[b-greek] Re: 1 Thess 5:10 - answering my own question

From: Iver Larsen (iver_larsen@sil.org)
Date: Sat Feb 09 2002 - 08:29:39 EST

Dear Steven,

Thank you for taking the effort to continue to address this issue. I would
like to comment on the linguistic issue you raise, since it involves the
various senses of a Greek word and therefore is appropriate to the list. I
have deleted the first part of your arguments, because IMO they are so
speculative that to counter them would only lead to more speculation. I will
make only brief mention of them.
It is correct that it seems strange to _us_ that they needed to be
re-assured that whether they were sleeping or awake, they would still be
taken up and obtain life with Jesus, as long as they believed that Jesus had
died on their behalf (see the whole on v.10).
But it is equally, and to me more strange, that Paul would repeat the same
reassurance that he had given in chapter 4 in a very different context. And
if he did want to remind them of this in a non-focused way, I would have
expected him to use the same word as he used in chapter 4 in order to help
the hearers get the connection.
Both views have some problems, and it is a matter of weighing all the
arguments as to which meaning is considered most likely. There is also a
third option which has its own problems. There is no easy solution. If there
were, we wouldn't need to discuss the options.

> (2) I think Iver's insistence that KAQEUDW never stands alone as
> a metaphor
> for death is flat-out wrong, and I think Mark 5.39 and parallels
> refute it.
> That the girl in question was dead is beyond dispute. In Mk 5.35
> messengers
> come and say, hH QUGATHR SOU APEQANEN. In Luke 8.49 it is one
> messenger, who
> says, TEQNHKEN hH QUGATHR SOU. In Matt 9.18 it is her father who says to
> Jesus, hH QUGATHR MOU ARTI ETELEUTHSEN. Moreover, according to Luke 8.53,
> when they reached the man's home, the crowd laughed at Jesus'
> assertion that
> the girl was not dead EIDOTES hOTI APEQANEN ("because they KNEW she had
> died"). This is an editorial comment by Luke that indicates he agreed with
> their assessment, since he does not say they "supposed" she had died.
> Additionally, Luke adds this detail: EPESTREYEN TO PNEUMA AUTHS. As we all
> know, TO SWMA CWRIS PNEUMATOS NEKRON ESTIN. This was no "near-death
> experience" from which she could simply be resuscitated. Though some
> literalist may argue "Jesus said what he meant and meant what he said,"
> i.e., that the girl really was NOT dead but only literally
> sleeping, we must
> consider this absurd, of course, in light of the above observations (and
> others that could be made). This was no nap from which the little
> girl could
> be roused with a shake.
> Then why would Jesus say, TO PAIDION OUK APEQANEN ALLA KAQEUDEI? It is
> because of his view of and power over death and his intention to
> raise the
> girl. To Jesus, her death was only temporary and therefore "sleep." His
> intention to raise her involved the concomitant confidence that her death
> was only a "nap," if you will. This mindset finds a parallel in
> Jesus' view
> of the final resurrection: In Mark 12.27, in a defense of the resurrection
> of the dead, Jesus, after quoting Ex 3.6 (EGW hO QEOS ABRAAM KAI [hO] QEOS
> ZWNTWN ("He is not the God of the dead, but of the living"). Luke adds,
> PANTES GAR AUTWi ZWSIN ("for all are alive in his sight").
> Remember, this is
> a defense of the resurrection, not an argument for the immortality of the
> soul (whatever one may belive about that). As far as their
> present state is
> concerned, these men are dead; but in light of the resurrection, they are
> alive in God's eyes, since he "gives life to the dead and calls
> things that
> are not as though they were" (Rom 4.17, NIV). I think this helps us to
> understand how Jesus could on the one hand know full well that the little
> girl was dead, yet on the other hand contend she was only
> sleeping. Just as
> Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead and yet "alive" in God's estimation,
> since their death is only temporary in view of the resurrection,
> so also the
> little girl was "dead" physically, though in a sense only "sleeping" in
> light of the temporary nature of her death, since Jesus intended to raise
> her. KAQEUDW is without doubt here used without a qualifying prepositional
> phrase as a euphemism for death. And a prepositional phrase of
> some sort was
> not used and indeed would have been singularly inappropriate with
> Mark 5.39 and parallels because using a modifier to make explicit that
> KAQEUDW meant death (albeit in the distinctive sense in which
> Jesus meant it
> in the context) would have made clear what in the context must remain
> cryptic if the paradox Jesus intends is to stand. It's all about
> in which KAQEUDW is found. In some contexts (such as Psa 87.6) a
> modifier is
> indispensable; in others (such as Mark 5.39) a modifier is unthinkable.

The dictionaries claim that 1 Thess 5:10 is unique in the NT as the only
place where KAQEUDW can refer to death. I have questioned this hypothesis by
looking at the only evidence given, namely the two LXX occurrences where the
same Greek word is used to translated two Hebrew words for "lie down/sleep".
My position is that this evidence is very weak for two reasons:
1) The original Hebrew words include the sense of lying down, so they are
broader than the English "sleep".
2) When Ps 88:5 is translated as "lie in the grave" as most English versions
have, then the reference to death is clear. What is disputed is that the
word here translated "lie" in and by itself was used to refer to death,
possibly as a euphemism. Why did they all translate it as "lie in the grave"
rather than "sleep in the grave" or "be dead in the grave"? Is it not
because the context is sufficient to indicate the sense, even with the more
literal translation "lie".
I admit that I am influenced by the several languages I know where the
concepts of "lie down" and "sleep" are covered by one and the same lexical
item. But when we are dealing with LXX, we also need to think of the Hebrew
text it is a translation of. The LXX translator chose KAQEUDW as the closest
equivalent for "lie down/sleep" in this context. To me, this indicates that
the word included the sense of lying down, or at least that when taken
together with "grave", the reference would be clear.

Now, you suggest that the dictionaries are wrong, and that KAQEUDW is used
in the sense of "be dead" in other places in the NT apart from 1 Thess 5:10.
So, we both disagree with the dictionaries. I say that 5:10 is better
subsumed under one of the normal well established senses of this word. You
say that the special sense intended in 5:10 is actually found in another
place, too.

That is a possibility, so we need to look at it. One would need to look at
all the occurrences, and I have done that several times, but since you
mention Mark 5:39 as candidate for this sense let me quote the context:


There is no doubt that the girl was dead in the normal sense of that word.
When Jesus said that she was not dead, but sleeping, they laughed at him,
because they knew better. The bystanders certainly did not understand the
word "sleep" here as a euphemism for death. If so, Jesus' words would be
self-contradictory, but I don't think this is why they laugh. They
understood the words very well, but not his intention.

I think you are essentially right in saying that Jesus used the word for
sleep "because of his view of and power over death and his intention to
raise the girl." Jesus wanted them to think of the possibility that God has
power to raise people from death, that death is not final, but like a sleep
that you get up from.

A very similar dialogue is found in John 11:11ff where Jesus said to the
disciples: "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep (KEKOIMHTAI), but I am
going to wake him up (EXUPNISW). The disciples answered "If he has fallen
asleep (KEKOIMHTAI) he will be all right (SWQHSETAI)". The disciples
misunderstood him, so John clarifies that Jesus was speaking about Lazarus'
death (TOU QANATOU AUTOU) and not the "lying down of normal sleep" (PERI THS
Jesus was obviously using words that people understood to refer to ordinary
sleep, not death, in order to tell them something, to get them to think of
the possibility of resurrection, not just at the end of times, but then and
there (cf. John 11:4,15,23-26). If they were commonly used euphemisms,
people would have understand the intended reference without problem.

Does KAQEUDW then include the sense of being dead? Not according to normal
usage. Someone can use a normal word in an unusual and unexpected sense as
Jesus did. He will initially be misunderstood, but he does it to make a

Does this scenario carry over to 1 Thess 5:10. I don't think so.
It seems that the early Christians began to use the word KOIMAOMAI to refer
to "temporary death" or "sleep-death". I would not call it a euphemism,
because we use euphemisms when we are afraid to say the word directly. It is
more likely an expression of the belief that a Christian (or the Jewish
patriarchs) who have died are only dead temporarily until the resurrection.
I have looked at all the occurrences of KOIMAOMAI and KAQEUDW in the NT
letters. If we keep the disputed 5:10 aside, there is a clear evidence that
it was KOIMAOMAI and not KAQEUDW that acquired this sense in both Paul's
letters and the one instance in 2 Pet 3:4. If we assume that the Greek
language we find in the NT letters represents the language the Thessalonians
understood, it would be easy for them to connect KOIMAOMAI with
"sleep-death" because that was established usage, but if KAQEUDW was to be
construed in the same sense, there would have to be strong contextual clues,
since this was not the established usage for this word.

Those clues are missing from 5:10 a far as I can see, especially since the
disputed word follows the word GRHGOREW. Would the hearers connect GRHGOREW
with being alive? The context of 5:1-10 has built up an interesting script
of words that go back and forth between a literal sense and a spiritual
sense. They are words like day-night, light-darkness, drunkenness-soberness,
wathcfulness-non-wathcfulness. I refer to my earlier post to get that
background, or better, read the whole context in the GNT and try to think as
the Thessalonians may have been thinking when they heard these words. Both
the literal sense of "being awake" and "being asleep" and the corresponding
spiritual sense of "being watchful" and "being not-watchful" float in the
background. So, both of those are candidates for 5:10. For various reasons,
I find the spiritual sense hard to reconcile with the context, so I am left
with the literal sense, even though that option, too, has its problems.

Iver Larsen

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