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

  1. Why does 5.3 have to be connected to the larger problem in Thessalonica, re: community deaths? As I read it, Paul moves from the particular problem of deaths in the community (4.13 – “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died…”) to a wider discussion of eschatology (5.1 – “Now concerning the times and the seasons…”). It’s here, within the context of Paul’s eschatological narrative, that the Roman reading makes sense (and, I would argue, it is ONLY here that it makes sense; there’s more apocalypticism than anarchism to Paul…). Within Paul’s eschatological timeline, Rome has a very limited role to play: they are enemies to be destroyed when the kingdom comes in its fullness (1 Cor 15.24). Does Paul’s eschatological narrative, esp. what he thinks will happen to the rulers and authorities at the eschaton, make a Roman reading of 5.3 more compelling?

    In my view, Weima, White, Koester, et. al., are all part right and part wrong about all this. White’s right that there’s no evidence of a slogan among the sources, but (in my view) Weima is still right that “peace” and “security,” even if they were never joined together as a propaganda doublet, were still vital pieces of Roman ideology. I think that it’s possible, even likely, that Paul makes a passing reference to these complementary imperial ideologies when he narrates his eschatological narrative.

    Thanks for the post. This is a topic of interest for me and I really appreciate the opportunity to engage it here!

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