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

From: Steven Lo Vullo (doulos@merr.com)
Date: Thu Feb 14 2002 - 03:50:12 EST

on 2/9/02 7:29 AM, Iver Larsen at iver_larsen@sil.org wrote:

> 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).

No, it seems strange, period. This is so especially since there is no
indication at all that this was a serious concern of the Thessalonians. If
it had been, it would more naturally have been treated immediately after
4.13-18, since it is there that Paul deals with the state of believers at
the PAROUSIA and the issue of participation in the PAROUSIA. It is strange
indeed that, if being literally awake or asleep had been a serious concern
to either Paul or the Thessalonians, Paul would conclude the discussion of
the participation of the dead and living, move on to a discussion of "the
times and seasons" and the need for the Thessalonians to be vigilant, and
then bring in the back door an oblique aside in a subordinate clause
assuring the Thessalonians that they would not miss out on the PAROUSIA if
they should be literally asleep at the time. I think if this were a serious
concern, we could have expected at least a short section introduce by PERI
DE. It would be much more natural to deal with the participation of the
living and the dead, move on to deal with the participation of the awake and
asleep, then discuss vigilance. As it is, any such oblique reference to a
concern about being awake or asleep in a subordinate clause is at the very
least abrupt. On the other hand, if this was NOT a serious concern of the
Thessalonians, but a gratuitous aside of Paul, it is hard, in light of other
purpose clauses related to the death of Christ, to explain such a trivial
purpose being assigned to the death of Christ for no apparent practical

> 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.

I don't think it is at all strange that Paul, at the end of his discussion
of eschatological issues of concern to the Thessalonians (4.13-5.11), would
sum up his eschatological parenesis with a strong dose of encouragement for
the Thessalonians regarding their hope of future salvation, which includes
the hope that those who die before Christ's PAROUSIA will share in that
salvation experience. Though we have here two discrete units of discourse,
they are not unrelated. They constitute a larger section consisting of
eschatological issues of concern to the Thessalonians. There is no "Berlin
Wall" here over which ideas cannot pass and through which compelling,
heartfelt concerns cannot penetrate. What better way to tie together both
units in the conclusion than to maintain that WHENEVER the Lord comes, ALL
God's people will be saved, and both the living and dead will live with him.
Wanamaker (NIGTC) expresses this well:

"That Paul has reapplied the terminology of vv. 6f. to the problem discussed
in 4:13-17 concerning 'those who sleep' (KOIMAN in 4:13-17 is a synonym of
KAQEUDEIN here) and 'those who remain' (GRHGORWMEN here corresponds to hOI
PERILEIPOMENOI in 4:15-17) is confirmed by hAMA SUN AUTWi ZHSWMEN ('we shall
live together with him'), which repeats the idea contained in the words SUN
KURIWi ESOMEQA ('we will be with the Lord') in 4:17. By thus referring back
to 4:13-17, Paul pulls the eschatological parenesis of the letter together
and ends it on a powerful note of hope for future salvation for both the
living and the dead in Christ based on his redemptive death (cf. Holtz,

Some other features not mentioned by Wanamaker that tie the units together
should also be noted:

QWRAKA PISTEWS (5.8) naturally harks back to PISTEUOMEN in 4.14, where faith
in the death and resurrection of Jesus has as its correlative the faith that
God will bring with Jesus (i.e., from the dead) those who sleep (TOUS
KOIMHQENTAS). Here belief in the death and resurrection of Christ is tied to
belief in the death and resurrection of TOUS KOIMHQENTAS. Similarly, it is
not hard to see how putting on the QWRAKA PISTEWS in 5.8 is related not only
to the salvation of the living, but also of the dead, since the reason or
basis for having such faith is stated thus: hOTI OUK EQETO hHMAS hO QEOS EIS
ZHSWMEN ("For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake
or asleep, we will live together with him.). So again, as in 4.14, faith is
linked to and based on salvation that comes about through the death and
resurrection of Jesus, thus the identification of Jesus with the living and
the dead is the most natural way to understand this text. The allusion to
4.14 is, IMO, practically unmistakable. And, more genrally speaking, the
idea of the identification of the dead and risen Christ with his dead and
living saints is a key item in Pauline thought, while identification with
the literally awake and asleep is not (cf. Rom 14.7-9).

Another verbal connection between these units is PERIKEFALAIAN ELPIDA
SWTHRIAS ("as a helmet, the hope of salvation"), which forges a link with
The reason or basis for not grieving as those who have no hope is the faith
that Jesus died and rose again and those sleeping Christians identified with
him will rise again as well. The hope of and belief in the death and
resurrection of Jesus provide the reason or basis for the hope and faith
that those sleeping believers identified with Jesus will ultimately live
together with him along with those alive and remaining at the PAROUSIA.
Again, it's not hard to see how the Thessalonians would have linked the hope
of 5.8 with that of 4.13 and understood GRHGORWMEN and KAQEUDWMEN as being
roughly synonymous with hOI ZWNTES hOI PERILEIPOMENOI in 4.15, 17 and TWN
KOIMWMENWN/TOUS KOIMHQENTAS in 4.13-15. In both cases the death and
resurrection of Jesus form the foundation for the faith and hope that those
identified with him, whether living or dead, will ultimately live with him
ZHSWMEN in 5.10).

As for why Paul did not use the same words as he did in chapter 4, I would
argue that the terms employed by Paul to make his point, GRHGORWMEN and
KAQEUDWMEN, are drawn from the more immediate context of 5.6f. in order to
facilitate a creative play on words: Those who spiritually "sleep" and are
spiritually not "awake" (vv. 6-7) will suffer "sudden destruction" (v. 3),
while those who have not spiritually "slept" and have remained spiritually
"awake" (vv. 5-6) will obtain salvation whether they are at the time of the
PAROUSIA "awake" (alive) or "asleep" (dead). You would perhaps deem this
confusing; I would call it creative. It is also in keeping with the strong
contrast Paul draws in both units between believers and hOI LOIPOI hOI MH
ECONTES ELPIDA (4.13; cf. 5.6).

One more observation needs to be made that I think calls into question your
interpretation. In concluding this unit (and the larger section on
eschatological issues) Paul says in 5.11: DIO PARAKALEITE ALLHLOUS KAI
another and build up one another, just as you also are doing."). This
inference drawn from the preceding context is very similar to the one drawn
inference drawn from the preceding context was that the Thessalonians should
comfort/encourage one another with the truth that at the PAROUSIA both the
dead and the living would be brought together to be with the Lord forever.
In 5.11 the inference drawn from what precedes is (at least among other
things) that they should comfort/encourage one another with the truth that
they had been appointed, not to suffer wrath, but to obtain salvation
through Jesus, who died for them so that, whether awake or asleep at his
coming, they would live together with him. The unmistakable parallel between
these exhortations should alone tip us off that Paul is talking about
something very similar. But there is something else: It is very easy to see
how valuable it would be to comfort/encourage one another with the thought
that, whether alive or dead, they would all be reunited to live together
with the Lord. What is NOT easy to understand is how knowing that they would
be with the Lord whether LITERALLY awake or asleep when the Lord comes could
function as a source of ongoing encouragement and edification. Both
PARAKALEITE and OIKODOMEITE are present tense verbs, indicating habitual
(iterative) action. I simply cannot imagine, for example, a Christian
husband night after night comforting his wife and children with, "We're
going to bed now. But don't worry, if Jesus comes while we are asleep, we
won't miss anything." On the other hand, it is very easy to see how, as time
went on and Christians became old, or sick, or died, the exhortation that
all, those who should survive and those who should die, would be united with
the Lord to live with him at his coming, as well as be reunited with and
live together with their fellow saints who might survive them, would be a
meaningful exhortation that would be relevant and practical when repeated
time after time. The former seems a fanciful and even farcical charade when
compared with the rich hortatory value of the latter.

You ask why Paul would repeat the SAME reassurance he had given in chapter
4. My answer is that the reassurance of 5.10 is NOT exactly the same as
4.13-18. Although it includes it in its scope it also builds on it. It is
important to note the second person plural subjunctive verbs in the
correlative clauses in 5.10 (EITE GRHGORWMEN EITE KAQEUDWMEN). There is a
clear note of contingency here, expressed by the subjunctive mood. And the
second person plural is used to indicate Paul as well as his audience. This
is important because, while in 4.13-18 Paul is dealing with those who are
relation to those who are alive and remain (hOI ZWNTES hOI PERILEIPOMENOI,
vv. 15, 17), among whom Paul classes himself (hHMEIS), in 5.10 he is dealing
with the real possibility that he and others among them may YET die before
the Lord comes (EITE GRHGORWMEN EITE KAQEUDWMEN). On the one hand, this
prepares the Thessalonians for any further loss of loved ones in the Lord,
as well as personally comforts every believer. On the other hand, it fits in
well with the fact that the "times and seasons" (TWN CRONWN KAI TWN KAIRWN,
v. 1), i.e., the timing of the events surrounding the day of the Lord, are
beyond the ken of the Thessalonians. Who knows? The Lord may come before ANY
more of the Thessalonians die; but he may not come before SOME or even MANY
of them die. But rest assured, whether they should live to that day or fall
asleep in death beforehand, they would all live together with the Lord. They
should use this knowledge to comfort and edify one another. All this makes
perfect sense to me, and seems to tie together well the two related
discourse units dealing with the eschatological concerns of the

> 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
>> the CONTEXT
>> 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".

Yes, and so do and so are both Greek words in question. Both could be used
interchangeably for either "sleeping" or "lying down." When used
figuratively of the dead, "lying down" IS "sleeping." Certainly the dead do
not lie awake like Ezekial did while lying on his side (Ezek 4.9)?

> 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".

Neither KAQEUDW nor KOIMAW ever really, in the strictest sense, refer in and
by themselves to death. There must ALWAYS be at least some contexual
indicator(s) to make this clear.

> 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.

First, just an aside. I don't think what I've said contradicts *all* of what
the dictionaries have to say. While I don't yet have BGAD (it is on the way
as I write), note the following from BAGD:

    1. lit. Mt 8: 24; 13: 25; 25: 5; 26: 40, 43, 45; Mk 4: 27, 38; 13: 36;
14: 37, 40f; Lk 22: 46; 1 Th 5: 7. The mng. is in doubt in Mt 9: 24; Mk 5:
39 (REKer, ET 65, '53f, 315f); in these pass. the following mng. is commonly
    2. fig.--a. of the sleep of death (Ps 87: 6; Dan 12: 2). So certainly 1
Th 5:10.

So BAGD actually offers "the sleep of death" as a "commonly accepted"
meaning of KAQEUDW in Mk 5.39 and parallels.
> 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.

But Iver, it is precisely because of the paradoxical nature of the saying
that the people did not understand KAQEUDW as a euphemism for death. This
does not mean they would not have understood it so in other contexts. Jesus
was certainly using it as a euphemism for death, so there is a strong
probability that it was used thus in other contexts by other people, and by
Christians after him who knew this story.
> 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.

But Iver, it is not because KOIMAW was not a recognized euphemism for death
that the disciples misunderstood, but because Jesus gave them no contextual
indicators to tip them off, and purposely so.
> 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
> point.
> 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.

By "euphemism," I do not propose a fear of direct speech, but use the term
in the sense of something expressed in a positive light that would normally
have a negative connotation. In this sense I think "euphemism" fits well
with what you say below.

> 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.

I think I have provided those contextual clues above. In addition, I will
below argue that the context gives no clues whatever to support your
interpretation. Let me say here that I fully agree that KOIMAW was the word
normally used to refer to dead Christians, not only in the NT, but also in
the Fathers. But this in no way means KAQEUDW, a synonym, may not be so used
in certain contexts, particularly (as in 1 Thess 5.10) when a play on words
is desired.

> 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?

Actually, 5.10 strongly supports the traditional view. I am going to save a
discussion of this text for the post I still owe Moon. And, yes, the
Thessalonians would easily connect GRHGOREW with being alive, as a
word-play, particularly when there are clear allusions to the discussion in

> 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.

Actually, there is no mention whatever of a literal sense of "being awake,"
as you claim above. 1 Thess 5.7 introduces a truism, an axiomatic statement
that those who "sleep" and "get drunk" do so at night. GRHGOREW is not even
found here, nor is there any mention at all of their daytime activities
versus their nighttime activities or of their state during the day versus
their state during the night, all of which would be not only irrelevant to
the point Paul is making, but would be downright destructive within such an
axiom that focuses on the "night" and the evil that is done therein. The
idea of unbelievers being "awake" or living in the "day" would be entirely
alien and disruptive to Paul's point! Nothing whatsoever concerning their
literal daytime activities or state vis a vis their nocturnal activities or
state is so much as IMPLIED. This is because Paul had no intention of
introducing such a discussion, either with respect to hOI LOIPOI or the
Thessalonians. Rather, 5.7 provides, on the one hand, an underlying basis or
reason for the exhortation not to SPIRITUALLY sleep but to be SPIRITUALLY
alert in v. 6, and on the other, sets up a contrast with how those who are
SPIRITUALLY of the "day" should live in v. 8. So, far from preparing the
Thessalonians to understand GRHGOREW and KAQEUDW in a literal sense in v.
10, the function of 5.7 is to join and complement two exhortations that deal
with SPIRITUAL sleep and wakefulness. The point is that what is true at the
level of everyday human experience applies on the religious and ethical
plain. Now, one of your main arguments is that GRHGOREW in v. 10 should be
understood as "literally awake" on the basis that there is a previous
"candidate" that paves the way for that meaning. Since there really is no
such candidate, either stated or implied, on what will you base your
contention? Contrary to your claims, there are no contexual clues whatever
that Paul intended to introduce, or was preparing for or leading up to any
such exhortation concerning the literal wakefulness or slumber of the
Thessalonians at the PAROUSIA. There is nothing at all in the context that
could have prepared them for such an exhortation, since there was never any
intention on Paul's part to introduce a discussion of daytime or nightime
with reference to the PAROUSIA and the Thessalonians' wakefulness or slumber
at that time.

Steven Lo Vullo
Madison, WI

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