1 and 2 Thessalonians

Written by Gary S. Shogren Reviewed By Gene Green

Gary Shogren of the Seminario ESEPA in San José, Costa Rica, has produced a commentary that every student and professor of the Greek text of the NT can love. The volume is wonderfully concise, clear, and cogent. And it’s cheap. Thankfully, the good folk at Zondervan understand that the pockets of students, and their professors, are not always deep. Despite its relatively low price, both the content and production values are very high indeed. This is a good read that takes us through the paces in our study of the Thessalonian correspondence in a print format that is well-organized and easy on the eyes.

The content of this commentary, as that of the other volumes in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, is not exactly what one would expect given the moniker “exegetical.” Shogren is deeply concerned with helping the reader understand the text within the authors and first readers’ horizon of meaning (he regards these letters as principally the work of Paul and Silas). The author includes topical outlines of each book and a detailed structural analysis, in English, of each major section of the letters. While such structural analyses are common fodder in exegesis courses, rarely does this means of analyzing the flow of an author’s argument appear in commentaries. Lexical studies abound in these pages and Shogren, who has written a small grammatical guide to insert in a Greek NT, explains significant parts of the letters’ Greek grammar, a feature often missing from contemporary commentaries. If a student wants to see the exegetical principles expounded in handbooks like Gordon Fee’s New Testament Exegesis (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 2002) demonstrated, she need not look further than this study. While the commentary aims at those who have had some Greek, the English-bound reader will find this work accessible as well.

Yet this and other volumes in the series have a curious feature that betrays the name. At the end of each section Shogren talks theology to us. The “Theology in Application” sections discuss the emerging theology within the setting of Thessalonica, then arcs over to biblical theology, and finally rounds out the discussion with a section on the “Message of This Passage for the Church Today.” Moreover, at the very end of the volume Shogren includes a section entitled “Theology of 1 and 2 Thessalonians” (pp. 344–54). In other words, Shogren and the editors of the series (Clint Arnold as General Editor) have an eye on the church and the way these letters speak today. This is much more than an “Exegetical Commentary” but a work that, to a degree, understands the necessity of hermeneutics.

Shogren is well abreast of current scholarship on the Thessalonian letters and discusses crux passages with careful, though not labored, diligence. First Thessalonians 2:1–12 is not apologetic but rather a presentation of the apostles’ character that the Thessalonians should imitate. First Thessalonians 2:7 is about the apostles being as “little children” not “gentle” among the believers. The “one who now restrains” (2 Thess 2:7 and 2:6) the “Man of Lawlessness” is a great angel. Those not working (2 Thess 3:6–15) were not lazy but “disorderly” since, unlike the apostles, they required support for their evangelistic work. Shogren often uses the “In Depth” sections of the commentary to discuss these controverted passages. If the reader wants to follow the argument down to the bottom, she may do so by carefully working through his argument.

While there is much to commend this commentary to students, pastors, and teachers, some areas could use further development. Shogren is careful with lexical studies but at times displays a less than robust understanding of the cultural milieu of these letters. The philosophical traditions that are essential for understanding 1 Thess 2:1–12 do not receive robust treatment (compare Abraham Malherbe, Letters to the Thessalonians [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004]). The discussion of patronage as a possible context for interpreting 2 Thess 3:6–15 is not fully examined (compare Bruce Winter, Seek the Welfare of the City [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994]). Since language is our gateway to culture, lexicography should lead to a more robust engagement with the cultural milieu of these letters.

Shogren’s work to bridge the gap between the ancient and contemporary world more often than not derives from the main points of the biblical passage. For example, the discussion about judgment after 2 Thess 1 tightly ties together ancient and contemporary discussions. In contrast, should our contemporary reflection on 1 Thess 1 run principally around the topic of prayer? Paul summarizes the letter’s whole message in that chapter, a fact we miss in this “Theology in Application.” All our students, pastors, and teachers need a robust orientation to hermeneutics so that we do not remain mere historians. The commentary acknowledges as much but wants more careful hermeneutical work to match the volume’s high-level exegesis.

Shogren has put together an admirable commentary that deserves a place on the student and teacher’s shelf. His bibliography is up-to-date, although absent are any of the works emerging from the Majority World on these letters (such as that of Nestor Míguez, available to Shogren in Spanish before the English edition The Practice of Hope [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012], or K. K. Yeo in What Has Jerusalem to Do with Beijing? [Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 1998]). This is a careful and fresh reading of the Thessalonian correspondence that does not simply reiterate previous scholarship but works through the text and seeks to make the apostles’ voice heard within our contemporary world.

Gene Green

Gene Green
Wheaton College
Wheaton, Illinois, USA

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