I need to preface this post by saying that I've read enough about linguistics and discourse analysis to be dangerous. This is just about something I noticed, I'm not making an assertion about how the text should be read. Working through things by writing is one of the primary methods I use to think about an issue and to assimilate data regarding an issue or question. So that's what this post is doing. I suppose this is why I find blogging so helpful, because it means I can get feedback on these preliminary sorts of thoughts as well. Also note that I haven't checked commentaries; I like to work through something and then check the commentaries because then I feel I can really interact with them — as opposed to letting them, intentionally or not, direct my study.
Before we start, here's the text in the ESV:
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. (1Th 5.12-22)
I'm sure that many folks have noticed the string of imperatives in 1Th 5.14-22. At present (and this will likely change) I see a few sections in 1Th 5.12-22. They can be laid out thusly:
- vv. 12-13a*
- vv. 14-22
- vv. 14-15a
- vv. 15b-18
- vv. 19-22
I think there is cohesion between the first two parts because the main verbs of each part (Ἐρωτῶμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί and Παρακαλοῦμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί) were used together earlier in 1Th 4.1 (Λοιπὸν οὖν, ἀδελφοί, ἐρωτῶμεν ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ).**
It's what happens in verse 15 where I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before. After realizing there was a plethora of imperatives in the passage, I was slowly working through the syntax of the passage using the OpenText.org clause annotation (inside of Logos Bible Software 3, of course) and I noticed the position of the imperatives. In vv. 14-15a, the imperatives are at the front of the clause, which (depending on what you think about constituent order in Hellenistic Greek) is standard order with the verb first. In v. 15, though, the verse is split by the conjunction ἀλλὰ, providing contrast from the first part of v. 15 to the second part of v. 15, and this is how it is translated: "Ensure that nobody repays anybody evil for evil, but always pursue the good for one another and for everybody" (my own translation). In the Greek, "ensure" is at the front of its clause. But the second clause (joined to the first by the conjunction ἀλλὰ) has its imperative "pursue" at a later position in the clause, then further modified by two prepositional phrases.
After this, through v. 22, each clause has its imperative at the end of the clause. This visualisation I copied from the OpenText.org GNT in Logos Bible Software 3 shows it a little better. Note the highlighting of the imperatives (done using Logos' "Visual Filters" feature). 'P' is for Predicator, 'C' is for Complement, 'S' is for Subject, and 'A' is for Adjunct. The lines are broken into clauses and secondary clauses.
So I began thinking: Does the conjunction ἀλλὰ in v. 15 serve to connect the clauses in v. 15 but also serve a larger function in the discourse? Why, after that point, are adverbs, prepositional phrases, and objects fronted in their clauses with their predicators (here imperative verbs) following.
Admittedly, there are a few options. Here are the ones I thought of.
Option 1: Coincidence. That is, nothing intentional is going on here, this could just be the way the text was written and transmitted. Or the shift in constituent order in v. 15 could be incidental. Or the shift in v. 15 could be intentional, but the following constituent order difference could be coincidental.
Option 2: Focus. In vv. 14-15a, the focus is on the action itself. In vv. 15b-18 the focus is on how the action is carried out, in vv. 19-22 the focus is on to whom the action is done.
Option 3: Recipients of Action. In vv. 14-15a, the action involves things that those in the fellowship are to do to others. In vv. 15b-22, the action involves things that those in the fellowship do in relation not to people, but to ideas or practices.
I'm interested to know what others think regarding the idea that ἀλλὰ in v. 15 may function both to join the clauses in the verse and perhaps may function at a larger level, joining two paragraphs/pericopes/whatever together. Feel free to comment, send email, whatever. Note I still need to read Denniston's Greek Particles to see if he lists this sort of function as possible for ἀλλὰ.
Whatever the split between vv. 14-15a and 15b-22, the further division of 15b-22 mentioned above is for reasons of subject matter, not strictly due to structure of section.
vv. 15b-18 involve things in relation to worship and obedience to God. The question, of course, is determining the 'this' of "for this is the will of God". What does that include? I don't have that answer at present (whether it is immediate content and therefore vv. 15b-18 or if it goes all the way back to v. 14) so we won't go there.
vv. 19-22 involve negatives, but I think it also proceeds from verse 18. Paul just laid down what the will of God is, vv. 19-22 (still using imperatives, here with fronted objects instead of fronted adjuncts) instruct the Thessalonians how to live now that they have a guide to the will of God: Don't squelch whatever comes, but test it to see if it is the will of God. Embrace it if it is of the will of God, squelch it if it isn't.
* More on 1Th 5.12 on the Logos Bible Software blog ...
** Note that 1Th 4.3 (Τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ) compares favorably with 1Th 5.18 (τοῦτο γὰρ θέλημα θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ εἰς ὑμᾶς). Thus we have good evidence of cohesion between that portion of chapter 4 and this part of chapter 5.