Paul’s Early Prayers – Part 1

The major divisions in the Epistles to the Thessalonians are marked by Paul’s use of two almost identical Greek expressions: “Loipon oun, adelphoi”, 1 Thess. 4. 1, and “To loipon adelphoi”, 2 Thess. 3. 1. In both Epistles the section before the relevant expression is largely taken up with personal references, narrative and explanations, and the section following is taken up with ethical demands and instructions. (Interestingly, the distinctly prophetical sections, 1 Thess. 4. 13 to 5. 11 and 2 Thess. 2. 1-12, occur in the second part of 1 Thessalonians and the first part of 2 Thessalonians.) Following “loipon’’ in 1 Thessalonians 4. 1 there is an appeal that the saints should walk (peripateo) in a certain way, and following it in 2 Thessalonians 3. 1 there is a prayer request that the Word of God might run (trecho).

One of the most interesting features cf Paul’s letters to Thessalonica consists of the devout desires which conclude each of the four main sections indicated above. These are not properly prayers as such, because God is not actually addressed. Nevertheless, they provide clear evidence of Paul’s manner of praying. They tell us for what he prayed and to whom he prayed. For ease of reference we will describe Paul’s desires as prayers in the present articles.

The references are as follows: -

  1. Autos de o theos kai pater emon kai o kurios emon Iesous…, 1 Thess. 3. 11.
  2. Autos de o theos tes eirenes…, 5. 23.
  3. Autos de o kurios emon Iesous Christos kai o theos o pater emon…, 2 Thess. 2. 16.
  4. Autos de o kurios tes eirenes…, 3. 16.

It will be seen that each section of Paul’s Epistles is closed by a prayer, introduced by “autos de” together with a divine name/divine names. “Autos” stands at the beginning of each sentence for emphasis; note the predicative position. The word is used to distinguish one person from another, to contrast one person with another or to give somebody emphatic prominence; cf. “Autos de ego Paulos…”, 2 Cor. 10. 1.

Let us consider references (1) and (3) first. Both prayers are addressed to two divine Persons, and the following points should be carefully noted by the student.

  1. The two Persons are bound together by verbs in the singular - “kateuthunai”, 1 Thess. 3. 11, and “parakalesai” and “sterizai”, 2 Thess. 2. 17. It is clear that Paul regarded the unity of the Father and the Son to be of such importance that, to safeguard it, he was prepared to set aside the simple grammatical rule that a verb must agree with its subject in number. Indeed, J. B. Lightfoot has commented that “There is probably no instance in St. Paul of a plural adjective or verb, where these two Persons of the Godhead are mentioned”. We may compare in this connection 1 Thessalonians 1. 1 and 2 Thessalonians 1. 1, where the two Persons are united after the single “en”.
  2. The two Persons are also bound together by the use of the singular “autos” (he, himself), as opposed to “autoi” (they, themselves; see eg. John 18. 28). “The ‘autos’ binds together the two subjects. God and the Lord, as the conjunct object of Paul’s prayer”, B. B. Warfield. We note also that, while “the Lord Jesus is united with the Father in respect of His Godhead, He is distinguished from the Father in respect of His personality”, W. E. Vine.
  3. The order in which the two Persons is mentioned is different In the one case the mention of the Father precedes that of the Son, 1 Thess. 3. 11, whereas in the other case this order is reversed, 2 Thess. 2. 16. Compare the differing order of mention in Matthew 28. 19 and 2 Cor. 13. 14.

These observations carry weighty implications for our understanding of the status and dignity of the Lord Jesus. They point convincingly to His deity and equality with the Father. Paul certainly looked for his prayers to be answered by the Father and the Son “as one Divine and indissoluble work . there being, as the singular implies, equality of power and oneness of operation … unity of will. But equality of power and unity of will imply a higher unity - even unity of essence”, J. Eadie. In every way possible the apostle showed that he thought of the Father and the Son as equal in honour and position. As we have seen, he interchanged the order of the names, bound them both together in a single “himself”, and then construed both cases with a singular verb! In the light of this evidence it cannot be doubted that “Christ is one with the Father in the prerogative of hearing and answering prayer”, G. G. Findlay, for the very same prayers were presented to both the Father and the Son without any distinction being made as to will, power or status. We remember that only to One possessed of full deity can worship and prayer be directed, Matt. 4. 10 and especially Rev. 19. 10 and 22. 9 - “to theo proskuneson”. In considering the subject of the Lord’s deity in Paul’s Epistles to Thessalonica, reference can also be made to 2 Thessalonians 1. 12, which could well be translated, “the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ”. This translation would mean that Paul here called the Saviour both “God” and “Lord”; compare the Greek structure of 2 Pet. 1. 1 and. to a lesser extent, Tit. 2. 13.

Let us now consider references (2) and (4). These verses, 1 Thess. 5. 23 and 2 Thess. 3. 16, when taken together, serve to reinforce the conclusions reached above as to the deity of Christ. There is one self-evident point of contact between them. This consists of the expression “tes eirenes”. The first verse refers to “the God of peace”, cf. Rom. 15. 33; 16. 20; 2 Cor. 13. 11; Phil. 4. 9; Heb. 13. 20. and the second to “the Lord of peace”. Both God and the Lord are characterized by peace, especially perhaps as the source and origin of it.

Taking the four references together, we find that Paul addressed one prayer to God, one to the Lord and two to both God and the Lord (with the order varied). Warfield’s comment is therefore fully justified. “He prays indifferently to God or the Lord separately and to God and the Lord together”.

In the following article we will show how each of the four prayers reflects Paul’s conviction about the worthlessness of all human effort apart from divine aid, and draw necessary conclusions as to the propriety of addressing the Lord Jesus in prayer.

To be concluded


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