A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 3:1-18. The responsibility of Christians.
Another problem remains, however, in that at first sight Paul seems to contradict himself. On the one hand, he stoutly maintains the divine source of his teaching. He received it, he insists, ‘not…from any man’ but ‘by revelation from Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 1:12). He repeats this in his first letter to the Corinthians, asserting that he had ‘received from the Lord’ what he has passed on to them (1 Cor.11:23). On the other hand, this particular tradition which he had received and handed on was the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Are we to suppose that he received this information by direct revelation? Is it not more probable that human beings had given it to him? If so, how can he claim to have received it ‘from the Lord’? Oscar Cullmann took up this very question in his essay entitled *The Tradition*. He developed a sustained argument concluding that:
the designation *kurios* (‘the Lord’) can be understood as
not only pointing to the historical Jesus as the
chronological beginning and the first link of the chain of
tradition, but to the exalted Lord as the real author of the
whole tradition developing itself within the apostolic
Indeed, it was the apostles themselves who were given the unique privilege of receiving teaching from Jesus Christ and passing it on to the church:
Their essential function is to be bearers of direct
revelation, one being concerned with one fact, another with
another, so that they are dependent upon one another. But
it is the united testimony of all the apostles which
constitutes the Christian *paradosis*, in which the *Kurios*
(Lord) himself is at work.
Thus Paul can say that he has received ‘from the Lord’ a
tradition which in reality he has received by way of other
apostles. *Transmission by the apostles is not effected by
men but by Christ the Lord himself who thereby imparts this
By *paradosis*, then, Paul means not the tradition of the church but the teaching of the apostles and so of Christ the Lord himself. This distinction was clearly recognized by the early church. As Cullmann wrote, it ‘*distinguished between apostolic tradition and ecclesiastical tradition*, clearly subordinating the latter to the former, in other words, subordinating itself to the apostolic tradition’.
So then, whether Paul is referring to ‘the word’ (1 Thess.1:6, RSV), namely, ‘the word of the Lord’, or to ‘the tradition’ (2 Thess.3:6, RSV), namely the teaching of the apostles, it is divine revelation to which he is alluding. He sees the present period before the Parousia of Christ as the era of the word, and that in two senses. First, the church must spread the word throughout the world. Secondly, the church must itself obey the word, conforming its own life to the teaching of the apostles. Paul’s two longings, which he expresses in this chapter, are that the word of the Lord may be ‘honoured’ both in the world (1) and in the church (4-15). Both are aspects of ‘church growth’, which is a fine expression so long as we remember that it has these two dimensions. God wants his church to grow both extensively (by its spread of the gospel) and intensively (by its own obedience to the gospel). Each is incomplete and unbalanced without the other. Both also demand time – world evangelization on the one hand and church formation on the other.
|Tomorrow: Romans 14;1 Our relationship to the weak: 1) The positive principle|
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.