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2 Thessalonians 3

I am not one that feels comfortable with building an entire doctrine of separation as it is fleshed-out by many in the fundamentalist orb with the 2 Thessalonians 3 text alone, but I think that it is just as imaginative, if not creatively blind, to limit Paul’s instruction to the lazy man as so many are inclined to do in their effort to debunk the fundamentalist argument.

If, as some insist, 2 Thessalonians 3 gives us insight into what we are supposed to do toward the lazy person exclusively, then what does 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 teach us about dealing with anybody in sin except for the rare occasion when a church is faced with the problem of a man having an incestuous relationship with his stepmother?

If anything, one could argue reasonably that the 2 Thessalonians passage is a classic lesser-to-greater argument. Of the many sins that one can commit, belligerent laziness is relatively benign compared to some gross sins. If this is what we are supposed to do toward the idle, it seems at least reasonable that some kind of withdrawal from the belligerently erroneous would be justified.

Back to 1 Corinthians 5. Paul obviously did not intend for his instruction to be limited to an incestuous relationship with a stepmom. In chapter five he gives two lists, and as is typical with Paul, they are illustrative and not exhaustive.

“I wrote to you,” says Paul, “not to keep company with sexually immoral people. For I certainly did not mean with the

1. sexually immoral people of this world, or with the

2. coveteous, or

3. extortioners, or

4. idolaters, [four sins] since then you would need to have to go out of this world. But now I have written to you not to keep comapny with anyone named a brother, who is

1. sexually immoral,

2. or covetous, or

3. an idolater, or

4. a reviler, or

5. a drunkard, or

6. an extortioner [six things] — not even to eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

Well, Paul, who does “such a person” define? The first list or the second list? Because there are going to be certain people in the year 2008 that will refuse to apply anything in this chapter to any sin that is not specifically listed by you. And you, Paul, have confused all of us by giving TWO lists!

The way we read the Bible we’re going to apply 2 Thessalonians only to a “lazy person.” We’ll ignore the fact that the weight of the NT decries the evils of false teachers, the importance of doctrine, and the abomination of those who will change doctrine; and we’ll simply close our eyes to the force of logic that compels us to acknowledge the fact that a Christian who does not withdraw from those kinds of people is himself in disobedience.

That 2 Thessalonians applies to more than just the lazy person seems reasonable to me, and that is before one even begins to explore the possibilities of what Paul is speaking about when he uses the word “tradition.”

I challenge my friends on the evangelical side to give me something better than, “Well, that passage only applies to the idle person.”


9 Responses

  1. (Commenting on 2 Thes. 3:14)

    “This kind of Christian discipline ought to be carried out still, in reference not only to this one case of busybodies, but to all other cases.” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, LI, 218)

  2. Bob,

    I agree that both passages are clearly exemplary rather than exhaustive. I can’t imagine one coming to any other conclusion without an agenda driving his exegesis.

  3. Bob,
    R.Bruce Compton’s article on this is rather well done.

  4. Chris,

    I can’t image someone calling into question the motivation of anothers exegesis accept that it be for the purpose of poisoning the wells? But I will do something you haven’t done….I will try to assume the best of your motive.

    A thought.

    Straight Ahead!


  5. Joel, I’ve not yet learned to question one’s motives and piously deny that I’m doing so in the same post. Well done.

    At any rate, you’re right that I shouldn’t assume the motives behind one’s bad exegesis. I’m glad to retract that.

  6. Chris buddy,

    Ah yes….no worries man….I can help you with that! Stick with us Baptist, will teach you how to do all sorts of things, all in the name of right-ness!

    I wasn’t too worried about it. I understand you buy into Compton’s view big time and that makes you suspecious of other views. I also understand the other views make you suspecious of the other views. I’ve done the same sorts of things on numerous occasions and numerous issues.

    Straight Ahead….

    Have a great Resurection Sunday!

    Prayerful your “9 church Good Friday” service goes off well.


  7. (This is Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, so I couldn’t resist . . . )

    Taken as a whole, 1 Corinthians (or rather, St. Paul) puts a whole bunch of things on “the list”—from perverse fornication to idolatry to factions over “who baptized me” to hairstyles that indicate a hatred for the natural order. And much more. But to what is the list directed? “The Feast.” Not that separation doesn’t touch other areas of life, but the center of life for those who assemble (and that from which those who cling to their sin or sins on the list must be banned) is that mysterion of which St. Paul is a steward—”For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”

    Thus, when it comes to the list, it is better that a “man examine himself.” “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”

    All that is to say that 1 Corinthians separation is not so much an individual or individualist separation (I separate from those who refuse to repent of sins on the list, which benefits my personal relationship with Christ) but rather the One Body that partakes of the One Bread/Body and shares in the Resurrection with the One Lord separating from those who step outside of the sweet charity and fellowship of Saints and follow, instead, after corruption and death.

    This is also why the ancient Church dismissed the catechumens and onlookers after the “Service of the Word,” and placed “janitors” at the doors to protect the “Service of the Sacrament” or the Koinonia.

  8. Bob hit on something else when he referred to Paul’s use of “paradosis” (tradition) in 2 Thessalonians 2:15. I dealt with that in Contending for the Faith. I don’t have a copy in front of me, so I don’t remember which chapter it is in. I think I also dealt with it in Be Ye Holy. The important thing about Paul’s use of “paradosis” in 2:15 is that the material handed down was either communicated by his word or his epistle. In the first case it came with full apostolic authority, and in the second it came with Scriptural authority from the apostle. We are talking about obedience to the Word of God in revealed Scripture. Upon that basis we separate from the disobedient brother. We had best not deal lightly with the authority of the Word.

  9. Hi, Bob,

    You are right on, IMO, in this post. You might also consider the SECOND major expansion Paul makes — in the next chapter!:

    5:9: fornicators
    5:10: fornicators, covetous, swindler, idolaters
    5:11: fornicator, covetous, idolater, reviler, drunkard, swindler
    6:9-10: fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality (ESV), thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers

    I’m sure you noticed it (although I didn’t see it in your post), but these lists each EXPAND on the previous list, including the previous items and adding more. So really, you don’t have two lists, you have one list which is growing larger. The implication of this, I think, is clear: Paul is not meaning to limit himself to a defined list of particular sins.

    If I could bore you with a snippet from my thesis, 1 Cor 6:9-10 as a followup to 1 Cor 5 indicates that “Paul thus indicates that there exists a significant range of behaviors which warrant disassociation; or more specifically, when a professing believer consistently and without repentance practices any behavior which on the basis of Scripture would exclude that person from eschatological salvation, obedient believers have grounds to cease association with that person.”

    I agree with Dr. Moritz above about the importance of the “tradition” (paradosis) in the passage ( http://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/2008/01/30/what-is-the-apostolic-tradition/ )– the gospel and its accompanying teachings and lifestyle, which have been handed down from Christ to the apostles, and which we have a summary of in the NT, provide a touchstone when it comes to this matter of dissociation, whether in church discipline, or (although the scenario differs somewhat) in ecclesiastical separation.

    Aaron raises a good connection with the Supper; I’ll note as well that “not even to eat with such a one” involves more than the Supper, IMO ( http://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/2008/02/02/not-even-to-eat-with-such-a-one/ ).

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