This term I am once again teaching Pauline Literature. One of the new books I assigned to students is Nathan Eubank’s recently published commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture Series (Baker Academic, 2019). This has become one of my favorite volumes in this series.
Eubank’s book is perfect for anyone who is serious about Pauline scholarship–this is an important contribution. It is also ideal for students and pastors. What I especially love about this contribution is how it combines a readable style with a careful analysis of the biblical text that engages both contemporary scholarship as well as sources from Christian tradition.
There are all sorts of unique insights in the book. For this post, I will just highlight one of my favorite sections – Eubank’s treatment of a well-known textual issue in 1 Thessalonians 2.
The NRSV translates the passage as follows:
“5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-8).
A famous problem occurs in verse 7. Instead of “we were gentle [egenēthēmennēpioi],” some manuscripts read, “we were infants [egenēthēmenēpioi].” The difference between the two words is simply one letter so it was easy for scribes who copied the manuscripts to make the mistake. The question is, which is the better reading?
As Eubank explains, the best manuscripts actually read “we were infants,” but the issue with this reading is that it would seem to involve disjointed imagery: “We were infants, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.” (The commentary series uses the NABRE, which also prefers “we were gentle.)
Yet Eubank makes a great case that “infants” is the correct reading–he has certainly won me over. In a footnote, he explains that the imagery in verse 7 should be seen as part of a general pattern that pervades the entire section:
“Verses 1-2 say that their reception was not in vain, but rather (alla) the apostles were emboldened to speak. Verses 3-4 say that their exhortation was not from impure motives, and so on, but rather (alla) they spoke as those entrusted by God. Verses 5-7 continue this pattern: the apostles did not use flattering speech, and so on, but rather (alla) they were like infants. The NABRE ignores this pattern in order to accommodate the poorly attested “gentle.”Nathan Eubank, 1-2 Thessalonians, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 55, n. 12.
Eubank then offers his own translation of 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, arguing that the passage needs to be punctuated differently so that the two sentences read as follows:
“Nor, indeed, did we ever appear with flattering speech, as you know, or with a pretext for greed (God is witness), nor did we seek praise from human beings, either from you or from others (though we were able to impose our weight as apostles of Christ), but we became infants among you. Just as a nurse cares for her own children, so, in our deep longing for you, we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our very selves, because you have become beloved to us.”Eubank, 1-2 Thessalonians, p. 56.
Paul doesn’t say, “we were infants like a nurse.” Rather, the phrase “we became infants among you” completes the thought that began in verse 5. Then, in the second half of verse 7, Paul picks up a new image: the apostles were like a nurse cherishing her children. The shift from “infants” to nursing mother is somewhat abrupt, but this is not unusual for Paul (see Gal 4:19).Eubank, 1-2 Thessalonians, p. 56.
Eubank then makes the case that by identifying himself as an “infant,” Paul reflects on how he humbled himself and became childlike among the churches. This allows him to then draw from a beautiful reflection by Origen on Jesus’ teaching in Luke 9:48, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest” (cf. also Matt 18:1-6). Eubank quotes Origen:
“He who humbles himself and ‘becomes an infant in the midst’ of all the faithful, though he be an apostle or bishop . . . is the ‘little one’ pointed out by Jesus.”Commentarium in evangelium Matthaei 13.29 (Eubank’s translation, p. 56).
This section of the commentary displays Eubank’s combination of masterful exegesis with his knowledge of early Christian sources. It also demonstrates his ability to weave together a close reading of the text of Paul with a concern for pastoral application. It should not be a surprise that this is possible – after all, Paul was writing in a pastoral capacity. Unfortunately, commentaries rarely emulate this aspect of Paul’s writing.
Eubank’s treatment of 1 Thessalonians 2 is representative of what can be found throughout the volume. I highly recommend it.
You can find the book here on the publisher’s website with a catena of impressive endorsements from leading scholars (e.g., Donald Senior, Thomas Stegman, S.J, Marcus Bockmuehl, and Matthew Levering). It can also be purchased on Amazon (where it has a perfect 5 star rating!).