently absent authority in order to legitimate the subjection of others is a strategy as ancient as it is suspect.18

In our age, the idea of authority is continuously questioned, as is the very idea of the authority of God, so in our contemporary setting Stephen Moore’s words regarding Paul’s use of mimesis are at least cogent. We should, however, beware of applying modern day constructs of power to the ancient world and its documents. Foucault himself, as Sandra Polaski points out, warns against using a postmodern paradigm of power as a framework with which to understand a first century phenomenon. For Foucault, each particular age of history or community must be considered in its own time, space and stage of development. Each historical age has its own particular ‘discourse’, its own rules and conditions for living.19

The atheistic worldview that is so prevalent today would have made no sense at all to most people in the first century, whether they came from a Jewish or pagan background.20 Paul’s contemporaries lived in a society in which authority was seldom questioned and in which power structures were pervasive from the highest royal palace to the lowest slave kitchen. The earliest churches were no different, and it was natural for them to accept the need for leadership and some form of governance over their emergent groups.21 For Paul himself, both pre- and post- Damascus, the idea of God’s existence and his concern for humankind is a given, the questioning of which would make little or no sense at all. We cannot therefore judge the motives of a first century personage and the reactions of the community in terms of a suspicion of power that did not form part of the prevailing worldview.22 Without evidence to the contrary, it is probably safest to take Paul at his word and believe him when he says that his motivation is God rather than personal power.23

But what about the mimesis language? Worldview apart, is there something in Paul’s usage which is fundamentally oppressive? It does not look as if this is the case. As several scholars have pointed out, in most contexts when Paul uses this language he is concerned with the imitation of suffering and his method of supporting himself through work—both ideas which can be seen as contributing to the building up of the community rather than constituting an oppressive regime.24 He himself is inferior to the ultimate model—Jesus Christ. Jesus is the exemplar even in suffering, and no group can equal his passion or his example as peacemaker and evangelist in times of trial. Further, Paul does not put himself forward as the only believer to be imitated. He writes:

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia (1:6, 7).

The Thessalonians themselves, much to his joy, have been, and are continuing to be, models from whom others are learning. The fact that Paul mentions himself first need not be seen as arrogance but as a teacher’s strategy of using the familiar (i.e. his own life and ministry) in order to point to the unfamiliar to enable understanding. He is not concerned with promoting ‘Paul-likeness’, but Christ-likeness.25

It thus appears unlikely that Paul intended to be oppressive in his use of mimesis language. He places himself under the sovereignty of God, his motives being theological rather than personal and his ambition for the Thessalonians benign and nurturing rather than malevolent and stifling. But was this the way his behaviour was perceived at the time? We only have Paul’s own writing as evidence: we only have one side of the story. To take another example, Paul speaks of himself as being a gentle, caring father figure (2:11).26

But can we assume that Paul’s idea of ‘fatherhood’ is a matter of love rather than status? He certainly describes himself as having been gentle and intimate as well as demanding strict allegiance from his sometimes wayward children (2:7).27 As we all know, however, parenting can be used for good or ill, and not every parent’s declared treatment of and relationship with his children is to be taken at face value.28 Joubert rightly points out that Paul’s own status is to be seen as paterfamilias is under that of God’s heavenly fatherhood.29 But once again, we only have Paul’s word for it.

Despite these difficulties, there are ways in which we can support our argument that Paul is not oppressive in his ministry. Firstly, it is possible to read between the lines as to how Paul was received in Thessalonica. There is, for example, evidence that the congregation respects Paul, and not simply because he sees himself as an apostle.30 Evidently, the believers have considered that his message is valuable; they seem to trust him, look to him for advice (4:13; 5:1), and treasure the epistles he sends them in reply to their questions.31 They have allowed him to exercise his leadership role, somehow convinced that he has their best interests at heart and the ability to convey God’s instructions to them.32 It seems doubtful that an oppressed group of people would have looked to him for guidance in this way.

Secondly: it is commonly observed that oppressive regimes tend to be characterised by fear and distrust. But there is no evidence of this. He writes to all his converts and not to a handpicked group of ‘yes men’ (1:1). He wants openness—hardly the behaviour of someone who wishes to suppress dissension. Similarly, when he moved on from Thessalonica, he could have chosen leaders to do the work of building up the community and to take on the hard work of nurturing a new group in all its fragility and vulnerability. However, it seems that Paul (as was to become his custom) did not stipulate who was to take authority in the church after he had gone.33 Instead, he seems to have allowed a leadership to surface naturally (probably those who owned the houses in which they met) and says that his readers should respect and obey them.34He does, of course, delegate authority to Timothy, whom he sends to check that the Thessalonians are persevering (3:2), but in doing so he takes a risk by not being there to see exactly what Timothy will do and say. He has to trust Timothy as well as the Thessalonians, that they will remain loyal to him, even at a distance.

Further, if Paul intended to oppress we surely would see this in the parenetic sections of the letter. We would find evidence of a desire to control and curtail freedom. However, we do not, in fact, his instructions to care for the weak (5:14) suggest the opposite. As the history of tyranny in the twentieth century has shown, in an oppressive regime there is no room for those who are unable to live up to the ideals of the envisaged society. The weak, the ill, the dissenters and the doubters, the different for whatever reason, are rarely tolerated because they are seen as liabilities or threats to the general order. There is no such idea in Paul, who, besides admonishing the idlers, exhorts the Thessalonians to ‘encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with them all’.35

Lastly, it is also striking that Paul appeals to the Thessalonians to try to gain the respect of outsiders (4:12). He wants to ensure that this new group is accepted in mainstream Graeco-Roman society. Certainly, he wants them to find their identity and honour within the community and from God himself,36 but he does not urge secrecy, or detachment from everyday life. Contra Castelli, Paul does not seem to exercise stringent control when he allows society’s norms to be part of the influencing factors on the new community. A leader who wishes to oppress is more likely to promote isolation and suspicion of the outside world, rather than to advise conformity to its expectations.

Is Paul manipulative?

If we have gone some way toward defending Paul against the charge of being an oppressive leader, we still have to tackle the complaint that he is personally controlling and manipulative, concerned only for his own position. This is the view of Graham Shaw in his book, The Cost of Authority. For Shaw, Paul’s language about the congregation is questionable. For example, his declarations of affection, praise and concern for them (1:3, 8; 2:8; 3:3; 4:9) are mere flattery and a cynical ploy to elicit loyalty to himself and to keep them under control. Paul is paranoid and ambitious, his effusive praise for them in 1:4–9 ‘the initial stage of manipulation’.37 Paul is only concerned for himself and his position, and will resort to anything in order to maintain it.

Now Shaw assumes throughout that manipulation is a bad thing. It is true that when we think of someone being manipulative, we generally mean that that person is controlling (or attempting to control) people and situations for his or her own advantage. In other words we think of it as a negative and harmful activity. This, however, is not always the case. It is sometimes appropriate to manipulate a person away from something which is harmful for them. We may, for example, want to divert a person’s attention away from an unpleasant incident (say, an accident on the road) in order to protect them from painful memories. Such an action would be done with good intent, which is quite different from manipulating a situation or a person in order to further one’s own ambition or status. From what we have seen it does not seem likely that Paul is concerned with his own personal ambition to the detriment of those people in his congregations.

Further, it must be admitted that even the best of leaders need to have a mind to maintaining their position and ensuring that certain things are done, and have to manipulate others to achieve this. Thus, even if we accept that Paul is motivated by his love for God, this does this not exempt him from the charge that he may sometimes be manipulative—in the sense of controlling events and people in order to maintain his position of authority.38 A theistic rather than a selfish motivation does not mean that Paul is to be seen as somehow above self-preservation, ‘people management’ and politics. As our survey of his self-description in this letter has shown, Paul is more than willing to use strategies to get his people behaving in the way he wants. He may not be ruled by personal ambition, but this does not mean he is politically naīve. He does have to consider the opinion of others, and maintain his position. It is simplistic and wrongheaded to think of Paul as somehow above politics and personal interest. Such a view fails to take adequate account of information we have about Paul and his ministry. For example, while he is reassuring the Thessalonians about the status of the dead at the parousia, Paul distinguishes between those who have hope and those who do not (4:13), between those who are in the light and those who are in darkness (4:4, 5), and between those who sleep and those who are awake (4:8). As Wayne Meeks has pointed out, Paul is using the dualistic language of apocalyptic to make a sharp differentiation between the church and those outside, between believers and non-believers, reminding them of God’s judgement at the end times. As Meeks notes, the threat of judgement is a powerful tool in maintaining order within the community. If the follower believes that his mortal soul is in danger—he will comply with the leader’s instructions, and order will be maintained.39

We know from other letters, too, that he has trouble with the Jerusalem church and that he always works with an eye to their approval (e.g. Rom. 15:31).40 We know from the Corinthian and Galatian correspondence that he sometimes has to fight to get his own way in matters of doctrine and behaviour. He has to ensure that interlopers do not try to take over and that false teachers do not steal his people away. For precisely these reasons, Paul needs to develop ‘people skills’ and strategies. He must exercise discretion and self-preservation. So, in 1 Thessalonians, he is not above rather effusive praise for their reputation in Macedonia and Achaia (1:8) and their perseverance (1:6). He is not above expressing pleasure that he was instrumental in leading them from a life of paganism to a new faith (1:9). The exhortation to ensure that they are respected by outsiders (4:12) may betray a fear for Paul’s own reputation, whether this be with his Jerusalem colleagues, with the secular government, or simply society at large.41 The service of Christ does not rule out the need for social and political awareness.

It would be naïve then, to protest that Paul is not manipulative in his dealings with his congregations, but we need not dismiss him as unscrupulous and untrustworthy. Paul is no different from any other leader who has to be politically sensitive in order to achieve his stated aim. It is necessary even for benevolent leaders to be crafty in order to achieve results. This does mean that he has to adopt strategies: threats, ‘buttering up’, and even judicious flattery are all part of the leader’s armoury and may be used with the best interests of the group at heart. It may be necessary to be harsh with some for the benefit of many. A need to curb subversion and the desire to prevent the break-up of the community do not necessarily point to a paranoid or power-crazed leader. Rather, we should think in terms of Paul as benevolent but astute, allowing the development of his congregation along relatively free lines, using the language of family with genuine care and affection, but without exonerating himself from the concomitant responsibilities.

So far we have been arguing that Paul is not oppressive in his dealings with his congregation at Thessalonica, but neither is he politically naïve. Indeed, I have been arguing that Paul is a rather astute and skilled manager of people. This, however, should not lead us to believe that Paul is aloof from his congregation, working at a distance and having a kind of ‘top down’ approach to leadership. On the contrary, there is important evidence in the letter that Paul does not think of his leadership role at Thessalonica as somehow setting him apart from, or indeed above, his congregation. In fact, we see Paul acknowledging the need for mutuality between leader and congregation, and recognising that he is as much in need of support as anyone else. He may be an astute leader, but he also knows that he is vulnerable and he is willing to show it.

He does this in two ways. First, from his description of the time he was with them when he first arrived at Thessalonica, it is evident that he did more than simply preach. Although he seems only to have stayed with them (perforce) a short while (Acts 17:1–10), it was long enough to build up a small group of believers (1:4ff.). The message itself may have been powerful, but Paul did not hold a mass rally and—Billy Graham style—immediately move on to the next venue. Had he done so, an unrealistic reputation might have built up, even while he remained a largely unknown quantity to his new converts. He might even have become some sort of hero—idealised and revered. Instead, he stayed, working at his trade while teaching them the basics of the faith, acting as their leader, guiding them as to how they should conduct their lives (2:1–12). He made himself vulnerable to charges of being a liar or a charlatan, of being exposed, at worst, as a fraud, and at best, as one whose life did not match up to the high ideals he preached.

Second, he reveals that he has the basic need of knowing that he is loved by them and welcome among them. In 3:6ff., following the visit of Timothy, he is glad of the reassurance of reports of their love for him. It is important to him that they have expressed love and concern for their mentor (3:7). They are a source of joy to him (3:9), a comfort to him in his own affliction (3:7), and he wants to visit them not simply to teach them and help their faith grow (3:10), but to benefit himself from being with them. They will encourage him, boost his confidence and enable him to carry on with his ministry with renewed vigour.

Moreover, he says that the fact that they are thriving has a direct effect on his own spiritual well being.42Their perseverance has an impact on his own resolve. ‘For now we live’, he says in 3:8, ‘if you stand fast in the Lord’. Their continued loyalty and affection is as life itself to him, and to his colleagues Silas and Timothy.43 He is given renewed vigour by the news; he derives strength from it, and the will to live.44 The proviso—that they must stand fast in the Lord—contains a warning, and a recognition of the dependency of the apostles on those to whom they preach.45 The Thessalonians are not only responsible for themselves, but somehow also for Paul, Timothy and Silas. They all ‘live’ together in their new identity ‘in the Lord’ and such solidarity and fellowship is in sharp contrast to the way they would have viewed community prior to their conversion. They are dependent on each other, and this gives a greater ‘quality of life’ in the present, and the hope of more to come (cf. 1:9–10; 5:9–10).

Similarly, Paul will be encouraged by visiting them because he will see the fruit of his ministry, the results of his hard work. He had sent Timothy to see them to reassure himself that they (3:5 cf. 2:1) are continuing in faith. He is fully aware that if they do not persevere, much of his life’s work will be perceived to have been in vain and his mission failed.46 There is a sense in which their continued love for Paul symbolises the success of his mission. That Paul’s work is ‘alive’ is evidenced by the very existence of the Thessalonian believers.47 This in turn means that besides being a major source of joy for him in the present (2:20), they also bring him ‘glory’, being the proleptic first fruits of his eschatological divine vindication. They are the evidence of his past labours and the assurance that he will be able to stand in front of Christ with impunity at the final judgement and receive the ‘wreath of victory’, the reward for his hard work and, in particular, his obedience to God.48


The argument of this paper has been that, from the evidence of 1 Thessalonians, Paul should be seen as a benevolent leader, driven by theological rather than selfish motives. Against Castelli and Moore, we have contended that he is not concerned with his own self-advancement or the control of others, but by a genuine desire to serve God and nurture his converts. Against Graham Shaw we have argued that Paul is not maliciously manipulative, but we have insisted that it is naïve to think that Paul is politically simple-minded. The influence of the hermeneutic of suspicion urges against an unquestioning assumption of unalloyed benevolence on the apostle’s part, but we can still see him as an appropriate role model for today’s pastoral leaders. Paul needs to be an astute manager of people and politicians. Therefore he may cajole, and even threaten, in order to ensure that his ways remain prevalent. He knows he cannot prevent dissension although he will try every technique in the book to do so. At the same time, however, he does not seem to set himself up as a remote figure, unapproachable and aloof. Despite his conviction that his authority derives from God, he is conscious of his vulnerability and need of others to help him in the task. Leadership, Paul is well aware, requires mutuality—the leader is only there because of the consent and continued support of those he is leading. Each is responsible for the other: Paul needs the Thessalonians as much as they need him.

1 E.A. Castelli, Imitating Paul: A Discourse of Power (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 1991); S. Moore, Poststructuralism and the New Testament: Derrida and Foucault at the foot of the Cross(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994); G. Shaw, The Cost of Authority: Manipulation and Freedom (London: SCM, 1983), 29–35.

2 For an overview of the debate on the purpose of the letter see K.P. Donfried (ed.), The Thessalonian Debate (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000). Cf. also J. Chapa, ‘Is First Thessalonians a Letter of Consolation?’ NTS, 40 (1994), 150–60.

3 See for example, J.M.G. Barclay, ‘Conflict at Thessalonica’, CBQ 55 (1993), 512–30; T.D. Still, Conflict at Thessalonica: A Pauline Church and its Neighbours (Sheffield, 1999), 228–67; K.P. Donfried, ‘The Cults of Thessalonica and the Thessalonian Correspondence’, NTS 31 (1985), 336–56.

4 For instance, A.J. Malherbe, Paul and the Thessalonians (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 48. For a detailed study, see Still, Conflict at Thessalonica, 208–27.

5 Cf. also 2 Thess. 3:6–13. For the view that there are idlers (ataktoi) who are refusing to work see for instance the relevant passages in the commentaries, C.A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); I.H. Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983); and F.F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Waco: Word 1982). Cf. R. Jewett in The Thessalonian Correspondence: Pauline Rhetoric and Millenarian Piety (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 105, who understands the ataktoi to be rebellious or insubordinate. E. Best in The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (London: A & C Black, 1972), 230 translates ‘loafers’ and suggests that they are ‘disorderly’ because of eschatological expectation.

6 1 Thessalonians is not simply a letter of friendship as some rhetorical critics have argued (contra A. Smith Comfort One Another: Reconstructing the Rhetoric and Audience of 1 Thessalonians (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1995)). See J. Schoon-Janssen, ‘On the Use of Elements of Ancient Epistolography in 1 Thessalonians’ in Donfried, Thessalonian Debate, 179–93; cf. W.A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven & London: Yale, 1983), 114.

7 Wanamaker, The Epistle to the Thessalonians, 80, rightly notes that the imitation figure here is limited to coping under duress, in contrast to other examples of the imitation figure (e.g. Phil. 3:17; 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1) in which the apostle seems to set himself up as a model for a Christ-like life. On the mimesis motif in Paul, see the article by S.E. Fowl in G.F. Hawthorne, R.P. Martin & D.G. Reid (eds), Dictionary of Paul and his Letters(Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993), 428–30, and the bibliography cited there.

8 See for example, W.P. de Boer, The Imitation of Paul: an Exegetical Study, (Kampen: Kok 1962); B. Dodd Paul’s Paradigmatic ‘I’: Personal example as Literary Strategy (JSNT Supplement Series, Sheffield: JSOT Press 1999).

9 See C.J. Schleuter, Filling Up the Measure: Polemical Hyperbole in 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16 Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press 1994, 196. J. Holmstrand rightly points out that Paul is not saying here that all Jews were persecutors of the church (Markers and Meaning in Paul: An Analysis of 1 Thessalonians, Philippians and Galatians (Stockholm: Almqvist, 1997), 43. See Still, Conflict 24–45, for an overview of the problems related to this passage, including the now less popular explanation that this passage is a later non-Pauline interpolation.

10 Our argument that Paul is encouraging perseverence and unity suggests that this passage is parenetic rather than apologetic in nature. Contra J.A.D. Weima, ‘An Apology for the Apologetic Function of 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12, JSNT 68 (1997), 73–99, and with A.J. Malherbe, ‘Gentle as a Nurse: The Cynic Background to 1 Thess ii’ NovT 12 (1970), 203–217; G. Lyons, Pauline Autobiography: Toward a New Understanding (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985), ch. 4, who argue that Paul’s purpose here is parenetic. A collection of essays outlining both views is to be found in Donfried, Thessalonian Debate.

11 Castelli, Imitating Paul, 15.

12 Castelli, Imitating Paul, 116f.

13 Castelli, Imitating Paul, 89–117.

14 Castelli draws on a wide selection of Foucault’s writings, but see, in particular, Power/Knowledge; Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977 ed. C. Gordon (NY: Pantheon, 1980) and Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison trans. A. Sheridan (NY: Vintage 1977).

15 Castelli, Imitating Paul, 37.

16 The distinction between power and authority is important. Paul believes he has been given authority from God who alone has the power to do so. According to recent analyses, authority must be distinguished from the idea of power. Holmberg writes, ‘An authority relation is distinguished from a power relation by the fact that the subordinate is caused to assent to the ruler’s order, not by external constraint or out of sheer calculative interest, but out of conviction.’ B. Holmberg, Paul and Power: The Structure of Authority in the Primitive Church as Reflected in the Pauline Epistles (Gleerup: Lund, 1978), 134; cf. J.H. Schutz, Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority (Cambridge: CUP 1975), 14. However it would not disturb Castelli (or Moore) for whom both concepts are equally problematic because they each imply the control of the other and therefore the curtailing of individual freedom.

17 Moore, Poststructuralism, 109. And, according to Stephen Moore, ‘docile bodies’ are exactly what Paul wants when he speaks of ‘pummelling the body’, of believers as ‘slaves of Christ’, and of their need to imitate himself as the example. Paul demands certain behaviour in order to ‘legitimate subjection.’

18 Moore, Poststructuralism, 110. For Moore (108) even the central Christian idea of a sacrificial death is invidious, the grotesque desire of a God who makes out that he has the welfare of people at heart. What, he asks, should we have to do with a God who becomes a torturer and his Son the victim?

19 See S.H. Polaski, Paul and the Discourse of Power (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press 1999), 20. Foucault said of his historical projects that he was attempting to free historical ‘knowledges’ from subjection and render them capable of opposition and struggle against ‘the coercion of a theoretical, unitary, formal and scientific discourse’ (Power/Knowledge, 85). His view of his histories as ‘genealogies of problems’ means that he views each historical age as a particular discourse—‘a body of anonymous, historical rules, always determined in the time and space that have defined a given period, or for a given social, economic, geographical or linguistic area, the conditions of operations of the enunciative function’ (The Archaeology of Knowledge trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), 117). On Foucault’s own terms, therefore, we should not attempt to glean from Paul any ‘truths’ or even guidance that will help us in our present day discourse, see T. Flynn, ‘Foucault’s Mapping of History’ in G. Gutting (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (Cambridge: CUP, 1994), 28–46.

20 See R. MacMullen, Paganism in the Roman Empire (New Haven & London: Yale 1981), 62–63; 67.

21 See A. Clarke, Serve the Community of the Church: Christians as Leaders and Ministers Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000, 212ff. Also D.G. Horrell, ‘Leadership Patterns and the Development of Ideology in Early Christianity’ in D.G. Horrell (ed.), Social Scientific Approaches to New Testament Interpretation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 309–338, who traces the development of authority in the churches from itinerant to local leaders. For an alternative view, see R.S. Ascough, ‘The Thessalonian Christian Community as a Professional Voluntary Organisation’ JBL (2000), 31:1–28.

22 Clarke, Serve the Community, 212f.; A.C. Thiselton, Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self: On Meaning, Manipulation and Promise (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 144.

23 Castelli’s work on 1 Thessalonians 1:6 depends to a large extent on the understanding that the phrase ‘and of the Lord’ is unnatural in the text. She sees it as a self-correction (following M. Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel (New York: Scribner’s 1934), 5), or a modest addition (E. von Dobschutz, Die Thessalonicherbriefe 7th Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht (eds) 1909, 72) or as an afterthought (D. Stanley ‘ “Become Imitators of Me”: The Pauline Conception of Apostolic Tradition’, Biblica, (1959), 859–77). However, there is no need to see it in this way. Most commentators see the word order not as indicative of Paul realising that he is setting himself above Jesus, but as writing in a sequence, ‘he imitated Christ and the Thessalonians imitated him, he playing an intermediary role Christ and them’ as Best notes, Paul himself does not issue instructions to others on the basis of his apostleship, or demand compliance on the basis of his own authority. Rather, he continually acknowledges Christ as the higher power, giving instructions ‘in the Lord Jesus’ (e.g. 1 Thess. 4:2; 2 Thess. 3:6). He sees his authority as derived from Jesus Christ, and refers to his apostleship only when his call and identity as an apostle have been questioned (1 Cor. 9:3ff.; 2 Cor. 12:11ff.) and need to be defended. E. Best, ‘Paul’s Apostolic Authority?’ JSNT (1986), 3–25. Cf. Clarke who thinks that apostleship gives Paul authority but emphasises that this is based not on status but on weakness:Serve the Community, 228ff. See also J.D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Edinburgh: T & T Clark 1998), 571; N. Taylor, Paul, Antioch and Jerusalem: A Study in Relationships and Authority in Earliest Christianity (Sheffield: JSOT 1992), 227–28; Schutz, Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority.

24 M.A. Getty, ‘The Imitation of Paul in the Letters to the Thessalonians’ in R.F. Collins (ed.), The Thessalonian Correspondence (Leuven, 1990), 281. See Lyons Pauline Autobiography, 219. Lyons emphasises the importance of mutuality and reciprocity. Cf. E. Best, Paul and his Converts (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988), 158.

25 See S. Walton, Leadership and Lifestyle: The Portrait of Paul in the Miletus Speech and 1 Thessalonians(Cambridge: CUP, 2000), 184.

26 A.J. Malherbe ‘Hellenistic Moralists and the New Testament’ in Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt (1993) II 26:3, 267–333 discusses the use of fatherhood language in the Greek moral education tradition in which the teacher called his disciples his children. For other studies investigating Paul’s indebtedness to pagan ideas see also O.L. Yarbrough ‘Parents and children in the letters of Paul’ in L.M. White & O.L. Yarbrough (eds), The Social World of the First Christians: Essays in Honour of Wayne A. Meeks (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995); cf. also Best ‘Paul’s Apostolic Authority’; T. Engberg-Petersen, Paul and the Stoics (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000).

27 This takes the majority view that the textual variant epioi should be read (contra T.B. Sailors, ‘Wedding Textual and Rhetorical Criticism to Understand the text of 1 Thessalonians 2:7’, JSNT 80 (2000), 81–98. See also T.J. Burke, ‘Pauline Paternity in 1 Thessalonians’ TynB 51 (2000), 59–80).

28 This might particularly be so when we consider that first century Roman ideas of fatherhood also entailed the right (among other things) to kill his children, or impose divorce on them. See S.J. Joubert, ‘Managing the Household: Paul as Paterfamilias of the Christian Household Group in Corinth’ in P. Esler (ed.), Modelling Early Christianity: Social Scientific Studies of the New Testament in its Context (London: Routledge, 1995), 217; E.M. Lassen, ‘The Roman Family: Ideal and Metaphor’ in H. Moxnes (ed.), Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor (London: Routlege, 1997), 103–120.

29 Joubert, ‘Managing the Household’, 217. Also Lassen, ‘The Roman Family’, 103–120. Those scholars (e.g. K.O. Sandnes, ‘Equality Within Patriarchal Structures: Some New Testament Perspectives on the Christian Fellowship as a Brother or Sisterhood and a Family’ in H. Moxnes (ed.), Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor (London: Routledge 1997, 150–65) who stress the emergent egalitarian nature of Paul’s familial language underestimate the authoritarian nature of fatherhood in the ancient world.

30 It used to be held that Paul derives his authority from the fact that he is an apostle. His call to evangelise the Gentiles gives him authority both to preach throughout the nations and to exercise leadership over the communities which he founds. However, research has suggested that apostleship should be seen, not in terms of office (i.e. authority and status) but of function: he is sent by God to perform a given task. The fact that Paul is an apostle does not give him a particular status with authority attached. Rather, it means that he has been commissioned to be an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). For an overview of the debate, see Dunn, The Theology of Paul, 571–79.

31 See Best, Paul and His Converts, 158.

32 Leadership has been defined as ‘a process in which one or more group members are permitted to influence and motivate others to help attain group goals’. See E.R. Smith & D.M. Mackie, Social Psychology2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Psychology Press, 2000), 486. See also M. Weber, Economy and Society (1968), 241 who describes those who are granted leadership status because of individual qualities as ‘charismatic’ leaders (cited in Horrell, ‘Leadership Patterns, 312; Holmberg, Paul and Power) 138. In Paul’s case this means their acceptance of his message and adoption of its principles in their everyday lives (Polaski, Paul and the Discourse of Power, 34).

33 See Best, Paul and his Converts, 144. Best notes that Paul does not delegate authority to people in the churches he founds, but allows each church to develop along lines to suit itself. See also H. Von Campenhausen, Ecclesial Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First Three Centuries trans J.A. Baker (London: A & C Black, 1969), 70; M.Y. McDonald, The Pauline Churches: A Socio-Historical Study of Institutionalisation in the Pauline and Deutero-Pauline Writings (Cambridge: CUP, 1988), 60–61.

34 For G. Theissen (The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1982)) and Holmberg, (Paul and Power) these emergent leaders are likely to have been the wealthy, in accordance with local realities of power and patronage in the ancient world; see also R.A. Campbell, The Elders: Seniority within Earliest Christianity Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998); L. Schottroff, ‘ “Not Many Powerful”: Approaches to a Sociology of Early Christianity’ in D.G. Horrell (ed.), Social Scientific Approaches to New Testament Interpretation Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 275–87; Horrell, ‘Leadership Patterns’ who challenge Theissen’s notion of ‘love patriarchalism’ in the Pauline churches. Horrell, (‘Leadership Patterns’, 316) maintains that despite the emergence of local leaders the real locus of power was, at this stage, to be found among the itinerant missionaries.

35 D.A. Black, ‘The Weak in Thessalonica: A Study in Pauline Lexicography’ JETS 25 (1982), 307–21, suggests the weak are those who have become weary waiting for the parousia (5:1–11).

36 On the importance of honour and shame discourses in maintaining social control in first century Graeco-Roman society, see D.A. De Silva ‘ “Worthy of his kingdom”: Honor Discourse and Social Engineering in 1 Thessalonians’ JSNT 64 (1996), 49–79. See further B.E. Daley ‘Position and Patronage on the Early Church: The original Meaning of “Primacy of Honour” ’ JTS 44 (1993), 529–53. Cf also H. Moxnes ‘Honor and Shame’ in ed. R. Rohrbaugh, The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation, 1996, 19–40.

37 G. Shaw, The Cost of Authority: Manipulation and Freedom (London: SCM, 1983), 29–35. Shaw also considers that Paul’s imitation motif is designed to rule out the possibility of defection, and to effect social control and the unity of the congregation.

38 See also Polaski, Discourse. She is disturbed by Paul’s insistence that he and the church have been given a unique grace, and thinks that such a view of believers’ identities gives Paul an ‘unassailable position of power’. He has special knowledge and seems to feel at liberty to define the nature of that grace. The result is that Paul’s authority becomes part of the will of God, and therefore unquestionable. Grace becomes part of Paul’s ‘discourse of power,’ something which is used to impose values and norms of behaviour on other people. How can one challenge someone who operates under this special grace?

39 W.A. Meeks, ‘Social Functions of Apocalyptic Language in Pauline Christianity’ in Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East (Tubingen: Mohr, 1983), 687–705.

40 On the relationship between Jerusalem and Paul see Taylor, Paul, Antioch and Jerusalem, 223.

41 See Holmberg, Paul and Power, 56. Paul, while considering himself to have authority, still sees recognition by the church in Jerusalem as important.

42 Marshall, 1 &2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 95.

43 This view takes gar as ‘for’ rather than ‘because’: Paul is responding to the news of their perseverence: See Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 136.

44 Best, First and Second Epistles, 142.

45 The proviso suggests that the phrase ‘for now we live’ is more than simply conventional language expressing delight at the knowledge of their continued loyalty (contra A.J. Malherbe The Letters to the Thessalonians (New York: Doubleday 2000, 202–201)). Much more is at stake here than simply a continued good relationship.

46 Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 136.

47 For Paul, the Thessalonians may symbolise his vindication in the eyes of the Jerusalem church, whose authority he seems to recognise (Holmberg, Paul and Power 55–56), but with which he has had repeated and prolonged difficulties. He does not forbear to criticise them and even disregard them if he thinks that is necessary for serving God and his command: see D.M. Hay ‘Paul’s Indifference to Authority’, JBL 88 (1969), 36–44. Nevertheless, the success of the mission needs to be proven in the eyes of those with whom relations have been strained. A fleeting church presence in Thessalonica would be grist to the mill of those who wish to undermine Paul’s claim to apostleship and his call to the Gentiles.

48 Ch. 2:20 is not simply parallel to 2:19 as Wanamaker (The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 126) suggests. It points out that Paul is proud of them and in need of their support in the present—it is eschatologically significant but so is their loyalty now. They can bring him joy in the present simply by existing—the reward for his mission work is already tangible. On this verse see also J.G. Van der Watt ‘The Use of ZAW in 1 Thessalonians: A Comparison with ZAW/ZW.

Marion Carson

is a lecturer in New Testament and Pastoral Care at International Christian College in Glasgow.