Everyone is Wrong (Except Me): Peace and Security – 1 Thess 5:3 (Gupta)

Thess Book

Consult just about any 1 Thessalonians commentary or monograph and, when it comes to 1 Thess 5:3, it will note that when Paul refers to some people crying “peace and security,” that he is tipping his hat at a Roman slogan. Well – everyone is wrong.

OK, let’s be clear. Roman did promise peace. And they did promise security. I don’t have any problem admitting these things. But these are not uncommon words and, 99 times out of 100, those who associate Paul’s “peace and security” statement in 5:3 with Rome pluck this verse out of context. It is a nice “sound-bite,” but almost no one actually makes a case that Paul is intending to say something about Rome in particular in the context of 1 Thess.

This is going to sound pretty critical, but there is a reason why few associated 1 Thess 5:3 with the Roman empire prior to the 1990’s. We biblical scholars (re-)discovered Roman politics and “tuned in” to it a couple of decades ago. Now – it is everywhere. Again, I have no problem with this new awareness, but I fear we are quick to cry “Roman slogan” without seeing if it actually fits the situation. (If, all of a sudden, we learned from archaeologists that Greeks and Romans loved upside-down pineapple cake, I bet you someone would discover a hidden recipe in the Sermon on the Mount!)

Here is why I don’t think 5:3 is about a Roman slogan. Paul is talking to a church shaken by recent deaths in the community. No doubt Paul is trying to allay fears of further destruction. Some are offering security. But who? And from what? Who could be offering these sectarian worshippers of Jesus “peace”? Rome? Did they have anything to do with these deaths? And if so, why would they now be offering security? To my mind, Paul does not seem to be making a generic appeal here (Rome is offering security), but a rather specific one, in view of specific local people. No scholar seems to think 1 Thess is, as a whole, a condemnation of the Roman empire, but in 1 Thess 5 Paul is very particular about the complete annihilation of these promisers of peace.

I have further argumentation on this in my commentary, but, again, no scholar I know has tried to make a case that a Roman slogan of “peace and security” fits the situation of 1 Thessalonians specifically with a view towards the recent death of community members. I have my own theory, but you need to get the book to get the scoop!

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