A paper read at the 2012 Conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, and published in JETS 63.4 (2020): 703–20. Click here for the full pdf copy.
WERE THE THESSALONIANS “MEDDLING IN DIVINE MATTERS”? A REREADING OF 2 THESSALONIANS 3:11
Second Thessalonians 3:11 contains a play on words: some Thessalonians were not “working” (from ἐργάζομαι/ergazomai) but “meddling” (from its compound περιεργάζομαι/periergazomai). While meddling is usually taken to mean “meddling in other people’s business,” there is evidence that it might mean “meddling in divine matters” and therefore is a reference to calculating the time of the Day of the Lord.
I. EPISTOLARY CONTEXT
Μηδὲν ἐργαζομένους ἀλλὰ περιεργαζομένους is a figura etymologica, wherein two words with the same root are employed adjacently for effect. Despite claims to the contrary, the specific pairing “not working but meddling” does not seem to have been common—I could locate only two pre-Christian examples [in pseudo Demosthenes, in Testament of Gad]—and thus it was not a conventional wordplay which the Thessalonians would have recognized. No explanation is proffered for the Thessalonians’ behavior; we are merely informed that their praxis lands them in the category of those who “disorderly” (ἀτάκτως/ataktos).
With no dissenting voices, so far as I can determine, commentators take περιεργάζομαι/periergazomai as meddling in other people’s business. They can certainly invoke the lexicons for support….
There is clear contemporary attestation of the verb περιεργάζομαι as “meddling in the divine realm.” We have suggested, based in part on fresh TLG searches, that such a “vertical” meaning of περιεργάζομαι is possible in 2 Thess 3:11, and may express the author’s judgment that some Thessalonians were busying themselves in God’s domain, where they did not belong. Since the author does not explicitly root the action to joblessness or social meddling, the text leaves open this other possibility of their inquiring in the apocalyptic mysteries, perhaps to the point of setting dates for the Day of the Lord in 2:1–2.
Hence a possible meaning:
For we hear that some are living disorderly among you. These people are not busy at work; they are busy prying into God’s own matters. They should get back to their daily work and earn their own bread.
I invite you to read my commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, available in English from Zondervan, and in Spanish from Andamio; both on Logos.
Dear Dr. Shogren,
Thanks for an interesting article. In connection with the Day of the Lord, I have a question about the Restrainer. (Who doesn’t?)
Is it possible that we’re taking katecho as a restraint when we might be taking it as a kind of holding fast to a place or position? I note that the Devil seems to be thrown down per Revelation 12 at the start of the 1260 days. To me this appears to coincide with the satanic empowerment of Antichrist at that time. Paul says of course that his coming is according to all the power of Satan.
Rather than a restraint, it may be that the dragon is holding to his place in the heavenlies until forcibly pushed out (ek mesous is thereby explained as being cast out of the midst of heaven) by Michael et al. I don’t see why the semantic range of katecho wouldn’t allow for this. To see it as a restraint is a traditional way of looking at it, as a positive, but perhaps we’ve missed something. I believe Frame alludes to such a possibility in his commentary, although few others have.
I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
Blessings, Nick Uva
Hi Nick, thanks for holding on – I didn’t want to answer you before I looked at the lexica.
BDAG might have an opening for your interpretation here:
to have a place as one’s own, take into one’s possession, occupy (Hdt. 5, 72 et al.; PAmh 30, 26 [II B.C.] τὴν οἰκίαν) τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον Lk 14:9 (cp. Philosoph. Max. 491, 69 τὸν κάλλιστον κατέχουσι τόπον; Jos., Ant. 8, 104). Cp. GPt 5:15.—AcPl Ha 5, 28 [κατ]ε̣ῖ̣χεν αὐτὰς ἔκστασις perh. means astonishment overcame them.
Nevertheless, in these cases they all have a definite direct object; Luke 14:9, to occupy the last place. τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον κατέχειν. With syntactically no d.o. in 2 Thess, and with the most likely object of the verb being the man of sin, I would guess that the most intuitive meaning is “restrain the man of sin” rather than “occupy [his celestial position].”
And let’s remember that, the Thessalonians had no access to Revelation 12 nor, I would imagine, to its imagery.
I have written more about 2 Thess here: https://openoureyeslord.com/2011/06/30/what-comes-before-the-day-of-the-lord-the-final-apostasy-or-the-departure-of-the-church/#more-1215
Fascinating, Gary, Can you provide citations for this use of the verb so I can explore in detail? Thanks.
Hi, sure, they are all there in the pdf document, I provide 26 citations in Greek and in translation. Blessings, Gary