Faith, love, and hope in 1 Thess

So the first letter I’m reading for my independent study this summer is Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, which is probably the earliest surviving Christian text that we have: scholars date it to 50 or 51 CE.

(Which in and of itself is very cool. This isn’t the first letter Paul wrote, but it’s the earliest letter we have of those that survived.)

I was charmed by his literary figures involving faith, love, and hope in this letter. There are two of them, both in that order: one near the beginning of the letter, and one near its end.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father

That’s 1 Thess 1:2-3. It’s the first thing Paul and his co-authors write after the salutation.

But since we are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation.

That’s 1 Thess 5:8.

This one struck me a bit oddly, because there are three virtues named but two appear to be assigned to the same metaphor, the breastplate. But then I looked it up (I love online concordances) and discovered that word breastplate translates the Greek word θώραξ (thōrax), which is

a breastplate or corset consisting of two parts and protecting the body on both sides from the neck to the middle

So there, it works after all!

And the two pieces of the breastplate as faith and love match the similarity of “work” and “labor” in the earlier figure. That similarity seems to me to lend support to the interpretation that the Greek word πίστις (pistis) commonly translated as faith in the scriptures is better understood to mean something like fidelity, faithfulness, or loyalty, than belief. Love is much more similar to fidelity than to belief.

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One Response to Faith, love, and hope in 1 Thess

  1. Pingback: Mimetic Rivalry, Reform, and Unity in the Church | Gaudete Theology

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